In the previous post, I started talking about the difference between shooting an HDSLR or an APS-sized chip camcorder for video. I use the APS-sized chip camcorder for a comparison, since these are the only fairly reasonably priced camcorders that can give you the same narrow depth of field that is all the rage. But alot of the pros and cons (save the DOF thing) can be said of any camcorder.
What is reasonably priced to our video-shooting brethern is, um, a little different from what we still guys might consider reasonable. The cheapest current example of an APS chip camcorder is the Sony NEX VG 10 and it’s $2 grand with a kit 18-200mm lens. The others coming in from Sony and Panasonic are $5 grand and up for the body only…and that’s still considered “reasonable” in video circles….(those guys must make some $$$, but that’s a post for another day!).
After spending 24 days running and gunning on a charter jet tour around the world with a pair of D7000s, and then being offered another similar assignment almost directly afterwards, I decided to try a different tack.
I was pleased with the D7000 imagery, etc. but frankly, an SLR is designed primarily for stills, and I rarely had time on these fast stops to truss up the SLR with all the accoutrements—mic, LCD, shoulder brace……plus, when I did, it made the unit too big to lug on and off buses, regional aircraft, and pull in and out of my camera bag.
Earlier this year, when I was waiting to take delivery on my D7000s (I got mine about 2 months later than everybody else, being a Nikon insider:-)), I had a video job and I broke down and bought the Sony NEX VG 10. This camera could have been killer, but Sony hobbled it with a goofy menu system and a lack of certain key controls that would have made it a must have. (Of course, they did that to protect their market for the $8000 “pro” version that was coming out six months later).
I never sold the thing when the 7000s came out, despite some grave reservations about it. But one thing was for sure—-it is designed to shoot video and it was a lot easier to use on the run than an SLR.
So, since these jet trips are essentially event coverage, with no time for preplanning, reshoots, etc. etc. I decided to take the Sony to shoot the second trip. I also had a D7000 and a couple of lenses, and for a second body to swap lenses with, I picked up a Sony NEX 5 with a 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens and ultrawide and fisheye lens adapters for the 16.
Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of using Sony as opposed to the Nikon.
—The Sonys use the dreaded AVCHD file system. It’s a terrible high compression format that computers gag on, especially Macs. So you have to convert all the files to a more Mac friendly .MOV format, or sit there and wait as iMovie tries to struggle with the files. I don’t know why Panasonic and Sony are so married to this format…even PC guys struggle with it. But apparently, it’s really cool if you connect your camera directly to your HDTV…like so many of us do! Not.. So, add a day of workflow to convert the files…terrible waste of time.
—The NEX VG 10 menu is god awful…and it’s hidden away behind the LCD screen, so you can’t access it while you’re shooting with the eyepiece.
—Image quality–The Sony lenses just don’t hold up to the Nikkors. Yes, you can buy adapters to use any lens you want (and I have them to use my fast Nikkor primes), but part of the reason for using this camera is convenience, and the Sony glass just doesn’t have the snap of the Nikkors.
There’s a lot to love about a camcorder design though. Let me count the ways.
Articulated LCD screen AND Electronic Viewfinder—Whoa, this is a convenient way to shoot. If it’s bright and sunny, use the viewfinder…it articulates too so you can look down into it if you’re on a tripod. But even in bright sunlight the LCD screen is delightful and sharp and being able to tilt it means you can get those low angles without stooping….a big plus for arthritic, clumsy, aging shooters (hey, you lookin’ at me???). I like this so much that I’ve pre-ordered a D5100 solely for that flip out LCD screen.
Live Histogram—Oh Nikon, you have to put this in your cameras for video! We’ve all heard the mantra of not judging exposure from our LCD screens in the still world…well, the same goes for video. But without a live histogram, how the hell can you tell what you’re getting in video mode? This feature on the Sony is incredibly useful.
Superior Audio–The Sony has a four capsule mic with an included dead cat windscreen that is wonderful for capturing natural sound. So, for nat sound, you don’t have to do the dual audio system (using an audio recorder and syncing sound in post). BUT, and this is big but, Sony in their marketing wisdom, took manual control of audio out of the equation.
It’s all automatic gain control levels, so for interviews, I’ll still use the Olympus LS 10 for recording the audio because of the manual controls. But, in a pinch, I’ve plugged in a wireless or wired lav mic right into the Sony (thankfully, it does have headphone and mic jacks) and the AGC (Audio Gain Control) hasn’t done too badly with interview levels. But for natural ambient sound, the onboard mic is terrific.
Better Autofocus–Yes, it’s true, the Sony AF is surer, but not any quicker, than the Nikon in LiveView mode. I try to use manual focus in video shooting, but when you’re talking about covering fast moving events, having reliable AF is a plus.
Here’s a little piece shot with the Sonys. It’s about a wacky village festival not far from where I’m staying in Southwest England. And it’s the kind of event where the camcorder shines.
Keep in mind, when comparing it to the Nikon D7000 piece from Papua New Guinea in the previous post, that this is no where near as exotic or colorful an event, it was a few hours of coverage, not a few days; and it was edited by me in iMovie, whereas the PNG piece was done by a skilled editor, John Campbell, in Final Cut Pro.
In the next post, I’ll give you my unscientific (as always) conclusions on working with these two systems, and wax a bit lyrical about the NEX 5, the little backup camera that could, and a definite keeper.