Sony Nex-7 vs. Olympus OM-D EM-5 vs. Fuji Xpro1 vs. Sony Nex 5n … An Interweb Mirrorless Shootout — Part 2

A quick look at each camera…

Sony got a lot right with the Nex 7.  The resolution is incredible – 24mp gives you a lot of breathing room for crop compositions, ½ the image could still produce a stunning 13×19 print.  It’s also the first Nex camera with a real flash shoe. It’s the Sony/Minolta flash socket.  If you have the hotshoe that seems to adorn every other flash on the planet you have to get a $5 adapter from Amazon to make it work.  I’m using my budget conscious (cheap) Cactus v5 wireless triggers and an equally wallet friendly (cheap) Younguo flash with the adapters and it works perfectly.  Sony has perfected focus peaking for manual focusing – something I always do while shooting video and something that’s very handy when using manual glass.  You can set peaking to show areas in focus as white, yellow or red highlights in the tilting LCD.  Peaking combined with the magnify function makes manual focusing so easy you’ll want to get some old lenses just to try it out.

Top view of the Sony Nex7 and its Tri-Navi controls.

Top view of the Sony Nex7 and its Tri-Navi controls.

Some great spec sheet stuff – the Nex 7 shoots 10 frames per second, but you can’t focus and the EVF does the slideshow/blackout thing so you can’t follow action.  It’s really a crapshoot.  But shooting short bursts to capture a few frames so you don’t get people blinking works fine.  I don’t shoot action sports with a small cam so its not an issue for me.  The shutter is something of note with Nex cameras.  I’ve owned the original 5, the 7 and the 5n – they all have a LOUD shutter.  The clack that comes out of these little cameras is a little shocking.  Its not an intimate portrait camera and the machine gun ratcheting during a burst draws attention in a crowd.  Everyone looks your way when you fire the Nex shutter.

The EM5 is a lot more like a traditional DSLR than a feat of engineering like the Nex. Olympus has basically taken a DSLR and hit it with a shrink-ray, it offers the shape and all the basic controls of a DSLR in a tiny package.  At 16 megapixles the EM5 is right at the top of current m43 resolution, along with the Panasonic GH3, which shoots stunning video and seems to have closed the gap with the EM5 regarding stills – but to me the EM5 shoots much nicer JPEG’s and the RAW files have incredible latitude.  No surprise here as the EM5 has a Sony sensor, hence the fabulous dynamic range.  The EM5 produces beautiful files up to ISO 3200, if you look at the DPreview comparison image, its competitive and in some cases superior in terms of noise and detail with any current DSLR that’s doesn’t have a full frame sensor.  Small camera, big image, I like it.  The shutter sound is more of a damped ka-chunk compared to the Nex.  Its much more stealthy, and the touch focus/shutter makes it a great casual portrait/street camera.

The Olympus has the best image stabilization I’ve ever seen in a camera or in a lens. They call it 5-axis, so it compensates for camera shake side-to-side, up and down, and some others I don’t know – maybe rolling, spinning and the Jedi Mind Trick.  All I know – it works.  You can get a sharp image while shooting handheld around 1/10 second, something that usually requires a tripod.  It works in video mode too, so you get a cool steadicam look that doesn’t have the nauseating shakes associated with most crappy home videos your family & friends force you to watch.  The 5-axis also works with adapted legacy lenses, so virtually every lens on the planet can have stabilization – this can’t be emphasized enough… every lens is stabilized with the best stabilization system I’ve ever used.  My Cactus triggers work fine with the EM5 as well.

The EM5 with the awesome grip and the amazing OLED rear screen

The Fuji Xpro1 is kind of the odd camera of the bunch.  The sensor has a different color array in its pixels from pretty much every other digicam on the planet – Fuji calls it X-Trans.  The result is beautiful color and amazingly clean/detailed files at high ISO’s.  The lenses are metal with actual aperture rings.  Everything feels high quality, not the throwaway plastic most cameras are made of these days.  Fuji didn’t try to shrink the body as much as possible like Nex or jam every feature into its body like Olympus; instead Fuji simply built a camera for photographers.

It has a retro rangefinder look, but its nicely done, not trendy at all.  There’s no image stabilization in the body (the zooms have optical stabilization), there’s no tilt LCD or touch screen (though I wish it would tilt as I love high and low shots) and yet in most cases there’s nothing missing.  The XP1 body has a metal chassis so there’s a bit of heft to the camera.  AF is not as fast as the others and video is a bit of an after thought as it doesn’t allow you to make any exposure adjustments and there are no frame rate options.  That’s a shame because there’s potential with the X-Trans to create a beautiful image.

The big selling point, outside of IQ, is the hybrid viewfinder.  You can switch between the EVF and an optical viewfinder with graphic overlays that show all the camera’s information and frame lines for the lens.  The benefit is that you can see more of the environment around frame lines – making it easier to compose shots.  The drawback for me is the lack of focus information since you’re not looking through the lens, you have to trust the green focus confirm is accurate.  I find myself using both; there are benefits to having an optical and electronic viewfinder and its nice to be able to simply hit the switch on the front of the camera and flick between them.

The Nex 5n is similar image and spec-wise to the 7, it just has 16 megapixels and fewer external controls.  There are custom options for the three buttons and the control dial, so you can have easy access to functions such as ISO, focus magnify and shooting mode without menu diving.  I’ll cover controls for all the cameras more in-depth next time.

I’ll get more into the nuts and bolts of the cameras in the next installment.  If there’s anything you’d like to see compared between the four, just let me know.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

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All mixed up…

Its been a busy few weeks!  I’m working on lots of fresh content for the blog and wrapping the halfway point of my graduate studies at the University of South Florida.  I’ve also been spending a lot of time shooting and editing a promotional video that my Strategic Management class put together, as part of a strategic communication plan for the new Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail being built here in Tampa.  Its a multi-use trail that will cross Tampa Bay and link Tampa to Clearwater.

The video is a mix of footage from the Canon 5d Mark III and the Sony Nex5n – with a few time lapse sequences and two POV shots from a GoPro Hero3 Black.  I went for an old 8mm home movie look, so I blew out the highlights, over saturated the colors a bit and kept the dissolves to a minimum. I live in the Sunshine State, so I also gave everything my standard “Florida Sun Yellow” look.  We also wanted to showcase the wide variety of outdoor activities the Courtney Campbell offers so its something of a “day-in-the-life” of the Courtney Campbell Trail.  We presented it to the trail committee yesterday and they were very happy with the final product.

Everything has been slowed down anywhere from a little bit to a lot. Most of the Nex5n footage was shot at 60p and slowed to 40% in my 24p timeline, you can see that with the rolling waves. I just love, love, love that look — slow-motion and the ocean go together like chocolate and peanut butter. The 24-105L was the only lens I used on the 5d3. I really wanted to break out my Sigma 35/1.4 and 85/1.4, but its so bright outside I rarely got to use an aperture larger than f5.6. Since the 24-105L is weather sealed and stabilized, I just kept it on the camera at all times. I used the All-I codec for max quality, I’m really impressed with the image. Canon renders motion so smooth, it doesn’t have that strobe look that always makes me want to throw my Sony gear out the window. The 5n footage was all shot with adapted legacy lenses – and most of that was with my brilliant Kiron 105/2.8 macro lens. The dolly shots were all done on my little generic slider. Clients and the members of my work group are really wowed by the cinematic motion in a low-dough (or in this case free) video.

I really wish the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera was in hand. It would have been nice to have the extra dynamic range with all the extreme shadows and highlights you get shooting under blazing hot sun – which is pretty much every day here in Tampa. Keep your fingers crossed Black Magic meets its July release date.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask.   Thanks for checking my blog out.

chris

Time Lapse with a GoPro Hero3

I’ve been tinkering with the time lapse settings on the GoPro lately, trying to get a good looking sequence.  Florida has LOTS of sun, so its difficult to get good movement in the skies.  Typically when its cloudy, its pretty gray and overcast.  I’ve been stalking the broken cloud cover the last few weeks, trying to get a decent sky.  I was somewhat lucky with this one, but there are people right in front of the camera for most of the sequence and its driving me nuts.  I’m trying to get a good sunrise as well.

 

This one turned out pretty cool.  I mounted the GoPro to an IKEA egg timer to get the movement.  Watch them in HD to get the cleanest image.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.  Thanks for stopping by.

A99 interweb video test part 2 – Sony A99 vs. Sony Nex 5n

***NOTE*** This test was performed with TWO separate copies of the A99.  Yes, I was so disappointed by the video from my first A99, I thought it was defective.  So I returned it and got the same crappy results with A99 #2.  Looking at other A99 videos across the web, its not me or my two copies, it’s the A99.  On to my story…

A99 vs. Nex 5n

I got skewered after posting my results of my A99 vs. EM5 video test with wild claims of bias (I just want good video, don’t care where it comes from), flawed testing methods (focus, push record, what am I missing?), that I rigged it to make the EM5 look better (after spending $6000 on a Sony body and lenses) and so on.  Its all ridiculous.  I put a nice consumer camera (EM5) against Sony’s professional flagship (A99) and the Sony got spanked.

So I figured I’d level the playing field by shooting another test – this time with the A99’s tiny cousin, the Nex5n.  The 5n has a 16 megapixel APS-c sensor, compare to the 24 MP full frame sensor in the A99.  So its Sony vs. Sony – and to lessen the complaints from the whiners, I’m using the exact same lens on both cameras … the stunning Zeiss 24-70/2.8.   I also have the LAEA1 adapter to make the lens work on the Nex5n.  To compensate for the 5n’s crop factor, I shot wider on the A99.  I stopped down the lens on the A99 to equate the depth of field difference between the two sensor sizes.  Everything was shot at a base ISO of 100.  Be sure to select 1080p and watch full screen, or even better on a large TV.

As long as everything is in focus, I’m not really concerned about the rest, but the pixel peeping nerds seem to care so I tried to make everything as close as possible.   The results are not surprising – again the diminutive Nex5n took the A99 to the woodshed.  The softness, moiré and aliasing are again so bad on the A99 its completely unusable.  Fine details are once again mush compared to the 5n.  Its disappointing how bad the results are for the A99.  Absolutely horrible.

Ergonomics on the A99 are a dream.  There are two control wheels – one under the shutter and one by the thumb rest – making it easy to adjust aperture and shutter speed when shooting manually.  Other shooting parameters can easily be adjusted with the joystick on the rear, functions such as focus magnify, AF lock, ISO and more all are easy to find as some buttons are convex shaped and others are concave.  The tilt/swivel LCD is something that should be on every camera, it can be placed on top of the camera for low shots, turned to the side for shoulder mounted shots and tilted down for overhead shots.  I love it.  It’s such a pleasure to shoot with the A99, and the stills results are simply stunning as you can see here.  The video leaves a lot to be desired, and if it can’t best a 5d3, the A99 is going back to Sony.

Some are saying that my results are a by-product of a full frame sensor because the Canon 5d Mark III is also very soft.  That may be the case because full-frame DSLR’s have to hatchet down sensor output in the 22-36mp range depending on your camera to just over 2mp for HD video.  Some also say I’m an idiot.  That may be the case, but the A99 needs glasses – it can’t see.  I’m going to put that to the test in my final shootout with the 5d3.  I’d rather not have to make the switch again as it’s a pain to buy and sell a complete camera system.  I need both stills and video, so my investment has to perform in each medium.  I’d love to see something with great sharpness from the A99, but I haven’t yet and I don’t think I ever will.  If you’re shooting with one and getting good results please let me know.  Until next time, thanks for stopping by.

chris

A99 interweb video test part 1 – Sony’s flagship A99 vs. the Olympus EM5

***NOTE*** This test was performed with TWO separate copies of the A99.  Yes, I was so disappointed by the video from my first A99, I thought it was defective.  So I returned it and got the same crappy results with A99 #2.  Looking at other A99 videos across the web, its not me or my two copies, it’s the A99.  On to my story…

I discovered some issues with the video output of the Sony A99 after shooting some test video.  I alluded to this in my last A99 post, but I didn’t mention specifics beyond the fact that its absolutely terrible.  The issue is twofold – its really, really soft and the aliasing (straight lines look jagged, not smooth) and moiré (fine patterns like fabrics or roof shingles create that weird wave of color) is the worst I’ve ever seen.  Some complain about how soft the 5d3’s video looks out of the camera, but it can be sharpened nicely in post.  The A99’s video gets a little better after sharpening, but its still really bad.

To make matters worse, Sony chooses to milk the outdated AVCHD codec for another generation of cameras instead of offering a new video codec with higher bitrates.   Canon and Panasonic upped the bitrates with the 5d3 and GH3 respectively and it shows in post, you have more latitude for sharpening and color correction.  Compared to the 5d3, I can only apply about half the amount of sharpening with the A99’s video before artifacts show up.  Part of Canon’s softness is the aggressive stance Canon took against moiré and aliasing – video from the 5d3 is the best of any DSLR in that regard.  With the A99 it’s the worst of both worlds – its soft and full of aliasing and moiré.

I wanted something more concrete than just plugging the camera into my TV and being very disappointed by what I see, so I decided to have another interweb shootout while working on my mega EVIL camera shootout.  I decided to shoot the same subjects with the A99 and the Olympus EM5.  The A99 had a $2000 Zeiss 24-70/2.8 zoom while the EM5 had the cheap 14-42mm plastic kit lens.  I figured it would be a complete beat down – and it was – just not the results one would expect.

I kept it simple by with a few wide shots outside and a still life I threw together with random items from the recycle bin and a few books.  I just wanted to see how each camera renders fine detail.  I took a manually focused still frame, using focus magnify to confirm critical focus, before hitting the video record button to make sure each shot had optimal sharpness.  Watch at full screen, 1080p or on a TV to see the difference.  The moiré on the roof is horrible on the A99, and there’s absolutely no detail.  It looks like a watercolor, not full HD video. Blech.  Compare the foliage and trees, there’s so much more detail in the EM5 shots.  I even ran through the focal range, if you really want to nit-pick you can scroll frame-by-frame to find the sharpest point of the sequence.  Its pretty easy with the A99, just look for the moiré pattern on the roof, that’s the sharpest part of the focal range.  Blech again.  In the still life, bounce between the A99 sharpened shot and the EM5 shot, the difference is easy to see.

The EM5 was easily better in every way; it’s a surprisingly capable video machine.  The little Olympus, with its very limited video capabilities, completely trounced the A99.  I tend to shoot mostly wide shots with deep depth of field (DOF) and close-ups with shallow DOF.  The A99 looked good in the shallow DOF shots, but wide shots are dreadful.  The A99 will leave a bad taste in your mouth if you plan on shooting wide, especially when you think about what it costs compared to its little brother – the Nex5n.  Yes the little Nex’s video also trounces the A99… at one-tenth the price and I have the video to prove it. Ouch.

For some reason the Sony defenders on the web want to try and find flaws with my test, but its pretty straight forward — for video the A99 flat out sucks.  Period.  I have more tests that show similar results.  Its sad really, because Sony got so much right with the design and shooting ergonomics of the A99.  Control-wise it’s one of the best cameras I’ve ever used, simply brilliant.  Stay tuned…

So tell me what you think of the EM5 video vs. the A99.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

Goodbye Canon – hello Sony A99!!!

The search for the ultimate camera continues…

I’ve been very impressed with the dynamic range (DR) of the Sony sensors after seeing the amazing files coming out of the Nex cameras.  I was so impressed, I decided to get a divorce from Canon and go all-in with Sony and its new full-frame flagship … the A99.  Some of the key selling points for me; 1080/60p video – the only full frame camera that shoots 60p in full HD, the tilt/swivel rear LCD (I shoot a ton of overhead and lying on the ground shots), some innovative focusing features, a light body compared to Canon/Nikon counterparts, built-in image stabilization – Canon/Nikon I.S. is lens based, and an overall design that’s geared toward multi-media shooters.  Its very video focused, more than any other DSLR.

The Sony A99, Nex5n and Olympus EM5 ... shot with a crappy camera phone

The Sony A99, Nex5n and Olympus EM5 … shot with a crappy camera phone

Like I said, I went all-in with the A99.  I bought the Carl Zeiss 24-70mm/2.8 zoom (the finest standard zoom on the planet IMHO) and the Sony 70-400mm G zoom.  The A99 has a built in crop mode that lowers the image from 24 megapixels to about 10mp, but you get a 1.5x crop on your lenses.  So that already long 70-400mm becomes a ridiculous 105-600mm lens.  Right after buying the A99, I had the opportunity to shoot a holiday party and I’m very happy with the results.  More importantly, the people with the cash are happy with the finished images.  Sweet.  There was a wall of windows on one side of the room and the blazing mid-day sun was blowing out everything camera right of the singer.  To camera left was virtual darkness and they didn’t want me to use a flash.  Grrrr…  My assignment was simple – shoot people having fun, performers and people eating.  I’m posting a couple samples from that shoot, nothing was done to the RAW files outside of shadow/highlight recovery.  Darn nice if you ask me.  The images I delivered got a little more work in Lightroom, but just a little color adjustment, a but of noise reduction and some sharpening.

A high ISO shot with lots of highlight and shadow recovery

A high ISO shot with lots of highlight and shadow recovery

The camera was great, I got just over 600 shots on a single charge.  Most of the people shots were short bursts and I just chimped away all of the images that weren’t keepers.  That’s less than half what I could get with my Canon, but this is an all EVF camera, so its sucking lots of juice the entire time the camera is in use. The Zeiss is just awesome, has that great Zeiss rendering and micro-contrast, combined with the impressive tones from the Sony sensor.  There’s a lot of latitude in the Sony RAW files for highlight/shadow recovery.  The original images have much darker shadows and the highlights are blown from the wall of windows.  I’m very impressed with the lack of banding or posterization with the crazy contrast I have going on in most of the images.

Nice example of shallow depth of field

Nice example of shallow depth of field

The Sony A99 is a fantastic stills camera.  Notice the emphasis on stills.  The AF with the 70-400G is really slow indoors, but beyond that its awesome and it produces beautiful files.  There’s a cool feature called AF Range – you can set the minimum and maximum distance the lens will focus … say 6-15 feet … so you can just have the camera focus on subjects in a certain area.  This would be really handy at something like an auto or cycling race where you can just keep a certain corner or the finish line in the range and nothing else.  Nice.  Its not all rainbows and puppy dogs though, it has issues with video.  Quick summary: its dreadful. Absolutely wretched.  So bad its unusable as a video camera if you have decent eyesight.  My dog even turns up her nose at the A99’s video – and she eats poop.  But that’s another post.  I’ll update with more A99 info soon.  If you have any thoughts on the A99, please share with a comment.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

The Joy of traveling light

Can you travel to far-away destinations around the world with just 16 pounds of clothes? That’s something I’m going to explore, as the pack pictured below is my “international” setup.  While I tinker with my travel camera setup, I’m also going to refine everything else I use when traveling.  What you see below is everything I took for a month-long trip in South America, minus a small sling pack with camera gear.  Preparation was nerve-racking as I usually take more than this for a few days; I’m a classic over-packer.  This was also my first time outside of the U.S.  I don’t really consider Canada foreign – outside of the bland food and goofy accents.  Most of the shirts, all the socks and my insulating layer are made out of merino wool – it keeps you warm, its naturally wicking so it moves sweat, unlike cotton it insulates when wet, it dries quickly and its naturally odor-resistent.  All that comes at a price, t-shirts made out of merino can easily run $50-75 each.  But it packs small, its comfortable, its really light and you don’t have to do laundry as often as you would with cotton.

This is everything I took for a month in South America

This is everything I took for a month in South America

Here’s a rundown of everything pictured:
Gregory backpack – technically considered a daypack, 3 pounds, well padded/ventilated back, very easy to carry
REI green waterproof shell – came in handy a few times in total downpours
Ibex LS merino wool insulating layer – lightweight, warm, anti-stink
REI travel pants – can be converted to shorts, stink and water resistant
Exofficio underwear – great for travel, dries fast
Smartwool socks – again merino wool gets the job done
Smartwool and Ibex shirts – merino wool long and short sleeve T’s and button-ups, easily layered/removed for changing conditions
Teva sandals – my walk around shoe
Oboz hiking shoes – what I wore anytime off pavement
That’s it, crazy eh?

It all adds up to less than 15 pounds. For toiletries I just carried a toothbrush, razor, chapstick, lotion, toothpaste and some camp soap in a one-quart plastic bag.  We used/swiped soap everywhere we stayed and did laundry in the shower.   I shaved with soap too – ouch – but I didn’t want to waste space or add weight with a can of shave gel.  We had a small medical kit that my wife Caitlin carried, since I had the camera, and that was pretty much it. Packing/unpacking was never a chore because we had so little. It was easy to move about and get in and out of airports/boats/taxis/trains/busses quickly.

Posing for a shot while motoring between islands in the Galapagos

Posing for a shot while motoring between islands in the Galapagos

So what will we do different next time we go international? I felt like I really stuck out when we went out in the evenings – you just look like such a tourist when you’re the only one in a nice restaurant wearing nylon pants and hiking shoes.  Locals were in jeans and shirts and we’re sporting full on trekker gear.  At 6’2″ I stick out even more than most as I seem to be taller than most of the people we were around. I’ll be bringing a pair of jeans and a couple cotton T’s or polo’s – just to be a little more casual when we’re out at night.  Though most of the time the travel duds were fine.

Feel free to comment if you have suggestions on gear that can improve upon what I already have, I’m always on the lookout for how I can tweak things.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris