Video / Hands-on Review

The Sony NEX-VG900 Full-Frame Camcorder

Sony is expected to start shipping the NEX-VG900 camcorder in November 2012, and with no shortage of competitive options out there, it may be helpful to take a closer look at what sets the VG900 apart. The new camera includes some significant advancements for the VG line. Most notably, the VG900 will be the first camera to pair the camcorder form factor with a full-frame sensor.


Before now, the largest, mass market camcorder sensor was Super 35mm, a format that approximates the size of 3-perf motion picture film. The 35mm full-frame format was historically reserved for still photography. Is there a significant difference? Let’s compare their physical dimensions. 

The NEX-FS100U has a Super 35mm Sensor. It measures: 23.6 x 13.3mm.

The NEX-VG900’s 35mm full-frame sensor measures: 35.8 x 23.9mm.

Even a professional cinematographer would be hard pressed to describe—in no uncertain terms—the relative aesthetic merits of the two formats. Nevertheless, there is a certain breed of cinematographer that will slip into a glassy-eyed reverie as they contemplate the mysterious beauty of the “full-frame look.” In practical terms, there are a few objective benefits.

Consider a 28mm lens mounted on either of two cameras, for example, the full-frame VG900 and “Camera B,” which has a Super 35mm sensor. The size of Camera B’s sensor gives it a 1.4x crop factor, which means tha t your 28mm lens renders a normal angle of view. The VG900’s full-frame sensor has a 1.0x crop factor, which means that your 28mm lens renders a wide angle of view.

If you are interested in the large-sensor look and you want to shoot very wide, especially very wide with no distortion, there is no substitute for a full-frame sensor. Moreover, if you want to shoot telephoto, the VG900’s APS-C mode, which applies a sensor crop, effectively provides the telephoto benefit of smaller sensors. For discriminating videographers, these considerations have a significant bearing on the look and feel that a given camera is capable of achieving.

Having established the benefits of a full-frame sensor and the fact that they are a rarity among camcorders, what are the benefits of the VG900’s camcorder form factor? While full-frame sensors are rare among camcorders, articulated screens are likewise rare among full-frame DSLRs.

Say you want to shoot from a very low perspective, and you want to put the camera at floor level. Well, if your camera does not have a multi-angle display you’ll have to put yourself down on the ground as well, in order to see what you are doing. Moreover, certain high-angle shots may be all but impossible. A multi-angle screen allows you to monitor your framing when shooting at extremely high or low angles.

Other key features of the VG900’s camcorder form factor are the top handle and the hand grip. Not only are these ergonomic designs familiar to long-time video shooters, the hand grip also incorporates a zoom rocker switch. The VG900 will use this switch to perform a powered zoom with Sony’s new 18-200mm Servo Zoom Lens. In addition, when used with virtually any lens, zoom or prime, the rocker switch will facilitate a lossless, sensor crop zoom.

The VG900’s Multi-Interface Shoe is another rather unconventional attribute. Many still cameras use a hot shoe for flash, and video cameras often use a cold shoe for accessories. However, Sony’s newly developed Multi-Interface Shoe further expands the VG900’s compatibility with Handycam accessories, such as the XLR-K1M Adapter and Microphone Kit.

Of course, we should be careful not to define the VG900 purely by its ability to defy convention. This camera also features many long-time camcorder staples, several of which have been improved in various ways. For example, the electronic viewfinder is a type that Sony calls the XGA OLED Tru-Finder. With 2,359k-dot resolution, the EVF provides a display that upholds the quality of an optical viewfinder.

Regardless of form factor, most video cameras will feature a built-in microphone. Of course, DSLRs are well known for their less than ideal built-in microphones, which as far as professionals are concerned, are good for little more than reference audio. On the far end of the spectrum, the VG900’s Quad Capsule Spatial Array Stereo Microphone utilizes four microphone capsules that are angled at 45° to record sound with a front-side directivity and stereo separation. Additionally, dedicated mic and headphone inputs allow for attachment of external microphones and headphones to further ensure the highest audio quality.

The VG900 can record Full HD 1920 x 1080 video at up to 60 progressive frames per second in the AVCHD format. 1080/60p offers exceptionally smooth motion rendering and slow motion, but the VG900 also has a 24p mode. 24 fps is a long-time motion picture standard and one of the keys to the “film look.” Full 1080 HD uncompressed clean-screen video files can also be recorded easily to external recording devices via an uncompressed HDMI connection in 24p, 60p and 60i frame rates. Not to be overlooked, the VG900 is also capable of shooting 24MP JPEG and RAW still photographs.

Among the camera’s defining traits, the VG900 employs Sony’s E lens mount. In addition to the growing family of E-mount lenses, the VG900 will benefit from the mount’s short flange focal distance by offering compatibility with a wide range of lens adapters. The VG900 even includes an A-mount adapter, LA-EA3, with electronic connections for focus and iris. The LA-EA3 adapter enables dozens of A-mount lenses, including many excellent Minolta AF lenses. Finally, Optical SteadyShot image stabilization with lenses featuring built-in Active Mode, compensates for greater degrees of camera shake to deliver smooth video.

Sensor
Sensor Type 35mm full-frame Exmor HD CMOS (35.8 x 23.9mm)
Total Pixels 24.3MP
Effective Pixels 24MP (3:2 still) / 20.3MP (16:9 movie)
Image Processor BIONZ Image processor
APS-C compatible Mode Yes (Auto/On/Off)
Minimum Illumination 8 Lux
Anti Dust Charge protection coating on filter
Crop Factor Full-Frame: x1.0
APSC mode: x1.5
Color Filter System RGB Primary color filters
Recording
System NTSC
Recording Media Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, SD/SDHC/SDXC
Video Format HD: AVCHD (MPEG4)
SD: MPEG2
Recording Modes HD: PS (28 Mbps), FX (24 Mbps), FH (17 Mbps), HQ (9 Mbps), LP (5 Mbps)
SD: HQ (9 Mbps)
Video Resolution HD: 1920 x 1080, 1440 x 1080
SD: 720 x 480
Frame Rates 1080/60p, 1080/60i, 1080/24p, 480/24i
Still Image Mode JPEG, RAW, JPEG+RAW
Still Image File Format DCF Ver.2.0 compatible, Exif Ver.2.3 compatible,
MPF Baseline compatible
Still Image Resolution RAW: 24.0 MP, 6000 x 4000
RAW: 10.3 MP, 3936 x 2624
RAW: 4.6 MP, 2640 x 1760 
Shutter Type Electronically-controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane type
Shutter Speed 1/48-1/10000 sec. (movie_24p)
1/60-1/10000 sec. (movie_other)
1/4-1/10000 sec. (manual movie)
30-1/8000 sec. (still)
Drive Mode Single-shot/Continuous/Bracket 0.3 EV/Bracket 0.7 EV
Continuous Shooting Speed 6 fps
Audio Channels 2-Channel Stereo
Audio Format Dolby Digital 5.1
Dolby Digital 5.1 Creator
Dolby Digital 2ch
Interface
Outputs HDMI Mini (x1)
Composite Video output (1x)
Component Video output (1x)
S-Video Output (1x)
USB Mini-B (1x)
Inputs Microphone (stereo minijack)
Headphone (stereo minijack)
Memory Card Slot Combination Memory Stick and SD card (x1)
USB mini-AB/USB2.0 Hi-speed (x1)
Accessory Shoe Multi Interface Shoe
A/V Remote Terminal Video/S Video/Audio/Component Out/Remote
Power DC input
Display
Display Type (LCD) 3" Xtra Fine LCD touch-screen display
Display Type (EVF) 1.3 cm (0.5 type) Tru-Finder OLED swivel electronic viewfinder
EVF Resolution 2,359k-dots
LCD Angle Adjustment Max Opening Angle: 90°
Max Turning Angle: 270°
Features
Focus System Contrast AF
Focal plane phase detection AF
Focus Area Multi Point AF (25 points)
Flash Metering System Pre-flash TTL
Flash Modes Auto/Forced/Slow Sync./Rear Sync./Prohibited
Flash Compensation Yes (+/-2EV in 1/3 EV steps)
Self-Timer Approx. 10 seconds
Digital Zoom x2 (power zoom control with zoom lever; Variable/Fix speed
max. 32 steps)
Gain Control Auto/Manual (0 - 30 dB)
Exposure Compensation AE Shift (Dial/Touch Panel)
Exposure Settings Auto; Flexible Spot(Touch Panel); Manual(Dial)
ISO Still Mode Only: Auto, Manual(100 to 25600)
Metering 99 Segment metering from CMOS image sensor (still mode only)
Metering Sensitivity 2 - 17 EV at ISO 100 with f/1.4 lens (still mode only)
White Balance Mode Auto, Onepush, Outdoor, Indoor, WB Temp
Picture Effects (Movie/Still) Posterization, Pop color, Retro Photo, Partial Color, High contrast,Monochrome, Toy Camera (Still Only: Soft Focus, Miniature)
General
Lens Mount E-mount
Built-in Microphone Yes, Quad Capsule Spatial Array stereo microphone
Shutter Type Electronically-controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane type
Battery Type InfoLITHIUM with AccuPower Meter System (V Series) NP-FV70/FV100
Charging Time 3.25 hr
Power Consumption In operation: 4.7W (HD), 4.5W (SD)
with view finder: 5.2W (HD), 5.0W (SD)
Power Requirements 7.2 V (battery pack), 8.4 V (AC adapter)
Dimensions 4.2 x 5.1 x 8.9" (106.7 x 129.5 x 226.1 mm)
Weight 1.8 lb (825 g)

Discussion 9

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I was a little confused initially about the two different lens mount options, yet I think I now understand why Sony did it i.e. to attract existing e-mount lens owners, and fully utelising the full frame sensor by adding an a-mount adapter.

Question: will B&H also sell the Pal standard (VG900E)?

We actually just opened it up for pre-orders:

Sony VG900E

Looks like a nice camera other than missing XLR audio, but the question I can't seem to get answered is which FULL FRAME lens works best with this camera and allows you to use ALL of the cameras functions such as Zoom, Auto focus, etc. It seems there are some lenses that allow for more functions than others and this is very confusing. I would buy this camera in a second if I could find a good full frame lens 18-200 which will work with all of the camera's features.

Isn't the Sony 18-200 lens and APS-C lens? That seems to be my issue with this camera. Why would I buy a full frame camera and not be able to find a lens that is compatible with ALL the functions offered on VG900?

The lens is an APS-C sized lens so there will be a 1.6 crop involved. I mentioned that lens only because of the zoom capability, as it is the only servo zoom lens made so far for these cameras.
In the future possibly Sony will release other lenses that would be full frame and have the servo capability but nothing is on the horizon yet that I have heard of.

seriously considering in purchasing one!!! I have just one big question mark:
I am coming from DSLR Canon cameras...and having sort of a good collection of ef lenses, i would like to know form an expert how the ef lenses works on the VG900...and what adapter do you recomend?

is it(vg900] a profesional camera? wich lense is most sutable for this model?witch type of mateboxes matching for this camcorder?can we use in digital film industry ?

I have made a mistake by buying this. There are no proper videos to learn how to use this camcorder. 

Despite being full frame its pathetic in low light situations. Don't buy. 

Ya tengo lentes sony montura-E (28-70 - 3.5 5.6).- funcionan en  VIDEO auto-enfoque con esta VG-900