In 2005, Sony revolutionized the consumer camcorder market with the introduction of the HC1. The HC1 shot HD video in the HDV MPEG-2 format, and although priced at $2000 was a huge success. Sony quickly followed with the smaller HC3, and then Canon released their HV10, and later the beloved HV20 and 30 models.
Today, Sony announced the world’s first interchangeable lens consumer camcorder, the NEX-VG10, based on their new NEX mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, which currently consist of the NEX-3 and NEX-5.
Similar to the Micro 4/3 system, the NEX mirrorless system allows for smaller lenses and bodies, but with a larger sensor than any normal compact-size camera. Put in perspective, the sensor on the NEX-VG10 is twenty times larger than the sensor on most consumer camcorders. The sensor is also larger than Micro 4/3 and offers of 1.5x crop factor, compared the the 2X factor of Micro 4/3. The larger sensor should increase dynamic range and allow for better depth of field effects for those who like to pull focus. Currently the NEX series consists of three lenses: 18-55 (kit lens for the NEX still cameras), 16mm prime, and the 18-200 kit lens for the VG10. These are E-Mount lenses, and with an adapter the camcorder can also use the larger A-mount lenses of the Sony Alpha DSLR system.
Finally, a manufacturer has addressed the awful audio quality of consumer camcorders. The VG10 has a four element stereo microphone system specifically geared to gather more focused sound, placed above the camera along with the EVF, and it looks like you can use a windscreen/deadcat. In addition the camcorder offers a microphone jack.
Buttons – Photo Features – Other Stuff
I’ve never seen so many dedicated buttons on a consumer level camcorder. The less one has to go into the menu sytem, the better.
For photos the VG10 will shoot 14 megapixel stills, and should offer the same picture quality of the NEX-3 and 5 cameras. There is an Auto HDR feature and burst mode, but there isn’t a lot of information right now on how extensive the photo features are, compared to the NEX-3 and 5.
There’s also a hot and cold shoe. The hot shoe is probably Sony Proprietary, but the cold shoe should be standard size.
Sony has chosen to strictly adhere to the AVCHD format, and the camera shoots in 1080i, with a 24mbps rate. You’ll find no progressive modes at all, which for me is the one disappointing omission of the camcorder.
Will consumers be attracted to an interchangeable lens camcorder? If the success of the micro 4/3 cameras are any indication, than I certainly think so. The much larger sensor, 24mbps framerate, very useful 27-300mm kit lens (in 35mm terms) , coupled with a good onboard microphone makes this a most compelling system. It should be a great hit with enthusiasts and low-end indies, as well as an excellent B-Cam for others. I have no doubt that Sony will follow this model with a more traditional consumer camcorder with less buttons and in-body microphones, but I think interchangeable lens models in the consumer camcorder market are here to stay. I think the VG10 is priced exactly right, and certainly offers more features than 2005’s HC1.
It will be interesting to see if Panasonic responds with a consumer camcorder in micro 4/3 format. They’ve already announced a $6000 pro micro 4/3 model. It’s possible we could see a consumer micro 4/3 camcorder as part of Panasonic’s 2011 model lineup next spring.
Whjle Panasonic can compete with Sony in this new consumer market, right now Canon and JVC are left out. JVC doesn’t have a digital camera division, but it would be possible for them to adopt one of the mirrorless formats from Sony, Panasonic/Olympus, or Samsung. Canon, of course, would not adopt another format, and while they are the leader in DSLR video at the moment, so far there aren’t any hints that they are developing their own mirrorless format.
Sony has now redefined the “prosumer camcorder market with the VG10. I know I’ll be keeping a close eye on how the camcorder rates in tests, and how it affects Sony’s competitors.