Sony reveal NEX-EA50EH ahead of IBC 2012

Sony EA50EHSony have been busy lately – the PMW-200 has only been out five minutes, and already they have another new model on the way. The NEX-EA50EH is a very different beast, though. Where the PMW-200 was designed as a successor to the EX1, the NEX-EA50EH has more modest ambitions, with Sony initially pitching it as replacement for yout 5D MkII, or a B or C roll camera to sit under an FS100 or FS700. That said, it’s no slouch in the specs department, and Sony reckon it can take on Blackmagic Design’s Cinema Camera when it comes to depth of field…

Built similarly to the FS100, the NEX-EA50EH has a large APS HD CMOS sensor, giving it excellent shallow depth of field and low light sensitivity. Because of the APS-C size sensor, it’s easier to achieve shallow depth of field with a spec-for-spec lens than its more expensive rival, Panasonic’s AF101, so if you’re after the ‘film look’ on a budget, it’s well worth checking out.

The specs

The NEX-EA50EH is part of the NXCAM professional range, and like its brethren comes with HDMI (with embedded timecode) and XLR as standard. It’s picked up the motorised zoom lens that some users were requesting for the FS100 and 700 (more on that later), is 50/60p switchable, and features a wealth of time saving ease-of-use features like one touch autofocus and iris control, touchscreen focus tracking controls, and a photo mode that lets you capture 16 megapixel images to JPEG or RAW format, just in case you find yourself missing your DSLR after all.

Sony tell us that there are two kinds of APS-C sensor, and theirs is bigger that Canon’s – almost the size you’d get on a Super 35mm camera. They’re currently tweaking the parameters of the sensor to reduce aliasing, and word is it’ll be less of an issue than you’d expect with an ASP-C but not as good as if you shot on a Super 35. You can, however, use that HDMI link to capture to an 8-bit 4:2:2 recorder like the Atomos Ninja.

Interestingly, Sony chose the briefing we attended to put the boot in about the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, which they claim uses a very small sensor and doesn’t allow shallow DOF or wide angles, even if you use a 20mm lens, but that could just be them getting competitive. Having had a go with the camera, we’ve seen that you can get the DOF you want with the Cinema Camera, you just have to acclimatise to the way lenses work with it, as you would any new kit. A 20mm lens looks more like you’d expect a 50mm one to; a 7mm one will give you perfectly usable shallow DOF no problem.

The more careful among you will be pleased to hear that Sony’s HXR-FMU128 flash memory unit can dock directly to the camcorder for recording an immediate backup, or use the camera with Sony’s new Mirroring Memory Stick, which automatically dual records any footage you store on it.

There’s linear PCM for audio – you can use the built-in mic or an external one via XLR, but can’t mix them. Elsewhere, it’s all a bit FS100. The LCD is the same, complete with on-screen viewfinder, and the picture adjustments, knee and gamma are the same, too. The big difference is that motorised zoom…

The lens

The NEX-EA50EH uses E-mount lenses, and a new motorised zoom model is included in that box – all we know is that it’s 18 – 200mm and includes a square lens hood. While it’ll initially be exclusive to the EA50EH, a firmware upgrade is planned for the FS700 and possibly the FS100 too, so it should eventually work across the range. Sony’s press release says it “features autofocus, continuous variable iris and Optical Steady Shot image stabilisation with Active Mode, making it ideal for shooting moving images.” There’s also a mechanical shutter designed to reduce shutter-induced blurs during longer exposures.

Sony have included a new function that allows you to specify two focus points and automatically shift between them, making focus pulling far easier. The focus pulling trick will only work with native E-mount lenses, but anyone who opts for a third party adaptor will still be able to use the built-in zoom rocker, which allows you to change the aperture of a Canon lens via an adaptor and have the f-stop on the screen while you do it.

The body

The new NEX-EA50EH is built in the same semi shoulder mount form factor as the EX3, but smaller – you don’t need any extras to use it as a shoulder mount camera. In fact, there’s a built-in shoulder support and it’s designed so that most of the weight is at the front, meaning you can attach an external recorder or other accessories to the back without unbalancing it.

Who’s it for?

Designed for education, corporates, event videographers and anyone with a 7D or 5D that wants to step up from DSLRs, the NEX-EA50EH is designed to be an ideal first pro camera, or to play a supporting part in more advanced setups. With a rough price of €3550 (£2744) to be confirmed at IBC, it’s an interesting prospect for anyone who needs to get over the audio issues and 30 minute cut off point you encounter in DSLRs, but doesn’t want to break the bank.

Do I want this or the Cinema Camera?

It depends what kind of work you’re doing. Both cameras represent part of a wave of new cameras that are looking to challenge the likes of the 5D and 7D for a place in the market.  Whilst offering the same creative flexibility of large sensor DSLRs, they address a number of drawbacks that arise from using a device designed for photography as a video camera – namely your DSLR’s tendency to overheat (if it’s old) or cut off after 30 minutes recording (if it’s new).

The range of Canon DSLRs that has fundamentally created this market sector have suffered from recording to H.264, which is a very compressed codec designed for delivery. This is far from ideal when you bring the content in to the edit, as there is not a huge amount of data to work with in terms of colour fidelity, chroma and luminance, so trying to manipulate it or even edit it has been not been an enjoyable process.

Both Sony and Blackmagic’s cameras have tried to fix this, and the grade is one place where the Cinema Camera is going to come into its own, but as the name suggests it’s not aimed at the same market as the NEX-EA50EH, which is a not designed to act as a lead camera. Instead, it tries to address the problem with introducing a codec that is lightweight in terms of data storage but user friendly in the edit – a great addition for anyone looking to step up from DSLR.

There’s also the fact that the thread mount on the shoulder pad will let you attach something like the Atomos Ninja, and record to NLE-friendly formats like ProRes and DNxHD, with the Ninja itself acting as a counter balance and confidence monitor.

Then there’s audio. Despite new firmware upgrades for the 7D, it still doesn’t have the physical I/O requirements to achieve good results with audio. External audio recorders have become the standard way to address this, but these add additional complications to your setup. With its two jack inputs, the Cinema Camera presents itself as part of a modular audio system, and assumes you have time, a crew and the opportunity to carry out post – it’s really a camera for people who are recording audio separately, or even using ADR.

On the other hand, the NEX-EA50EH has 2x XLR and manual controls, meaning the camera operator has full control and can get it right there and then, because it’s a camera designed for high speed, reactive shooting where the most you’ll be able to do is give your audio a quick polish in Audition.

If you’re thinking of investing in either, take time to really consider your end goal. Is it reactive or proactive videography? The NEX-EA50EH is a very reactive camera for when you want the large sensor look but also want the security that when it all kicks off, you have the footage in the bag. The Cinema Camera is pro-active; you use it to create moments, to view drama and craft a unique viewer experience using time, dedication to perfection and patience (hence the ‘Cinema Camera’ rather than ‘three-minute-corporate-video-for-irritating-client-camera’). The EA50 gives you the confidence to know that you can go out, shoot whatever happens on location and it will look stunning, with minimal issues and post. They’re very different beasts – confuse one for the other and you will end up riding your cow to fight a dragon and milking your horse.

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