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The Sony NEX-EA50, A Surprisingly Versatile Camcorder

THE SONY NEX-EA50 by Z Cheema

sony-nex2

  Once in a while you get the chance to review a camera that brings back memories of years gone by.

VX9000 Sony’s NEX-EA50 camera  is one of those cameras, some may say I am stretching things to far, but as I looked at it I felt at home with it because it reminded me of my old Sony VX9000E (also known as the DSR200).  This was my first DV camera and a change in look from the previous S-VHS machines I was using.Obviously things have moved on from then and we are into a whole new ball game with affordable, Hi Definition large sensor, cameras with interchangeable lenses and the demise of the tape mechanism.

A walk around…

On opening the box, and taking out the various items, Charger, lens, camera, lens viewer, battery (NP-F770, Remote control, microphone and leads. It all comes together fairly easily.  The view-finder pulls out and can be rotated as required. The only issue is that when folded in, you cannot hold the handle as you would normally do with my fingers on one side and the thumb on the other side of the handle, but with the viewfinder closed, the thumb has to rest on top of the handle.

Audio Controls There is also an additional place to fit (supplied) an extra hot shoe on the back of the camera handle.  A stereo microphone is built in, but it still has the options of the two XLRs for the supplied external microphone.  Apart from the normal switches for the XLR, Line, Mic (+48), there is also the option to mix the internal microphone with the external inputs as sources. With Manual  override for recording with limiters also available as an option. Adjacent to the audio controls is the SDHC, SDXC. MS Pro HG Duo media socket.  
Next to the XLRs is the HDMI and USB connectors.
There is a slot for an optional SSD (HXR-FMU128) 128Gb unit to fit in the side of the camera, just next to that there are phono ouput sockets for the Video. Audio and Component.  The battery supplied also fits in the back in to what that looks like some docking bay, if you have the largest capacity battery then it fits flush otherwise it hides in the bay. Just above the battery bay there is a Remote socket (2,5mm) for lanc control, which worked with my remote zoom controller and just above that is the Headphone Monitor switch, with CH1, CH2 and MIX options, the volume buttons and a mode button to switch between Video and Camera mode. The actual headphone socket is on the side of the handle audio switch (3.5mm) and on the back of the handle a record tally light.
Audio Inputs
Side View The photo button to take a picture is just in front of the zoom rocker on the hand grip. The zoom rocker has variable speed of the lens.On the side we have the 6 helpful Assign buttons, that… well…  er… can be assigned via the menus.  The really good thing here, is to see at last, real buttons to manually control the camera and not have to fiddle through the menus.  When filming live events and on the go , you need to be able to adjust these items quickly and painlessly.There is a get out of free jail card with the inclusion of the AUTO switch if it all gets to fast or goes belly up.  There are of course the Auto/manual overrides on the focus and iris controls with PUSH AUTO buttons to get assistance if required.  On the hand grip side there is another IRIS PUSH AUTO button keeping your left hand free for the focus.
Picture profiles (6) and menu select are also on this side together with the STATUS CHECK to quickly see the settings in large text, this includes the audio levels, Output, Assign buttons, Camera, Media, Info, and Battery info.On the handle there is a rocker zoom (fixed speed) and a START/STOP button with a lock to prevent accidental use. View Finder
Battery Pack Underneath the handle are the buttons to access the menus & media.  There is a button labeled “Visual Index”, which at first look seems like a button to add a markers during recording, which got me all excited as I they are handy on long form shots, but it not to be I’m sorry to say.  It turned out it just switched between camera and media. The usual tape control buttons are there and also replicated on the remote control.  There is a charger which thankfully has a cradle to charge a battery and not rely on plugging in a cable to the camcorder to charge the battery as I have seen on some cameras.  There is a switch on the charger to select camera or charge, which means unlike my old VX900 charger, that would charge the battery in the cradle and then charge the camera battery afterwards automatically, this one will not, but thankfully for small mercies. A lead is supplied to connect the camera to the charger.

First Thoughts…

The lightness of the camera which is just about 3Kg, hits you as you lift it up with all the items attached.

Then as you look through the view finder and get a chance to see how the new E-mount lens with a 18-200mm power zoom with auto focus and a F3.5 to F6.3 performs (67mm filter thread). There is the option to use IOS instead of gain readings on the LCD if you prefer.

At first the Image looked a bit dark at first, then by adjusting the gain and iris it looked I had it looking as I thought it should. This may be a an issue for me, as I tend to film in some dim churches and theaters, but with a range of growing compatible lenses and adapters to enable to use your own lenses, this should not be a great problem.

 EA50-GenusTec

 This camera had a surprise as well as the large sensor it was also a shoulder mount camera well as the standard hand held camera. I have always preferred shoulder mounted cameras , as I find I get steadier shots with less strain on my wrist, but as I tried the it in shoulder mount mode, there is no weight on the back of the camera, so all the Weight was still on my arm.  What it needs is weight on the back or like the DSR200 that large battery pack. But don’t let that put you off as you can get a weight attachment plate for the camera. The Adapter here and the Weight here.

It is also a multi-standard camera from the outset with both PAL and NTSC frame rates up to 50P/60P.

The 50P modes should allow for some nice slow motion too.  The recoding is H.264 AVCHD Ver. 2.0, this means you can now have bit rates up to 28Mb/s in PS mode.

My 32gb card gave me a time of 175mins on setting HD 1080/25p/i FX, HQ was 288mins and LP was 612mins.  In SD mode I had 475mins be it in 4:3 or 16:9 HQ only.  There is also an option in the menu to enable you to record to the memory card and the SSD simultaneously, in the same format and you can use cards up to 64gb.

The new Sony “Memory Stick XC-HG Duo” card is an interesting device, it will allow a 64Gb card act as one large media device or two 32Gb units in mirror, mode this helps protect data in case of errors. I assume a bit like raid in PCs only in one device, which makes me think is this good or bad?

NEX EA50 Bit rates

Viewfinder The HDMI out on the camera has the option to output Time Code as well but it is not clear that this is or will be capable of 4:2:2 output. The unit as the addition of GPS facility built in if required.  You have the option to store six camera profiles and these can be saved to the card to be copied and kept or passed to other users. This does allow you set up the camera exactly how you want to get that perfect image.
DSC00008 Last but no means least the NEX – EA50 will take shoots 16 megapixel stills and pretty good ones at that, with the additional of a multi-interface hot shoe, you can even use a flash. You cannot however take a still while filming, the unit is either in movie mode or photo mode.Image sizesPS: 1,920×1,080FX: 1,920×1,080/1,280×720
FH: 1,920×1,080/1,280×720
HQ: 1,440×1,080
LP: 1,440×1,080(actual Still Image)The power consumption of the unit is about 5.4W with the attachments in use and the supplied battery NP-F770 which is rated at 31.6Wh, should give about 6 hours of use, but in reality I would say about 4 hours in reality, taking into account the zooming and switching on and off.

 

NEX-EA50 Camera shots from SVS Weddings on Vimeo.

Nitty Gritty

So what’s it like in use?  The good news fairly easy to setup and get going.  The shoulder mount really does not work without some weight on it, but does help to stabilise the camera while filming , the option to use the Steady shot is always useful to shut take that slight movement out. If you get stuck there the Full Auto switch.

I used a old NP-F930 battery of mine (yes it worked) which is actually slightly less power than the supplied battery and it lasted all day for the test shoot. The more remarkable thing is my Sony battery was purchased in 1999, sitting on the shelf for 6 years and still works 12 years later.

sky mill shot Having the most frequent controls at hand makes it a breeze to get on with once you get familiar with the layout. I did keep putting my hand on the lens to find the hand grip, but there is not there as it is on the camera body.  I found the lens slow to focus, which is not normally an issue with me as I tend to use the manual setting mainly.
When I did try and focus manually, that proved a challenge as the lens has a unit at the base to house the motors and so you cannot use the familiar C shape of your hand to hold the top and bottom of the focus ring, it would have been better if the base unit was on the side of the hand grip out of the way.The zoom is slower than I am used using the rocker switch, but there is an override switch on the lens to control it manually, the difference here is that the Zoom and the focus have swapped positions that I am normally used to on a lens, with the focus nearer the camera and the zoom at the front of the lens.
The Image on the viewfinder is excellent and easy to focus though there is an expanded focus button, face detection or you can touch the monitor to focus if you prefer.
A nifty little feature in the menu that lets you set position A and B for the focus and then by pressing an assign button, the focus will move smoothly between the A & B, the time can be set for the duration between A & B in the menus.
bridge It was quite a bright day on the day of the shoot and the camera went to F22 on a 0db setting, it really did need an ND filter to bring that F stop down.  I did use the shutter to bring it down, but that is not always desirable and if you want to pull focus that makes it difficult.  I resorted to close ups and by using the zoom and managed to achieve it with no real great difficulty.
Boat Overall I would say it handled the images well, hangingon to the detail in the sky as well as the normal surroundings.  They look pleasing to the eye when viewed on a normal TV, no noticeable  noise or any moire patterning.  I was shooting by a lock near a mill and the images I came back with I was more than happy with. Back in the studio time have a look at those images in more detail and as you can see in the image on the left it holds well (zoom 253×195).  That sensor is doing its job well or is it, let’s have a look of a few shots in low light.  You can preview all clips at anytime with a last clip review as well.
sky mill close up 353-198 The images on the left taken in my studio looking under the desk in the evening. The images have been zoomed in (using the same record settings as used in the day) , from 1920×108 down to 720×576
zereo- db The first image is at 0dB, 
18db quarter zoom-720-576  the second at 18db
full auto and the last on the auto.  There is very little noise on these images that can be seen when zoomed in.  That means shooting in those dim churches and theaters is not really going to be an issue even with the supplied lens.

The camera has many pros going for it, from the  manual settings the inter-changeable lens, viewfinder, light, ease of use, audio features, separate charger

But and there always is one,  on the other side of the scales.  Could have done with an ND filter, the weight could be more even for the shoulder mount. dual media sockets and the ability to record SD and HD, Cache recording and over-cranking

Cheema’s’ round up,

A great little camera that was easy to use and avoided the use of those menus, essential when working fast.  the lack of Cache recording was a disappointment as I use this a lot in the theatre work as I have no idea when the curtains will go up and so saves on media, perhaps a firmware upgrade will allow this.  As all the switches are black they can be difficult to see what position they are in, so white tippex on them for me, or perhaps to have nice illuminate buttons like a car stereo so you can see everything in low light

Love the audio beep, I know it’s a small thing but when running around that beep is a sign of confidence the camera has started or stooped as you can be to busy to notice you may have accidently knocked the record switch and so be out of sync.  Having the separate charger is good news as so many cameras just come with a mains lead to charge the battery in the camera.

So all in all the thumbs up on this surprisingly versatile camera.

     
     
   

NOTES (if power is lost or the SD card is removed)

1. Up to 30 seconds if your battery fails in the EA50 you will not have any footage on the SDHC card.

2. 40 seconds will give you 38 seconds of footage with a recovery message pressing the OK button, this is very impressive.

It seems the EA50 buffers up to 30 seconds of footage at any one time which explains the total loss up to the 30 second mark but the good news is that if the battery fails and you power up the camera you get a recovery message, by pressing YES most of your footage give or take 10 seconds will be saved to your SDHC card.

Zulqar Cheema M.M.Inst.V.

Sony NEX- EA50 Review from Philip Johnston on Vimeo.

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