By >Marc CORBI - Newworld666
[Review] Sony NEX-5: An Ideal Camera? Subjective Review by an AkihabaraNews Reader
There are many reviews on the web of Sony’s NEX-3 and NEX-5 cameras, and they’re all unanimous on the quality of the sensors, with two commonly-mentioned flaws:
- Limited settings
- Only two lenses available, one of which has a rather mediocre zoom
Reviews being what they are, I couldn’t really experience what the NEX-5 would be like for my own unique uses. So, with thanks to the many reviews written over the years by the AkihabaraNews team, I’ve tried writing my own completely subjective take on this camera, based on my own criteria. I am a geek who fell in love with gadgets in the ’70s with the Apple II, Sinclair ZX81, Texas Instruments SR-51-II, Blue Walkman and a Canon A-1 film SLR with an FD85L1.2 lens. The NEX-5 seems the ideal camera to use the 85L1.2 with; it seems to me the quality of this lens has not been matched in the past thirty years – if not in all the history of photography. In other words, it’s like using an iPhone 4 with a ringtone from the ’60s!
For quite some time, I had been looking for a replacement for my old G7 which works less for professional photography than as a high-tech magnifying glass for software license keys when installing Windows and Office! (I should probably go see an optometrist!)
For a bit over a year now, I’ve used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with two lenses: a 24L1.4II and a 135L2.0. Sadly, the 135 proved barely practical indoors or at night, so I replaced it a few months ago with an 85L1.2II. It’s still quite bulky (huge and heavy), and almost embarrassing to use in a restaurant, especially when people come up to me and ask me what newspaper I work for… although that misconception may actually be an advantage in a restaurant, if I end up getting treated better. LOL
I considered a Panasonic GH1, but the sensor is quite mediocre for taking photos that are on par with that of the Canon 5DMKII. So went ten months while I tried to find a solution to my problem. The Canon PowerShot G7 wasn’t good enough and the rumored Canon G12 is unable to make use of higher ISO.
• What was supposed to be a toy for my wife is coming!
• The first attempt for ”Real Life” use
• IDC SR software for RAW processing
• Outside in broad daylight
• Interior with sufficient lighting
• Interior with in Low light
• The Flash
• Geek all the way
I. What was supposed to be a toy for my wife is coming!
And then came the Sony, ordered on Sony Style and received fresh last Friday… indeed, it doesn’t take much to notice the surprising results! I had bought FD-to-NEX and EF-to-NEX lens adapters from a Chinese person on eBay, with the goal to mount the old FD85L1.2 lens that had been sitting in my attic for ten years, thought it had been considered very good at the time of my Canon A1, in 1986.
My first tests were very quick and “non-scientific;” and they surprised me: the FD85L1.2 mounted on the NEX-5 appears far better than the same lens mounted on a Canon 50D. I’ve tested it many times and this sentiment remains. The settings on the NEX-5 are fully customizable – ISO, shutter speed, aperture, tuning, and refining the autofocus by zooming in 7x or 14x to the subject. In short, just as much as my 5DMKII or 50D! Most of all, it can’t compare with Panasonic’s TZ5 series and later (not even an AV- or TV-out). How many amateurs got tricked?
NEX-5 + FD851.2 Crop
50D + 135mm Crop
I couldn’t understand the critics who claim the NEX is too much like a point-and-shoot. I find that I’ve mastered shooting in RAW, whereas all the various reviews and tests on the Internet mention post-processing tips for JPG, which I never use.
All the settings are accessible with two buttons and the wheel. Only the ISO requires clicking through two menus to pick an auto or fixed setting (for the past year or so I’ve had total confidence in RAW at over ISO 3200, so I almost always set it on auto; however, the NEX-5 only goes up to ISO 1600 in auto mode, whereas 1250 would have been more sensible). Shooting in manual mode would go perfectly well, if Sony had not reversed the way the user focuses when compared to Canon!
On the Sony, one passes through 7x and 14x magnification of the focus area, and then picks the desired focus zone afterwards. It is quite difficult to navigate around a scene in 7x magnification, so imagine in 14x!
On the Canon in LiveView Mode, one moves a rectangular cursor to set the focus, and then zoom 5x or 10x at most… the only downside is that I can’t orient the screen!
By God, isn’t there anybody out there that can explain to Sony or Canon that LiveView should be screen orientable, have the possibility to position the cursor to shoot, and then provide a magnification of 7x or 14x.
Now that I’m done with my raging, I decided to go out twice with the NEX-5: once in the evening with friends, carrying the FD85L1.2 lens (with the EF24L1.4II in my pocket, in case the 85 is too long); and another stimulating outing to visit the city and monuments…
Everything becomes cool when the NEX-5 comes together with the FD85L1.2. The focus is very precise and is much better than the Sony 18-55 F3.5-5.6, which is far too dark and makes the Liveview too noisy to efficiently focus in manual mode in dark conditions. In any case, with the 50mm at F5.6, the depth of field is gigantic and resembles a standard compact TZ5, TZ7 or others – in other words, pretty average and lacking the aesthetic quality of a good bokeh.
II. The first attempt at “real life” use
This same evening, I took out the NEX-5 and the FD85L1.2, also keeping in reserve a 24L1.4II (sadly blocked at F1.4) just in case I’m being too optimistic.
There were no worries at ISO 1600 with an aperture of F1.2, exactly what one would expect from such a machine. All is clean and without noise at 1/125.
Still perfect for a “real-life” use, with people looking clean and not blurry. Nothing to say other than F1.2 and ISO 1600 do the job well.
Not too many worries either at 24mm with F1.4 and ISO 200, but it is quite saddening to get a 1/40 speed; far too slow. This picture is an exception in the series. I was too conservative and the others are more similar to the following:
which is to say: blurry hands, which I don’t like.
Otherwise, the screen of the NEX-5 is quite remarkable. A manual focus with a lens that opens quite widely is fantastic, even in very dark conditions and even without a tripod. To make a portrait with a focus with almost millimeter precision is so easy.
Even in video mode, the manual focus will be easy to do with a lot of practice.
An example of a Korean dish… rather average!
This first night test confirms that an ISO of 1600 coupled with an old F1.2 lens is quite a remarkable combination (looking forward to future trips in Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Honk Kong and Seoul with nighttime photos of humans with blurry limbs, or cars that are only two, long, red or white lights!)
III. IDC SR software for RAW processing
So I’m set… ISO 1600 can be easily mastered with my usual post processing technique:
- “unRAW” – to transform the RAW into something workable – with Sony Image Data Converter SR, just to fix the white balance, and pass through TIFF; everything else is deactivated. There are many useless options – for example, the “sharpener” (the NX5 isn’t supported by Camera Raw 6.1 and besides, Camera Raw is by far worse than DPP. There is a big drop in the color levels and micro contrast, which is quite problematic at ISO 1600 for “denoise” and the “sharpen” under CS5). However, it isn’t possible to correct the horizontals with IDC, which is regrettable as it’s the kind of thing to fix before converting to TIF.
- Automatic transfer to CS5 and individual processing for de-noising and sharpening. It is quite simple to do and contrary to DPP, one can install whatever editing programs one likes. One isn’t forced to use PS5 like in DPP.
- Conversion to 1920×1080 JPG + various tags (for newspaper, website or forum use). I prefer CS5 for this operation because of almost perfect results from TIF->JPG.
Canon DPP is still one step ahead; even with a Core i7 with 8GB of memory, the Sony IDC SR strains too much when compared to DPP. It isn’t as slow as “Raw Therapy” and others, but it strains too much (Canon is exceptional for processing RAWs, nothing better out there); although the absence of plugin support in DPP is quite sad. The quality of “unRAWing” in DPP is far better than Camera Raw. From there, I imagine it’s the same with Sony program (thought I haven’t yet had the time to do tests). I hope that Sony will incorporate management for enhance cropping in the near future. For people like me who spent hours in dark rooms to crop, correct horizontals, unclog shadows with fine paper masks or socks, etc, you have to recognize that it’s greatly lacking. With millions of available pixels, especially in full frame, we could finally get rid of the pseudo-dictatorial zooms, of which 95% are mediocre (there is only the Nikon 14-24F2.8, the Canon 70-200F2.8MKII and maybe a Contax Vario-Sonnar 24-85/3.5-4.5) if we look at what can be produced with the 24, 85, 135, 200, 300 and 400mm lenses of the Canon L series. Death to zooms!
Now, after this first “Real Life” test, I chose to move on with a test which is even more concrete while theoretically visiting a city. There isn’t anything better than to pick a city with a World Heritage Site and take a few photos outside, followed by interior photos in a cathedral, and to finish it off in a very dark chapel situated in the basement which holds many pretty gems. I’m getting ready for late September, when I’ll be traveling near Matsue to visit one of the latest entries in the list of World Heritage sites.
Once again, the NEX-5 and the FD85L1.2 does marvels. It certainly doesn’t perform as well as my 5D Mark II, but I can say that the images aren’t half bad. Far from it, in fact; nearly in the range of the 5DMKII.
IV. Outside in broad daylight
Generally, I prefer the colors and contrasts early in the morning, or at the start of night, and never around 2:00 PM where all other cameras work equally well. And most of all, I prefer resting to be in shape through the night. With the NEX-5, I can say that there aren’t any worries; even the zoom is good at 18mm and F4, and passing it through a good post-processing, the results are acceptable. (A good geometric distortion and I still have yet to correct the profiles with PTlens or CS5).
Just to see what it would do, I cropped a picture with a Samyang 14mmF2.8 lens in the EF mount on the NEX-5 and the results appear barely better.
At 35mm, the sharpness is quite weak. Next to the 5DMKII with the 50F1.4 at F1.4, there is quite a big difference.
I never use the 50F1.4 which is far too soft at full aperture (I will sell it soon), but at F4, its sharpness isn’t too bad. Sony’s zoom doesn’t follow much at this stage.
First off, the sensor isn’t protected! Hello, that’s a task that takes less than two or three days! It’s monstrous! And contrary to Canon, there aren’t any cleaning clothes for the sensor; and in IDC SR, there is no way to remove dust or other tasks in post-processing like with DPP. It isn’t good at all for a camera that has interchangeable lenses. Not being able to remove lenses on the go is very limiting.
Besides, it’s quite idiotic not to have a rear cap for the lens, nor a lens carrier! I just sent out an order to China once again. It’s bad for Sony to not offer this. It’s quite stressful to walk around with a butt-naked zoom in a handbag.
Moreover, I find that photos taken with the NEX-5 are always a bit overexposed and with a colorimetry a bit too bright. The colors aren’t true (all my examples have been corrected to be comparable as much as possible to the 5DMKII, which in neutral position is almost perfect from the start when controlled live, comparing the subject and the screen of the 5DMKII).
The positive point to all this is that corrections are possible and quite recordable with IDC SR. There remain a few differences, but everything was done freehand in real-life conditions to see if the NEX-5 can handle a trip next to the 5DMKII.
V. Interior with sufficient lighting
It fairs pretty well; the stabilizer does its job and the results are quite good in comparison to the Samyang 14mmF2.8.
With the zoom.
I feel that the zoom is at its best around 18mm. It will be necessary to have a look at the tests on specialized websites.
With the Samyang 14F2.8 cropped.
VI. Interior with in Low light
Things get a bit more complicated as I look up towards the ceiling! The zoom is nearly in agony at ISO 1600.
The zoom at 34mm becomes quite noisy and I lose all the detail and delicacy of the painting on the ceiling of the cathedral. Even with the 50mm ultra soft at full aperture, the 5DMKII retains quite well what I see in real life!
VII. The Flash
Let’s say that as far as it concerns me, I have no idea why I bring a flash, since I can’t bring along an umbrella and an assistant to help set it up. This is where I get my taste for lenses that open to at least F1.4.
Here are two examples to help explain myself, which can clearly be termed a massacre! And in my case, I prefer not taking a photo to cluttering up my hard drive.
A kind of a reference to this example with the 5DMKII with the 50F1.4 at F1.4… not too bad and very close to reality.
I now try by augmenting the ISO with the NEX-5 and its zoom at 34mm.
It looks worse, the zoom is in agony, and the ISO does not compensate to retain the details even if the ambiance is somewhat restored.
The micro flash, helps for the level of detail, but the fresco is massacred and all the colors are changed, not even taking into consideration this horrible luminous halo straight ahead!
A second series with a magnificent statue under glass. I didn’t lose a moment mounting my 5DMKII with the 135F2.0 and the NEX-5 with my gem, the FD85L1.2.
As usual, the 5DMKII with the 135L2.0 operate marvelously in these conditions, even at ISO 1600 with a bit of post-processing, the result would be almost perfect for a culture trip photograph.
The NEX-5 with the FD85L1.2 handles pretty well, too.
Now with the micro flash!
See the nasty reflection in the glass window.
All photos in this series are RAWs, with little post-processing. There is room to pull out superb detail and to eliminate the slightly burned zones of Photo 23.
IIX. Geek all the way.
Over the past few months, I became a fan of “candid” photography; my basic package currently consists of the 5DMKII, the 24L1.4II lens, the 84L1.2II lens and a Zuiko 500F/8 reflex. All the equipment fits in my pockets and covers 100% of my needs throughout my trips (for sports like F1 racing, Quad Racing and dog shows, I generally use the 135L2.0 and an 18-year-old 300L2.8).
I then wanted to see how well the mounted Zuiko will work on the NEX-5. There is a delay between the manual focus and the time it takes for the changes to appear on the screen! This doesn’t happen on the 5DMKII. I can live with it, but for the effort with the equivalence of 750mm in x7 magnification, it’s pretty much on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It’s not designed for that, but I can guarantee that for candid photo trips without risk, the Zuiko is a little bit of heaven. The subjects, even if they are observing you, have no idea of what we can get out of the photo.
Before sarcastic remarks, here are two sets as examples with a few shots to compare: Random Shoot by Marc CORBI.
And at the zoo: Random Shoot at the Zoo by Marc CORBI
With the NEX-5 compared to the 5DMKII with the Zuiko, the results are acceptable, except that the focus isn’t truly live.
With the 5DMKII and a manual focus EG-S, no worries need be taken into consideration with the focus. I have a success rate of over 90% (with an AF chip confirming that all is running perfectly). With the NEX-5 and thus an equivalent 750mm? It’s just as clear. With a bit of post-processing, we could arrive at a good result.
The sensor on the NEX-5 works very well, but I swore to myself never to do that again. Before I had found out that there was a delay between the hardware and the screen, I was ready to say goodbye to the late nights of overwork that had me consuming twenty cups of coffee a day. I still believe that this camera can produce photographs that could make one feel like a teenager with his first look at a risqué photograph of Angelina Jolie in scanty clothing.
Finally, here is a small comparison between the NEX-5 and a Canon 50D, each with several lenses photographing the same subject: Sony NEX-5 and Canon 50D with Several Lenses – Sample
This isn’t really my thing, so I simply did a few shots to please our little Green Pig and verify if the focus was just as easy to use with the FD85L1.2. I didn’t know what to take, so I filmed a few dogs using the zoom and with the 85L1.2. It works, but I have no idea what to make of it.
- The sensor is fantastic! Better than a 50D. The 1.5x matrix is at the top of its league.
- The ISOs are perfect at 1600.
- The manual mode functions fast enough for real-life use.
- The ability to use lens adapters laying around eBay with great lenses from Nikon, Canon, Zeiss, and Exakta mounts at very affordable prices.
- It fits in a pocket with the FD85L1.2 (the camera remains outside the pocket, but holds well).
- The weight is absolutely amazing.
- Software that accepts parameters of external programs (PS5, PTLens, DPP, NoisewarePro, etc.).
- The software to process RAWs is quite slow, missing relevant post-processing functions (no horizontal correction, no pre-formatted cropping (3:2, 2:3, 16:9 etc.), no CA correction, etc.).
- No rear cap or lens case.
- A stupid sequence to manually focus, even though I do like going right into 7x magnification the moment I touch the focus ring.
- The zoom is slow and weak. There is so much room for improvement for Sony’s expected upcoming lenses.
I am excited! Personally, the two current lenses from Sony don’t interest me, except to give the NEX-5 to my wife to replace her compact point-and-shoot camera.
In short, this first week is very positive. It’s quite possible that on my next trip to Japan, the NEX-5 and the FD85L1.2 will be in my bag alongside with my 5DMKII, 24L1.4II and Zuiko 500F8. The addition of the NEX-5 would cover a wider variety of photography that I might engage in, and wouldn’t make that much of a difference to the weight of my bag, considering how heavy the EF85L1.2II lens is alone!
Voilà, the opinions of a geek who’s read AkihabaraNews for years.
P.S.: Akihabara News will offer a complimentary test for the video mode.
PS2: A big thank you to Newworld666, reporter during his free time for the magazine ”Quad”, but also a geek for over thirty years now, a passionate of Japan, photography and of course all the ”geekeries” of all kinds.