Sony launches NEX generation of camcorders

Sony's Handycam NEX-VG10 will be one of the first of a new breed of large sensor, interchangeable-lens camcorders destined to bring videographers a new level of creativity and flexibility for less than $2,000.

Sony Handycam NEX-VG10, shown here with the 18-200mm kit lens.
Sony Handycam NEX-VG10, shown here with the 18-200mm kit lens. Sony Electronics

It doesn't take a genius to guess that the first relatively mainstream large-sensor camcorder would come from one of the big three manufacturers of both cameras and camcorders: Sony, Panasonic, or Canon. And it looks as if Sony's going to cross the finish line first, in September, with its Handycam NEX-VG10. The VG10 is based around the same sensor and lens system as its Alpha namesakes, the NEX-5 and NEX-3, but in a body designed for prosumer/entry-level pro videography.

Though Panasonic, too, announced an interchangeable-lens camcorder a few months ago, the company provided very little information about it. Even the preliminary brochure (PDF) posted on Panasonic's site fails to illuminate. There's enough detail to figure out that the AG-AF100 is targeted at professionals more than Sony's--it has stereo XLR mic inputs and an SDI connector, plus a broader selection of resolution and frame rate options--but without even a ballpark price you can't make any meaningful comments about it. Plus, it's not slated to ship till the end of the year.

Here are the basic specs for the VG10 and what little is available for the AF100:

 Panasonic AG-AF100 Sony Handycam NEX-VG10
Sensor12.1-megapixel Live MOS14.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS
17.3mm x 13mm23.4 mm x 15.6mm
Focal multiplier2x1.5x
32.4 - 360mm (16:9)
Lens mountMicro Four ThirdsE-mount
Autofocusn/a25-point contrast AF
Min illumination (lux)n/a
standard: 11
low light: n/a


0 .43x magnification
LCDYes3-inch articulated 921,000 pixels
Primary media0GB flash; dual SDXC0GB flash; SDXC
HD recordingAVCHD:
1080/60i, 50i, 30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p
(bit rates n/a)
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps
1440x1080/60i @ 9Mbps
Manual shutter speedYes1/4-1/4000 sec
Manual irisYesYes
Accessory shoeYesYes
Hot shoen/aYes
Audio2 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
2 channels;
XLR mics, headphone jack
Photo: ISO sensitivityn/aISO 200 - ISO 12,800
Photo: Continuous shootingn/a7fps (frames n/a)
Body dimensions (WHD, inches)n/a3.9 x 5.3 x 11.5
Operating weight (ounces)n/a44 (est with kit lens)
Mfr. Pricen/a$1999
Ship dateDecember 2010September 2010

The 18-200mm lens is new, and uses the same optical stabilization technology as Sony's camcorder optical SteadyShot (including Active mode). Like the other NEX lenses, it uses electromagnetic iris and focus activation in order to remain silent while recording. The lens will be available standalone for use with NEX still cameras, though some people might find it a bit pricey at $799.99. But at more than a pound, the lens may overbalance Sony's tiny NEX bodies.

Note the rather funky-looking microphone. It's a stereo mic that consists of four omnidirectional mic capsules that Sony algorithmically clumps to create a more unidirectional, cardioid effect. It's too bad you'll want/need to cover it up with the bundled dead kitten (those rather unsavorily named and frumpy looking puffs that you put over the mic as a noise shield).

Though it has a broad array of still photo capabilities, including Sony's multi-shot modes, such as Handheld Twilight, the lack of raw support is a bit of a disappointment. It also uses a very NEX-like menu system, though with a jog dial instead of a button/dial, which I don't think is really appropriate for a product of this type.

Sony will also be providing a voucher for a download of a limited version of Sony Vegas Movie Studio for video editing--no matter how limited, it has to be better than Picture Motion Browser. The company says it will have a patch to allow it to run on Macs, but as yet I'm not sure how that's going to work.

I think the price is exactly where it should be: more expensive than the fixed-lens prosumer models, but cheaper than a comparable dSLR kitted out with the rig necessary to make manual focus comfortable.

Sony and Panasonic were able to create these products in part because of their activity in the interchangeable-lens still camera business. Because of it, both now have lens lines designed for fast, silent contrast autofocus. (Though both also have adapters for using legacy lenses manually.) It makes you wonder when we're going to see something from Canon.

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