Back in May I wrote about the vexing mix of features in Sony’s new NEX interchangeable lens digital cameras. While visiting a big Chicagoland electronics megastore I finally got my hands on the NEX-3 and NEX-5 cameras and came away liking them more than I expected. Though I only got to play with them for a few minutes I didn’t find the user interface to be as frustrating as I predicted. I rarely shoot in full manual mode, generally preferring aperture- or shutter-priority. So changing aperture or shutter using the back control dial was fairly intuitive and easy.
I was truly blown away by the form-factor. These are tiny cameras! Without the lens they’re the size of a typical compact point-and-shoot. With the lens they’re no bigger than so-called “bridge” cameras of the sort that look like mini-SLRs. The fit and finish is very nice, and the lens casing feels top-notch. Some of my initial concerns still remain, especially the lack of true manual exposure control when shooting video along with the lack of a microphone input for video. Nevertheless, I came away more intrigued than before when I’d only read about them.
Answering some of the concerns about the video capabilities of the NEX-3/5 Sony is releasing a camcorder using the same large APS-C sized image sensor and interchangeable lens mount, named the NEX-VG10. The Luminous Landscape just published a hands-on review of the camcorder, giving it a qualified recommendation. It seems like most of the weaknesses of the camera lie in firmware — that is, features that are programmed in rather than part of the physical mechanics of the camera. In particular, there’s limited exposure monitoring making it difficult to see when you’re clipping the highlights. I find that omission particularly surprising, since it’s included in nearly every pro-sumer Sony camcorder I’ve used in the last decade.
The idea of having a still camera and a camcorder that can share lenses is quite exciting, as is having a true video camcorder–not just a still dSLR with video capabilities tacked on–sporting a large high-quality sensor that’s nearly the size of 35mm motion picture film. All the more amazing is that the still camera costs well less than a grand and the camcorder costs just under $200 with lens. This approach promises to be a game-changer in many of the ways that video dSLRs shook up the digital video world.
Panasonic has also announced its own version of an interchangeable lens camcorder based on still-camera sensor, the AG-AF100. Panasonic’s version is based around the micro 4/3 standard behind still cameras like the Olympus Pen series and the Panasonic GH-1. The AF100 is still a little further away from stores, and looks to be a bit more pro oriented than the Sony, with the inclusion of XLR mic jacks and more exposure options. It also looks to be more expensive, at a price around $6000.
I find the Sony cameras to be so interesting because of their price, and because I’m already an owner of a Sony dSLR. While Sony dSLR lenses don’t mount directly on the new cameras and camcorders, there is adapter that lets you use them.
I’m not quite ready to jump into a new camera, camcorder or lens-mount system, but am seriously considering taking the plunge with the NEX-5 or its successor. To add more grist to the mill, dSLR News Shooter has a short review of the NEX-5 as a video camera for the working journalist.
In any event, I will be keeping close watch to see what develops. Exciting times, indeed.