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Picking a different lens for different effects is one of the marks of the serious photographer. When creating its NEX series of lens-swapping cameras, Sony evidently decided that serious video fanatics deserve that option too. The Handycam NEX-VG10 is a camcorder packed with top-of-the-line features, and can be customised for different film-making effects by changing the lens.
The VG10 goes on sale in late September 2010, and will cost £2,000. That includes a kit lens that costs £600 if bought separately.
Not only is it the world's first consumer high-definition camcorder with interchangeable lenses, the VG10 is also the first Sony Handycam to pack a dSLR-sized, 14-megapixel Exmor APS CMOS sensor. The combination of lens-swapping capability and a large sensor opens up all sorts of shooting possibilities, from sumptuously detailed shots to gorgeous, cinematic focus changes. It also means the VG10 is a tasty stills shooter.
The VG10 comes with an E18-200mm f3.5-6.3 OSS lens, with image stabilisation and an 11x optical zoom. The NEX system uses the new E mount, which means lenses of the same size and format can be swapped between the camcorder and the NEX-3 and NEX-5 stills cameras. That range of lenses is still in its infancy, but an optional adaptor allows A-mount lenses from Sony's Alpha range of digital SLRs to expand your options.
The camcorder includes a built-in quad capsule spatial array stereo microphone on the carry handle. There's an external mic input for even better sound. The on-board mic is pretty ugly, and, despite the graceful arm, the bulbous viewfinder makes the VG10 look unbalanced. Still, they're all high-end features, so its ungainliness gives the camera more of a business-like air. Anyway, the milled silver rings of the interchangeable lenses look gorgeous.
The viewfinder is built into the rear of the handle, and tilts upwards so you can shoot at different viewing angles. It's an electronic 1,152,000-dot viewfinder, so you're able to preview settings and zoom in and out.
The flip-out screen measures 76mm (3 inches) and boasts a 921,000-pixel resolution. Controls are located in the screen well. There's a jog wheel that you scroll up and down with the thumb of your right hand while holding the device normally. You also get a selection of hot keys so the wheel can take manual control of important shooting options like white balance, gain and focus.
The NEX interface has been somewhat tweaked -- the controls of the NEX stills snappers have been simplified to the point where we were faced with a frustrating learning curve, throwing out everything we were used to and starting from scratch. But the VG10 isn't aimed at novices, as the stills cameras are, so it's good that the interface has been adjusted accordingly.
Video is captured at a 1080i resolution in the AVCHD format at up to 24Mbps. The only restriction on how long you can film for is the capacity of your memory card. You can choose between Sony's own Memory Stick Pro Duo format or the more widespread SD card.
The camera comes with Sony's Vegas editing software, although serious videographers may well already rely on other software.
There's no denying that the Sony NEX-VG10 is a serious piece of kit. With its lens-swapping versatility, it has few of the limitations of other consumer camcorders. The large sensor and swappable lenses mean you can achieve the sort of effects previously reserved for photographers shooting with dSLRs.
As hi-def video recording is becoming more common on dSLRs, they're in direct competition with the VG10. The VG10 is heavier than a dSLR, but packs video-specific features, like a high-quality mic, that haven't yet made it to video-filming dSLRs.
Edited by Charles Kloet