Sony NEX VG10 HD Camcorder / 14MP Stills Camera Field Report
Convergence Finally Happens
We saw it coming. Some of us even started forecasting it quite a while ago. Convergence. The marriage of still photography and video in a single device. Of course Sony's new VG10 isn't the first device to marry stills and video. As of mid-2010 it's reported that some 65% of DSLRs are video capable, and (I'm guessing here) likely more than 95% of all pocket cameras and point-and-shoots can handle video as well as stills. (And let's not even talk about phones – with the iPhone 4 now handling 720P HD).
But with the just announced and soon to be released NEX VG10 Sony tackles convergence from the other direction, with an interchangeable lens, large sensor camcorder also capable of taking 14MP stills, and using the same interchangeable E series lenses as the NEX 3 and NEX 5 still cameras (which of course also shoot video).
In mid-August, 2010 along with a small group of web and print journalists I had an opportunity to shoot for several days near Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. This outing was sponsored by Sony so as to allow an opportunity to meet with Sony engineers and marketing folks to ask questions and learn about the VG10 while working with it. Please read my Full Disclosure statement for my policy on attending such events.
It's a Video Camera
Let's start out by stipulating that the VG10 is first and foremost a video camera. Sony is, of course, the world's largest makers of video cameras, in both the Pro and Amateur segments, and indeed 2010 is the 25th anniversary of the Handycam, as Sony calls it, and so a fitting year to introduce a truly new category.
Though there are a great many DSLRs that now shoot decent video, most are highly compromised in this role by their inappropriate form factor. The VG-10 turns the tables and puts a large sensor (in video terms) into a camcorder. It also offers interchangeable lenses, something that one hasn't been able to find in the video marketplace till now in camcorders much under about $7,000.
It's a Stills Camera
Prismatic #1. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. August, 2010
Sony VG10 with 18-200mm @ ISO200
Though the VG-10 has the form factor of a camcorder it uses the same sensor as the NEX-5 stills camera, an APS-C sized 14.2 Megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor. Full PASM shooting modes are available when shooting stills, as are in-lens stabilization and autofocus. Ergonomics aside, the advantage of the VG-10 over the NEX-5 when it comes to shooting still photographs is the electronic viewfinder in addition to the articulated LCD. But, regrettably Sony has omitted raw mode when shooting stills with the VG10. Who knows why!?
The Sony VG10 – An Overview
It looks like a camcorder. It shoots like a camcorder, but it's also a stills camera. But reviewing the VG10 requires a different perspective than one would bring to a regular camcorder both because of the device's special capabilities as well as its limitations. For this reason I'm going to briefly describe the camera and then break down my comments into sections devoted to both its strengths and weaknesses.
The VG10's Foundation
At its core the VG10 camcorder is much like the Sony NEX5 which I reviewed here not long ago. It uses the same sensor and has much the same menu structure. It features the new Sony NEX E lens mount, and unlike the Sony A mount 35mm DSLRs image stabilization is built into the lenses, rather than the body. There are currently three lenses in the lineup, a 16mm f/2.8, 18-55mm and an 18-200mm. The later two lenses have built-in stabilization. The 16mm has none.
The VG10 is an AVCHD camcorder which captures 30P video at 24Mbps. The NEX5 captures at 17Mbps, which should give the VG10 an advantage when it comes to motion capture clarity. I was also told by a Sony design engineer that while the sensor is the same as that of the NEX5, the support electronics also provide the VG10 with an improved dynamic range over the NEX5.
The VG10 will sell for US $1,999 when it goes on sale in late September, and comes complete with the 18-200mm lens, which when sold separately (for use with the NEX3 or NEX5) will sell for around $900. The lens will also become available in late September in most markets.
There is an optional lens adaptor available, the LA-EA1, that sells for about $250, which allows the use of any Sony A series or Konica / Minolta legacy lens. Full auto-aperture control is supported with these lenses, but autofocus does not work, and there is no image stabilization because on Alpha series cameras this is built into the camera body not the lens.
This means that the VG10 body itself would cost about $1,100 – making it quite expensive compared to top-end consumer camcorders, which always include a built-in powered zoom lens at this price point, such as Sony's own MC50U. We'll soon see how this all balances out.
Click on the above image to play a one minute video shot with the VG10 in a new window.
This is a 74MB file and may have to fully download before playing.
A high speed connection is highly recommended.
Shot at 1920X1080 but has been scaled down to 1280X720 for the web.
Additional Design Elements
The VG10's LCD and electronic viewfinder are both of high resolution (921K and 1.1M respectively) and are both clear and bright. The camera's form factor is comfortable for hand-holding, and as we'll see when the 18-200mm lens is discussed, you'll likely end up hand holding a lot more than you might think. That lens' built-in stabilization is that good!
The LCD swivels outward 90 degrees and then tilts up or down an additional 90 degrees. It can not be swiveled to face frontwards.
The EVF has a solid rubber eye cup and is safe and comfortable to use when wearing glasses. Apparently there will also be a larger soft rubber eyecup included when the cameras start to ship.
There is an adjustable hand strap, and also mounting points at the rear and top handle for a shoulder strap. The shutter release button falls nicely under ones thumb and has an accidental release interlock. Just above it is a button to switch between video and still image modes (though I found its LED indicator is not bright enough in daylight conditions to easily tell which mode one is in).
The top handle makes the camera both easy to carry in one hand and also is very convenient for when shooting video at a low angle. Inside the top of the handle is a hatch covering a proprietary Sony accessory shoe and also a second cold shoe for mounting other accessories.
There is a powered mini-stereo jack for attaching an external shotgun mike, and on the right side of the body, under the palm grip area, two hatches covering mini-HDMI, USB 2, external power and a headphone jack.
On the left side, underneath the LCD docking area and control panel, is a slot for either a Sony HG Memorystick or an SD card. Cards rated at least Class 6 are needed for reliable video recording, as the camera shoots at the highest AVCHD data rate of 24Mbps.
The battery slots into the rear of the camera and is enclosed in a large compartment. The provided NP-FV70 battery gets almost lost in the cavity, but this is good news because it means that much larger and higher capacity batteries can also be used.
The panel under the fold-out LCD screen houses all of the camera's operational controls. The user interface is based on that of the NEX5 camera, which as we'll see is a mixed blessing.
Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 10 software, worth $100, is bundled with the VG10, at least in the U.S.
The strengths of the VG10 lie primarily in both its sensor and its included lens. The 14.2MP APS-C sized sensor (1.5X over Full Frame 35mm) is Sony's latest and best, and as seen in the NEX5 is capable of very high image quality and very good high ISO performance. The VG10 has gain up to +27db in video mode, which is equivalent to ISO 12,400 in stills mode.
My short term evaluation is that in both video and stills mode up to ISO 1,600 is very clean and requires little in the way of post processing correction. In video capture, as with video capable DSLRs, because of the VG10's much larger sensor size than is found in consumer and prosumer camcorders low light capability is significantly better.
Of course the main selling point of the VG10, and video capable DSLRs in general, is the shallow depth of field available due to the use of longer focal lengths for the same area of coverage. This is what provides the "filmic look" so much desired by those making narrative type movies.
Camcorders using 1/2" and smaller sensors have such great depth of field at anything except their longest telephoto focal lengths that it is very difficult to isolate a person or other subject. We are used to this visual conceit from movies, and its a great aid to story telling. This is the core raison d'etre for the excitement in the movie and video community about video DSLRs, and now true crossover camcorders such as the VG10.
LA-E1 Alpha Lens Adaptor
That the VG10 has interchangeable lenses means that in addition to the included (and excellent, but somewhat slow) 18-200mm, other types of lenses can be used, including all 50+ Sony A mount lenses when using the LA-E1 adaptor, seen above. Auto-aperture is retained, but AF and stabilization are not available.
M lens adaptor shown on NEX5
Using third party adaptors fast prime Leica and Zeiss M mount lenses can be used. If a 50mm f/1.1 Voigtlander or Leica 90mm f/2 shooting wide open doesn't cause your videographer's heart to pitter patter, check whether you have a pulse at all.
And for the even deeper-of-wallet there are PL mount adaptors for NEX which allow you to use Cine prime lenses. Of course all of these are manual focus only, manual aperture only, and have no stabilization. But for what they are intended for the use of such lenses when shooting narrative video is very exciting. In this camera category only the Panasonic GH1 (and presumably its successor model) have the ability to use M mount and PL mount lenses for video along with the use of such a large sensor.
A word of caution though for the newcomer. Just because everyone in the movie making world is ginned-up about shallow DOF and large sensors, don't think that there isn't lots of room for smaller sensor video cameras. Those shooting news, actuality, documentary, sports, corporate or weddings usually are very happy to have the deep DOF that traditional small sensor camcorders offer.
Whether to use a shallow DOF or a deep DOF style of shooting is not a technical preference, but rather an esthetic one. And, shooting shallow DOF can be extremely difficult to pull of well. In the world of professional movie making this is why there are camera assistants, focus pullers, and shooting run-throughs. Also lenses that offer accurate focusing have scales (witness marks) and smooth focusing levers, and none of this comes cheaply.
The VG10 ships with the also new 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS lens. The body alone is not available separately at this time. This lens is quite excellent. The Photozone.de site has recently reviewed it for still photography, using the Imatest system, and it turns in quite high marks. What I saw during my three days of field testing was excellent resolution and high contrast combined with a low level of aberration.
The lens is mechanically very smooth, with fly-by-wire focusing and mechanical zooming. The zoom is reasonably smooth, but can't really compare with a motorized zoom, and thus the lens should really be regarded as variable focal length rather than one to be used for zooming while filming. No big loss.
The real story on this lens, particularly for video shooting, is the built-in Active Stabilization. This has been seen till now on Sony's built-in camcorder lenses for the past year or so, and has received high praise for its effectiveness. The 18-200mm is the first lens of its type and size to incorporate Active Stabilization, and my experience with it is that it is exceptional. The first time I started using it with the lens racked out to 200mm (300mm equivalent), I was astonished at how stable the image was, even when panning. It puts to shame just about every other camcorder stabilization system that I've seen to date, including those in much more expensive cameras and lenses.
It should be mentioned, for those that haven't read the camera's specs, that unlike many video DSLRs the GF10 autofocuses continuously while filming.
On the downside, the lens is fairly slow, but this should not prove much of an issue since it helps to keep the size manageable. In any event, for really shallow DOF work one is likely to want to use fast primes instead, using one of the available adaptors.
One of the most noticeable attributes of the VG10 is its top-handle mounted audio capsule. It contains four separate mics that feed into two stereo channels. The sideways facing mics enhance coverage but also serve to provide for reduction of handling noise.
I found the mics to be of high quality, and if on-camera audio is your thing this setup will satisfy. There is a jack for an external mic input, but there is only Auto Gain Control and no meters. The jack is mini; no XLRs.
I was pleased to note that the VG10 will ship with a "dead cat" sock for the built-in mic that appears to be quite effective in suppressing wind noise.
Because the VG10 uses the same 14.2MP sensor as the NEX5, and has the same lens mount, it can also function as a still photography camera. There is a switch to change from video to stills mode, and there is a conveniently located shutter release button on the top of the palm grip for taking photographs. (This button acts as a forced auto-re-focus button when shooting videos, but in a curious design omission it does not provide one-push autofocus when in manual focus mode. It could, and it should, but it doesn't. Why not?)
Just as with the NEX5 still quality is very good, comparable to just about every other 14 Megapixel camera on the market today. DxOMark rates the NEX5's sensor as superior to that of the Canon 7D, and its the basis for the VG10.
While there is a great deal to appreciate about the VG10, and it fulfills its primary brief of shooting video with a large sensor and interchangeable lenses at an attractive price point, there is a lot about the VG10 to be critical of.
Unlike most camcorders there is no powered zoom provided, and none is possible. In exchange one has the advantage of interchangeable lenses, so I see no particular disadvantage since those interested in this model will likely have another camcorder as well for those times when powered zoom is required.
So – in no particular order, here are some of what I regard as the VG10's more serious deficits...
– Sensor Dust. Just as with a DSLR the downside of a removable lens is the possibility of dust on the sensor. The camera has sensor shake dust removal technology, but this isn't always successful. I shot for most of a day with a dust bunny on the sensor and didn't notice it till I reviewed the day's footage that evening. Unlike when shooting stills, removing dust spots from video is not a simple matter of clicking once or twice with a magic wand.
Dust removal shake is actuated every time the camera is turned off, so I suggest that when changing lenses with the VG10 one get in the habit of cycling the power switch or activating sensor cleaning via the menus. My recommendation is that you also do what has always been done in the film industry between shots – check the gate, or in this case, check the sensor, visually.
– No 24P. I discuss this in detail below, but I find the lack of 24P on a camera in this price range to be regrettable. Not everyone needs it, but at this stage in the game it doesn't cost extras to include and would be appreciated by exactly the type of buyer that the VG10 is designed to be attractive to, the indy film maker. Given that the Canon 5D MKII now has 24P, once Canon understood that this is what people want, and the Panasonic GH1 offers excellent 24P with the Tester 13 hack, it's more than a little surprising that Sony didn't include it.
– No Focus or Exposure Support Indicators. The VG10 does not have any form of overexposure warning. No flashing highlights, or more appropriate for video, no Zebras. It also does not have any form of focus confirmation; no confirmation light; no Peaking. I frankly can't believe that a video camera priced at some $2,000 lacks these most basic shooting assists.
Even more curious is that the NEX5, which the VG10 is based on, has a very nice manual focus assist function that provides 7X and 14X views. This is fantastically useful for focusing A series and other wide aperture manual focus lenses, such as Leica M glass. Why it's missing from the VG10 borders on the imponderable.
– Control Placement and User Interface. I'll be frank. The user interface on the VG10 is really not that good. It is based on that of the NEX5 which I roundly criticized when I reviewed that camera here recently. It improves on the NEX5 slightly by having a few additional buttons, but these are all covered by the LCD screen when it is closed.
If you shoot using the EVF then you'll likely have the screen closed, and this means that not a single control is available unless you open the screen cover, at which point the view through the EVF disappears, and reappears on the LCD. So to shoot while making any adjustment, even something as simple as exposure compensation, requires you to have the LCD screen open, even if you're not using it for viewing. Who on the Sony design team thought that this was a good idea?
– No RAW in Still Mode. Once again, I have to ask – "why"? The NEX 5 has raw. The VG10 is aimed at a sophisticated user, likely one more so than an NEX5 owner, which is described by Sony as being aimed at the step-up-from-a-point-and-shoot customer. So, why omit raw on the VG10? It costs nothing because its already there. All cameras shoot raw, it's what the in-camera JPG is derived from. Why throw it away? I just don't get it. Market and product segmentation is all I can imagine is at work here. Look for step-up model that includes raw mode within a year or so, at a higher price, of course. Or maybe, if we get really lucky, a firmware upgrade.
– No Front Release. There is only one shutter release at the rear of the camera. This is well placed for hand-held shooting but inconvenient for much tripod work. A front release would be highly appreciated, and is found on most higher end camcorders for this reason. Some even have three releases. The VG10 just one.
– No Audio Level Controls. No Meters. No XLR. The built in mikes are fine for casual use, but anyone shooting narratives needs better audio than built-ins can provide. There is a mini-jack mike input on the VG10's top handle, and a cold shoe for mounting a shotgun mic, but the input has no levels meters or controls. There are obviously no XLRs, but size wasn't the reason because there are small cameras such as the JVC HM100 that manage to provide them.
– The Histogram Fiasco. Just as with the NEX5 the VG10 has an available histogram. Thank goodness, because it's hard enough to judge exposure manually without Zebras. But, as was discussed in my NEX5 review, mysteriously the histogram disappears during exposure compensation adjustment – exactly the time that you want and need to see it.
Given that this is simply a firmware issue, and that every review of the NEX5 that I have seen has chastised Sony for this design flaw, you'd think that in the months since the NEX5 was released they would have corrected this in the VG10. Once again a very puzzling design error.
Click on the above image to play a one minute video shot with the VG10 in a new window.
This is a 75MB file and may have to fully download before playing.
A high speed connection is highly recommended.
Shot at 1920X1080 but has been scaled down to 1280X720 for the web.
For photographers coming to video for the first time there is a lot of jargon, specs, and minutia to understand that's quite different from what they have had to deal with in still photography. The issue of frame rates is a major one, and so with the hope of shedding some light on the shutter angle and frame rate issue, here is a backgrounder as it relates to the new Sony VG10.
30P or 60i – Which Is It?
Most people interested in video know that interlaced is old tech, that all modern TVs are progressive devices, and that therefore Progressive video recording is to be preferred, because it potentially offers twice the vertical resolution of interlaced. But Sony AVCHD video cameras (at least until one gets to their higher-end prosumer and pro gear) is speced as recording 60i. But, when you read the fine print you discover that qt least some of these cameras (such as the VG10) really aren't recording 60i, they're capturing 30P and placing it in a 60i "wrapper".
Confused? Well, you're not the only one. I'm unable to write a knowledgeable treatise on the subject, but in brief, what's going on is that the AVCHD standard doesn't include 30P, but it does include 60i. This is relevant for those that want to burn a Blu-Ray disk because Blu-Ray uses the AVCHD standard. (Ok – everyone that burns Blu-Ray disks please hold up your hands. Humm. I thought so.)
So what we have is confusion. Most Sony's AVCHD cameras (including the VG10) capture 30P, but make it appear to other devices as 60i. Most non-linear editors, such as Final Cut, figure this out by themselves, and when you check the Info screen will confirm that the footage is 30P.
Other manufacturers who adhere to the AVCHD standard, for reasons best known only to themselves, try and avoid this confusing state of affairs, capture 30P, and also record as 30P. No interlace confusion.
So if you are looking at a Sony AVCHD camcorder that is speced as 60i, be assured that where the rubber meets the road (in your NLE) you will likely be working with true 30P footage. I can't imagine how many camcorder sales Sony loses each year because of this confusion.
Then there's the question of 24P. Read on.
For many serious amateurs and most pros shooting narrative video the preferred frame rate is 24P. For more than 80 years movies shot on film have been shot at 24 Frames Per Second. This is the frame rate standard established in Hollywood in the early days of "talkies". Prior to then movies were shot at around 18 FPS but optical sound recording didn't provide high enough fidelity at this speed and so 24 FPS was chosen as the new standard, and has been adotpted around the world for more than eight decades.
24 FPS isn't necessarily the ideal frame rate, but was chosen by the Hollywood studios as the best compromise between image quality and film cost. The human eye does not see motion continuously. It perceives flicker up to about 18 FPS. (Wave your hand in front of your face to see the flicker for yourself). Ideally a frame rate twice this would avoid any possibility of flicker, but the cost of film stock would have been too high, and would have made projectors even more complicated and expensive.
24 FPS film has been traditionally shot with what's called a 180 degree shutter. This means that the film was exposed for half the time of the actual frame rate, or put more familiarly, at a shutter speed of 1/48th of a second. When shooting still photographs this will usually be regarded as too slow, because anything moving will be blurred. But this is actually desirable when shooting motion pictures because the slight blurring of each image in sequence makes motion seem smoother and more continuous. Film or video shot at high shutter speeds (even with slow frame rates) looks jerky and artificial. In other words, it doesn't have the"cadence" of movies that we are so familiar and comfortable with.
For this reason (and others) videographers like to shoot at 24P. This is regarded as the closest thing to the "film look". Now back to video frame rates.
30 FPS, which is a video standard, is a pretty good compromise between the 24 FPS of film and the 60 interlaced FPS of television. It's fast enough to avoid any chance of visible flicker. It also is only 20% faster than 24P, which means a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second instead of 1/48th second. Pretty close. Some people claim to be able to see the difference, others not.
In fact this is one of the great debates of the video world – 24P vs. 30P. There are those who lobby for 24P with almost religious zeal, while others think its so much hooey. This is a debate that I'll side step.
There are also some videographers who insist on shooting 24P because it makes going out to film (for theatrical distribution or for film festivals) so much easier. Transferring 30P to 24P well is technically difficult, and rarely produces first rate image quality. 60i to 24 P uses something called reverse telecine which makes this conversion much easier, but that's another story.
So – why doesn't the Sony VG10 shoot 24P? Good question. If one purchases the PAL version, used in Europe, one can shoot at 25P instead of 30P (in a 50i wrapper). Indeed in previous years, when many camcorder makers didn't include 24P capability, many people bought European speced camcorders and shot at 25P. The difference is de minimus.
I asked the question of why 24P is missing of Sony's marketing people and didn't get a satisfactory answer. No Sony camcorders below their pro and semi-pro models have 24P. Many prosumer cameras from Canon, Panasonic and others do offer 24P, so it seems that this is simply a market segmentation strategy on Sony's part. High-end cameras get it, lower end cameras don't. Which means that in Sony's marketing mind the VG10 is a low-end camera.
What then does this say about Sony's positioning of the VG10? As we have seen earlier in this report, though it is a camcorder designed to provide its user with the shallow DOF "film look" which many serious users want, it won't provide them with the 24P "film look" that so many also feel is equally important. Curious. At least I think so.
Is 30P a Good Substitute for 24P?
In my opinion (you may disagree) when all other things are equal most people find very little visual difference between 30P and 24P and the vast majority of uninitiated viewers will not be too concerned with difference.
I respect and enjoy the 24P look, but I don't hesitate to shoot at 30P when it comes to the "look" that I want. There is a problem though for me and others who have other (maybe higher end) camcorders and shoot 24P with them, which we use because we like the look and because we can.
If I'm shooting at 24P on my main camera and then want to incorporate some footage from the VG10 (or any 30P camera) into a sequence, I have a problem. 30P into 24P just doesn't convert well easily. Yes, one can simply drop 30P footage into a 24P time line and ones NLE will handle the conversion automatically, but it just doesn't look as good as it should.
It can be done much better though using various tools. The best that I know of is the one described by Phillip Bloom for use with 30P footage from the Canon 5D MKII, before Canon came out with their firmware upgrade (Hint, to Sony. Canon get's it with regard to 24P. Why can't you?). The method works well, but it takes time and effort and is specific to Final Cut Studio (Mac only).
In the end users will have to decide how to solve the 24P problem for themselves. If one only has a VG10, or other cameras that shoot 30P, then there's no issue. Shoot 30P and enjoy. If you have to have 24P, look elsewhere.
If you have another camera in addition to the VG10 you have two choices. Switch the other camera to 30P as well and now live in a 30P world. Unless you are outputting to film for theatrical release you'll likely not find it that big a deal. Or, you can use one of the available conversion techniques, from automatic drag-and-drop to time consuming conversions of various quality levels. The choice is yours, unless and until Sony decides to provide a 24P upgrade for the VG10.
The Bottom Line
The Sony VG10 is an enigmatic product. It has features, such as a large sensor and interchangeable lenses that are clearly aimed at the high-end user, and a price to match. It has a terrific sensor, a 24Mbps codec, a fantastic bundled lens, and great built-in audio. It has an interchangeable mount that allows the use of Sony Alpha lenses as well as Leica M, Zeiss M, Voigtlander M and PL mount glass. It is also a fine 14MP stills camera. A killer product, right?
But then Sony cripples it with serious firmware omissions such as the lack of Zebras, no focus confirmation, no 24P mode, and no raw mode. These aren't minor omissions. Name me a camcorder at even half the price that doesn't have most of these operational features, or even a $500 DSLR (let alone a $2,000 one) that doesn't have raw mode. The VG10 is also built around the flawed user interface of the NEX5, which has been roundly criticized for its opaqueness and unfriendliness not just by me but almost every other reviewer thus far.
What we are left with then is essentially an NEX5 (same sensor, same lens mount, same interface) in a camcorder form factor. Yes, the VG10 has an EVF, but then one can always add a Zacuto Z-Finder or a Hoodman Hoodloupe to the NEX5 .
The Z-Finder is expensive, and doesn't fit very well to an NEX5 without some gaffer tape and adaptors.
The Hoodloupe though is under $100, and while not as high quality as the Z-Finder
attaches easily and securely with thick elastic bands, and does the job well enough.
Shown above is a NEX5 with a Zeiss Alpha 135mm f/1.8 mounted via an LA-E1 adaptor,
a ECM-SST1 microphone, and a HoodLoupe 3 eye-level magnifier.
Yes, the VG10 comes with a 24Mbps codec, but the 17 Mbps codec of the NEX5 will be comparable with all except rapid motion subjects – not typically what one will be shooting with this camera in any event. (The VG10 is claimed to have improved dynamic range over the NEX5, but I have not yet done any rigorous comparison of this).
The VG10 does allow for full manual control of shutter speed, aperture and ISO, while in video mode the NEX5 only permits exposure compensation. This can be managed, but it can be a bit of a hassle.
Yes, the VG10 comes with the terrific 18-200mm lens, but then one can add this lens to a NEX5. And, if you need raw mode when you shoot stills (and who doesn't) the NEX5 is the preferred alternative.
So in the end one can buy a NEX5, an 18-200mm lens, a Hoodloupe, and end up with a camera that has the same optics and stabilization, the same sensor, raw mode, the same interface (unfortunately), and a much smaller form factor for when used in other situations, though lacking some of the VG10's versatility.
Is the Sony VG10 worthwhile? I think so. When it comes to what it does well (and it does a lot) it is in a league of its own. But Sony's design omissions leave it a somewhat flawed product that makes one have to wonder as to what the engineering and marketing folks at Sony in Japan were thinking when they specified this product's feature set.
Given the rapid rate of change in this market segment I expect to see very competitive products from other makers within the next six months. While today the VG10 stands alone, soon there will be alternatives that are going to force Sony to either issue a new model or at least some serious firmware upgrades to the VG10.
Finally, notwithstanding my concerns about the VG10's missing features and limitations, I still find it to be an exciting product that will define a new category and therefore we give it a "Recommended" rating.
If RED had released the Scarlet 18 months ago, as they had originally intended, the Sony VG10 as we have it today would be too little, too late. But in the current marketplace the VG10 stands alone (at least for now), and has a lot to offer anyone that needs a large sensor camcorder with interchangeable lenses.