Product Review: Sony NEX-VG20 Interchangeable lens camcorder. Rating: ★★★★☆
Likes: Quality of both video and still images; ability to interchange lenses; manual control of aperture for depth of field effects; robust construction; top handle; quality built-in mic; low battery drain.
Dislikes: Clumsy menus and settings info; lack of ‘Intelligent Accessory’ flash shoe; awkward transfer of recorded material when using Apple/Mac OS computer; lack of Apple/Mac software and support.
Overview: It’s fair to say that this camcorder gives the average user access to a host of professional quality features in an easy-to-use way, no, it’s not a cheap camera at $2000 for the body-only option but you get an enormous amount of bang-for-your-buck. It also wouldn’t be unjust to describe this camera as a ‘pro-sumer’ device.
First off however this camera requires a little bit of explaining. At its core it is a high-quality camcorder, the point that sets it apart from most other camcorders however is that it has a very large image sensor, over 19 times larger than normally found in a camcorder. The sensor is in-fact of the size you expect to find in a D-SLR and that is the real secret of this camera – this large sensor allows it to take high quality D-SLR still images and extraordinarily rich video. But then the best sensor in the world is only ever going to be as good as the lens in front of it and that is the true beauty of this unit and part of what gives the NEX-VG20 is distinctive pro appearance – it can be fitted with any of Sony’s E-mount lenses or, with an adaptor, their A-mount lenses. The net result of this is that with very little experience and a minimum of learning you can capture simply stunning cinematic-look video and top-shelf D-SLR quality images (in RAW format if desired).
Now I do have to say that I am not a tech-review specialist so this review comes to you from someone who is more of a high-end user than a techie. I normally shoot my video podcasts on a Sony HD tape camera and my stills are captured with a Canon EOS 1D MkIV. When Sony sent me the NEX-VG20 to review I did what any good chap would do – ignored the instruction manual and got stuck-in to playing with it (we all know that manuals really are only there in case you get stuck or need a table leg wedge). But seriously, being able to pick-up a camera such as this and intuitively use it is in fact an important test of how well it has been designed for the average user. Being familiar with Sony’s menu navigation and operation I had no trouble finding my way around from the second I switched it on. That being said I did however find some of the menus and functions somewhat frustrating; often having to drill-down to find what was needed and then back all of the way out to get back to shooting mode, this made changing settings on-the-fly almost out of the question. I will add that I only had the camera for a few days so it may well be that I simply wasn’t ‘getting’ something to do with the menu hierarchy.
Another annoyance was changing settings and not being quite sure if the change had taken effect or, if when switched back, that it had in fact switched back but again this may be something that becomes clearer with extended use.
I found the top grab handle to be a brilliant addition to the design. The handle is well positioned and balanced allowing you to capture smooth, steady sweeping low tracking shots that just can’t be done with a regular camcorder.
The viewfinder, which is integrated into the handle, is crisp with a nice big eye-cup and can be tilted up to nearly 90˚, very handy when the camera is set low.
The general feel of the camera was robust, perhaps this has something to do with the heft of the camera, nearly 650grams without a lens.
So the big two questions… how does it really perform, can it walk the talk?
The answer to that is a resounding yes, I would have liked to have played with the test unit for a few days longer and had an opportunity to be more ‘artistic’. Here’s the video I shot to trial it (video edited on Apple iMac 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 using Apple iMovie software)
If your bandwidth allows, switch playback to 780 or 1080HD
And the second question… would I buy one myself? Again, yes, in fact if I had a lazy $3k sitting around I’d buy one tomorrow, my minor issues were far outweighed by the outstanding quality of the images and features of the camera.
– full HD video
– Interchangeable lens capability
– 16.1 Megapixel Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor
– Ability to manually control most settings such as aperture
– Inbuilt quad capsule spatial array stereo microphone 51. Surround capable
– robust design
– inbuilt top handle
– two record buttons (as well as touch-screen record stop/start)
– 3” Xtra fine touch-panle LCD screen
– multi memory card slots (Sony memory stick and SD card)
– long life infoLithium battery
Reviewed and used by:
Adam Woodhams, Turramurra, February 2012.
From Sony Australia Webpage;
HD Video Codec – MPEG4-AVC/H.264
SD Video Codec – MPEG2-PS
Media Storage Type – Memory Stick PRO Duo/ PRO-HG Duo/ SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card
Image Sensor – Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor
Image Processor – BIONZ
Lens / Filter Diameter – Sony E-mount Lens
Audio Format – Dolby® Digital 5.1ch/ Dolby® Digital 5.1 Creator/ Dolby® Digital 2ch Stereo
Maximum Still Image Resolution (Photo Mode)- Approx. 16.1 Megapixels (3:2 Still)
LCD Screen Size & Type – 3.0 Xtra Fine LCD™ 270 degree swivel display with TruBlack™ technology
With – x.v.Colour, Face Detection, D-Range Optimiser, Backlight Compensation (Auto), Direct Copy, BRAVIA Sync, Quick On.
Connectivity – HDMI Terminal (Mini) and USB Terminal (USB 2.0 High Speed), BRAVIA Sync, 3.5mm microphone, 3.5mm headphone, 2 x accessory shoes (1 hot for flash)
Dimensions (W x H x D) – Approx. 91 x 130 x 223mm
Mass (w/o lens, Battery, etc.) Approx. 645g
Where To Buy:
Expect to pay:
NEX-VG20B (body only) $1999
NEX-VG20HB (with E 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS E-mount zoom lens) $2999