Director of Photography Harvey Glen takes the Sony NEX-VG10E through its paces. Sony has achieved a major breakthrough in the consumer camera market with the NEX-VG10E is. Traditionally, consumer-based cameras are generally very limiting with their focal length as they have fixed lens and you can only go so wide which never seems to […]
Sony has achieved a major breakthrough in the consumer camera market with the NEX-VG10E is.
Traditionally, consumer-based cameras are generally very limiting with their focal length as they have fixed lens and you can only go so wide which never seems to be wide enough or tight enough especially when your child is playing a sheep in the school play.
Having an interchangable lens system (E Mount) takes the NEX-VG10E one notch above the other consumer cameras and into something that could potentially be useful for the video crowd.
The cameras E mount lens system is compatible with Sonys DSLR lenses. So for somebody who has a Sony NEX-3 or NEX-5 DSLR camera, you can mix and match the lenses. If you dont have one of these cameras, you can buy Sony lenses that fulfill your filming requirement.
Having said that, the manufacturer does ship the NEX-VG10E with a diverse lens with a focal length of 18-200mm and an optical steady shot mode.
Having the ability to use DSLR lenses will improve the quality and cinematic look of your footage as you will be able to achieve a much shallower depth of field taking the camera another step away from the consumer market.
The present fad seems to be stills cameras having video functions and manufacturers combining the two technologies. Canons 5D MKII was the game changer and mainly responsible for this revolution so you cannot blame Sony for wanting to try and claim a piece of the action in a more camcorder-friendly fashion.
Although the Sony NEX-VG10E does shoot stills which it does at 14.2 MP, it is primarily a video camera. The question is: Is it any good?
The camera uses an Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor, which means it has 1920x1080i video recording ability (AVCHD format). This is awesome although it still does not have the option to shoot progressive.
The resolution is 19.5x (or so Sony claims) the size of other traditional camcorders in its market. A couple of years ago, full HD was found only in pro-cameras that cost about four times more and now, the technology is available to the average consumer.
The camera records down to a Memory Stick Pro Duo removable media card or SD card, which is a big advantage as tapeless is the future and saves on digitising time when you come to post.
The camera powers up from cold in about two seconds. Bizarrely, the battery fits on upside down. It remains firmly connected though so you dont have to worry about it falling off. Impressively, when fully charged, the battery has a long life of 330 minutes of shooting time.
The actual body of the camera is sleek, and its silver and blue look is impressive. The camera is a little front heavy, which is down to the DSLR style lens, but does have a good handgrip and screw fitting for a tripod.
The three-inch LCD screen is described as high resolution imaging technology and helps you see your image even in the super bright Middle East sun so thats very handy and much easier than sweating under a black cloth.
Being a professional DOP, Im a big fan of using a viewfinder. For the low price of the NEX-VG10E, it does come with a decent one.
From my deep exploration though, there is no option (unlike other Sony cams such as the Z1) to have both the LCD and viewfinder simultaneously live. This is a big disappointment as all of the controls are in the menu hidden behind the LCD screen. I use the word hidden and I mean it!
If you are shooting handheld and want to use the viewfinder (which is best for stability, having a three-point contact with the camera eye, and two hands), you have to have the LCD physically closed preventing any access to the menu. This makes performing iris pulls a physical impossibility. Even if you are using the LCD screen, making an iris adjustment whilst shooting is incredibly tricky, because it is within the menu system.
Having used cameras of all different shapes and sizes, I like to have one thing constant and thats the ability to access the controls quickly and simply without disrupting the movement of the camera.
I usually prefer to have the iris and focus physically on the lens, an option of servo, manual zoom, the shutter speed and white balance all easily accessible.
With the NEX-VG10E, the focus is on the lens and you can only zoom directly off the lens barrel. There is no option of servo zoom, which seems a bit uncharacteristic of Sony as servo zoom is the best way to ensure smooth controlled zooms, especially for the inexperienced shooter.
Iris, shutter speed, white balance and so on are all accessible via the menu. Once the LCD screen is open, you will discover the menu options can be selected via a conventional scrolling dial. This feature is usually seen on some of the more high-end Sony camcorder models. This dial is incredibly accurate and easy to use when you are not filming. This camera wasnt designed to make these adjustments on the go. Fortunately, there is no onscreen touch menu, which I personally find a little impractical and too fiddly to use.
For all the benefits of the LCD screen and its imaging technology, it has one massive drawback. It doesnt rotate all the way round. If you want to film yourself, for example, talking to the camera, you cannot see yourself.
That is, indeed, an unpardonable error. Sony has developed a complex recording machine that gives great picture quality at full HD resolution, but lacks the simple features that it has done time and time again on other cheaper models.
To me, the manufacturer may have instantly alienated itself from so many users, i.e. reporters who perform solo camera and presenter duties, video diary users, snowboarders and the like.
On the plus side, the camera is physically robust. It has a hot and cold shoe. The hot shoe is for mounting something like a flash and cold shoe for additional mics showing its adaptability between video and stills.
Sound wise, it doesnt have XLR inputs, but you can still use external mics with a mini jack connector. The camera also boosts surround sound audio for its internal mic. The hiss factor is very low. The Quad Capsule Array Stero Mic can capture audible sound for non-broadcast projects. Sony has also added an option to choose between rear sound and front sound. The rear sound helps capture the audio of the person behind the camera.
I quite like the Sony NEX-VG10E, but find that it tries too hard to be a mix of a semi-pro and consumer camera. The picture quality is fantastic; the 1920×1080 resolution is just what you require in our modern age and the colour replication is spot on but the functions and usability let it down.
I am sure there will be adaptors released soon so you can use other manufacturers lenses and if they have a manual iris on them, you might be able to ride the iris without going into the menu (just like using Zeiss lenses on the Canon 5D MKII).
If you are an auto user, the auto functions are good. The focus is quite accurate and doesnt hunt around too much like cheaper camera models.
In conclusion, I think the NEX-VG10E is more of a consumer camera than a semi pro camera. The fact that it lacks a 360 degree viewfinder, any option of servo zoom and has important functions like the iris control within the menu shows theres still room for improvement, especially if it wants to be anyones number one choice.
The camera that is worth looking out for professional use though is the new Sony with 35mm sensor, which is built from DSLR technology.
Why? The first thing you would notice is that it has interchangeable lens. For the first time, a camera in the price range of US $2,300 offers filmmakers several options. Thats right. The ability to shoot wider or tighter is an important element in cinematography.
Harvey Glen is a DoP based in Dubai. He has written four books including: How to Become a Cameraman, Lighting for Film and TV, Filming on Location and How to Beat the Competition.