First Look & Semi Review: Sony NEX-EA50H NXCam Camcorder
The big chips are coming in better packages.
By Bruce A Johnson | October 19, 2012
I'm a TV guy. I've been shooting and editing in broadcast television for over thirty years now, and along with you have seen astounding changes in image acquisition and editing. One thing that caught me way off guard, though, was the sudden ascendance of digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) as a preferred way to capture video. The DSLR's combination of progressive scan and shallow depth of field, made possible by much larger sensors than found in traditional video cameras, really came out of nowhere to capture a large slice of certain types of production. One place you will rarely find a DSLR, though, is in the day-to-day work that television stations do. That's not to say that us TV guys might not want large sensors and dramatic depth of field, but few of us would - or could - put up with the limitations inherent in DSLR operation, not the least of which is the dismal audio sections that most of the cameras have. Dual-system sound may be okay when shooting a scripted production, but in the world of run-n-gun, there are rarely any dedicated audio people anymore. So why can't there be a large-sensor camera with a good built-in audio section?
Well, finally...there is. And surprise: it's really affordable.
The Sony NEX-EA50H may not be the exact camera I'm looking for, but as the first in the field, it is an impressive package, featuring an Exmor APS-C sized CMOS sensor. (More on sensor size here.) Sony sent me an engineering sample of the NEX-EA50H to try out, but unfortunately , I didn't get a sample of the lens that will ship with the camera. (That's why I'm calling this a "semi-review.") The stand-in lens, labeled the SEL18200, is a manual zoom lens with electronic iris control (no iris ring, but a wheel on the side of the camera body) and manual or auto-focus. (I assume that the shipping lens will also feature electronic iris as well.) It is also almost painfully slow, with a wide-open iris at f3.5. Shooting indoors basically required invoking gain, which the NEX-EA50H has in spades - up to 30dB, but with increasing noise levels. Still, up to +18dB is pretty usable, although it's probably a better idea to add light at that point.
One last, and fairly unique, point on the lens/chip combo: Since the 16.1 megapixel APS-C sensor is much larger than the 1920x1080 frame of HDTV, the camera can do a 2x lossless digital zoom in addition to whatever zoom the lens contributes. This sounds unlikely, but it really seems to work, and with a servo-zoom lens the physical and virtual zooms work in concert, both controlled by the zoom rocker on the handgrip. The Sony E-mount allows lenses from several manufacturers to be mated to the NEX-EA50H to achieve different effects.
Speaking of the handgrip, this camera is ridiculously easy on your wrist - fully loaded and ready to work, it weighs less than four pounds. That includes the Sony NP-F770 battery, which even as the small battery in the family, ran the camera for over 150 minutes. The NEX-EA50H records to SDHC cards, Sony Memory Sticks or the (optional) HXR-FMU128 Flash Memory Unit in the NXCam AVCHD codec. In my testing, the files happily played as soon as I dropped them in my Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 timeline.
If you need another codec, the 8-bit HDMI output can feed a slew of recorders, like the Aja Ki Pro Mini or Sound Devices PIX 220. In a nice ergonomic touch, the NEX-EA50H has a slide-back shoulder pad which features two tapped 1/4" - 20 holes, which would make mounting a cheeseplate, a recorder or wireless mic mount a piece of cake (and might toss a little counterweight back there.) And there are a full spread of analog component and composite outputs as well for your monitoring needs.
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