Well, the Sony NEX-6 has to go bye-bye today, back to Roger. I'm going to make this relatively short, because, even though the weather's not cooperating, I'd like to get out with the camera one more time before it's off to FedEx.
With the skies leaden and gray for most of the past three days, I needed to figure out some halfway constructive use of my time with the camera. (I wish I had a small studio space like they have down in the green valley so I could mess around with artificial lighting, but I don't.) On Saturday I pretty much tested apertures on the camera/lens combo. I can give you the executive summary on that pretty quickly.
The lens is plenty sharp enough to use wide open at ƒ/1.8, but I don't really like it wide open because it loses a portion of its "Zeiss magic" and becomes just a decently sharp lens. (For an example shot, see the picture of Zander and Lulu in yesterday's "Open Mike" post.) The lens's best stop is ƒ/4, but not by much—ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/11 is fine.
There's noticeable but not critical lessening of sharpness in the corners wide open, but the corners are fine. Not enough problem to worry about.
If anything it's the out-of-focus corners that look worse...the bokeh gets a bit spherical-smeary and just a touch nasty. Just a touch. Remember that this is 100%, and the camera's files are large; ƒ/1.8 shots clean up in post to be eminently usable. Bottom line, I wouldn't hesitate to use the lens wide open but I'd also prefer stopping down just a tad, only because this lens is not at its prettiest at full stop.
I should mention that at 100% and larger, red-green fringing shows up in the corners with tree branches outdoors. It's subtle and not very evident at lower magnifications, but becomes pronounced at higher ones. I don't have time with the camera/lens combo to deconstruct this adequately (I also think this sample might be just a bit decentered), but it would be better for buyers of this camera and this lens to own software that does CA reduction. I've found the fringing I see to be completely remediable in Photoshop CS6.
Then, yesterday, lacking good light in the great outdoors, I needed something to shoot. I joined two of my neighbors for a dog walk on Saturday, which was fun, so I asked them if I could do portraits of their dogs on Sunday. I figured I'd shoot on "P" and just see what the camera does in low light in terms of AF, AE, and auto-ISO and highlight detail, and so forth.
Answer? The NEX-6 acquitted itself admirably. It continued to cruise along imperturbably with exposure, nailed focus time after time, and it adjusted ISO as I went without fuss.
This shot of Diesel reminds me of a Newt—a native Vermonter—I knew years ago named Bev. We were trailering a horse one time, and after a few miles she pulled off the road, got out, and went back to check on him. When she got back and I asked how the horse was doing, she said, "Sittin' up like a judge eatin' beans." That pretty well describes the way Diesel takes command of a couch, doesn't it?—he looks like an old sea captain waiting for his ship to come in.
Anyway both of the above shots, on auto-everything, were taken at ƒ/4 and 1/60th, but the ISO for the one of Stella is 125 and the one of Diesel is ISO 2000. The level of the afternoon winter light in the latter, from one large window looking out on a covered porch, was very low.
In the shot of Diesel, I can look at the wall and keep clicking the "plus" magnifier, and we go from wall texture right to pixels, with no stop en route for noise. Bottom line, I wouldn't worry about high ISOs, either. The camera can cope.
I lost me boyo again yesterday. Spring vacation over (I should put "spring" in quotation marks; it snowed again this morning), he and his girlfriend Jenna departed for UW Oshkosh yesterday afternoon. When he was young I used to make him stand for a portrait as he left for the first day of school every year, and out of habit I waylaid the two of them on their way out the front door for a quick record snap. This one turned out well.
In a few days, I'll write up my conclusions about my brief time with the Sony NEX-6 and the Zeiss 24mm E Sonnar ƒ/1.8. I'm going to miss it.
Products mentioned in this post:
Sony NEX-6 ($848)
Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm ƒ/1.8 ZA lens ($1,098)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Scott: "You should miss a borrowed $1,000 lens. Just sayin'."
Mike replies: Rented, not borrowed. But I take your point.
Paul Racecar: "This may be a bit off-topic, but I really like how you posed your dogs. The ubiquitous pose we see on the web is a pitiful pet looking upward at the camera, and only occupying a fraction of the the total frame. I've been collecting these 'pet portraits' for some time, and they amuse me to no end. One gentleman posted his beautiful pet portrait as an example of the great picture quality he gets from his new Canon 5D Mark III and 24–105mm L combo. There was his lovely hound dog with the pitiful look staring up at the camera and occupying a pretty good portion of the frame (I'll give him that)—his comment was something like: 'see the wonderful detail, sharp crisp distortion-free photo?' No. What I saw was a poorly posed pet done with a great camera."
Mike replies: Best basic tip with both kids and dogs: Start from their level.
And by the way, as you may know, kids and dogs are both difficult subjects to shoot. I'm amused by people who say things like, "I'm not really a photographer, I just shoot pictures of my kids." Well, you have to be a pretty good photographer to do that well. I even used to suggest shooting little kids as they play as a good exercise to sharpen students' shooting skills. The problem with that suggestion is that you either have access to kids or you don't. Parents tend to, others tend not to.
Wayne: "I own the lens and a NEX-7. Two weeks ago, while visiting my mother's house, I had an opportunity to get some candid shots of the gathering. The combination of the tilting LCD and the lens' low light capability turned the visit into a fun photography experience. Folks who normally protest having their photo taken lightened up when they viewed the quality of the images. Technical merits of the camera and lens aside, Sony and Zeiss have teamed up to create one fun system."
John Abee: "Apologies if this has been clarified elsewhere (I looked and couldn't see it) but why did you choose to evaluate the NEX-6 instead of the NEX-7? I feel certain there is a good reason and am curious."
Mike replies: I don't know, really. I'm sure the NEX-7 is a beaut—I certainly seem to know a lot of picky cameraphiles who swear by it, from Ken Tanaka to Kirk Tuck to my counterman friend Kevin Kallenbach at my local camera store.
I guess I recognize a general trend in modern products to ramp up features and quality in the same proportion. If you buy the car with the good engine, you have to take the sunroof and the nav. That sort of thing. And part of the "luxury" aspect of top models is that they include everything the maker can think to include—because if you're going to spend all that money, you should have a feature list that's full to bursting. And these days, that means electronics complexity, in everything from battery chargers to dishwashers.
And I tend to hate electronics complexity in products.
"Kitchen sink cameras" is what I call cameras that try to "get everything in." Every possible feature. (When someone told me that you could pre-flight a photo book from within the new Canon 5Ti—or is it the little one?—I thought they were pulling my leg.) With statement products, the makers seem to have to prove they can do it all. Simplicity, ergonomic efficiency, and directness of operation sometimes take a back seat.
This is a way in which my taste definitely diverges from the mainstream. I like simple and plainspoken design, but high quality. This is one of the reasons I admire the Leica S so much. Simplicty along with very high quality.
I'm not saying any of the above applies to the NEX-7. I honestly don't know if it does or not. I've just held one briefly, never used it.
But it might help to explain why I found the NEX-6 appealing from the day it was announced. It seems a simpler, plainer version of the NEX-7—one that incorporates the NEX-7's best features and basic layout—and presumably the lessons Sony learned in building that camera and bringing it to market—but in a trickle-down, nothing-left-to-prove version.
Does that help at all, or am I just confusing things further?