One month after the ship date of the Sony NEX-VG20, there are no (to the best of my knowledge) English-language full reviews, or even hands-on previews, of the camera. Contrast this with the roll-out of its predecessor, the NEX-VG10. Between Sony's announcement of the VG10 on July 13th, 2010 and its September 10th, 2010 US ship date; Luminous Landscape published a hands-on field report, Digital Camera Review published a first look review and Canadian retailer, The Camera Store, posted a hands-on review video with sample footage.
These early reviews were posted because Sony put the camera into the hands of well-known English-language sites. Something they are not doing this time around.
It is difficult to explain why Sony did not do this with the VG20 (Lack of confidence in the product? A strategic decision to emphasize NEX-5N/NEX-7/A65/A77? Sensor/parts shortages due to earthquake/tsunami/flooding in Asia?).
Whatever the reason, potential VG20 buyers in North America, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the rest of the Anglophone world have little to go on when trying to decide whether to buy this $1600 (body-only) camera. Frustrating.
That is why I decided to go out and rent the camera for 3 days from borrowlenses.com at my own expense. Working around my regular job, I shot a few side by side comparison shots with the VG20 and the Panasonic DMC-GH2 (widely acknowledged as the best video camera in the DSLR/DSLM form factor [with M standing for mirrorless]), which I will post here soon.
But until I can post the full hands-on comparison -- here is a quick preview of what I found:
I come from a film background, so for me, the camcorder form-factor makes a difference in the ability to hold the camera steady without a rig. For some reason, I have less trouble with the two-point stability of the camcorder (right palm on the handgrip facing upward and viewfinder pressed against my eye) - than the three point stability of the DSLM form factor (left hand cradling the lens, right hand on a vertical grip, viewfinder pressed against my eye). This is very subjective, and may not make a difference for most people.
The lack of external controls on the VG20 was problematic, however. After learning the knobs and switches on the GH2, I can now change ISO/White Balance/Shutter Speed/Aperture and other settings without taking my eye away from the viewfinder. Not possible with the menu-centric controls on the VG20.
The VG20 image seems softer to me. To my eye, the GH2 -- even without the hack -- beats the VG20 on image quality. On the other hand, the VG20 seems to have better high ISO/dB performance than the GH2.
Control of Audio and Video
Both cameras allow manual adjustment of picture and sound, with some important differences.
Both cameras have full manual control of aperture, shutter speed and white balance, but the GH2 has multiple picture profiles and the ability to adjust color and sharpness, which the VG20 does not. The 2.6x Extended Tele Converter function on the GH2 is also an advantage for the Panasonic.
But the VG20 has some advantages too. The headphone jack and high quality in-camera audio with manual gain control significantly reduce the need for dual system sound. With the GH2, if I want decent sound, dual system is a must, with all of the challenges that poses during shooting and in post.
There are other subtle advantages for the Sony beyond the principal advantage of the camcorder form-factor. With the VG20, for example, it is not necessary to go into the menu to switch settings in order to use non-Sony lenses. Contrast this with the GH2, where you have to drill down in the menu and switch a setting every time you change from a Panasonic m4/3 system lens to a Canon or Nikon (or other) manual lens.
Please check back over the next few days as I update this comparison and add stills and video. In the meantime, if you found this comparison valuable and you've already decided that you want the GH2 or the VG20, please support this blog and future hands-on reviews by buying them through these links from Adorama, Amazon, Crutchfield, OneCall, and Unique Photo. Thanks!