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

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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

Sony Nex-7 vs. Olympus OM-D EM-5 vs. Fuji Xpro1 vs. Sony Nex 5n … An Interweb Mirrorless Shootout — Part 1

Meet the Contenders…

When I set out to find the ultimate small camera setup, I knew I would be looking at a camera with many names –  mirrorless (a camera that combines the large sensor of a DSLR without a mirror box and an optical viewfinder), interchangable lens camera (ILC, or MILC if you combine the last two), compact system camera (CSC), or my personal favorite – the electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens (EVIL) camera. You will see all these terms associated with the same class of camera.  Its a simple formula – big sensor, smaller lenses and bodies, and great IQ.  I want something that’s comfortable to shoot with everyday (if you don’t enjoy shooting with it, you’ll never actually use it), has great lenses (or works well with adapted manual focus lenses), shoots great stills and shoots video that will look good on the web and on TV’s in the 42-60” range since that’s what most seem to have these days (I have a 42). That’s not too much to ask, is it?

When the mirror is axed from a DSLR, the size can be drastically reduced, but that introduces a problem – the mirror creates the viewfinder image in a DSLR by reflecting light into a pentaprism (the hump with the viewfinder that you look through when shooting).  So a mirrorless camera needs an electronic viewfinder (EVF) in order to shoot like a traditional camera. I’ve used DSLR’s for years and I’ve grown accustomed to shooting while looking through the viewfinder – not holding it at arms length like a poop filled diaper… or a camera phone… pick your favorite analogy. So for me a viewfinder is a must. The EVF also needs to have a fast refresh rate, I had a Fuji X100 and the EVF went dark for a couple seconds after shooting while I waited for the hamster inside to get the wheel moving. So. Lame. EVF lag = return the camera before your 30-day return window closes.

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

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

Right now there are four cameras – at least in my opinion – that are at the top of the EVIL heap, the Sony Nex-7 and the new Olympus with the ridiculous name … the O-M-D-E-M-5 … I added extra dashes because I can’t remember where Olympus puts them, but I think its called the OM-D E-M5 … brilliant … not really.  There’s also the Fuji Xpro1 and the Sony Nex5n which has an optional EVF that attaches to the top, or you can go super small and shoot in poop diaper mode.

The Sony Nex-7 is the most refined Nex camera to date, combining compact size, a ridiculous 24 megapixel APS-c sensor, the highest resolution EVF on the market, 1080p video, lots of buttons and dials in a slick black metal body that screams incredible engineering – especially when you put it next to Sony’s big A77 DSLR – because its essentially the same camera. Sony has clearly established itself as the leader in sensor technology with the Nex-7 and the 36mp sensor that’s in the Nikon d800, the big S may be swimming in red ink, but it still knows how to build a sensor.

The Olympus EM5 is a micro-four-thirds (m43) system camera that’s supposed to be some sort of retro design mimicking the shape of the classic Olympus OM camera from decades ago – just what every camera buyer wants in 2013, a camera that looks like something in the back of grandpa’s closet or worse … some retro-craze piece of junk like the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Fortunately, despite its silly name and heritage nobody really cares about, the EM5 has drool-worthy specs for my inner gear geek – 16 megapixels, the first ever 5-axis image stabilization, weather sealed, a huge OLED rear screen, fast auto focus (so says Olympus), 1080p video (though limited) and what appears to be huge gains in dynamic range and image quality – improvements that rival and in many cases surpass many current entry level DSLR’s.

Olympus EM5 with the optional grip

Olympus EM5 with the optional grip

Fuji jumped into the EVIL game with the Xpro1 and its innovative hybrid viewfinder – it combines an optical viewfinder with an EVF, giving you the best of both worlds.  Sort of… but I’ll get to that.  It also sports a 16 megapixel sensor, a rangefinder styled body that places all major controls at your fingertips, high quality lenses with manual aperture rings and some of the cleanest files at high ISO’s I’ve ever seen.  It rivals my Canon 5d3 up to 6400, which is about the highest I shoot unless its something like a concert – where the noise is acceptable because of the dark environment.  Oh yeah, it also has the best JPEG files around with those gorgeous Fuji colors.  If nothing else, Fuji knows color and the Xpro1 has it in spades.

Last but not least – in terms of IQ, not size – there’s the little camera that could, the Sony Nex 5n.  The little Nex has a big 16 megapixel sensor, a really handy touch screen LCD, 1080p video capability and some eye-popping IQ for such a small camera.  You could *almost* shoot professionally with a few of these, but people writing checks like to see big cameras, not a camera smaller than my phone.  Why two Nex cameras?  Well there a significant price difference between the recently discontinued Nex5n (dirt cheap) and the flagship Nex7 (not cheap at all) and they both do 1080/60p video.  I edit everything at 24 frames per second (24p) and video shot at 60 frames per second (60p) can be slowed down to create some fantastic looking slow-motion video.  And I loves me some slow-mo.  The differences between the 5n/7 are big to some and not so big to others.  I’ll highlight some of these in the next update.

All of these cameras offer big IQ in a small package, but how do they perform head to head? I’ll update over the next few weeks to show the results of my testing.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

After technical issues, the blog is back!

Sorry about the blog disappearing, there were some hiccups.  I’m in the process of recovering all of my previous posts and I have lots of content going forward.

This little slice of the web is for me to share my photographic journey while searching for THE travel camera.  I’m a gear junkie, so the chance to endlessly tinker with cool new toys will be tough – ha, ha – but its a sacrifice I’m willing to make.  My wife and I plan to see and experience everything we can on all seven continents.  Yes that means Antarctica.  We want to share our experiences with family, friends and anyone else that happens to click on this blog.  I shoot photos and video, so they’re equally important.  I’m searching for a light camera that shoots both really well.

One of the many great shots captured with my little Canon G10.

One of the many great shots captured with my little Canon G10.

For me the days of lugging a giant camera and 15 pounds of lenses on a plane are over.  I used a Canon G10 when my wife and I traveled to South America and it was nice being able to capture what I wanted without being weighed down by a big camera bag.  My banner image of Macchu Picchu was taken with the lowly G10 as well.  I never want to be “photo tourist guy” again, you know – the guy with the big photo backpack, tripod and a giant zoom on a DSLR clogging up busy sidewalks or skinny paths through historical landmarks.  There was this guy in Vegas once, trying to shoot the Venetian on a small stretch of sidewalk when it was absolutely packed, and it just made me think there has to be a better way.  Never again.

The big camera will primarily be used for jobs, with the small cameras serving as backups.  Modern imaging sensors are capable of producing amazing results in a very small package.  I have my sights set on a few different systems including Fuji X, Sony Nex and the top micro 4/3rds cameras.  Check back or subscribe for updates as its a work in progress right now, but I’m shooting (get it, ha, ha … ok lame) for new content a few times a week.  If anyone has any gear or travel suggestions, please let me know.

chris