When I saw the announcement a few months back, I asked why we needed another entry DSLR, every body assumed that the small Canon EOS 100D was an attempt at competing with the ever increasing number of mirrorless. I knew this was not the case as soon as I picked it up. It is tiny, for a DSLR, but a far fetch from the mirrorless form factor, admittedly its size could be a problem with bigger hands.
The biggest surprise was the touch screen, clear, bright, big and very reactive. I found the tap, focus, trigger useful bordering addictive. The touch screen has also it’s flaws, it does not recognize a finger tap from a palm and that can be a problem if the function is not switch off as the camera will snap away has happily if mishandled. In the final analysis, it comes close to the way we use smart phones and that is a good thing.
The 18MP sensor does an amazing job in both bright and low light situations, ISO 6400 being usable to capture priceless memories in low light without the need of a flash. Mixed lighting situations are not has well handled as I expected, since these are rare and often correctable in post-processing I do not think this will be a problem, the colors where relatively accurate in both situations.
The new 16-55mm STM lens is relatively fast whilst paired with the EOS 100D, my only concern with this lens is its short zoom range, 25.6-88mm equivalent or about 0.51 to 1.6 times zoom which most new users will find disappointing. I advise to get the kit that includes the EF 55-250mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II this will overcome the potential frustration with a kit that will be long lasting and not overly priced. The test photographs are a mix of both lenses and I found that both were very acceptable in color rendition and sharpness.
The camera is very capable in all modes but I found the effects function a bit superfluous as these are better achieved with programs such as Instagram. Adding Wi-Fi to the camera using an Eye-Fi card is liberating as the photos can be automatically downloaded to a mobile device, edited and published to your favorite social networking site. The bonus here is that the EOS 100D is fully compatible with Eye-Fi cards, my worry was with the battery as the Eye-Fi card is notorious for draining them, I managed a cool 450 photos over 2 days with a single charge which I find very acceptable.
The video function access is very different to other Canon cameras I have use in the past, it is located on the power button, which I found very unusual. Luckily, most the photography functions are still available. As with most DSLR the video is a bit choppy even with the STM lens image stabilization, be aware that the longer the lens the worst it will become, the 55-250 with a fence between it and the subject did not like to be in video mode and started focus hunting as shown in the video. The quality of the video is very acceptable though.
Finally, this is a great addition to the EOS line aimed at the Instagram generation wanting to get into a different type of photography, a controlled purposeful photography beyond the Point-and-Shoots and smartphones. If I had to fault this camera, I would have to say that the lack of Wi-Fi was a serious oversight from Canon and could be it’s biggest enemy. A tilt – not swivel – screen would also have come in handy for both photography and videography.
Overall the camera performed well but is evidently aimed at smaller hands.
Lens choices are always hard, there is the nagging “what if” in your mind. Sony made the “what if” easier for us with 5 zooms, 4 primes and 1 Zeiss under their brand in the E-Mount range.
First comes the 2 “kit” lenses, let’s start with the newer 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 Powerzoom OSS (SELP1650). As I said in my Sony Alpha NEX 5R/6 review, it feels squarely aimed at the video shooter. This lens maybe very compact but it does not feel right, the power zoom reacts oddly and the zoom ring is powered and difficult to control. Bottom line it does not do what I expect of it and that is an issue. It does every other job as intended; it’s just that irritating powerzoom. It also looks like it cannot take a hood which could translate into flare issues.
In contrast, the older 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom OSS (SEL1855) feels solid and is more traditional in it’s functionality; it has a zoom and a focus ring, it is slightly heavier and larger than it’s sibling but is comfortable to use and the results are well within expectations. If I had a choice of kit lens this one would be it. This is also my first choice in the NEX lens trinity.
In the longer zooms, the 55-210mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS, this is a traditional long zoom lens with built-in image stabilization (OSS) it works brilliantly on the short end. Past 130mm find something to lean on or stabilize the camera. One does no realize how light the camera is and how hard it is to keep it still. This is also the second NEX lens of the trinity. It focuses fast and gives great results; just remember to take of the hood in high wind conditions.
The biggest surprise of the lot was the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 PowerZoom OSS, when I picked it up I thought that this was the lens I was not going to use at all, I even tried to hate it. As it turned out, I was very wrong, this is the lens to rule them all. Like the ring, it comes at a price, it is heavy, really heavy and expensive. On the imaging side it works, maybe a little soft and a bit of fringing but noting that cannot be handled in post with little to no effort. The amazement is when used to capture video, it’s great fun with good results, as with the 16-50 it is bias for video capture. In full manual zoom, it does the trick. I found it hunting on small movement but otherwise will work well in any outdoor conditions. It is the ideal lens to avoid the “what if” feeling. this would easily replace the trinity if it needed.
The last zoom is without a doubt Sony’s crowning achievement to date on the e-mount, the magnificent 10-18mm f/4 Zoom OSS. Of all the Sony lenses this is the one I would want on my camera permanently with the 50mm f/1.8 in the bag, I’d be in street/landscape/cityscape photography heaven. This lens is ultra-sharp, low distortion, very wide and fast focusing, add a luxury feel to it and this makes it a must, petty about the price though. This is the last of my trinity of lenses in my bag and the most likely to stay there for a long time.
In the prime lenses the 50mm f/1.8 OSS is a must, that controllable shallow depth of field is irresistible. The lens is also very well built and feels solid; I have not noticed any aberration or distortions after 6 months of use.
The last of the Sony lenses I want to mention is the 35mm f/3.5 Macro, no image stabilization in this lens but a very easy to use focus ring and an amazingly close focus. Set your camera in a mode – Manual Focus or Direct Manual Focus – because it tends to focus hunt a bit. This did not bother me as I shoot macro in manual focus mode. The sharpness was above my expectation. This is a fun lens to use as are most macros.
The fact is putting your camera in Direct Manual Focus is a good idea as it allows for the camera to focus and you to tweak at any time.
Lastly, I had the opportunity to play with the 2 new ZEISS Touit prime lenses for the E-Mount. The 12mm f/2.8 was a blast to shoot with and it just feel like it belongs on the NEX, the pre-production model had it’s issues mostly around focus hunting but I am sure that the phenomenon will be sorted in the final release version. The 32mm f/1.8 did not blow my socks away but it is a luxurious and performing lens that is light and small. Neither sport optical stabilization but it’s not required for these type of lenses. They are expected to cost R14000 for the 12mm and R10500 for the 32mm not cheap but quality is not cheap either. I was informed last week that they are now available in South Africa.
Originally I was going to do these two cameras separately but they are so similar in so many ways I soon realized that it is like comparing Cindy Lauper’s 1989 version of “I drove all night” and Celine Dion’s 2003 release, the same words and music but a completely different character.
In short, they have the same capabilities and much of the hardware is the same down to the sensor, so why would you pay more for the NEX-6? I will come back later on that subject, there are good reasons to choose the NEX-6 over the NEX-5R, and there are just as many the other way.
Let me first cover the SONY Alpha NEX-5R highlights:
The NEX-5R body has not changed a lot from its predecessors; in fact they could easily be mistaken, but inside lives a different beast. Let me address the buzz around these two NEXs first, the Wi-Fi. It’s easily setup to a phone or tablet, the camera will walk you through it as soon as you hit that Wi-Fi button. You will also need the Sony PlayMemories Mobile App available for Apple and Android. Here is a disappointment, the only thing you can do is download the photos, no remote control on the stock camera, and on the plus side it will only download the JPG version. I must admit that the download is fast, stable and user friendly. In fact, most of the photographs in this article where downloaded to my iPad and, without modification, uploaded to Flickr without any issues. This feature alone makes this camera attractive despite the lack of remote control features unless the “Smart Remote Control app” is installed on the camera. PlayMemories goes beyond the mobile apps, you can also load new Apps to the camera such as time-Lapse and Direct uploads, I did not test these nor do I know if they are available in South Africa at this time but it’s a nice idea that could go a long way if Sony opens the API to independent developers.
The camera’s body is nearly as light as a higher end compact camera when fitted with the kit lens, which makes it very portable. With portability and it’s compact nature comes one problem shared with all its kind – mirrorless and most Point-and-Shoot – the grip is sometimes uncomfortable, in fact it is one of the first comments I get, but this is an acceptable compromise. The new 16-50mm Powerzoom is difficult to get to grips with, I found that using the dial it the zoom was controllable but uncomfortable whereas using the ring was near uncontrollable but comfortable. This lens feels squarely aimed at video and not so much still photography. So in the sample set on Flickr you might find that it has not been used much, but that will be a discussion for another post where I will deep dive into the lenses.
On the usability side of the camera, it has all the bells and whistles found in most Point-and-Shoots as well as DSLRs, from the expected automatic –in fact there are 2 of them- to full manual mode passing by the expected Program setting, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and an array of presets. There are also a few nice touches in the ergonomics of the camera regarding setting. Firstly, there are 2 dials as with most DSLRs one on top and one at the back, these allow for full quick control of the aperture and speed setting of the camera. The second, is the addition of the fn button, that allows quick access to vital features of the camera settings, this brings us closer to what we expect of a DSLR, and is programmable as are most of the camera’s buttons. One of these unexpected settings is the dedicated panoramic function that I would want on so many DSLRs, the amazing part is that it works very well. It also has functions such as smile detection, face registration and bracketing.
Amongst the nice touches are the options of an onscreen level or a histogram. The shutter priority 10fps also comes in handy, I would advise to use manual focus to use this function and be aware that it will burst for 1 second only and then comes a long wait! However, if you are prepared this function will allow you to choose the right capture in a fast moving world.
It’s also extremely fast to come on, readiness to shoot is near instantaneous. I thought that the touch screen would be a little gimmicky and useless, I found myself using it extensively to change the focus point, I found it a handy feature, particularly since I use the same technique on my smartphone. Another welcomed feature is the USB charging, no need to carry another charger in the bag, the laptop will do, I tested an exhausted battery over night and it was 100% charged. As an additional bonus, the batteries are interchangeable between NEXs. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the video button; it’s positioned in the oddest, most impractical place on both cameras. My last note is the busy light at the bottom of the camera, odd and inconvenient placing, I would rather have it highly visible.
The photography results where a mixed bag, maybe I expected too much coming from a pro-level DSLR. The general JPG results are excellent, the RAW where noisier than I expected. Generally, the cameras presently surprised my with very good the overexposed/underexposed recovery in Auto mode, it seems to handle difficult situation very gracefully. The same applies to sharpness and contrast; the dreaded Auto modes practically read my mind. On the down side, I encountered a dust issue during the review but it vanished latter proving that the auto clean works relatively well, when changing lenses remember that the sensor is exposed.
Here are some photos I took during the review:
The feature that surprised me the most is the one I use the least, video. It does not only have a good image but the sound recording – my biggest complaint by far on all still camera’s – is very good. I found the level and powerzoom – on the 18-200 – functions are very useful in video mode. Incidentally, the video format is incompatible with Apple’s iMovie and thus needs a 3rd party convertor.
Finally, with all this going for the NEX-5R why buy an NEX-6? Because, it’s a DSLR in a small package.
Though the NEX 6 loses the far angles of the tilt-table screen of the NEX-5R as well as the touch screen, there is something to be said about the heavier, larger grip of the NEX-6. It also has an electronic viewfinder, a luxury that comes in handy on sunny days, not to forget that the viewfinder will show exactly the same information as the display screen. Also, gone are the days of bad quality electronic viewfinders, I found it a little weird but accurate. The NEX-6 also has more a more advanced focus system and a hot shoe, the physical mode dial came in very handy during the review time.
The fact is that the SONY NEX-6 can literally be used as a DSLR, down to the display screen information without the live view and the fast selection of focus points once outside of any of the AUTO or creative modes.
In the final analysis, the SONY NEX system is a good compromise between a Point-and-Shoot and a DSLR. And if traveling is on your agenda or want all the advantage of a DSLR without the bulk either of these cameras should be on your short list. I would venture that if you currently have a Point-and-Shoot the SONY NEX-5R should be your choice, however if you are coming from a DSLR, I would put my money on the more expensive SONY NEX-6. It’s not a DSLR yet but it is far more than a Point-and-Shoot and an ideal companion for enthusiast photographers, after all Trey Ratcliff and Michael Murphy – the later nearly exclusively – shoot with the NEX system and praise it must say something.
I am often asked “What new lens should I buy?” and more often than not I recommend a nifty fifty, an f/1.8 or better. There is another I forget about, a fun and creative lens system that changes the way you see. I am speaking of the Lensbaby system, for beginners I highly recommend the Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 Optic and if the R4200 price is a bit steep, the Composer with the Double Glass Optic is cheaper at about R2300 but a bit harder to use with it’s aperture disks.
Why would I recommend a lens system that I dubbed “the purposeful degradation of photographs system”? Simply put it is 100% manual and fits all major camera manufacturers and there is more than one optic – “lens“ – that will fit the “housing”, it is also light and versatile from 12mm Fisheye to 80mm the is something for everyone. Additionally, the Double Glass optic is capable of f/2 and is as sharp as any entry-level 50mm lens when not bent – in fact I find it puzzling that Lensbaby does not supply the Scout with a Double Glass or a Sweet 35 as an option rather than the Composer or Composer Pro which would make it ideal for beginners.
The advantage of the Lensbaby is that it forces you to think about the choices you make and shows you through the lens the outcome of your choices. The aperture disk system will show you the depth of field immediately through the viewfinder showing you exactly how aperture works. Through time, the appropriate speed for the given light and aperture will come to you without thought making you a better photographer. It also creates an environment where experimentation is not an option but rather essential.
What the basic Lensbaby kit does is improve vision through mistakes and the same mistakes will improve your photographic vision through a fun process. I certainly found it beneficial to my photography as I learned how a lens works from the inside out.
The system also has a few other tricks up it sleeves, there is a very efficient macro convertor kit, these are basically extension tubes, once you have the basic kit and extra R700 and the macro world is yours.
One of my favorite is the Sweet 35 Optic simply because there is not need for those pesky aperture disks and the effects are great.
The possibilities are endless and the system is growing every year, the Edge 80 being one of the more recent additions allows for pronounced tilt-shift effects and has a macro mode to boot.
The Lensbaby system is a good addition to any photographer’s bag.
Sony has made some effort in this department over the past few years, making the NEX series more desirable.
There are no less than 11 prime and zoom e-mount lenses, two lens convertors and two extenders available from Sony.
I expect the E-mount lens availability to increase from third party manufacturer as well.
Currently on sale in South Africa are 5 NEX cameras, the Sony NEX -F3/3N/5R/6/7, ranging from R 5500 – R 15000 with a kit lens either 16-50mm or the older 18-55.
These prices are well within the entry to enthusiast DSLR from other manufacturers.
As for specifications there is enough to cover most photographers needs from 16.1 to 24 mega-pixels and ISO100 to up to 25600 depending on model. Add to the mix a variety of features that are usually only available in either point-and-shots or DSLRs but rarely both.
As for the lens choice, this has also grown over the past few years to include a range that now covers from 10 to 210mm or a 35mm focal length equivalent (APS-C) of 15 to 315mm in zooms and starting from f/1.8 aperture in the prime lens range. Also available are a variety of 3rd party lenses from manufactures such as Zeiss, Sigma, Tamron and Rokinon.
Not to mention a various range for adaptors for Sony/Minolta, Canon, Nikon, Voigtlander and many other mounts making the NEX’s echo system more viable every day. Metabone for example is adding value with their adaptor that can add a stop to Canon lenses, even Lensbaby with the Tilt Transformer has something.
Another manufacturer that has seen the rise of mirrorless is ThinkTank Photo with their new range of bags, the Mirrorless Mover series.
The Sony Alpha NEX-5 and NEX-7 impressed me in the past, the additions of higher ISO capabilities on both the NEX-5R and NEX-6 up to 25600 and built in Wi-Fi, entry to mid range DSLRs may just make far less sense than a couple of years ago, given the size and weight convenience of mirrorless as well as a very reasonable 1.5 crop factor allowing for better depth-of-field and creative freedom.
The NEX-5R also adds a useful touch screen; something I thought would have been a gimmick – but this is a discussion for another day.
The next evolution for the NEX would be a full-frame sensor – and it’s not as far-fetched as you may think.