Review: Sony NEX-VG20

Our score: 4/5
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September 20, 2013 2:06 PM
Published: March 13, 2012 8:59 AM
By Edouard Maire
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
We reviewed the NEX-VG20EH, which comes with the Sony SEL 18-200 mm (f/3.5) kit lens. Note that image quality may vary with other lenses. The camcorder sells alone with no kit lens under the product reference NEX-VG20.

The Sony NEX-VG20 is designed to replace 2010's NEX-VG10. The new model brings a few interesting improvements, including a CMOS sensor with a boosted resolution of 16 Megapixels and, more importantly, a progressive scan mode (50p/25p), in line with the product's movie-maker market position.

Handling

In terms of physical design, the NEX-VG20 is the same as the NEX-VG10. In other words, it has a long body with a carry-handle on top for filming low-angle shots with the screen open or with the viewfinder. The high-def 3-inch swivel LCD (921,000 pixels) is comfortable to use and now features touch-sensitive controls. Plus, it's nice to see that the angle of the 1.1-Megapixel viewfinder can be adjusted.

The touchscreen menu homepage offers direct access to image quality settings (HD bitrate) and recording modes (50i/50p/25p). A button on the side of the camcorder can be used to quickly switch to playback mode and all footage shot on the same day is displayed in a playlist, which is particularly practical.

Sony Nex vg20 review - grip Sony Nex vg20 review - battery
Textured grip on the right-hand edge NP-FV70 battery (100 to 200 minutes of power).

The camcorder takes five seconds to start up from the moment you press the on/off button (located handily under your thumb). The textured plastic grip and strap on the right-hand edge of the camcorder body help you keep hold of it effectively. There's a record button located right under your thumb and a second record button towards the front of the plastic grip. The main camera body is finished in sturdy magnesium and build quality is good—that's something you don't see every day in a camcorder, even at this price! A large part of the body is used to house the battery. This is the same battery as supplied with the Sony NP-FV70, which runs for a very respectable 1 hour 30 minutes. However, it can last for up to 3 hours, depending on the resolution and video quality you use (HD or SD). The battery compartment is so deep that it can be quite tricky to get the battery in place, but that also means there's room to slot in a bigger battery if necessary.

Sony Nex vg20 review - handle Sony Nex vg20 review - microphone
Two accessories hot-shoes in the handle. Quad-capsule microphone records 5.1 sound.

The NEX-VG20 only has one memory card slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC - class 6) and doesn't have an internal memory. While that would have been problematic a couple of years ago, the 32 and 64 GB cards on the market these days are perfectly sufficient and prices have come down considerably. A 32 GB SD card, for example, can store 2 hours 50 minutes of top-quality HD video (1080/50p). Otherwise, the NEX-VG20 has a good range of connections, with a microphone socket, a headphones socket, plus HDMI, component, A/V and USB outputs. Two hot-shoe accessory mounts can be found hidden away under a cover on the carry handle—one hot-shoe is powered, for use with a mic or a special Sony lamp, while the other is a standard hot-shoe for hooking up any compatible accessory. Finally, the built-in 'Quad Capsule Spatial Array Stereo Microphone' uses four omni-directional capsules to record 5.1 surround sound.

Image Quality

One of the main improvements made in the NEX-VG20 is the inclusion of a progressive scan video mode, which was sorely lacking in the NEX-VG10 (which stuck to a 50i interlaced format). This is a logical addition too, as the camcorder now captures progressive video in 50p or 25p with its progressive camera sensor. Progressive scan formats are widely used for current big-screen TVs and monitors, and they help prevent combing effects when the camera moves quickly. Obviously, the 50p mode is the crème de la crème of progressive modes, capturing 50 full frames per second to give an image that's sharper and smoother than with 25p. That said, the 25p mode is still very good, and recording in this format will be easier for your computer's processor to handle if you plan on editing footage.

Sony Nex vg20 review - sensor Sony Nex vg20 review - kit lens
APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor. Sony SEL 18-200mm E-mount lens.

The Exmor HD CMOS APS sensor used in the VG20 has been upped to 16 Megapixels compared with 14 Megapixels for the VG10. The sensor measures 23.5 x 15.6 mm, making it equivalent to the Super-35mm sensors used in certain professional camcorders or Canon's 7D SLR. The advantage of this kind of surface area is that it gives the image a low depth of field. As a result, the NEX-VG20 films with a 'film camera' like texture, and this gets stronger when you switch on the 'Cinema' mode in the menu (which softens colours). However, using a 16-Megapixel sensor to capture 2-Megapixel Full HD images does have its downsides. This downscaling (as there are too many pixels) creates a moiré effect in finer details of the image, as well as a slightly unpleasant shimmering. This is a problem often seen in SLR movie modes, but the moiré effect is quite strong in the NEX-VG20.

The VG20 has a photo mode that now offers RAW as well as Jpeg formats—something apparently often requested by users. It seems like a bit of a strange demand, but we suppose it could come in handy.

Image5 Nex vg20 menu2
Raw mode available in the menu. 16-Megapixel maximum resolution.

The NEX-VG20 is a camcorder with interchangeable lenses. The kit lens supplied is the SEL 18-200 mm, which is Sony's most versatile E-mount lens. It has an aperture of f/3.5, is stabilised, works with the autofocus, has a 29 mm wide angle (24 x 36 equivalent) and zooms up to 322 mm (equivalent to 11x). The only drawback is that the zoom is manual only. That said, the zoom ring is smooth enough to keep progressive zooming nicely controlled.

Sony Nex vg20 review - test shot - low light Sony Nex vg20 review - sample shot
A clean, noise-free image in low light. The focal range starts at a 29mm wide-angle.

Apart from the moiré issues, video images are very sharp. In low light, no noise is visible in the footage, although the sensitivity threshold isn't very low and the image soon starts to look dark. Colours are quite warm but the white balance evens out quite quickly. Plus, plenty of settings can be adjusted manually using a handy thumb wheel, including aperture (f/3.5 - f/6.3 for the 18-200 mm lens), gain and shutter speed.

We filmed took the VG20 to a lingerie show (don't ask!) to try it out in the field. The videos we filmed showed just how super-smooth the manual ring zoom is, as well as how fast the autofocus handles changes in focal distance, even in low light.
4/5 Sony NEX-VG20 DigitalVersus 2012-03-13 09:59:00

Pros

  • Progressive scan video modes: 50p and 25p
  • High-power battery
  • 5.1 microphone
  • Low depth of field
  • Good build and finish
  • Viewfinder can be angled
  • Photo mode - RAW/Jpeg

Cons

  • Strong moiré effect is visible on lines
  • Zoom isn't motorised

Conclusion

The Sony NEX-VG20 is a good update of the VG10 that's not too far from perfect. Image quality is excellent and sound has been upped to 5.1. Although the depth of field is no match for the Canon 5D/7D, the VG20 is a great stand-alone camcorder with autofocus, 50p video, a swivel screen and a viewfinder that can be angled. All that's missing is a motorised zoom!

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