I feel a bit of a fraud. My tiny amount of photography experience does not by any means make me a worthy owner of such a beautiful piece of equipment. Michael, however, thought otherwise and very kindly gave me a Sony NEX-5R for Xmas. That is typical Michael. When he finds something he enjoys he wants to share it with me, and the easiest way of sharing his Sony NEX experience was to buy me a camera of my own.
It arrived yesterday and since it needed a while to charge I only started using it today. It was love at first handling. The camera body is tiny – perhaps a little bit bigger than the Lumix I had before it, but incredibly small given its power and capabilities. The lens, however, is a big old beast. A beautiful chrome beast that is a joy to touch. The whole thing feels perfectly balanced in my little chubby hands and from the first time I held it, it felt as though this was going to be the best camera I’ve ever had.
Michael is an experienced photographer and knows his ISOs from his f-stops. He has attempted to explain the intricacies of photography to me before, but it didn’t really sink in. Now I have a camera that displays instantly the effects of a slow shutter speed and wider aperture, it’s now starting to make sense. I can make adjustments and see in real time what difference it makes. I also get to see the difference in the wide selection of lenses we have – and get a chance to use vintage lenses from the 60s and 70s. This is the best way to learn – and that will help me get more out of the camera, and not only will I understand what my husband is talking about, I will join in with him and love every minute of it.
The bad weather has so far prevented me from getting out and about with my new 16-megapixel friend, but I’m hoping to soon. And when I do, I’m sure we will make beautiful images together.
Having a Sony NEX camera (see my post about getting the NEX-6) has done for me what I hoped it would. I have a camera that I can fit in my coat pocket, that can take photos that are as good as I could take with my Nikon D90. Not in all situations, and not all the same types of photos, but it does 90% or more of what the Nikon did, without needing a backpack to carry it.
Spending time lurking on the DPReview Sony NEX forum has had one effect I didn’t expect, though. A sudden interest in old ‘legacy’ lenses. Adapters are available to mount lenses of the ‘wrong’ type on a few different cameras, but a couple of things make the NEX exceptionally good for this:
- Short Flange-back Distance. The distance from the flange (the ring the lens mounts on to, on the front of the camera) to the actual sensor, is very short. The sensor is right there at the front of the camera. On a DSLR, there has to be room for the mirror between them, so it’s much further back. That means a DSLR lens is designed to be mounted further from the sensor. That extra space is, quite usefully, plenty of room for an adaptor to fit between the camera and the lens. With the right adaptor, it’s possible to fit almost any type of DSLR lens on the NEX.
- Focus Peaking. This is an interesting feature that I haven’t seen anywhere other than the NEX. When you manually focus, it monitors for any areas of high contrast, which must be in focus, and highlights them in yellow (or red or white if you prefer). Because legacy lenses with adapters generally have to be focussed manually, this makes life much easier. Focussing on most small cameras, especially with only electronic viewfinder or screen, is difficult. The NEX makes things sparkle in yellow when they’re in focus, so it’s much easier.
So far, I have an adapter for my old Nikon lenses, which I’ve tested with my 35mm f1.8, 18-200 and my Lensbaby kit. All work well. It’s reasonably easy to get good focus, even with the 35mm wide open and quite close, with tiny depth of field. I’ve now started bidding on cheap old lenses of various types on eBay, and buying converters to mount them on the NEX. Old M42 screw-mount lenses look like great bargains, and a couple of cheap tatty ones should be on the way to me soon to play with.
I’m not convinced yet that I’ll want to use legacy lenses on the NEX most of the time, but it certainly seems like fun to try, and a great way of getting some useful lenses cheap.
I finally decided what my first lens purchase was going to be for my Sony NEX-6, after the standard kit zoom it arrived with. I chose the SEL55210 – a 55-210 zoom from Sony. There are larger zoom ranges available, but they’re much bigger. First, the standard kit zoom at 24mm:
Now the new zoom at 210mm:
First impressions are good. It’s quite small and light, so it can slip into a coat pocket, while the camera is in another pocket. I can still go out without a bag or backpack to carry. The focussing can use PDAF (Phase Detect – the type of focussing used by DSLR cameras), so it should be quicker. That can only work in good light, though, which it hasn’t seen much of yet. A quick test with some birds outside today certainly doesn’t suggest it will match my Nikon D90 for such shots, but they’re very much an occasional thing for me.
It seems like it should do 90% of what I might want it to do, and it fits in a pocket. Seems like a win.
The main thing I’m still lacking is anything that can get to a wide aperture. There are several f1.8 lenses, but I haven’t settled on which to go for yet.
- The Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake lens looks good, but f2.8 isn’t enough. I’ll probably go for one of these at some point anyway, mainly for the sake of adding the fisheye adaptor. That gives really wide angles, for relatively little money, and the results I’ve seen are pretty good.
- The Sony/Zeiss 24mm f1.8 is nice. The images I’ve seen from it do look better than those from other lenses. It’s a lot of money, though. A lot.
- The Sony 35mm f1.8 looks like it will be good, though it’s a bit unknown until a few more people actually get them to try. The advantage is it’s the same focal length I’ve liked a lot when using the Nikon 35mm f1.8 lens. The disadvantage is it’s the same focal length I’ve used before, rather than something different.
- The Sony 50mm f1.8 looks nice, and gives some fantastic results. It’s a bit of a long focal length for ‘normal’ use, but a great portrait lens. Might be fun anyway, and prices are quite reasonable.
Following on from my earlier posts about the NEX-6, I’ve had it a couple of weeks now. So, how is it?
The only shots that haven’t gone entirely well with it were some fairly close-up product shots I tried for work, which I didn’t quite get the focussing right with. I often struggled to get good shots of that type with my Nikon D90 too, though, and the little kit zoom is probably a very unsuited lens for the job.
It’s really nice to have a decent camera in my coat pocket. It means I take shots I wouldn’t have bothered with before, which was a lot of what I wanted from the NEX. The picture effects are quite fun to play with, and I’m using the monochrome modes a lot. I’m especially keen on the Rich-tone Mono setting, which combines three shots into one.
It’s just as quick for me now to grab the NEX when I see a potential photo as it is to grab my iPhone. Things might be different with a newer iPhone – the 4S and 5 have faster camera apps – my iPhone 4 still takes a bit of time to be ready to shoot. Even then, though, the difference in time wouldn’t be much, and I’d be pretty sure to get a better photo.
Not many shots of the Christmas market, really, but a few shots in Exeter, taken with my new Sony NEX-6. I’m still loving that Rich-tone Mono setting.
The market itself was quite impressive. They’ve build a little mall from sheds, in front of the cathedral. A bazaar, perhaps, in the grounds of the cathedral. There was a surprising amount of drinking going on.
The NEX-6 feels good for street photography. I feel less self-concious photographing with it than I did with the Nikon D90. I probably still look like a nutter, but I don’t feel like quite so much of one. I think that might be a good thing.