Having covered all of the previous generations of interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) here on CNET Australia, it's now time to turn our attention to interchangeable lens video cameras. This is the Sony NEX-VG20, which looks and feels every part the professional video camera, following on from the company's first model, the VG10. The twist is, of course, that the lenses can be swapped in and out.
Design and features
Using the same 16.1-megapixel APS-C Exmor sensor that features on the NEX still cameras, the VG20 should theoretically deliver equivalent image quality. The physical sensor size certainly helps in showing off some wonderful shallow-depth-of-field effects that can be achieved by using a relatively wide aperture on a mounted lens, giving a level of flexibility that regular fixed-lens camcorders just can't achieve. The Australian/PAL model of the VG20 shoots at 25/50p in full HD.
Ergonomically, the VG20 takes a little while to get used to, but once in use for a few minutes, the button configuration starts to make a lot of sense. For example, there are two record buttons, one located in the standard configuration with the power switch, and the other at the front of the camcorder just before the lens mount. Depending on how you hold the VG20, this dual approach is ideal; grasping by the handgrip on the right side makes your thumb fall easily to the first button, and holding by the top handle makes it simple to use the second.
The kit configuration of the VG20 comes with an 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 image-stabilised E-mount lens, though the body only is also available. Weight distribution with the 18-200mm is a little top heavy, and does accentuate any shake when shooting handheld. Even with image stabilisation active on the lens, a little shaky movement is perceptible, if not anchored down with a tripod.
The optional LCD field monitor can connect to the VG20 via HDMI. In use, it's bright and incredibly useful for composing shots on a larger screen without being limited by a an electronic viewfinder or smaller LCD screen.
The 3-inch touchscreen flips out from the camcorder body, and can rotate around its axis. Even though this is a camcorder first and a stills camera second, the VG20 borrows more than just naming pleasantries from the NEX camera range, grabbing a very similar menu structure and graphics. The touchscreen is easy to use, and options are reasonably well placed. The sole gripe we had with the interface was that there wasn't an obvious, easy way to exit playback mode, such as pressing a shutter button — instead, you had to exit by closing each and every menu.
Underneath the flip-out touchscreen are a couple of important buttons; namely, the manual focus and settings jog-wheel button. Sitting beneath a flap on the top handle are a hot and cold shoe for mounting a range of accessories that either do or don't need to talk to the VG20.
Exposure controls for adjusting shutter speed and iris are located behind the screen, although adjusting the settings on the jog dial to attach an accessory, like the LCD field monitor, is difficult when the bracket is mounted.
Pressing the extended focus button next to the second record button by the lens mount will bring up a screen with increased magnification, so you can focus precisely. Rather than having to hold it down, it will stay activated until you switch it off or begin filming. The VG20 has a range of options available for onscreen display, including peaking and zebra guides, a histogram, audio levels and a guide frame.
Provided with the VG20 in the box is a range of accessories, including a dead cat windshield cover for the microphone, an eyecap, a charger and battery covers, as well as cables (though no HDMI). Additional accessories available include an E-mount to A-mount lens adapter for AU$499, and an LCD field monitor that connects via HDMI for AU$499. The VG20 shoots to SD/SDHC/SDXC or MemoryStick Duo/Pro Duo/Pro-HG Duo cards.