Sunday, 8 December 2013
Sony it is
The PEN Mini (E-PM1) was a bit of a failed experiment. I did like the size of the package, and the IQ was nice as long as I kept it to ISO 200-400, but the handling was just awful and the ISO limitations pretty much put it back on the shelf in early november once dusk caught up to the end of my work shift and pushed me out of my comfort zone in terms of its ISO performance. I also didn't like that I couldn't start post-processing from my default settings due to the sensor's limited DR. In terms of handling the biggest issue was the bar of soap shape. I've acquired a severe dislike for cameras without some sort of grip (or a thumb-grip/wind lever) so I don't have to actively grip the camera whenever it's in my hand. So the E-PM1 and its kit lens are gone. The replacement isn't an m43 camera though, instead I chose the compact mirrorless design with the best grip, the NEX-5 series. The specific model is the NEX-5R, although I would have been happy with the 5N or 5T as well (it came down to what was available at the right price). The 5R of course has the wifi feature, so it has a proper remote release option (yay!). I've dug out my NEX adapters and all my Alt glass will now live on the 5R (which it's better suited to than my E-M5).
I've also been pondering my next steps. The E-M5 is getting replaced, it was the best option for me at the time but there are now several better options out there for a reasonable cost. Also I've increasingly regretted selling off my basic NEX-7 kit.
To explain this, I've pretty much got two modes of shooting. The first is my general mode. I'm carrying a small kit of primes, wandering around the city or mild wilderness area. I'm shooting in manual focus and the weather is OK. This is what the NEX-7 excelled at. in the last year I'd done rather much less of it than is normal for me, but since I started my new job in late August I'm doing more of this sort of shooting.
The second mode is I'm out hiking in inclement weather and/or in the bush. I'm shooting a mix of tripod & handheld and switching between a telezoom and a wide/normal zoom, focus is a mix of MF and AF. The NEX-7 purely sucked at this due to the lack (at the time) of good zoom options and also its lousy tripod handling (no remote release whatsoever, a tripod mount that barely qualified as a joke). This is what I bought the E-M5 for and what it does well.
The E-M5 is OK in mode 1 (a lot better than the NEX-7 was at mode 2) but not ideal due to the smaller EVF without peaking and the poorly layed out buttons, none of the assignable buttons on the E-M5 fall right under the thumb, so there's no good choice for AF-on or magnification (ironically the vertical grip button layout is great). IQ on the E-M5 is more than acceptable, the only issues being a little noise in the skies even at base ISO and a tendency to a little bit of crunchiness, neither of which I'm really averse to (hey, old film shooter here. grain in the skies is something I recall fondly). The handling issues and generally average manual focus experience are why I'm looking at replacing it. Two options have come up that I'm interested in, the E-M1, which solves pretty much all my issues except focus peaking (which it has, but its a poor implementation) and the A7, which would finally allow me to share a single set of lenses between a film camera and a digital.
Yesterday I finally got to try the A7 at the Sony Store. It's got the same basic handling as the NEX-7, which I loved shooting handheld. It's got a better control wheel layout (I would always start on the wrong top-wheel on the NEX-7 as they were side-by-side) and a better EVF. It's also got a real tripod mount, two different remote release options (the hotshoe-based wired release and the wifi app) and I was very pleased to discover that Sony finally got a clue and allowed you to disable the auto MF assist feature, where the camera zooms in for focus when you turn the focus ring in MF and DMF modes (and I dislike), without also disabling the MF assist assigned to a button. It always annoyed me on the NEX-7, enough that I sold off all but 1 native lens and used that one mostly in AF. The A7 however only disables the Auto MF Assist when you select that option, manual MF assist remains available as long as it's assigned to a button. essentially it fixes every real issue I had with the NEX-7, and offers some nice upgrades. Sadly the NEX-5R retains the old, broken, behaviour but I can live with that in a backup camera.
That proved to be the deciding factor. I will be selling off my m43 kit and purchasing an A7. I will also be primarily using my small Nikon manual focus kit as the core of my A7 lens kit. This is a major win for me, I have not been able to stay away from Nikon manual focus stuff. I just like shooting with them. But I really want to keep a simplified kit, rather than getting back to the point I was a few years ago with a ridiculous selection of bodies, lenses and systems. I just want to stick to 1-1.5 systems and one basic set of primes that I use for most shooting (plus a couple AF lenses for the digital side). The A7 will accomplish this better than the E-M1 would. Honestly, if I was more of an AF user I'd probably go the other way, although m43 continues to lack lenses in one area, the high-quality mid-range zooms that are my preferred sort of zoom (comparable to the ZD 14-54 or the Nikkor 16-85 or the Sony/Zeiss 16-80 DT or even the Canon 24-105L). I'm willing to give up some speed for range since I'll shoot primes when I need the speed. In m43 the only real lenses with that design philosophy are the 12-50 (which is mediocre at best, certainly not delivering the optical quality I want. It's also too slow, being f6.3 at the long end where I'm looking for something in the f4-4.5 range) and the 45-175, which is pretty good all-round, but too expensive compared to the cheapo 40-150.
Do I regret buying the E-M5? No. It's a great little camera overall and did what it was bought for very well. I do however regret selling off the NEX-7 and its core kit (24/1.8, Nikkor 50/1.8 AI and Sony 85/2.8 SAM + LA-EA1 adapter), I should have just kept that around for walk-around shooting. That said, my NEX-5R/A7 kit will not feature the same set of lenses. I'm likely to re-acquire the 50/1.8 AI as it's a personal favourite but the 24/1.8 Sonnar, as much as I loved it, will not be returning nor will the 85/2.8. Why not? The 24's simply too expensive for an APS-C lens in a mixed APS-C/FF kit. I'll probably get the FE 35/2.8 Sonnar at some point as its equivalent (AF wide/normal for walkabout) and the only native lenses I'm likely to get for the 5R are the 16/2.8 and Sigma 19/2.8. As to the 85, well I want to keep the adapted lenses acquired to F mount, maybe with a couple M lenses. So I'll be looking at alternatives for an 85, likely the 85/2 AI-S.
Looking at my current Nikon kit I've got the 28/2.8 E, the 35/2.8 AI, the 50/1.8 E, the 100/2.8 E and the 300/4.5 K AI'd. Short-term I need something wider (thinking a 20, likely the 20/2.8 AI-S), the 28/2.8 E needs replacing (it's OK on APS-C but a bit of a dog on FF, even film). It was bought solely because it was cheap and I needed a 28. 28/2.8 AI-S will be the likely replacement. The 35/2.8 is harder, it's a nice lens but slowish and big. long-term the replacement will be probably the pair of the FE 35/2.8 and a 35/1.4 of some sort (Nikkor, Samyang or Zeiss), might also replace it with the 35/2.5 E short-term. The longer lenses are OK for now, but long-term will get upgraded. I'd also like to add a 135 and a 180-200 to fill in the kit out to 300mm.
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