The DigitalCameraReview team is in Jackson, Wyoming this week testing out the first interchangeable lens camcorder targeted at the consumer audience, the Sony NEX-VG10.
Why Wyoming? Because with its tall peaks, cowboy culture and scenic landscape, it's the perfect place to shoot a variety of challenging and picturesque situations and locations, and get a true feel for Sony's prosumer device.
A bit of background on the VG10: It's essentially the technology behind the NEX-3 and NEX-5 (you know, the compact interchangeable lens cameras DCR lauded for having great video capability) tucked into a camcorder form factor. Just don't call it a Handycam. One look at the VG10 and you know you are shooting with something more advanced.
After approximately 12 hours under the blazing August Wyoming sun, shooting shootouts, rodeos and mountain tops, I have a few thoughts to share on the VG10.
Build and Design
The VG10 does not resemble anything else on the market; from a design perspective, it's in a class by itself. It's very solid and surprisingly heavy, with most of the weight coming from the E-mount 18-200mm lens that ships with the device. Also different is the top handle with a viewfinder on one end, and what Sony calls a Quad Capsule Spatial Array Microphone on the other.
I first thought the weight would cause my arms would tire quickly. But thanks to the top handle, there are multiple ways to hold the VG10 when shooting, and that opens up a range of possibilities.
Of course, that also means there is a bit of a learning curve with the VG10. It's not the type of camera you can rip out of the box and start shooting with like a pro. It took me some time to be acquainted with the device, and even still, I'm not sure how best to shoot with it.
Then again, the VG10 will run $2,000 when it ships next month, and those buying it aren't looking for ease of use. They want great video.
Don't Touch the Display
I was shocked to discover that the VG10's 3.0-inch LCD is not a touchscreen. Tap and press it all you want, you can't change any settings through the display. But as Sony explained, the target user for the VG10 really isn't enamored with touchscreens – they view touch navigation as a fad. Instead, they want easy access to controls, including hot buttons and a mode dial, which is exactly what the VG10 sports.
Buttons, Menus and Controls
Most of the VG10 picture controls and buttons are hidden under the LCD on the camera's left side. The exceptions are the record button and mode button, which are on the back, and the photo button, which is on the right atop the palm grip.
For the most part, I had no problem accessing the controls and making adjustments on the fly. But if you hold the camera in your left hand via to the top handle or underneath the camcorder, tapping those buttons with your free hand (the right one) is near impossible. I was able to deal with it by simply remembering to hold the VG10 with my right hand exclusively. But not after more than a few awkward attempts to change the settings with my right hand.
Fans of the NEX-3 and NEX-5 will recognize the VG10's menu because it is very much the same. I found it intuitive, easy to navigate and a huge step up from the clunky menu on the HDR-XR350 and CX110.
Video and Sound Quality
While DCR does not have a test lab in Wyoming, I was able to view my footage back at the hotel room, and I was impressed. I'll reserve final judgment for when I can blow it all up on a large-screen HDTV, but I think the video will certainly rival the output of the NEX-5. So I expect a video with the detail and depth of an SLR image.
However, the 14 megapixel JPGs stills haven't been compressed at all. So check those out, too.
As for audio, the Quad Capsule Spatial Array Microphone may just be the first on-board camcorder mic I like. The mic is designed for with what Sony calls exceptional "front-side directivity and stereo separation." This means the microphone is more sensitive to noise coming from the front than it is to noise coming from the back. And after reviewing the footage and listening carefully to the guns and fighting Native Americans, I can't say anything bad about the sound quality ... yet. Once again, I'll need more time to properly test it out before making declarative statements.
Shooting with the VG10 is a new experience for me. The form factor was slightly off-putting, but after an hour or so spent familiarizing myself with the controls and experimenting with different shooting methods, I grew accustomed to its unique design and shot some fun video.
Of course, my positive impressions of the VG10 could be influenced by the absolutely gorgeous Wyoming countryside, which makes for an ideal subject. Check back soon for the full DCR Sony VG10 full review to find out for sure.
Like Sony's Handycams, the VG10 shoots in AVCHD and spits out m2ts files, which aren't ideal for Web use. They are too large to stream and must be compressed, which significantly lowers the quality. So please keep that in mind as you view the VG10 sample footage.