Sony Handycam NEX-VG10 (with 18-200mm Lens) review: Sony Handycam NEX-VG10 (with 18-200mm Lens)
Every time I try to form a coherent opinion of the Sony NEX-VG10 camcorder, I end up circling back to, "Well, it's the first try." On one hand, it delivers the flexibility of interchangeable lenses in a traditional run-and-gun design at a relatively inexpensive price for the pro user. On the other, the design falls short for the run-and-gun crowd, and it lacks some of the features that someone paying $2,000 for a camcorder wants, most notably progressive recording. If Sony sold it with a different lens, or body only, the price would be far lower and it might be more attractive to the prosumer crowd it seems to have been designed for. In other words, while it looks like a pro camcorder, and costs as much as one, it acts like a consumer model.
For example, the video looks good, but not great. It renders accurate colors and consistent exposures, with solid dynamic range--the contrast looks very good, without unusual clipping in highlights and shadows, even in harsh sunlight. But there's also wobble, moiré, and a muddiness in midrange-distance details like grass and leaves that I don't expect in a camcorder in its price class. That's partly due to the lack of a progressive recording mode--though it captures 30fps, it records at 60i, introducing all the aliasing issues that interlacing does (this is a drawback of standard AVCHD). The cheaper Canon Vixia HF G10's video looks better, and as far as I can tell makes more of the 24Mbps bit rate than the Sony.
The 18-200mm kit lens 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. It's quite good. It can autofocus closely and decisively, even in low light, although the lens/camcorder combination doesn't always accurately guess the subject. It exhibits very little fringing, and the nice, round aperture produces attractive out-of-focus highlights.
But while it's solidly constructed (and heavy), with a nice feel for manual focus, the lens is hard to zoom smoothly and precisely; it's stiffer zooming in than out. It can get kind of unwieldy, and you'll probably have to shell out for a good follow focus (or DIY).
The huge, rather funky-looking stereo microphone consists of four omnidirectional mic capsules that Sony algorithmically clumps to create a more unidirectional, cardioid effect. It's too bad that you'll want or 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). It produces very good sound--subject to the camcorder's limitations.
Normally we don't test camcorders for their photo performance, but since the NEX-VG10 is in many ways just an NEX camera in a more video-friendly design, we ran it through our usual photo tests as well (with the 18-200mm lens). Unsurprisingly, it performs well, much like its co-generation NEX-5, albeit with the continuous-shooting chops of the SLT-A55V. We couldn't time how long it took to power on and shoot; the camcorder always wakes up in video mode, because it always reverts to video when you turn off the power. In any case, it takes about 0.4 second to focus and shoot in good light, increasing to 0.8 second in poorer conditions. The one outlier is shot-to-shot time, which is rather high at 1.2 seconds, though it offers an excellent burst speed of 5.9fps.
|Sony Handycam NEX-VG10|
|Sensor||14.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS|
|Kit lens||11.1x |
32.4 - 360mm (16:9)
|Autofocus||25-point contrast AF|
|Min illumination (lux)||standard: 11|
low light: n/a
0 .43x magnification
|LCD||3-inch articulated 921,000 pixels|
|Primary media||0GB flash; SDXC|
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps
1440x1080/60i @ 9Mbps
|Manual shutter speed||1/4-1/4,000 sec|
|Audio connections||3.5mm mic jack, headphone jack|
|Video connections||Mini HDMI|
|Photo: ISO sensitivity||ISO 200 - ISO 12800|
|Photo: Continuous shooting||7fps (frames n/a)|
|Body dimensions (WHD, inches)||3.9x5.3x11.5|
|Operating weight (ounces)||25.5|
|Ship date||October 2010|
The VG10 certainly looks the part of a pro camcorder, with a big, comfortable handle that houses a hot shoe, accessory shoe, and 3.5mm mic jack on its side. It also features a huge, comfortable eye-level viewfinder. But you can't really shoot using the handle; there's no record control on it, and if you've got an external mic attached, it will probably interfere with your grip.
A big, textured side makes the camera comfortable to grip when shooting at eye level, even with the heavy lens mounted on the camcorder. However, I found that while shooting I frequently counterbalanced the lens by pressing down with my forefinger--right on the photo button.
Inside the recess of the relatively small LCD are the direct-access controls: menu, white balance, focus (AF, MF, DMF), exposure compensation, gain, playback, display, LCD/EVF toggle, and a large jog dial for making adjustments. I can't pin down why I'm not crazy about them. Maybe it's because I always have to look at them to see what I'm doing and because my finger keeps hitting the sides of the jog-dial enclosure.
The interface issues are compounded by the lack of important features like peaking assist for manual focus. Despite the big, high-quality microphone there are no mixing or levels controls--just volume. No color bars. No ability to define how fast or slow the autofocus or exposure changes. Though it has a broad array of still photo capabilities, including Sony's multishot modes, such as Handheld Twilight, the lack of raw support is a bit of a disappointment.
Some may make a big deal about the large sensor in this camcorder, but it's a large sensor crammed with pixels unnecessary for shooting 1080 HD video. As with a dSLR, however, the larger sensor provides advantages when trying to achieve shallow depth of field on close subjects. But Sony confounds that by trying to compete with lower-end camcorders on zoom range, burdening the camcorder with an expensive, relatively narrow-aperture, narrow-angle lens and thus an uncompetitive price.
I wouldn't say that there's no audience for this camcorder, but it wouldn't be my recommended choice for many people. It just seems like there's a lot of conceptual work that needs to happen.