Now that everyone wants the Sony FS7 and A7 you can find some of Sony’s older camcorders for a steal. I snatched up a Sony EA50 on eBay (with the intention of selling my VG30) because it’s shoulder rig is something I’ve been missing on cameras for a very long time now. Before I sold my VG30 I wanted to see how all these cameras I have stack up against each other, so I shot a little bit of video of a flower in the living room, mostly to test out noise and sharpness.
This is by no means an extensive test, but does go to show how camcorders with very similar sensors can still have differences in picture quality due to compression. This video is just a sample, I stacked the feeds up in may different ways to compare side by side, and I’ll share a few notes about each. I use a Sony 50mm E-mount lens at f2.8, and felt like the background blurriness of each camera was really about the same. I also made some little notes about who I think would get the best use out of each camera.
As expected the FS100 produced the nicest quality picture. I had the picture profile turned off and even in the compressed video you can see the most detail and dynamic range in the petals of this strange flower. The biggest benefit of the FS100 though, is the noise in the background, which has a very fine and soft quality to it most people have likened to film grain. Narrative films would be best shot with this camcorder, from a tripod, slider or crane, I can’t recommend it for handheld shoots though.
The new boy on our block had more dynamic range than VG30 but the detail was not quite as sharp as the FS100. Again I shot with the PP turned off, and the picture out of the camera was a little flat. The noise is about the same as the VG30 if you look at stills, but there is a cyclical quality about the way it dances that doesn’t make it as noticeable when video is playng. I’ve read a few reviews that suggest that you can improve the noise and artifacts by using an external recorder, so I am considering renting one to try it out. I mostly got this camcorder for weddings, as the FS100 is quite cumbersome to haul around. I think event videographers and news style documentaries would be fine to shoot with this camcorder.
This little guy doesn’t have programmable picture profiles, although you can set it to “cinema” mode to pull a little more dynamic range out of it. Even set this way though the compression creates a very “final” look with really nice contrast, color and detail. In fact, of all my footage, this one looks the nicest straight out of the camera. Try to grade it though and you only accentuate the noise in the background. The noise is very similar to the EA50 although it seems more noticeably chaotic and introduces seemingly random colors. I think this camcorder would be great for film students or people making very personal documentaries or even web distributed productions.
I don’t use this still camera for video at all any more, but wanted to see how it stacked up against the others. I left my tripod in the same spot for each of these, but the NEX7 seemed to “crop in” a bit more than the others. Perhaps that is why the noise seemed so much larger and more pronounced as well, and has a chunky crunchiness to it that is the main reason I stopped using it as a B camera. I can’t imagine using this camera for a lot of film work although I am willing to bet with an external recorder you could get some nice shots in a controlled environment.