2012 Review of Sony NEX VG20

Sony NEX VG20

I’ve used this camera for four weeks now. I was using my Canon Vixia HF S10 when I realized that I needed shallow depth of field to shoot my videos. My options were limited. The best way to achieve shallow depth of field is with a dSLR, and I already use a Canon 60D for that purpose.

However, I often shoot video for really smart professionals and entrepreneurs and this camera was the perfect fit, or so I thought.

The first thing I noticed about this camera is it is lens-heavy. It has 18 mm-200 mm silver zoom on the front end of it. It has a handle at the top which is awkward to hold. It is not formfitting. If you hold the camera at waist height, the lens will tip forward and appear unbalanced. It is clearly awkward to hold from the top handle.

I have owned a Sony VX 2100 which was a SD Mini DV tape-drive camera and had excellent ergonomics. Holding that camera from the top handle was beautiful. It had a rocker switch for the telephoto lens as well as an on off record button that you operated with your thumb from the top handle.

This camera has no such luxury. In fact, it does not have any rocker switch for the zoom. Ironically, the remote control includes a telephoto and wide angle button switch that is absolutely useless since there is no automatic or remote control zoom function.


Aesthetically, the camera looks awesome. Sitting on top by the handle is a funky looking multidirectional microphone that allows you to achieve 5.1 channel sound. I cannot understand why anyone would use the built-in microphone except to pick up ambient sound. I always use a wireless mic and the built-in mic, though cool-looking, fails to achieve the sound quality I need.

The carry-handle has a convenient cold shoe and a microphone input also attached to the top handle. The camera has an adjustable up/down electronic eyepiece viewfinder that I never use.

Holding the camera through the strap attached to the side of the camera, the power button appears comfortably natural by my right thumb. It has clear and simple controls for on-off and record. It also allows you to switch easily from movie mode to photo mode with the press of one tiny button.

When your palm is resting against the right side of the camera as you slip your hand through the camera strap, there are two buttons near your pinky that are somewhat awkward to reach and unusually positioned. One is a record button, and the other is an extended focus button.

The extended focus button allows you to achieve an immediate zoom for the purposes of achieving proper manual focus. You will find this to be a useful function, but it’s in an awkward position.

The record button by my pinky is also awkward to reach. The only time I find it useful is when shooting on a tripod from waist height at a sporting event. While attempting to zoom in and out manually to watch the action, I found the record button on the right side of the camera easy to use. However, if you’re holding the camera in your right hand in a shooters position, the record button using your pinky is a stretch to reach and not comfortable to depress with your pinky.


The camera takes SDHC memory cards and shoots to AVC HD. Wanting to shoot at the highest quality setting, I purchased a class 10 SDHC memory card, popped it into the camera and began adjusting my camera settings. The camera creates video at 60p, 60i and 24p. It also shoots in high-definition and standard definition. You have the option of shooting at different speeds of 24 MPS, 17 MPS and two lower settings.

For some inexplicable reason, the camera does not allow you to shoot at the highest quality 24 MPS setting while using a class 10 SDHC memory card. That defeats the purpose of using the class 10 SDHC card and achieving the highest quality, hi-definition video. Instead, you have to drop down to the  next lower setting of 17 MPS in order to allow it to write to AVC HD using a class 10 card.

The 3” viewfinder is touch screen and quite simple and fun to use. Anyone who has an iPhone will appreciate this viewfinder. The manual controls allow you to set iris, exposure, gain, white balance, auto exposure and more. With so many manual features, you would expect a single button to reset everything to automatic, yet there is no such button. Instead, you must drill down into the manual functions while in live shoot mode and figure out intuitively which one will allow you to revert to auto mode. It’s a challenge.

The controls on the actual camera are again simple and easy-to-use. You have your iris button, aperture button and a button to switch from play mode to live mode.

The really cool thing that I like most about this camera is its ability to obtain a shallow depth of field where the subject is in focus and the background is out of focus. I do shoot typically static head shots with someone sitting or standing in one position.


The camera does not have a facial focus feature while in movie mode. It does have it for photo mode. When your subject moves and you are in manual focus mode, you have to refocus manually. It does have an electronic focus feature that is totally silent. That is a really cool function, but it has one major drawback. It is slow. It is also inaccurate.

When shooting video of myself, on my own, despite being the primary subject in the viewfinder, the camera will often track my background as being in focus and I will wind up out of focus. That is such a waste of my time and my shot. Frustrating too.

When shooting video on my own, this becomes a true challenge. The only workaround I have found is to start out 2 feet in front of the camera and allow it to focus immediately on me. After a few seconds when it focuses, I then start walking backwards and stop every few feet so the camera can refocus each time. This is an extremely frustrating feature that I’m still trying to work around. If someone is operating the camera then it is easy to refocus by pushing the focus button until the subject is in focus.

However, since I often shoot my own videos, this is extremely frustrating task that should be a no-brainer for a camera that cost in excess of $2,100. Every camera I have used before this has had an excellent autofocus system. Not this one.

Once in focus though, the image looks great. That brings me to the telephoto lens. As I mentioned at the beginning, there is no rocker switch to advance telephoto or wide-angle. It is totally manual.


While shooting video of my daughter’s volleyball game, it was extremely difficult to achieve smooth zooms by manually twisting the zoom lens. It is not an easy turn. In fact, it is a slow-turning zoom that comes with significant effort, especially when shooting fast-moving play and you want to get all the action.

If you have time to set up a manual shot and you have a close-up static subject with a nice shallow depth of field, then this will be the camera for you. However, when you want the video camera to do double duty at your kids sport event and also use it to shoot static subjects, you’re going to have a real challenge achieving competency for both uses with this camera.


My next challenge with this camera involves taking the footage off of my memory card and uploading it to my Mac computer. I use Final Cut Express for my editing and FCE does not recognize this particular AVC HD format. It gave me many error messages when trying to log and transfer video files.

In fact, I was so frustrated with a lack of intuitive ability to log and transfer the raw footage into my Final Cut Express software, that I was tempted to return the camera to B&H Photo. My Canon Vixia HF S10 video camera never gave me any problem and the raw footage was always immediately recognized, transcoded and error-free.

I wasted hours trying to figure out a workaround to get the raw footage into my editing software without error messages. The bottom line was that the AVC HD files have to be re-wrapped into a different format in order to allow Final Cut Express to recognize them as Quicktime .mov files. There are free workarounds that I tried with varying levels of success. I then learned of a piece of software called ClipWrap that cost $50. It rewraps .mts files (native AVC HD video files) to .mov files and does so really fast.

I only wish Sony had let me know before I bought this camera that the video footage would not be natively applied or accepted into Final Cut Express.

All in all, the camera is small, it is lens-heavy, shoots beautiful outdoors footage, has difficulty shooting in low light and appears grainy, as most video cameras do. The zoom lens is awesome as long as you’re not using it to achieve smooth zooms or wide-angle shots that are moving quickly. If you’re willing to use a wraparound to convert your video files into a format that Final Cut will accept and want a camera that looks different from all the rest, then this camera may be right for you.

Before finally deciding to buy this camera, I strongly considered the Pro Canon HF 105, the new professional camera in Canon’s line-up. However, I did not need all of those features and it did not have an interchangeable lens system to achieve shallow depth of field.

Another camera I strongly considered was the JVC 105, which natively plays directly to Final Cut Pro. However, that also did not have an interchangeable lens system and found that it was too advanced for my needs.

As of right now, for my static video shoots, this camera should be ideal for the time being.


This is the upgraded model from the NEX VG10. Some of their ergonomic choices are not easily understood including the placement of the pinky buttons; the fact that there is no rocker switch and the incompatibility to make these video files recognized by Apple software.

Also unusual is that they have eliminated the 30 fps function and instead only allow you to shoot at 60i, 60p and 24p. Although I’m sure there is some engineering principle to explain why the camera will not record at 24 MPS using a class 10 memory card, the promo materials should clearly state this. It doesn’t.

The camera itself without the lens retails for $1,599. With the lens, before tax, it comes to $2,100.

Depending upon how this camera does over the next few months, I may consider switching to the top of the line Canon Vixia Prosumer camera which has gotten stunning reviews but alas has no interchangeable lens system.

I do love using my Canon 60D to shoot video. However, it does have file limitations that cause the camera to shut off after 12 minutes of continuous usage. In addition, with extended usage the camera overheats, gives you a heat warning, then shuts down. You literally have to let it cool off for about 10 minutes in order to use the camera again.


If you want a really cool looking camera for static video shots with great interchangeable lens system and shallow depth of field, then this camera’s right to you. Otherwise, you may be better off moving to a level above including the Canon professional line, the JVC professional line compatible with Final Cut, or moving one level below to the top-of-the-line Canon prosumer level.

Till next time, see you on video!

About Gerry

Gerry is a practicing NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer. He is also the Founder of the Lawyers Video Studio, a video marketing company he created to help lawyers, professionals and entrepreneurs create video to market themselves online using video that teaches and educates. He is the Chairman of the Lawyers Video Marketing Alliance and has lectured across the country about video marketing. He has written hundreds of articles on video marketing and is considered one of America’s leading authorities on video marketing for attorneys in the country.


Lawyers Video Studio, LLC
25 Great Neck Rd., Ste. 4
Great Neck, NY 11021

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3 Responses to 2012 Review of Sony NEX VG20

  • Valentin Gheorghita says:


    I find almost curious the your’s comment to imposibility to record 24 Mbit/s video on class 10 SD card. I owner of two sony nex – the VG10 and the NEX 5N – and I can tell you that I haven’t anny problems to record 24 Mbit video on SD Card class 4, 6 an 10 annywere. For me, your’s comments is partialy wrong, probabily becose unsufficient knowing use this camcorder. And, the most important thing, the image quality is amasing and quiet superior at anny Canon prosumer with small sensor. A sincerly regard, Valentin (appologise for my poor english…)

  • Hi Valentin,
    I am fully familiar with all the settings. As a professional video producer, this is something I take pride in. I have used multiple memory cards with different class settings. Every time I set camera to 24 mps I get a big red circle with a line thru it telling me that it will not record at that rate. Has nothing to do w/ my knowledge of the settings. Appears to be a camera hardware/software issue. BTW, I have tried this with many different memory cards by different manufacturers. Same result each time.

    You are also using the Sony NEX VG10, not the Sony NEX VG20 which is what I have and reviewed. There may not have been any issue w/ the VG10, but there certainly is w/ the VG20.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments.


  • Alex says:

    Hello guys.
    About recording at 24mbs, have you tried 30mbs wrinting memory cards? The solution to record at 24 mps is the Write speed of the card. Alex.

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He is the solo practitioner that pretty much dominates the web for anything medical malpractice in New York, and frustrates the hell out of all the “big guys” that spend millions and millions of dollars. He’s tenacious, he’s very good at what he does, and he’s just “killing it”. In fact, he’s actually beating me in a lot of categories for video for lawyers. He is organized and methodical as both an attorney and as a video master. I would advise anybody that’s looking to do videos to talk to Gerry about his services.

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