Sony NEX-VG900 More Impressions

As you can probably tell, I purchased a Sony NEX-VG900 last year and have had a bit of experience shooting with it. Below is a sample of what can be done with this camcorder.

I love the fact that I can finally use my full frame 35mm Nikon lenses without any crop factor. On the NEX-VG900 my Nikon 15mm rectilinear lens gives me the whole picture; can't beat that!

I shot this entire video with vintage manual Nikon AI-s lenses. You can't beat the beautiful bokeh these vintage lenses create.

Update: as of January 2015 - this is still the only interchangeable lens, full frame video camcorder available with a "video form factor" Sony always amazes me, not necessarily in a good way - this time they did.

WIKI List of large sensor interchangeable-lens video cameras

Using Full Frame 35mm Manual Lenses on the NEX-VG900 - Sony Alpha a7s

Adapters galore; Nikon, Schneider-Kreuznach, Leica M & L39
You can finally use your full frame 35mm Nikon lenses without any crop factor.

On the NEX-VG900 my Nikon 15mm rectilinear lens gives me the whole picture; can't beat that!

You can get almost any lens adapter for this camcorder on eBay.  I found one for my old Retina-Curtagon 28mm Schneider-Kreuznach lens. Have you got old Leica screw-mount lenses sitting around?

UPDATE Feb. 22, 2015:

I continue to use all my manual lenses with the new Sony Alpha a7s. I utilize the same adapters I used on my NEX-7 and NEX-VG900 camcorder.

Rack Focus with Narrow DOF

DOF or Depth of Field is used by a filmmaker to guide viewers to what he wants them to look at.

One method, often used to direct your gaze, is the rack-focus. The shot will be focused on the one element that requires your attention. The rest of the shot will be out of focus or blurred. When the filmmaker wants to change your attention to another element in the shot he focuses on it, and by design, blurs the element in focus initially.

Here's a poorly executed rack-focus, but I'm sure you can appreciate the potential.

This is one reason a narrow DOF lens is a must. It captures the film look as well as allowing the ability to create a rack-focus.

Remember, for the most part, FAST lenses give good narrow DOF, and when using a zoom lens the longer the focal length (zoomed-in) the narrower the DOF.

For more info on DOF see:

Large Sensors: The Short Version

This is a post I wrote for my other blog on the VG900 - From the start I'll tell you that the reason for large sensors is simple; DOF and better sensitivity or low light capabilities. For filmmakers it is part of the elusive "film-look" not attainable on small sensor video cameras. If you are interested in where large sensors evolved from, we have to go back in time a little.

I'm going to skim the surface on the development of video camera sensors starting after the invention of the CCD. I won't get into the old tube cameras or the 2 inch Quadruplex videotape. Nor will I get into all the complicated electronics involved. Search the web for this info if you want to go deeper into the rabbit hole.

OK, let's start our journey back in time and begin by going to the movies.

In 1892 George Eastman provided Thomas Edison with 35mm filmstrip with four perforations per frame. By 1909 Eastman Kodak's standard became the international gauge for movie-making - now loosely referred to as Super-35mm.

Oskar Barnack's idea was to take advantage of the newly designed cine film strip and use it in his compact still camera. By 1913 he had developed his prototype. To obtain a larger negative size for his creation he turned the film strip on its side and the Leitz Camera (Leica) was born - commonly referred to as Full Frame 35mm.

Television or video took a different path. Standard video sensors developed for TV had nothing to do with 35mm cine filmstrip, mostly because of the development of the cheaper and more compact 16mm film format, which became the standard film size for early TV production. Before the invention of dedicated video cameras, 16mm film was shot, edited and then transferred to video.

Thanks in part to the extensive use of this smaller film in TV production, manufacturers created the 2/3" CCD sensor for use on video cameras. This innovative sensor was designed for use with c-mount which took advantage of the vast supply of high quality 16mm lenses in use at the time.

Sony CineAlta F900 - $80,000US
Professional as well as consumer quality video camcorders were based on TV's analog 525 line NTSC. In the digital realm this translates to 640x480 pixels.

The size of early consumer camcorder sensors was determined by cost - as long as the final image produced 640x480 video with a 4:3 ratio, the sensor could be as small as practical.

By the year 2000 Standard video or SD started giving way to high definition or HD, and sensor size remained the same.

HD cameras developed for professional production, like the groundbreaking $80,000 Sony CineAlta F900, used 2/3" sensors. Sony and other manufacturers were able to fit all the extra pixels and information needed for the larger 1920x1080 HD image into a 2/3" sensor.

Why is the use of large sensors all the rage today? If manufacturers are able to fit more than enough pixels on a 2/3" sensor to make HD video, why make sensors any bigger?

DOF and low-light sensitivity, and because we can. Needless to say, the cost of manufacturing large sensors has come down to reasonable levels.

Now we have to switch back to still photography.

When Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975 the cost was beyond the common consumer's price-point. By 1995 Kodak's 6 megapixel DCS 460 was selling for over $28,000. The DCS 460 had a relatively large 28mm x 19mm sensor. It was nearly as large as a Full Frame 35mm sensor, and larger than Sony's current Super-35mm, 23.6mm x 13.3mm. The reason?
Kodak DCS 460 - $28,000US

Kodak developed their sensors to be used on existing 35mm bodies and lenses, so sensor size had to be as close as possible to Full Frame 35mm as cost would dictate.

Thank you Mr. Oskar Barnack for the development of the 35mm Full Frame format.

As you probably have figured out by now, consumers weren't going to pay over $28,000 for a still camera. The common man had to wait until the development of lower-cost digital still cameras. Sensors for average consumer's would have to be smaller.

As still cameras got better and cheaper to make, manufacturers started adding video capability. At first the video quality was a joke, but as development progressed, and sensors got larger, video quality got increasingly more palatable.

Enter - Jim Jannard, the creative force behind the RED camera. A video camera with a pixel count of 4096x2304 or 4K; much larger than HD's 1920x1080. If it weren't for  RED we probably wouldn't be where we are today with large sensor HD filmmaking. Many Hollywood films are now shot in 4K video with RED cameras. These super-35mm cameras are at the forefront of digital cinema production. Checkout some of the films made on RED. Go visit RED Digital Cinema for more on RED.
Red One - you can get a stripped
down body for less than $6,000

Jim thought, why not use the large Full Frame sensors developed for still cameras on video cameras. This would make video look like film, and if he could use a Super-35mm size sensor with the common PL mount it would allow filmmakers to use the full range of high-end cine lenses already in use in Hollywood. Mind you, the cost for these large sensor video cameras were still beyond the reach of po'folk like me.

Influenced by the success of Red and by Canon's Full Frame 5D still camera, camcorder makers like Sony, Panasonic, and others are now finally marketing the next generation of camcorders with larger sensors at much more benign prices. The elusive "film-look" with extreme narrow depth of field is now attainable by independent filmmakers at reasonable costs.
Sony NEX-VG900

Sony's latest release, the NEX-VG900 camcorder with a Full Frame 35mm 24.3MP sensor, sells for under $3300.

Canon, Panasonic, Sony as well as other manufacturers have released interchangeable lens, large sensor camcorders in recent months. They are counting on people like us to keep making digital films.

I purchased a VG900 and you can see a video I shot with it in my Post Above.


Sony has introduced a mirrorless digital camera that shoots 4K Video - see my blog 4KProducer

First Impressions - Sony's NEX-VG900

Sony's recently released HD camcorder has a full-frame 35mm sensor, and will accept practically any old manual lens with the appropriate adapter.

No, it won't do autofocus on a newer Canon or Nikon lens, but Sony makes quite a few auto-focus lenses for this camera under the Zeiss moniker.

The VG900 comes with a LA-EA3 adapter that will allow you to use Sony Alpha lenses. I'm not sure about being able to auto-focus with this adapter - google it, cause I don't do auto-focus, sorry.

This first impressions video is mostly about controls, and how the camera performs in low light. Watch the video and see some sample footage, make sure to select HD for best viewing:

I was impressed with low-light performance, my wife shoots with a large pro camcorder costing well over $10,000 and as most news photographers will tell you - shooting at 12db the image looks extremely grainy and noisy, ask my good friend Alex Pimentel, he's been a news photog for many years. Alex saw the footage I shot with 21db gain and was blown away.

Update: as of October 2014 - this is still the only interchangeable lens, full frame video camcorder available with a "video form factor" Sony always amazes me, not necessarily in a good way - this time they did.

WIKI List of large sensor interchangeable-lens video cameras

Buying and Selling: eBay the Golden Goose

I've collected vintage film cameras and lenses through the years and I've sold many of them after using them for a little. I no longer have many of the older film cameras that I've collected. I recently sold my prized Nikon Rangefinder from the fifties; these are very collectable and have increased in value.

Nikon S2 with legendary 35mm f/1.4 sold on eBay for $1500 to a collector in Japan
Buying the latest gadget or photo equipment can get very expensive - If you are like me, and 99% of most people I know, it's hard to justify large purchases. Hey, I'm no rich dude.

What if there was a way to sell the gadgets you no longer use? What if you could sell last year's amazing gadget so you could buy this years incredibly more amazing gadget? Thanks to eBay and craigslist you can buy and sell all your stuff on a regular basis. Not just collectable cameras and lenses, you can sell or get just about anything on eBay.

If you are looking for photo equipment you can find the newest or the rarest of vintage photo equipment on eBay. From a cheap new point and shoot to a rare Leica lens listed at over $200,000.00:

Expensive rare Leica Lens on eBay

Buy your NEW gadgets wherever you can get them for the lowest price. Amazon has consistently been one of my go-to retailers for new stuff. Always search the internet for the best price - this is an art form in itself.

Always take extreme care of your stuff - you need to be anal retentive about it - so that your buyers can always count on getting near-mint items.

Never keep something beyond the point of obsolescence. I try to sell my computers within a one to two year window. If you wait too long nobody will want it.

Always make sure that whatever you get will hold its value, or even better, will increase in value. This is key, don't buy crap. Get the best. In the long run you'll get more for it when it's time to sell. I can't stress it enough - take care of you stuff - it won't be worth anything if it isn't in near-mint condition when you try to sell it.

One more selling tip - Price your items at a reasonable prices. Find the price everyone is selling at, then price your item lower if possible.

Last spring I went through the house and collected everything I thought would sell and listed it on eBay - I made close to $3000.  We spent that money on a needed family vacation.

My wife no longer lets me buy anything unless I sell something to cover the cost first. I could tell you stories.

OK, a short one: I was looking for a commercial espresso grinder for my caffeine addiction, I own a commercial espresso machine. (that's another story) It happens that the model grinder I was looking into cost over $700 new. Way beyond what I would consider reasonably sane. The cheapest I could find on eBay was around $350 - used, paint coming off, didn't look very nice.

I figured, as I always do, that it wouldn't be too complicated to fix, if it were not working optimally, so I pull the trigger and buy it. After all, I'll just turn around and sell it if I decide I don't need it anymore.

I get the grinder, the box it came in had no padding, these large burr grinders weigh a ton. What the hell were they thinking, no padding? I call the seller, they tell me to accept the package and that they will make it right if it is damaged.

Long story short; the damage to the grinder would cost $350 to repair. They refund my $350 and tell me to keep the grinder. I repair the grinder with 2 hours of my labor - no parts needed.

These guys may not know how to pack heavy items for shipping, but they happen to be a reputable seller, not every eBay seller will make things right.

I would say that with the amount of knowledge gained in repairing and restoring the grinder it was free. In my mind it cost me nothing, and after striping and polishing it, the grinder is probably worth close to $650 now.

So, don't be afraid to buy your highly yearned, expensive, thoroughly marketed, consumer desired wonder widget. You can always sell it on eBay and recoup most, if not all, of your hard earned money.

See what's up for sale on my eBay:

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