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Old March 6th, 2012, 03:08 PM   #1
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Sony VG20 - 1st impressions

Well, after doing months of research and weeks of vacillating, I decided on buying the Sony VG20 to replace my Canon DSLRs as my main line camera.

I'll write an in-depth article as to why I chose the VG20 and how this camera measures up in the IQ department, but for now, here's my initial impressions:

- It's a hefty little beast. It's maybe 1 1/2 times the size of a small DSLR (like a T2i), maybe just a bit bigger then a Mark II.

- Despite it's small size, it still is unmistakably a video camera, which is either good or bad depending. You won't be getting this into a concert, but you may be able to fool police into thinking it's not a "real" camera when they come seeking permits.

- Oh how I've missed a handle and viewfinder.

- Shoulder mount cameras seem dead as a form factor, and this camera certainly certainly embraces this idea. You could hand hold for video easier then a DSLR, but only just. Some sort of tripod of Franken-rig will be needed for sure.

- It's plastic. No surprise, pretty much all video cams are, and this is no exception. That said, it feels well-built and well designed.

- It takes photos. This is one of the new breed video cameras that also takes pics - sort of the opposite of video capable DSLRs. Surprisingly, it's not that big of a difference from DSLRs. Wouldn't use this as a "pure" still camera, but it's cool that it can take stills (and has a dedicated button for doing so).

- And the photos look dang good - certainly good enough for family photos or behind the scene photos for a movie.

- If you hate touchscreens, you'll hate this camera. No real way to operate the camera w/o using the touchscreen, at least in setting up the camera. That said, it's pretty responsive and quick. Fairly intuitive (I have yet to look at the manual), I'd say it's about equal to the Canons for ease of use for most functions.

- Only complaint is that I'd like to be able to shoot a photo while in video mode (as you can w/ the Canons). As it is now, you must choose one mode or the other. Not a huge deal, esp for film making, for it'd be nice for family vacation stuff.

- The screen flips around. And because it's on the side of the camera (and not the back, like DSLRs), it can be flipped all the way around (so you could see yourself when filming yourself). I already love this feature.

- The screen itself has a very nice image - sharp and bright. It's usable outdoors in bright light, but realistically you'd need some sort of loupe for extended viewing. Of course, there's also a viewfinder...

- A viewfinder! By Gawd, a real viewfinder! After two years with a DSLR, this is such a nice feature to have. The finder has a diopter (a nice plus) and has a color screen. The screen is decent - neither great or horrible from limited time using it.

- HDMI out is clean, and it also has component & composite outputs via included cables (meaning you can view this camera on virtually every VCR/TV every made) which are also clean. No idea if it's 4:2:0 or 4:2:2 as I don't have a Ninja.

- It has expand focus. Absolutely a necessity with large sensor cameras, and it works just fine in the VG20. There's a dedicated button next to the forward record button (which, as others have noted, doesn't quite fit American hands).

- It looks to be a 4x punch in, which should be good for most shooting applications (the Canon's have a 5X and a 10X punch in). Still, some higher end cameras (notably the Panasonic AF100) don't have this feature at all.

- Best of all, you can use this feature even when the camera's rolling (which you can't do w/ Canons).

- The expanded focus is NOT output through the HDMI monitor - hopefully this can be an option via future firmware, as it would help focusing in tough situations.

- Inputs are not pro. It's a small camera, so space is limited... as are the inputs. Mini-HDMI port, 1/4" headphone and mic inputs. Nice quality for what they are, but certainly nothing like a pro camera.

- One hot shoe & one cold shoe mount on the handle. Nice to have 2 instead of one.

- Rolling shutter. It's has it for sure, although not as bad as I had thought watching some youtube vids. I'd say it's a little reduced when compared to Canons, and the quality of the rolling shutter is smoother, not as blocky.

- Moire - Seems improved over Canon. Didn't do extensive tests, but simply put, nothing in my house - including Venetian blinds - looked bad.

- Battery placement is the rear of the camera, not the bottom - meaning you don't have to take it off a tripod/mount to replace it. This is a huge bonus for Franken-rig setups. The camera also sips power - much better battery life then either DSLRs or older video cameras.

- SDHC card port is on the side. Another huge ease of use placement, as most SD cards in DSLRs are along side the battery. Again, this means you can swap out cards without having to take the camera out of it's rig.

- Worked just fine with 2 different Transend 32 gb class 10 cards.

- Image Quality - w/o extensive testing, I'd say two things strike me right off the bat: the image is cleaner then the Canons and it's a bit more light sensitive then the cropped sensor DSLRs. I don't want to get too into the IQ without more testing, but I'm immediately impressed with the image.

- The auto-everything mode works well, even using non-E mount glass (of which I have none - all Canon mount). It adjusts far faster then the Canon DSLRs in automode.

All in all, there is little doubt in my mind that this camera is a full step beyond the cropped sensor Canon DSLRs (I don't shoot full frame as I value my sanity). I was ready to send this little guy back in a flash if it disappointed... so far, couldn't be happier (although I've only had for an afternoon).
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Old March 7th, 2012, 07:42 AM   #2
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Re: Sony VG20 - 1st impressions

Very short video of some of my kids:
chach and joe on swing - YouTube
First time using both the camera and Vegas... so not too bad!

As noted, I used an old Canon FD lens mounted via a $15mount off of ebay. Lens may be a little soft, but otherwise I think the image is pretty dang good.
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Old March 8th, 2012, 10:31 AM   #3
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Re: Sony VG20 - 1st impressions

Thanks for the review. I am planning to sell my HD1000U and grab a VG20 to act as my main cam. I am still keeping my T2i as a 2nd camera.

What's your take on the lens that comes with the VG20? I believe it's a 17-200. When you say full auto mode does that include auto focusing?

Thanks!
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Old March 8th, 2012, 03:55 PM   #4
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Re: Sony VG20 - 1st impressions

Yeah, it's 18-200mm. I didn't buy it for a couple of reasons:

A) It's mighty pricy - $600 as part of a kit, $800 by itself.

B) The NEX lenses aren't mountable to other formats, even via an adapter. Thus, if you're buying NEX glass, you're committing to the mount in a way that you're not with other lens mount. Right now resale value for NEX is high - but who knows in 5-10 years? Good glass is forever, but resale value isn't necessarily.

C) It's a decent lens, with a huge range, but it's not great glass. For $800 I expect a wee bit better quality. A comparable Canon lens, Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, goes for $550 new (less if part of a kit), and that's where I'd like to see the pricing for this lens.

THAT SAID...

I'm looking to pick one up used (if the price is right). Simply put, there's so little native glass for NEX cameras that you can't be too picky if you want a super -zoom (there's only one other super-zoom, the Tamron 18-200mm going for around $740).

And yes, the native glass DOES have auto focusing as well as auto-iris.
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Old March 8th, 2012, 04:53 PM   #5
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Re: Sony VG20 - 1st impressions

Joel:

Kit lens is not bad at all. It is solid, has optical stabilization which seems to work well, and also has autofocus. It works well- in the tradition of Sony. It is a bit slower than say my FX1, but then again, I haven't even looked to see if there is a faster setting in the camera.

Because it is such a wide range zoom, It is on slow side, so you lose some benefits of low light capabilities, and shallow depth of field, but generally, the image is clean. If I need fast lens, or shallow depth of field, I go to my Nikon vintage stuff, and use manual focus and aperature setting to get desired effects.

Because the camera is generally fast in terms of ISO capability, you will likely need to consider ND filtering in bright sun, if you are looking again for shallower depth of field.

In film below, anything in bright day was shot with the kit lens.


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Old March 9th, 2012, 12:35 AM   #6
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Re: Sony VG20 - 1st impressions

Chris, make no mistake, I covet that lens... I just covet it for a lower price then it sells new for.

Great footage BTW.
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Old March 9th, 2012, 08:46 AM   #7
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Re: Sony VG20 - 1st impressions

Thanks John & Chris. The footage looks lovely btw.

I love my T2i been using it for 4 months now but I don't see it being my main camera. As a solo shooter, it's a pain to rely on it during the ceremony and reception. I don't know how other videograhers do it but I can't seem to get to that comfort level yet. My HD1000U is my main but the T2i pretty much blows it away. I am leaning towards the VG20 and with your nice reviews I might just pull the trigger.
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Old March 10th, 2012, 06:40 AM   #8
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Re: Sony VG20 - 1st impressions

John - I'm glad you like your VG20 - you certainly did your due diligence before you bought!

As a former T2i owner and VG20 rental shooter, I agree 100% with your observations - especially the value of the flip forward LCD (hard to explain to people how quickly this becomes a "must have" - I'll never buy another camera without one).

I hope you continue to enjoy your new camera.

Bill
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Old March 10th, 2012, 12:07 PM   #9
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Re: Sony VG20 - 1st impressions

Thanks Bill! As for diligence, I hate buyers remorse, so I leave no stone unturned.

And so far, couldn't be happier (considering the lack of contrast control). It really is an amazing little beast, one that I seem to find out something new about everyday.

Yesterday, I realized that the LCD will play while flipped inside out/pressed against the camera body. Not only does this protect the screen, it will let the focus pulled have his own monitor. A simple discovery, but one that means a lot.

Noel, I had the T2i (and will likely pick up another one - it too is a wonderful little camera), but in a battle with the VG20, there's no contest. The VG20 is a proper video camera, even if not quite pro. It looks, feels, and reacts like a video camera should. Other than scene/profile settings, every advantage goes to the VG20 IMO.
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