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Sony offers HD DSLR in a Handycam

Sony has announced the world’s first consumer HD camcorder with interchangeable lenses. It also has a DSLR-sized APS-C sensor.

Sony has announced the world’s first consumer HD camcorder with interchangeable lenses. It also has a DSLR-sized APS-C sensor.

The Handycam NEX-VG10E boasts a 23.4×15.6mm Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor that is 19.5 times larger than the sensors typically used in consumer camcorders, which will give it very shallow depth of field. Indeed, APS-C is about 5.5 times larger than the 2/3-inch sensors used in most broadcast cameras.

It is the same 14.2 effective megapixel sensor and Bionz processor used in Sony’s EVIL new NEX-5 almost-DSLR camera (EVIL stands for Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lenses, but with a sensor the size of most DSLRs it only lacks the optical viewfinder and is a lot smaller).

The NEX-VG10 accepts E-mount or A-mount interchangeable lenses. There are currently only three E-mount lenses available, but there are lots of A-mount lenses from Sony, and others, as that is the format used by Sony’s Alpha DSLRs. This means that users will be able to fit a wide range of ultra-wide angle, macro, super telephoto or effects lenses (like the Lensbaby tilt-shift effect lenses), but will have to buy an additional sub-$200 adaptor. The camcorder can also be used for high-quality still images (but JPEG only).

With such a large sensor, it should do well in low light, and reviews of the NEX-5 against other small “video DSLRs” indicate that it performs pretty well, so how the sensor stacks up against other prosumer camcorders should prove interesting.

It comes as standard with an E18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS lens – an11x optical zoom range; giving 27mm-300mm (35mm equivalent) in stills mode (3:2 aspect ratio), but a not so wide 32.4mm-360mm in video mode. This lens has been optimised for video so that it offers smooth, low noise autofocus and iris control and built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation. At wide-angle settings, its Active Mode enhances anti-shake performance further and promises to steady jittery images “even while walking”. The lens also has a circular aperture for the creation of “beautiful bokeh effects” (the shapes seen in out-of-focus background highlights) whether shooting video or stills.

The downside is that it records AVCHD, up to 24Mbps, although, as seen with Panasonic’s GH-1 EVIL camera, perhaps there is the scope for hackers to push its video bitrate up further – and even at 24Mbps it is higher than the 17Mbps NEX-5. It shoots full HD 1920×1080 50i or 60i video (European or US versions), which is recorded to either Memory Stick PRO Duo or SD media cards, while its only restriction on continuous shooting time is battery and card capacity, unlike almost all HD DSLRs.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t have XLR audio inputs, but it does have a new Quad Capsule Spatial Array Stereo Microphone fitted to the top that uses “advanced processing algorithms to combine signals from four separate omnidirectional [overlapping cardiod] microphone capsules”. This is claimed to result in “exceptionally clear stereo audio with a highly directional response”. There’s also a 3.5mm jack for an external stereo microphone plus a headphone jack.

It has a 3-inch LCD with 921,000 dot resolution (640×480 pixels) and a high-resolution (1,152,000 dots – 800×480) electronic viewfinder. Users will have manual control over Iris, Shutter Speed, Gain and White Balance.

Battery options include the NP-FV100 that provides power for up to 330 minutes of continuous HD shooting. It has HDMI output and a USB port, and weighs 1.3kg with the standard lens and basic battery. It should be available by September for less than $2,000.