Decisions, Decisions

 

Monday there was a fantastic event at Blue Moon Camera. They had the Impossible Project crew out for a road show and we got a chance to check out some new instant film stuff.

I spent some time in the store inspecting these two beautiful cameras. The one on the right is the Hasselblad 500C. The one on the left is a Leica M3.

Thanks to Peter for the Hasselblad overview and tutorial. Need to start saving up...

 

Checking Out the Sony A7

 

Sony A7 with Kit 28-70mm, f/3.5-5.6 Lens - Shot with my iPhone 5S

I had a little time today after a lunch meeting in the Pearl District and my friend Roger let me know that Pro Photo Supply had a demo Sony A7 and a Nikon DF. We met up and headed over to check them out.

I'm happy with my current kit, but it's pretty clear that the A7 is a pretty important move forward in the evolution of digital cameras. I gotta stay informed.

As you can see, the kit lens is pretty large compared to most E mount lenses. They didn't have the 35mm Zeiss prime in stock yet and it sounds like a lot of people are experiencing that same discrepency.

I was grabbing a cup of coffee at Barista just before Pro Photo and ran into Duncan Davidson who took delivery of his A7 body yesterday, but was still waiting on his lens. He put together a makeshift body cap pin-hole lens while he waited. Really looking forward to his review as it sounds like his lens arrived this afternoon.

 

Roger with the A7- Shot with my iPhone 5S

 

So, I put my hand on it and it is nice. Some of the things I'd been wondering about were answered.

First of all, it feels an awful lot like my NEX 7. The body is just a bit heavier, though not more than you'd expect from the extra EVF section on top and the slightly deeper body. The buttons have a familiar positive click. The grip has a rubber coating that feels identical to the one on the NEX 7. The grip shape is a little different and it is slightly shallower. In addition, there's a groove toward the top for a finger, but I found it a little odd as the shutter is located on the top of the body. It didn't feel totally natural. I don't quite know how to explain this except to say that the shutter would work better on the slanted front area where they've placed a control dial.

The control dials are nice, with just the right amount of resistance. The 7 has knobs that are clearly plastic, but they don't feel flimsy. The A7r comes has metal knobs for a little nicer finish.

As usual, when you are trying out a camera in the store, they are frequently low on battery and without an SD card. No difference here. It took me a little fiddling to find my way around the menus to turn up the screen brightness and turn off the Noise reduction bursts. If you are used to the NEX menu, it's a little confusing. NEX uses a set of icons as the home page for the menu whereas the A7 starts with a tabbed menu system. Things are titled differently, but I'm sure it would be pretty easy to learn.

The kit lens. Man it's big. It has a dark gray plasticky finish that really look out of place on the slick glossy black metal finish of the A7. It doesn't look like the early photos I've seen. It has a very short barrel extension when changing focal lengths which is nice. I'm sure it is a decent lens, but I can't imagine not going for much nicer glass on this body.

The EVF is really nice. It seems sharper than I'm used to, though not drastically so. The resolution seems to be the same at 1024 x 768, but the image seems easier to view even if you aren't quite aligned with it. On the 7, the edges can distort or smudge a little if you aren't centered.

I could certainly see this as an upgrade path for myself in the future especially as the lens line matures. I really love my 24mm (35mm equivalent on APS-C Sensor) Zeiss and I'm really looking forward to seeing shots from the 35mm lens. That's really my main focal length and I hope that they develop a super fast stabilized model.

Perhaps what excites me the most about this camera is the potential. Sony is really pushing the envelope in a way that few companies are willing to attempt.

 

Sony Needs to Do Better with Lenses for the A7

 

So, now that the full announcement, previews, first image samples and first criticisms and praise for the Sony A7 and A7r are here I have a few more thoughts. The A7 is what I and many of my friends value- Top notch Image Quality but smaller and lighter than what has been previously avialable.

I'm gonna put one piece of criticism out there.

Lenses. What's the deal with Sony and lens planning?

How is it that Sony isn't just releasing amazing Primes right out of the chute for this system?

The 55 f/1.8 Zeiss is great, but why not go faster with the 35? We know it's possible because they already put out an amazing f/2 on the RX-1. I've heard rumors that the short mount distance on the RX-1 makes this lens work, but no one would have complained about an extra centimeter of length due to the interchangeable mount. And why not a 24mm and an 85mm? They could have totally changed the reputation among serious photographers regarding their lenses if they'd just done it right.

Instead, they are getting the same criticisms they've always gotten for the NEX system. Great bodies. Bummer of a lens selection.

Also,why does Sony refuse to go faster than 1.8 on mirrorless?

They need to take notes from Fuji who is pretty much universally praised for the quality of their X series lenses. That's a way to release a system. There isn't really a missing focal length in their native offerings and they are comparing favorably to the Zeiss Touit lenses. That says a lot.

Sony is saying that there are 15 full frame lenses on the way, but there aren't even 15 E mount lenses for NEX APS-C right now. There are a few more if you include third party offerings from Zeiss, Sigma and Rockinon, but they mostly duplicate Sony's own offerings.

  1. 16 f/2.8
  2. 10-18 f/4
  3. 20 f/2.8
  4. 24 Zeiss f/1.8
  5. 30 f/3.5 macro
  6. 35 f/1.8
  7. 50 f/1.8
  8. 18-55 zoom f/3.5-5.6
  9. 16-55 pzoom f/3.5-5.6
  10. 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3
  11. 55-210 f/4.5-6.3
  12. big video power zoom 18-200 f/3.5-6.3
  13. Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 zoom
  14. Sony g zoom 18-105mm f/4

I might be missing something…but 3 years in and they are still missing a few key lenses. No 75, no 100, no fast zooms at all. Every zoom is 3.5 and the only two that are constant are f4. Perhaps more importantly, the quality of the above lens selection is really hit and miss. There are some great lenses in that list, but there isn't the consistency to build a good reputation.

If they want to be taken seriously and convert pro Canon and Nikon owners they need to develop competitors to the long fast zooms. They might be big compared to current NEX offerings, but they should be able to make them smaller than FX and L lenses because of the short mount distance.

How about a 70-200 f/2.8, an 18-105 f/2.8 or a 14-24 f/2.8?

It seems to me that the majority of pros using full frame canon and Nikon care way more about sharp fast zooms than primes.

By contrast, almost no one uses zooms on mirror less cameras because they don't make any nice ones that are sharp anywhere but in the center.

The Sony guys are talking about using glass from other mounts using adaptors, but they need to develop native e mount lenses if they hope for people to switch. They can't make folks go elsewhere to for their go-to lenses.

So, if you've read my blog at all before, it's clear that I'm a huge Sony fan. They are pushing the envelope like no other company out there. I only put this criticism out as a fan who wants to see Sony succeed. They could really make a huge shift in the camera market and the perception of mirrorless systems in general with this new camera. I just hate to see them fumble on the lens part.

 

Sony Mirrorless Full Frame - The Future of Photography?

 

Image from Digicame-info.com  

I love gadgets. So it's no surprise that I make it pretty clear what I'm using, and occasionally, what I find intriguing. About a year and a half ago I bought my first modern digital Interchangeable lens camera and as I detailed here, I chose the Sony NEX system.

Sony is a company that has shown a willingness to push the boundaries. Here are some examples: Release of the NEX (First mirrorless APS-C system), RX-1 (First Full Frame fixed lens Mirrorless camera), Focus peaking system, and the Alpha SLT system. They make the sensors used in Nikon's flagship Full frame cameras and the sensor used in the iPhone 5 and 5s.

So, with the release and subsequent success of the RX-1 it isn't that much of a surprise that Sony is only a few days from releasing an interchangeable lens Full Frame Mirrorless system. It will use the same lens mount as the NEX system and the first 2 models will carry a center-mounted Electronic Viewfinder.

Digicame-info.com posted a couple photos which have been confirmed by Andrea at Sony Alpha Rumors. To my eyes, the camera looks like a hybrid. The body and top controls are like an RX-1, the grip and mount are from the NEX bodies, and the hump on top of the body for the EVF that looks like an old school pentraprism box.

There have been quite a few exceptional photographers that have moved to mirrorless systems as their primary kit over the past couple years. Trey Ratcliff recently started using the NEX 7 for his epic landscapes. Zack Arias is a hardcore Fuji X series user. TED photographer Duncan Davidson has been using the RX-1 as his main camera for day-to-day use. Aaron Courter, who is an exceptional Portland based photographer and a long time friend has been incorporating the Fuji X cameras into his personal work, wedding and portrait business with great success.

I'm in love with the Sony NEX. I never even considered a DSLR camera because of the size, the weight and what I perceived to be its imminent demise. Up until now, you couldn't really get the same image quality and crazy shallow depth of field from a mirrorless camera, but I think the A7 and A7r will be the start of a large scale move away from large DSLR bodies for most photographers.

Sure, there are some times when the larger camera really makes sense. The Mirrored design still allows for faster focusing in sports contexts and there is certainly an expectation in event photography that will take awhile to pass. In addition, the larger bodies do have many features still missing from the new breed of mirrorless cameras and certainly handle big glass much better.

This is a moment. It feels like the rise of ultra portable notebooks such as the Macbook Air which have almost negated the need for more powerful desktops for all but the most demanding of users. I believe we are witnessing the birth of the future of photography.

 
 

OM-1

OM-1 | 365 Project | August 9th, 2013 | 35mm, f/4.5, ISO 400, 0.6 sec

 

I just picked up a fantastic new piece of gear this past week. The Olympus OM line was introduced in the early 70's and set the bar for compact 35mm SLRs. It has a large selection of lenses available and this one came with a 28mm f/3.5 and a 50mm f/1.8 thanks to Tim Taylor.

It's about the same size as my NEX 7 and fits into my larger camera bag with my digital rig.

I've got my first roll of Kodak Ektar 100 color film on board and plan to post some images as soon as they're developed.

I just finished shooting a roll on the Yashica TL super that I mentioned a few weeks ago and will post those soon too. I enjoyed shooting film, but that camera was a little unwieldy because of it's size and weight.

The best part is that the cost to get started with a kit like this is close to $100.

I spent time shooting film before, but I never really knew what I was doing. Shooting with a completely manual camera like this makes you think, and it really makes you consider each shot. It's not going to replace digital for me, but it sure is a good exercise.

 

Sony NEX SEL3518 35mm f/1.8 Review

I posted a preview of the Sony SEL3518 35mm f/1.8 E mount lens a couple months ago and it’s time to give you a little more from my day to day use. It has rarely left the body of my NEX 5Nand now the NEX -7 and has proved to be a great all-around lens.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my reviews are the type that I hope to read- What is it actually like to use this lens? Others have done a thorough job in showing zoomed in crops from the edges and comparisons from 6 different F stops with a critique of Chromatic Aberration and Bokeh artifacts. I’ll include technical details where I think they make a difference.

Focal Length

35mm on the NEX system has a field of view that is equivalent to a 52mm lens on an old 35mm Film camera or a Full Frame DSLR. For years, SLRs came with a single 50mm lens as a kit. To give some perspective, many folks believe that human vision is about the equivalent of 47-53mm. Sure you can see more to the sides, but that part is out of focus and is what we generally refer to as peripheral vision. Forget the explanation. Here are some photos taken with different focal lengths so you can see.

18mm

50mm

35mm

75mm

205mm

What I like about this length is the ease of composition. What you see on the screen or in the viewfinder when composing is pretty much what you see with your eyes. With wider or narrower focal lengths, there is often a distortion that happens in features, but that doesn’t happen as much with this lens.

Size

Since I bought this camera system, I’ve been hoping for a compact, middle length “regular” lens. At about that same time, the 24mm Zeiss became available, but it’s quite a bit larger and more expensive. I really love the compact nature of the NEX system as it fits easily in a small case that I can take with me daily. Whether I’m stowing it in my bike pannier or slinging it over my shoulder in a compact case, I can always have it with me without a lot of bulk. All of the native lenses for the NEX system are pretty small compared to the larger lenses you typically use with a full size DSLR, but this lens is just the right balance between weight and size. Here is a shot L-R of the Kit zoom 18-55 f/3.5-5.6, the 35mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.8

NEX Lenses

Focusing

Focusing is relatively quick and accurate when stopped down to f/4 up to around f/18. This is pretty normal with fast lenses. Below f.4, the narrow field of focus means that the chances of the exact part of the frame being in focus are smaller. When I’m shooting with these larger aperture settings, I always use the micro adjustment feature to fine tune before clicking the shutter. This is the same technique I use with other large aperture lenses including the Sony 50mm. When you are using a smaller aperture setting, the lower available light can slow down the focus speed.

In my experience, This lens focuses quicker than the 50mm and the 18-55 zoom, but just a little slower than the 16mm prime. I usually leave the focus assist light turned off, but turned it back on for a few days to see how much difference it makes. In low light situations, it makes a big difference, but I don’t think the pluses outweigh the con of a bright orange light shining on your subject and potentially ruining the moment you are trying to capture.

Build quality.

This lens is really light. What that means is that there are metal parts combined with high density plastic pieces. After almost three months of daily use, I’ve seen no scratching or other issues and it seems to be holding up really well. I’m not worried about it at all. The focus ring is of the Focus-by-wire type which means that there aren’t hard stops on the extremes. For those who are used to manual focus rings, this can be a little weird, but the ring does have a nice damping and resistance that feels very linear and tactile.

This lens uses the same bayonet mounting system for the hood and 49mm threads that are used on most all of the E mount lenses. This interchangability is nice if you use either. I recently picked up a Neutral Density Filter and it is nice to know that I can use it on all of my lenses. The two exceptions that I know of, the 18-200 and the 10-18 zooms have a larger 62mm thread size.

Metal Lens Hood

I posted a story a couple weeks ago about a metal lens hood that I picked up to go with this lens. Here are a couple before and after photos.

Sony Plastic Lens Hood

Metal Lens Hood

Image Quality

I'm not gonna talk about it. I'd prefer to just show you some images. This Link will show you every post of mine that I categorized as 35mm. All of these photos are made with this lens. Here are a few images if you don't want to click through.

Conclusion

Basically, this is a great lens. Image quality is fantastic both stopped down and wide open. It's compact, well built and looks great. If you are a NEX owner, you should seriously consider adding this one to your camera bag. In fact, it just might become the center of your kit.


If you've found my review helpful and are considering purchasing this lens or another like it, I'd really appreciate it if you'd visit Amazon through one of the links in this review. If you make purchases through links on my site, Amazon gives me a small cut for sending you their direction and it doesn't cost you any more. Thanks for the support!

Metal Lens Hood for Sony NEX

Metal Lens Hood

Sony Plastic Lens Hood

This week I ordered and received a metal thread mount lens hood from EZPhoto. I kept seeing photos of the Sony RX-1 and Fujifilm cameras with these classy, and short metal lens hoods and thought it seemed like a better idea than the fairly long, plastic hood included with the lens.

A lot of folks seem to snatching these up to use with their cameras as the official version from each manufacturer is pretty overpriced. There are some 3rd party optionsthat use the built in bayonet system, but even they are overpriced.

There are two advantages I've seen so far. First, this new hood is shorter, which makes it less obtrusive from a visual sense. Secondly, it's narrower which means that it does a better job of keeping objects and stray light away from the glass.

The one disadvantage I've seen thus far is that it mounts via filter threads which makes it a tiny bit more of a hassle to remove and prevents you from using a lens cap. I don't use a lens cap on the lens currently mounted to my camera, so no big deal.

Edit- Small warning- This hood causes a bit of Vignette on anything wider than 24mm. Stick with the Sony Stock hood on your kit lens.


As always, when you make purchases through links on my site, Amazon gives me a small cut for sending you their direction and it doesn't cost you any more. Thanks for the support!

Sony NEX Firmware updates

Quick Note: If you are looking for more information about custom controls, Lenses and tips for the Sony NEX series, take a look here for my guides, reviews and links.


photo 3.JPG

Sony just released firmware updates for the F3, 5N, 5R, 6, and 7 models. Most of these updates are tweaks that improve compatability with different E-Mount lenses. I just updated my firmware and there is one big feature update that I'm pretty excited about.

With this new update there is now a much greater spread between Exposures in the bracketed shutter mode. Previously, you only had the option of 0.3, or 0.7 EV compensation.

Now, the options are 0.3, 0.7, 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.

I've used the in camera HDR some, but was always frustrated that I had no way to do it in RAW format, or to merge the images manually. These greater Exposure spreads have been available on the newer models so this update just brings the 5N up to parity.

Here's the link

 

Favorites list for 2012

It's only the second year I've written up a favorites list, but I have done it before, so I'll call it my 2nd annual danhawk.com favorites list.

1. Sony NEX 5N

If you visit my site even somewhat regularly, you already know that I use and love the Sony NEX 5N. I've owned a couple of film cameras and a couple of nice point-and-shoot camera over the years, but this is the first one that I've really loved to use. I really like the way that Sony approaches the feel and the overall direction for the NEX system. I've posted my own review and a bit about the lenses in the system. As I'm learning, a lot of the actual quality in fine photography is in the lenses, so number two has to be...

2. Sony E Mount 50mm F/1.8 OSS

I really love this lens. The Sony 50mm 1.8 more consistenly produces amazing images than any other lens I've tried. I've made it no secret that I'm strongly considering the new 35mm f/1.8, but the more I use this 50, the less I feel like giving it up.

3. iPhone 5

Looking through last year's list, I see that the 4S was on the list. It now feels like a pretty minor upgrade when compared to the jump forward in the iPhone 5. As always changes to the iPhone are incremental, but they did a couple things that were pretty big this year. Bigger Screen and thinner body. These changes make a lot of difference to me and make the iPhone 5 even nicer to use.

4. Retina iPad

There has been a lot of action this year with Retina screens, but the one that has been important to me is the New iPad (3). I've had a iPhone 4 since the day it was released and it was certainly nice, but the retina display on the New iPad is a game changer. My primary uses for it are reading and writing and the Retina display does this better than any other screen that I've seen.

5. iOS apps Darksky and Byword

As you can see from my last two favorites, I really like iOS devices. Part of what makes them so useful are the great apps that are available.

Byword

Byword is a writing app which is available on iPad, iPhone and on the Mac (which I'm using to write this post btw). One of the best features is the syncing between devices using either iCloud or Dropbox. I use Dropbox as it allows me access the files from just about anywhere. The other big thing is that it is really distraction free. It is just a screen with text. Simple. Markdown is supported which is great for drafting things that are intended for the internet.

Darksky

Living in Portland means that being aware of when it will rain is pretty important. Darksky is the perfect app if you live in the Northwest. It answers one basic question: Is it going to rain soon? I use this every day, often 4-5 times.

6. Squarespace

In August of this year I moved my site to Squarespace. It was on Wordpress.com before, but it just wasn't a great fit. Though the service was free, I had to pay to use my own domain and they started placing ads on my higher traffic posts. I decided it was time for a switch and that I was willing to pay a little to get what I wanted.

Squarespace is easy to use, looks great and they are incredibly responsive to support requests. They have a graphic system for building your site, a bunch of great templates, and their committment to keeping your site up even through acts of God is impressive.

7. Lightroom 4

I hit a spot this year with photography where iPhoto just wasn't cutting it anymore. Lightroom is the real deal. You can read more about why I use it here

8. Levi's Jeans

Last year, right at Christmas time I made a decision. Levi's are the only Jeans that I will wear going forward. They are the Gold Standard. I've had so many pairs of other jeans that have worn out in weird places, shrunk too much, lost color too quickly, or had the belt loops rip off. It's hard to go wrong with 501s, but my wife found the 569 style and they fit me perfectly. 2 pairs, and they both pretty much look brand new.

9. Reading long books with my sons

This year we read 4 Harry Potter books, The Hobbit and a couple books from the Chronicles of Narnia. Awesome! Lord of the Rings next? A lot of these have been driven by their desire to see the movies. I simply made it a rule that we had to read the book first.

10. Music and Movie

Music

John Mayer, Born & Raised- iTunes or the Actual Disc. I've been a long-time John Mayer fan. I own every album of his available and this is a really great addition. The quality songwriting, hooks and guitar work are all familiar, but there is a soul to this one that is new. It sounds like he has been studying The Eagles, and Neil Young as it has a 70's California Country vibe. My favorite track is probably A Face to Call Home. Go listen to this one end to end. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.

Movie

I think I'm gonna have to go with Looper. Here is a trailer. I was just blown away by the completeness and originality of the story. There are certainly familiar storytelling elements and thematic elements that are common to time-travel based movies, but everything feels more raw. It is less sci-fi and more gangster. Less technical and more nuanced. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are fantastic.


Of course the best things from this year are not things at all, but experiences, opportunities to grow, and of course, family. I'm a pretty lucky guy in that respect. My Kids are healthy, intelligent and happy. My wife and I are more in love than ever and it continues to surprise me how our love continues to grow and mature year after year.

I'm also thankful that so many of you follow what I'm doing here. I really love both photography and writing and when I look back over the year, I'm surprised at the growth, contemplative about what I could have done better, and proud of what I made.

Thanks for paying attention!

Sony NEX Custom Settings and Upgrading Camera Gear

Quick Note: If you are looking for more information about custom controls, Lenses and tips for the Sony NEX series, take a look here for my guides, reviews and links.


Last night and this morning I went into the camera settings menu and reprogrammed all of my custom key settings. Within about an hour of unboxing back in March when I bought the camera, I had assigned all of the available custom keys. I haven't really touched them since then.

I was out shooting earlier this week and found myself annoyed that a setting I wanted to change...which I change quite often was a couple layers deep in a menu. That started my tinkering. The 5N has two dedicated user assignable buttons and one Custom menu that can be assigned to the center button. The custom 1 touch buttons should logically get me to places that I either use often or need to be able to change quickly.

I've found that my most used functions are Quality, HDR, MF/AF and ISO. I had all of these except for HDR in the custom menu, and then the custom soft key on the screen was set to quickly access different modes.

I switched them around a bit as the ISO, and ability to switch to manual focus are the most important to me. Truthfully, I would love to have access to at least one more variable in the A,S and M modes.

What if there were more buttons available?

I had a chance to visit a local camera shop near my office this week and check out both the NEX 6 and The NEX 7. Both have very similar menus and the same custom button options are found in the same areas.

I've considered both as upgrade paths, but have held steady for a few reasons.

  1. The actual image quality in tests has appeared to be remarkably similar on the 5's and the 6. In fact, SonyAlpha Rumors linked to a great article by DxOmark who did some tests and the results seems to show that the sensor quality on the NEX 6 is identical to that of the 5N. There are some differences in the sensor that primarily assist with auto focus as well, but I haven't had many issues with that so it wouldn't really make much difference to me. I already posted some thoughts on the sensor in the 7. The short summary is that it probably has too many pixels for its own good.

  2. Now that I'm a few months in, I really wish that my camera had an electronic viewfinder which both the 6 and 7 have. There is an EVF unit that snaps right onto the top of my camera, but at nearly $300, if I were to consider it, I might as well look into a new body.

  3. The NEX 7 has a beautifully designed user interface with 3 active control knobs that are active most of the time and are user-assignable. In other words, When you are in Aperture Priority, one knob obviously controls the aperture, and the others can control Exposure compensation and ISO. When in Manual, There can be a dedicated control for ISO, one for Shutter, and one for Aperture. Sweet.

  4. The 6 has a dedicated function knob which is great, but the control wheels are not very flexible and most of the time, the one dial on the back of the camera is rendered inactive. In other words, though the size and the form factor is almost identical to the 7, they didn't really take advantage of the extra space or dedicated knobs. They just gave you a new knob, and force you to use it instead of the other

Conclusion

Any upgrade would be one of form and not function at this point. I love the idea of better and more controls, but I don't think that the image quality would improve significantly. I'm glad that the data backs this up because I'm the type to look for reasons to upgrade. What I'm seeing even more clearly is that a solid body doesn't need to be replaced all that often, and that it makes more sense to invest your time and money into a couple of great lenses that you can trust.

I love what John Carey has to say about it here, and here

Seems as though any time I casually start looking at, reading about, or considering a new camera I always come to the same conclusion...Why?

His images are primarily created with a 6 year old Canon 5D and are stunning. He does use one hell of a lens though. I'm new at this, but taking notes from John.

How I Saw or How I Remember-Cameras vs Eyes

Long before I started making photos with a "real" camera, I had ideas about what it is that makes a great photo. With technical knowledge, skills and practice, just what it is has become clearer.

I read a fantastic article in Petapixel a couple weeks ago about how alike and how different cameras are from human sight.

In reality (and this is very obvious) human vision is video, not photography. Even when staring at a photograph, the brain is taking multiple ‘snapshots’ as it moves the center of focus over the picture, stacking and assembling them into the final image we perceive. Look at a photograph for a few minutes and you’ll realize that subconsciously your eye has drifted over the picture, getting an overview of the image, focusing in on details here and there and, after a few seconds, realizing some things about it that weren’t obvious at first glance.

When I was using an iPhone as my primary (only) camera, I was pretty liberal with the effects processing. At the time, I couldn't say pecisely why I sometimes preferred a little extra saturation, or a roll back on the highlights, a bit of extra contrast. I was just trying to have the photo represent my memory of the scene.

Over this past year, I've been using my Sony camera to memorialize more of these moments. I have found this camera more capable of capturing the raw image, but I was thinking that because of the higher quality, these images would rarely need processing.

I was wrong.

While I'm so much happier with the quality, the sharpness, and the detail in these images, they need attention too. It is pretty rare that I post or save anything in my "finished" file without at least a couple small curve or exposure adjustments. In fact, I'm far more religious about my workflow now than I ever was before.

Why is that?

I didn't value how my images make people feel until recently. How weird is that? I've always valued the ways images make me feel, but couldn't see the connection. Now that I'm aware, it has really changed the way that I compose and edit.

In a previous life I was a performing songwriter, recorded an album and played-out regularly. The idea that I was writing for the perceptions of others was always present, or at least never far from mind. There are times when I wrote things that were primarily cathartic, but I've always viewed music and now photos as a form of communication.

Because of this, I'm far less willing to let an image out into the wild without making sure that it's exactly what I'm trying to say or share.

I've written this year about intentionality and I feel that this fits right into that groove. I encourage you to think about your art and work and make sure that whatever you put out there is exactly what you are trying to say.

Lenses for the Sony NEX system

Quick Note: If you are looking for more information about custom controls, Lenses and tips for the Sony NEX series, take a look here for my guides, reviews and links.

It has been awhile since I last said anything about the lenses that I'm using on my Sony NEX camera. In fact, since I picked up the 50mm f/1.8 back in June, a few new lenses have been announced and a couple new bodies as well.

I thought I'd share some things I've learned in my 8 months with this camera system.

The Current Official Lineup

Sony has been slow to roll out a comprehensive selection of lenses, but they have been coming.

Here is what's currently available or very close to available. (Please note that the Sony NEX cameras use an APSC sensor which is smaller than 35mm film and its digital equivalent, Full Frame. As a result, a 24mm lens on my camera, feels like a 36mm lens on a full Frame camera. Just multiply the e-mount Focal length by 1.5 to get the full frame equivalent. )

  • 10-18mm F/4 Wide angle Zoom,
  • 16mm F/2.8 wide Angle Pancake
  • 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 Zoom
  • 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 Pancake Power Zoom
  • Zeiss 24mm F/1.8 Prime
  • 30mm F/3.5 Macro
  • 35mm F/1.8 Prime
  • 50mm F/1.8 Prime
  • 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Zoom
  • 55-210 F/4.5-6.3 Zoom

There are also 2 Sigma E-mount lenses that are very inexpensive, but have received very good reviews.

  • Sigma 19mm F/2.8
  • Sigma 30mm F/2.8

Finally, there were a handful of new high-end Zeiss lenses anounced at Photokina, and industry trade show this fall. Each is priced at $1000+

  • 12mm f/2.8
  • 32mm f/1.8
  • 50mm f/2.8.

If you were to forget about price, there really isn't much gap in that lineup. Unfortunately, lots of folks can't really afford to drop $2-3000 for a full complement of Prime lenses.

My Experience

When I bought my camera, I purchased the kit with the 18-55 zoom, which has been a very versatile lens.  It does the snapshot thing well and is resonably sharp when you use higher aperture settings.  It also still has pretty good depth of field when you zoom in and get close to your subject. 

Until I purchased this camera, I had never spent considerable time with a camera that could produce narrow depth of field and the bokeh effects that you see in some of these images.  This is the primary reason that I purchased the 50mm lens and one other non-Sony, non-Emount lens.  

Before I chose the Sony 50, I actually found an old Olympus OM-Mount 50mm F/1.8.  The OM camera that this lens was made for, was a great compact SLR 35mm film camera that was produced in the 70's and 80's.  Obviously, this lens can't "talk" to the camera, so Aperture and focus are manual. You Also need to use an adaptor as they use different mounts.

From the moment that I started using it, I was hooked on "fast lenses" which is a term used to describe lenses with a large aperture.  The lower the number, the larger the aperture.  Though this lens is great for still subjects and patient composition, it can be difficult to use when your subject doesn't want to, or can't hold still. As you probably already noticed, the Sony 50mm has the same aperture size.  Best of both worlds right?  Well, the individual character of the lenses is a little different, as you can see in the images below.  Particularly the out-of-focus areas and the color warmth.  Especially in the second set of images.

Sony 50mm F/2.8

Olympus 50mm F/2.8

Sony 50mm F/1.8

Olympus 50mm F/1.8

I like both, but I use the Sony more because it makes more sense to carry in my bag alongside the 18-55 Zoom because of the autofocus. 

Change

Just this fall, Sony announced the 35mm Prime which I'm pretty excited about. It has all the features of the 50mm, but it is just a little wider focal length which I've kind-of been wishing for.  I love the low-light performance, the sharpness, and the narrow depth of field that I can get with the 50, but I find myself having to back up a little too often, or needing to switch to the zoom to get the shot.  You can't really just back up on a lot of landscape shots.

I'm a little reluctant to trade in my 50, but I'm pretty doubtful that I'd continue using both.  Though backing up isn't a good solution for the 50, stepping forward is easy to allow a 35mm to take care of stuff the 50 would do (close range portrait and still life).  I also think that the focal length of the 35, would be better as a walking-around-lens.  In other words, I'd leave it on most of the time as it is a good medium focal length, and will have better picture quality than the Zoom.

Why not keep both?

I've learned over the past few months that photographers can easily get hooked on Glass...that is, the pursuit of the perfect lens(es).  Because I have heard this from so many different people, I've been cautious about it.  I'm aiming for a very small kit, with only 3-4 Lenses.  Two will be more specialty lenses- A wide angle prime for Landscapes, and a telephoto zoom for sports.   The other two will be the lenses I carry every day.  That will likely be a mid-range zoom and a regular mid length prime lens.

Right now, I have the two zooms, and  the two 50mm lenses are middle prime.  I'm gonna take my time before committing to any changes, but I certainly don't need 2 -50mm lenses, and maybe not even one if the 35mm is what I hope it will be.

I just posted an article about minimalism this past week so it can seem a little goofy talking about new gear, but the goal is to simplify my setup.  To have a very clean tool box.  I have redundancy in my current setup and it would be nice to clean it up.  Move out the parts that aren't optimal and replace them with things that are.

A side note- I've heard from many photographer friends that one of the best ways to learn what works well for you is to limit yourself to one great medium prime lens and learn to shoot and frame without the option to zoom.  Most of them cite the 50mm as a classic focal length. The 35mm Sony is the equivalent of 52.5mm on an old SLR Film camera. That's the primary reason I'd consider switching to the new 35mm.

That could simplify it even further and negate the usefullness of  the mid-range zoom. Hmmm...

Sony NEX 5N vs NEX 7 (updated July 2014)

I probably should update this article and say that I've been shooting with the NEX 7 for over a year now. The Tri Navi controls, Magnesium body and the Fantastic EVF won me over.  In the end, I really like the extra pixels and all the extra control.  The additional noise turned out to be a non-issue.  


If you are considering one of these cameras, you ought to read this review posted on PhotoClubAlpha.  It is a great and somewhat surprising look at the issues of the larger megapixel count and all the peripheral equipment available (or not)  for both.

When I have been editing NEX-7 images at their native 24 megapixels the NEX-5n upscaled image has sometimes looked better overall, and the native size NEX-5n image nearly always wins. The NEX-7 image misses the mark for me maybe 30% of the time.

I really do love the 5N and here is my review from a couple months back.

Quick Note: If you are looking for more information about custom controls, Lenses and tips for the Sony NEX series, take a look here for my guides, reviews and links.

Sony NEX 5N Firmware Update

So, they released a firmware update a couple months back for the 5N.  I just got around to downloading and installing it this evening.  It is supposed to help with autofocus and a few other things.  I've had a few issues with the autofocus, so I decided to update. It hasn't been terrible, but could be faster, and that is what I've heard it does. Anyway, here is the link if you own one too.  I'll update if there is a significant difference to tell you about.


Quick Note: If you are looking for more information about custom controls, Lenses and tips for the Sony NEX series, take a look here for my guides, reviews and links.

Sony Alpha NEX 5N Review

Here is a preface to give perspective to this review. Please read the previous post which you could call a part 1 or a pre-review. It gives the reasons I decided to purchase a new camera. I’ll recap a little bit here as well, but there is quite a bit of detail that will give you an idea of the scope and intended audience for my review. The catalyst for my interest in photography is the iPhone 4 and 4S. Although they are great tools, they are somewhat limited. I decided I wanted to have a more specialized tool at my disposal to capture images that have felt out of my reach. I also know that one of the reasons I’m able to capture images consistently, is that I always have a good camera with me. For this reason, I really want a relatively small camera. There are certainly advantages to owning a bigger DSLR, but the size is (for me) an equal disadvantage.

So, on to the actual review.

The Sony Alpha NEX 5N

The Sony Alpha NEX 5N is a mirrorless camera with an interchangeable lens system and a larger sensor than you would typically find in a point and shoot camera. It is sort of a combination of the best features of larger “Profesional” DSLR cameras and convenient point and shoot cameras or cell phone cameras.

So, what are these best features? Well, lets review them. I’ll start with the smaller point and shoot camera.

  • It is generally small and fits well into a pocket.
  • Fairly easy to use, with knobs and menus that are intuitive.
  • Inexpensive

The plusses of the larger DSLR are-

  • Better low-light performance
  • Manual control
  • Far more detailed images
  • Options- lots of them!
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Broader focal choices ( In other words, tighter zoom, wider angle and everything in-between )

Here is how pulling these features together in one camera works:

Instead of a complex mirror system that is used to provided an optical viewfinder, the camera relies on the digital display that has become standard on most all digital cameras today. This allows for the body to be much smaller and lighter as the wieght of the mirrors and the moving parts are eliminated.

A sensor roughly the same size as those used in the larger more expensive cameras is used which give the ability to capture more data and create those sharp and detailed images that typically aren’t available on smaller cameras. Here is an illustration from Wikipedia showing the relative size of the sensors used on different cameras.

An interchangeable lens system is used giving you the ability to use different lenses for different situations. The lenses are smaller than you would find on a DSLR. Finally, a powerful, but intuitive menu system with all the manual controls you would expect and need for a “real camera” is used.

Contenders

This camera is part of a group or style known as “Mirrorless” because of the design mentioned above. There are a few other cameras that I considered which are similar to the 5N, but with minor differences. They all have bodies with roughly the same physical size, though the sensor and lens system varies a bit in size.

Olympus Pen E-PL3

The number one contender was the Olympus Pen E-PL3 which is a more traditionally styled camera that is part of the Micro Four Thirds format. This format uses a smaller sensor and because of this, a smaller lens system. Instead of trying to tell you why I think the Sony is a better camera, I’m going to link to a side-by-side review that I read thoroughly to make my decision. Long story made short, it seems to me like the Sony is a pretty clear cut winner in two ways.

* Because of the larger sensor, the Sony is more capable in low light situations and captures more raw data. * The menu system, which I did get to compare side-by-side is much more intutitive and better designed on the Sony.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1

I looked at this camera as it is of a very similar size and spec as the Olympus and the Sony. I ultimately decided against it pretty early on as I didn’t care for the interface. It uses the same Micro Four Thirds Format Sensor size and lens system as the Olympus. It does have a higher density sensor (more megapixles) than the Olympus.

Because both of these cameras are part of the Micro Four Thirds system, there are more lenses available for them than for the Sony, but it wasn’t enough to tip the scales. I’ll go into more detail on lens availability later in the review.

So, how about image quality?

As someone without a lot of experience as a photographer, there are a handful of things I look for when judging image quality. Let me say right from the top that I’m not using technical terms, but instead am trying to think of, and share things in a more practical sense. This being said, I want real photos that I can use. For this reason I’m looking for:

  • Sharp detail when zoomed in
  • Accurate Color without having to do a ton of editing
  • Good Contrast
  • Rich Color

Perhaps the best way to share my thoughts is to tell you how I evaluated it and my reference points. My reference point is two-fold. My current go-to camera for the last 2 years has been the iPhone 4 and more recently the 4S. My other camera is a Canon SD900 which is a 10 Megapixel point and shoot with a zoom lens and a fairly large digital display. I’ve been happy with both of these, but the limitations are pretty straightforward. Both of these cameras have pretty small sensors and built-in small lenses.

The images I’ve been capturing on this new camera are fantastic. They have so much detail that I can zoom in, crop and edit to my hearts content without worrying about resolution. I’ve also been surprised by how little editing is necessary. On the other cameras that I use, I’m used to adding additional contrast, saturation and prescence or brightness to match my perception of the scene. While I still do edit, it isn’t to make up for inaccurate color but more for effect and clarity.

Aperture

Another feature I’ve really enjoyed is the natural contrast between the in focus and out-of-focus areas in my photos. In photography, this blurring effect is called Bokeh, and is usually a mark of higher quality lenses. You just don’t get a lot of this with a point and shoot and it really doesn’t happen with the iPhone. In the side-by-side comparisons I’ve done with other cameras in this category, I found no match. A good portion of this quality comes from the quality of the lenses used and the size of the aperture.

Aperture is an important factor in the quality of the focus and the out-of-focus aspects in a photo. For those who are unfamiliar with photography terminology, the Aperture is the part of the lens that determines how much light is allowed in through the lens. It is like the iris in your eye and can function on its own in auto modes, or can be controlled by the photgrapher in Aperture priority or Fully manual mode.

So the aperture lets in more or less light, but how does it affect your photos? When you open up the Aperture, and more light is allowed to reach the sensor, the focusing plane is smaller, and anything that isn’t the same distance from the camera will be significantly out of focus. This is a great feature for portraits as it brings more emphasis to the subject.

If you tighten the aperture and let in more light, it creates a much broader focal plane and more of your photo will be in focus. This is more useful for landscape photos.

The aperture is indicated by the number after the focal length. As an example, the kit lens with my camera is the 18mm (focal length) 3.5–5.6 (aperture). Lenses with a smaller aperture are generally more expensive and are considered higher quality.

Lenses

Though there are a number of lenses available for the 5N, the kit that I purchased came with an 18–55mm Zoom lens with Aperature range of F3.5 to 5.6. This lens is a good all around lens for most folks because of its flexibiilty and range although it isn’t physically small as you can see in this picture.

That said, it isn’t huge either and is weighted well for the body.

One of the critiques of the Sony NEX cameras is that the lenses are a bit bulky because of the distance and space needed to accomadate the larger sensor. While other cameras can have a true “pancake” lens for easy portability, this camera is a little more limited.

The smallest lens in the system is the 16mm F2.8. This is a wide angle fixed lens with a wider aperture capability. This lens allows for bigger, more expansive landscape shots than are possible with the iPhone. I have a friend that bought another NEX system camera and this was the kit lens. I was able to borrow it for the last week. It is pretty nice, but I don’t know that I would choose it as a daily lens because of the extreme wide angle.

Experienced photographers will be interested in the selection of Fixed focal length , prime lenses available in the NEX system, and at this point, it is pretty limited. In addition, there have been rumors and even leaks directly from Sony in the form of a system roadmap indicating future lenses that will be available. If you are interested in knowing what is coming, a great resource is Sony Alpha Rumors. This is similar to other rumor sites, and there are updates every day.

In addition, there are quite a few different adaptors available on ebay and Amazon for using other lens systems on this body and I’ve actually ventured into this realm of things. I picked up an Olympus OM system fixed 50mm 1.8 lens and the adaptor. This is a really common kit lens included with the Olympus OM 35mm SLR Film cameras that were available in the later 70’s through 2002. Here is more history.

This lens is built like a tank, and takes fantastic photos. Because it isn’t part of the Sony system, it doesn’t “talk” to the camera and all functions are manual, but you have controls right on the lens for aperture and focus. When in manual focus mode on the Sony, there is a zoom function which allows you to look at a smaller cropped section of the photo while composing.

Because the Olympus lens has a larger aperture, the Bokeh effect is even more pronounced. I highly recommend these lenses. I’m already looking for another, probably a 35mm. After using this lens for the last week, I understand how lens collections get built.

Controls

The controls on the 5N are a combination of different types. While the lack of buttons and knobs are welcome from a aesthetic view, it also means you may have to dig fairly deep into menus for pretty common features. In fact, I’ll give you one recommendation right off the bat. Learn how to setup the user-programmable buttons. It is such an important step, that I’m going to give you some instructions on how to do it here.

Touchscreen

The touchscreen on this camera is one of the most beautiful screens I’ve seen on a camera. It is an OLED type display and it is pretty impressive. It is the same screen Sony uses in the big brother to this model, the NEX 7. There is very little navigation that has to be done from the touchscreen and for the most part the touch controls are just a different way of doing what you can already do using the included buttons. There is one important difference though. When shooting, you can touch the subject you would like to be in focus. This will feel natural to folks used to using a smartphone with a touch screen, except for one thing. It is laggy. Touching the focus target, doesn’t result in an instant focus. Instead, the camera uses it as a suggestion and then proceeds to run through its normal focus process and eventually land somewhere in the vicinity of where you suggested.

Accessories

The kit for this camera comes with the Flash unit, a neck strap, a hood for the lens, the lenscap, and the battery. It doesn’t come with a body cap or a rear lens cap. The Flash fits into a receptacle on the top of the camera body directly above the lens mount. This same receptacle can also be used to plug in an optional digital view finder. This is a great accessory, but one I have not purchased.

Summary

I’m really happy with this camera. It fits my needs very well with enough room to tinker and yet enough automation to keep things running without too much maintenance. For someone with my background in photography, and my taste and standards, this camera strikes the perfect balance between portability and capability.

Perhaps one of the most telling things that I can say is that a friend with many years of professional photography and camera business experience considers this camera system and the images it creates as a viable alternative to his DSLR system. In fact many of the reviews are stating as much especially with the recent real-world availability of the big brother to my camera the NEX 7.

For some users, the lack of manual knobs will be unwelcome, but I think that the majority of people like me won’t mind. I do wish that there were a manual button for flash and for manual/auto focus, but other than that, I’m able to get to everything pretty well.

One thing that I wish wasn’t here and which is just a weird design decision is the placement of the Video record button. It’s right in a spot where I do push it fairly often accidentally and it literally just starts recording no-matter what you were doing previously. No software fix for something like that. I’ll just have to get used to it.

The NEX 5N is a very capable high resolution camera with the flexibility for you to try different lenses and to automate different parts of the process while you are experimenting with and learning about different variables in the photography process.

If, like me, you are finicky about user interface and usability, I can recommend this system wholeheartedly.

If I knew that a camera like this existed, I would’ve gotten serious about photography earlier.


  • In full disclosure, Please note that the links to Amazon in the above review are affiliate links and I will receive a small amount of compensation if you purchase from here. As a side note, this is where and how I purchased my camera and a lot of other stuff. If you do too, thank you!
  • I'm happy to answer any questions, just leave a note in the comments.

Setting Up Custom Controls on the Sony Alpha NEX 5N (Updated)

Quick Note: If you are looking for more information about custom controls, Lenses and tips for the Sony NEX series, take a look here for my guides, reviews and links.


If you look around enough in the menus, you can figure out how to do this, but I'll make it really easy for you.  There are 3  different keys that can have custom functions assigned to them for use in PASM modes.  Custom controls don't work in the Intelligent auto mode (iA). You can set these up  from the Custom Keys option in the Setup menu.

The 5N has two soft keys along the right side of the screen the bottom one is user programmable. The right button on the rear 4-way controller is unlabeled and it is also a user programmable button. There is also a Custom function that uses the center button of the main dial to bring up an on-screen menu that can be set to show up to 5 user-selectable functions.

My current mapping is:

Bottom Soft key next to the screen: Brings up main control dial for shooting mode selection

Right side of Direction pad: HDR menu

Custom center button: Brings up ISO, AF/MF, Creative modes, RAW/JPG selection, Flash settings.


Update: I just posted an update here about my new settings and some thoughts after 9 months with this great camera.