After shooting many corporate videos with a Canon 60D DSLR and a RED Scarlet I was excited to hear that Sony was releasing an ENG style 35mm (APS-C) Camcorder - the NEX-EA50UH. I figured this would be a great replacement to my 5 year old Sony Z5U.
After purchasing the camera, I decided to put the EA50 and Z5U side by side and run a few tests. I really wanted to see what improvements a large APS-C sensor in the EA50 would have over three 1/3 CMOS sensors in the Z5U. Thankfully, the EA50 did show many strengths but also several weaknesses that I will discuss in the notes below. Note* The lens I use on the EA50 is the kit lens (SELP 18-200mm) complete with servo zoom but no ND filters as I'm sure all of you know. All camera settings are matched with a histogram since the sensors/lenses are totally different. I kept the gain/ ISO the same between cameras but relied on exposure rather that aperture to produce similar images.
* It's clear that the digital noise level is non existent on the EA50 at its lowest ISO (160) like the RED whereas the Z5U displays noise even at 0DB.
* The detail displayed by the APS-C sensor is quite vibrant and piercing whereas the Z5U produces a more flat image and is softer on the finer details. The bokeh and DoF in general is more pleasing on the EA50 because of this.
* The kit lens is very clean. As you can see around 1:04, the Z5U has some chromatic aberrations on the roof of the house. The SELP 18-200mm does not appear to have any problems with back lighting distortion.
* As far as low light, the EA50 is about on par with the Z5U, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Both display digital noise at high ISOs/gain but the EA50 is still able to preserve details through its large sensor. The type of noise is also different - the EA50 is more bearable with its softer grain whereas the Z5U is harsh.
CONS (ish...more like attributes to look out for):
* The EA50 is really light, which is great for portability but it also shows you the build quality. It's borderline on the cheap side but it makes up for its hollow plastic shell with solid buttons and easy interface. Also, the lack of tape deck would make any camera shed a few pounds.
* The dynamic range seems to be beaten out by the Z5U. Weird. As you can see around 2:08, the Z5U is able to keep some blue highlights in the sky while the EA50 blows them out. This is also apparent in the crushed black test. I couldn't keep the blue sky on the EA50 without underexposing the ground. However, this could be corrected in picture profile settings which I have yet to mess around with. The default colour settings on the EA50 are super contrasty, which could be the problem.
*Although Sony claims that the digital zoom is lossless, it's not. You can see the decrease in bit rate as you zoom in which is evident in the comparison around 2:53. Although, it's not as bad as a 2mp Canon Powershot, I wouldn't use it in a professional setting.
* The lens is super slow. Where the Z5U can hold an aperture of 3.5 through the entire zoom, the SELP 18-200 begins to close as soon as you start zooming to the point where the ISO needs to compensate immediately in a low light situation. This is the worst part of the camera and almost gave me second thoughts since I shoot so many poorly lit teleconferences.
* As demonstrated, ISO above 5000 is pretty much useless. The camera seems to shoot a clean image up to 2500 but I would still use 5000 if I had to. 5000ISO is really high and, surprisingly, still looks pretty decent.
* ROLLING SHUTTER!! This camera has realllly bad rolling shutter, so if you plan on doing any ADD MTV style shoots or filming really fast moving objects then stay away from this camera for the time being. I've emailed Sony and hopefully this will be fixed in a firmware update.
Yes I had many criticisms about the camera, but I've been very picky. The EA50 shoots fantastic images and is just a breeze to set-up and work with. Although the lens is technically slow, the ISO is able to go so high without too much grain that it doesn't really matter. With the advantage of an interchangeable lens system, this camera would be unstoppable with some good Canon glass on it (see Metabones adapter). If Sony made the SELP 18-200mm servo zoom lens similar to the ones they have on their fixed lens cameras like the Sony Z5U/ PMW 200 etc, there would literally be no complaints. However, that's how they kept the price down on this camera - "meh" lens but sadly, the only interchangeable powered zoom lens. If you don't need a powered zoom, buy it without the 18-200mm. I need to do some more tests in a more realistic environment before I fall in love with this camera but so far I'm happy with my purchase and I'm excited to experiment with it. Fix the damn rolling shutter Sony!
Thanks for reading and I'm happy to answer any questions,
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