The camera that time (and I) forgot.

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom
Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

I bought my first Sony NEX-5n last autumn. I've always had very positive things to say about it. http://soundimageplus.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Sony%20NEX-5N
However it has been sitting on the shelf unused mostly for a long time. That is about to change. 

Afte buying the first I bought another and intended to use them a lot, but other cameras arrived which seemed to take precedence. There was the Sony a77, which I bought as the NEX-7 I had ordered was delayed. I was however still planning to the 5n's until my NEX-7 eventually arrived which was due around March of this year. However due to a lucky break I got one of the first batch of NEX-7's late last December. The 5n's again got relegated to sitting on the bench and then I got the X-Pro 1 and the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Eventually I sold one, and ever since then its been a camera I have used only occasionally. 

However with a couple of recent posts I resolved to use it more. 
http://soundimageplus.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/sony-nex-5n-revisited.html

A few days ago I wrote this about the X-Pro 1.
http://soundimageplus.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/fuji-x-pro-1-is-it-more-trouble-than.html
basically explaining the advantages that the Fuji gave me. But then I got to thinking, doesn't the NEX-5n do most of this already and is a lot easier and faster to use?

Well after some tests and three excursions with the camera yesterday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 12mm f/5.6
Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 12mm f/5.6

The X-Pro 1 is SUCH a frustrating camera, and this raw conversion problem is virtually the last straw for me. This may seem strange after discovering the kind of image quality that the camera is capable of via Raw Photo Processor 64. This is because of three things. Firstly the workflow time involved for me in processing the amount of files that I do via RPP is out of the question. Secondly, It seriously annoys me that Fuji have chosen to "neuter" the output of their camera in this way and make it very difficult to achieve that quality. Thirdly, in most situations that I use it the 5n is its equal and in some cases actually produces better results.

Now I thought long and hard about writing this post, since there is a lot of hostility to a great deal of what I write about that camera amongst some of the X-Pro 1 fanboys. Just yesterday, after someone posted a link on DPreview I was accused of writing articles "bashing" the X-Pro 1 sensor. This basically illustrates what is happening. Since everything I have been writing has been bashing everything else APART from the sensor, you will get some idea of the kind of misrepresentation I've had to put up with. Indeed, I've considered getting rid of it in the past just because of this.

When I quoted Thom Hogans review a couple of days ago, I found myself agreeing with much of what he said.

In his final words on the camera he writes this, and there is nothing there that I would disagree with.

"I wanted to like the X-Pro1. On paper, many of the things I valued back in my early film days are present here, and the large 16mp sensor without AA promises excellent image quality. Unfortunately, Fujifilm has done the same thing with the X-Pro1 as they did with their now-abandoned DSLR line. The odd-ball sensor delivers something very unique and useful (but with a caveat), while the rest of the camera tends to let the sensor down a bit. 
Too many other mirrorless cameras have big pluses where the Fujifilm is weak. To wit:
  • Autofocus: the Nikon 1 blows it away, but even the latest m4/3 cameras blow the X-Pro1 away
  • Battery: The E-M5 gets more shots per charge, ditto the NEX-7
  • Manual focus: Sony and Ricoh's peaking features are more advanced
  • Lens selection: m4/3 has more and better choices
  • Write speed: the X-Pro1 is slowest of every mirrorless camera I've tried with the same state-of-the-art card
So that really only leaves us image quality to lean on. There, at least, the X-Pro1 delivers. From bright to low light, I was able to get very nice JPEGs out of this camera, and the raw files would be right up there if we really had a converter that could pull everything out of them that's possible, something I'm not convinced we have yet."

So in the light of all these frustrations and workarounds, I thought that I would investigate more what the 5n could do.

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom
Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

The Sony NEX-5n uses the 16MP sensor that currently resides in many cameras. It is known for being good at all ISO's and having an excellent dynamic range capability. What I wanted to see was how it compared to the X-Pro 1 under the circumstances that I would use it, rather than just do some tests. Anyway, I've done some test comparisons with the X-Pro 1 here.

Yesterday morning and afternoon I took the 5n out in some dull(ish) light and used it in the way I was talking about in a previous post. i.e. Outdoors, f/11, ISO 800.

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

Note the performance the camera / lens for the above file. Taken with steady shot turned on. Pin sharp at 1/15th. sec. hand-held.

Below are some images taken at a garden centre. I love photographing at these places as I find them somewhat surreal. What makes people want to put smiling Buddhas (top of the page) Roma statues or Maori monuments in their gardens is beyond me. Grouped together for sale they always seem to look somewhat malevolent.

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

Sony NEX-5n 18-55mm Zoom

Note that I used the 18-55mm kit zoom for all of these. I do realise I'm in a minority of 1 here, in that I actually rate this lens very highly. OK I do use it stopped down all the time, but I really like it, and don't understand why it is constantly rubbished by all and sundry.

Finally in the evening there was a burst of wonderful light. It was short lived so I had no chance to get anywhere other than my back garden and the lane I live at the end of. For this I tried my Voigtlander 12mm and 90mm lenses.

Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 12mm f/5.6

Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 12mm f/5.6

Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 12mm f/5.6


Just to note that in the above pictures taken with the 12mm there is no vignetting or magenta cast at all. Unlike the NEX-7 this camera and sensor have no such problems.
I would also add that these 12mm were really sharp and with beautiful colour. The 5n's sensor, unlike others, really does like this lens. The results here were an improvement on what I've got with the same lens on the X-Pro 1.


Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5  Apo-Lanthar

Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5  Apo-Lanthar

Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5  Apo-Lanthar

Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5  Apo-Lanthar

Sony NEX-5n Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5  Apo-Lanthar


So what did all this prove. Well to me it proved several things. Firstly that in terms of image quality, at low to mid ISO's the NEX-5n isn't quite up to what the X-Pro 1 can produce, but is so close that the difference doesn't matter. This is of course helped significantly by my being able to process the raw files in Photoshop CS6 without the green foliage (and everything else) mush that comes out of the Fuji files. It also took me a few seconds for each file and didn't involve two pieces of software or lengthy fiddling about with conversion parameters.

In terms of operational use, handling and speed, there really isn't any comparison. In terms of my use, I prefer the 5n for speed, feel, viewfinder and AF. Its a camera that doesn't think about taking taking a picture for a while, it just does it.

So I'm going to be using the camera more and I fear the X-Pro 1's days are finally numbered unless an Adobe Camera raw fix appears very soon. Basically lifes too short to continue fiddling about with it. Like Thom Hogan, I've wanted to like it, and I've given it a lot of opportunities and invested a lot of time in it. However just one day of using my neglected 5n has shown me that the X-Pro 1 is a camera that is basically unfinished. It may be better eventually, but how long will that take? 

To end on a positive note. I must say once again how good the NEX-5n is. It was my camera of 2011 and it still holds up really well still. I fact it does more than that. Its actually a little marvel. And no, its not very sexy, and no it doesn't look like an old Leica. What it does do is take great pictures in an unfussy way and it does that quickly and efficiently. For what I do its top class and I shouldn't really have neglected it for so long. However that will change.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.
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