Ever the trendsetters, Sony has gone and done it again with the VG900. A couple of years ago they graced us with the NEX-VG10, the "world's first consumer interchangeable lens HD camcorder." Until that time, DSLR cameras, with their numerous lens options, offered video producers creative choices that consumer camcorders just couldn't compete with.
Another huge advantage long held by DSLRs has been that of full-frame image capture. Sony has now shattered that barrier with the new NEX-VG900, calling it "the world's first consumer 35mm full-frame interchangeable lens camcorder."
Video producers driven to DSLR use because of their interchangeable lenses and amazing images, but those who miss the traditional camcorder look, feel and functionality will be delighted with the VG900. Though marketed as a consumer level camcorder, the VG900 offers the best of both the camcorder and DSLR worlds, with enough of the right features to really aim for the prosumer.
Our tests used the SEL18200 ($900), an 11X zoom, 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 telephoto lens and a Carl Zeiss 16-35mm f/2.8 zoom lens. With both of these lenses the center of balance is too far forward for one-handed shooting and will cause considerable wrist fatigue rather quickly. The handle and lens adapter feel comfortable though.
Alternatively, the size and form of the VG900 lends itself particularly well to cradling in the palm of one hand at waist level. Support with the other hand and tuck in your elbows and you'll get some great, steady pans. Not too quickly though – as with all CMOS based cameras, rapid panning will result in some degree of rolling shutter issues. While the VG900 is specifically designed for use with E-mount lenses, one's creative options increase greatly by using the included A-mount lens adapter.
To achieve stunning results the VG900 employs a 24.3MP, full-frame, 35mm Exmor HD CMOS sensor. At 1.4-inchx0.9-inch (35.8mmx23.9mm), the sensor is more than twice the size of APS-C sensors and approximately 40 times larger than those found in standard consumer camcorders. Greater sensor real estate means more light is captured, which translates into all sorts of good things, such as better light sensitivity, shallower depth of field and more color data.
The VG900 has a healthy mix of onscreen menu options and readily accessible buttons for frequently needed features. Three dedicated buttons located on the left side of the body between the lens mount and the LCD, control iris, gain/ISO and shutter speed. These three control the aspects of exposure, and controlling them manually is part of what makes the VG900 a definitively better camera.
Depending on your needs you can switch instantly between automatic and manual settings simply by pressing the button of the desired function. When in manual mode, a small wheel at the bottom of the camcorder is used to adjust the settings. Just ahead of this wheel is the Manual button, a user-defined button that can be set to control exposure, auto exposure shift, white balance (WB) color temperature (in 100 degrees-Kelvin increments), WB B-A (Blue/Amber) or WB G-M (Green/Magenta).
Behind the LCD are several more very useful buttons. The Zebra button turns striping on or off, which gives a visual indication of the areas in your frame that are overexposed by displaying hash marks across the appropriate areas. In the menu you can adjust Zebra sensitivity between 70 and 100+ in increments of five. A peaking feature displays a stroke of color around the areas that are in focus and provides a much appreciated focus assist for older eyes. Go into the menu to select white, red or yellow and to vary the intensity level between lo, mid or hi. The Display button adds or removes information shown onscreen. White Balance displays a menu where you can select between auto, outdoor, indoor, manual (in 100K increments) or one push – where you fill the frame with white, push the onscreen button and you're all set.
On the right side of the unit is a zoom control for use with lenses having a built-in zoom motor, otherwise, the rocker controls electronic zoom. Ahead of the zoom control is an Expanded Focus button, which magnifies the frame to further aid in achieving proper focus.
Topside is the built-in microphone which consists of four omnidirectional capsules that support either stereo or 5.1 surround sound recording. Levels are adjustable and may be monitored through headphones and visually, with the onscreen audio level meter. While the onboard mic does a respectable job, pros may want to step it up using the optional adapter kit, which includes a mono shotgun mic and two XLR connectors. The kit, and other accessories, attaches to the new Multi Interface Shoe.
Having the full-frame advantage means you can utilize your lens' full field of view, without the cropping that occurs on smaller-sensor equipped cameras. Rather than having to get further away from your subject to get the composition you desire you can actually move in closer. Doing so allows you a shallower depth of field. Using de-focusing effects, you can more effectively direct your audience's attention to precisely where you want it.
The VG900 captures beautiful, full HD 1080 video at frame rates of 24p, 60p and 60i. Additionally, you can capture uncompressed 4:2:2 video to an external device via the HDMI out. This is excellent for those who want to retain all that extra color information acquired through shooting full-frame, which translates into added flexibility in post, such as when color correcting, grading or keying. We're gaining more freedom to shoot with the VG900 and welcoming every minute of it.
Imaging Sensor: 35mm full-frame Exmor HD CMOS sensor 1.4"x0.9" (35.8×23.9mm)
APS-C Compatible Mode: Yes (Auto/On/Off)
Manual Focus Assist: Magnified display; Peaking
Interface: Composite video out; Component video out; S-video out; Mini-USB; multi-interface accessory shoe; Mini HDMI; stereo headphone jack; stereo mic jack, remote control
Mic Level Control: Yes – 31 steps
Wind Noise Reduction: Yes
Media: Memory Stick PRO Duo; Pro-HG Duo; PRO-HG HX Duo; SD, SDHC, SDXC
Viewfinder: EVF; adjustable diopter; adjustable color temperature
Gain Control: Auto/Manual (0dB-30dB)
ISO: Auto/Manual (100 to 25600)
Manual Exposure Assist: Zebra Pattern Display
White Balance: Auto; One Push; Outdoor; Indoor; WB Temp
LCD Display: 3.0" Xtra Fine LCD 270 degree tilt, touch panel display with Histogram; Real-time image adjustment: Exposure compensation, WB
Assignable Dial: Exposure/Gain (ISO)/Iris/Shutter Speed/AE Shift/WB Temp
Weight: Approx. 1lb. 13oz. with supplied NP-FV70 battery
Measurements: Approx. 4 1/4" x 5 1/8" x 8 7/8"
Power – Battery: InfoLITHIUM with AccuPower Meter System (V Series) NP-FV70/FV100; AC adapter
- Full-frame 35mm sensor
- Interchangeable lenses with included adapter
- Focus assist: Peaking and magnification
- Exposure assist: Zebras and histogram
- Optional XLR adapter
- Electronic View Finder
- Zoom rocker for use with power-zoom lenses
- Pricey for consumer market
- Accessory shoes are cramped
For full-frame, 35mm image capture excellence and multiple lens options in a camcorder form factor, check out the NEX-VG900 from Sony.
Sony Electronics Inc.
$3,300 (body only)
Contributing Editor Mark Holder is a video producer and trainer.