When my article on field curvature was published a while ago, where I talked about how one could do a quick analysis of lens MTF data and determine if it exhibits any field curvature, some of our readers expressed interest in understanding how to read MTF charts. Since we talk quite a bit about lens performance and MTF data here at Photography Life, I decided to write a detailed article on the subject and do my best to thoroughly explain everything related to MTF curves, charts and all the verbiage that comes with them.
Previous Sony SLT-A58 and NEX-3N announcement may not have been all that exciting for the majority of current Sony users, but new and updated lenses usually make a more interesting topic. After all, cameras come and go. As of late, they seem to come and go rather too often – almost as if manufacturers decided to race each other and see who can push more “new” cameras into the market in the shortest amount of time. But good lenses, they tend to stay a while longer. Fine as your camera may be, it doesn’t exactly change the way you photograph all that much, be it a new D7100 or an older D7000, while a new lens – often and quite understandably – can make a much more worthwhile addition to your camera bag. Sony has made sure at least two of the three new lenses are of that kind. Let’s start with the smaller one.
1) Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 Lens
If there was ever a serious reason why I considered Sony DSLRs (namely, the Alpha A850 model), it’s Carl Zeiss lenses. Don’t get me wrong – Nikkor and Canon L lenses can be just as good and, perhaps, even superior. There’s more of them. More choice. Broader second-hand market. But somehow I always admired the legendary German manufacturer. There isn’t any real reason I can base my preference on – it’s neither sharpness nor price. But the few Carl Zeiss lenses Sony did have on offer were, in my opinion and experience, spectacular – the 85mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/1.8 most of all. Now, a new prime joins their ranks, and it’s a standard 50mm f/1.4 class lens. For around $1500.
Following Nikon’s announcement of the D7100 DSLR, Sony introduced a new SLT camera, called A58, along with their newest entry-level mirrorless offering, NEX-3N. As before, Sony is pushing a lot of innovative, consumer-friendly features into both cameras to attract customers. Not having all that much pedigree as a camera maker (at least when it comes to DSLR or, in their case, DSLT), features and numbers is their surest way of shifting attention of a potential buyer away from better-known camera manufacturers, such as Canon, Nikon and, perhaps, even Pentax.
1) Sony SLT-A58
The new SLT-A58 is a replacement for two older Sony cameras, A37 and A57, which is a good thing – I’ve always found they had too many models not that different in their positioning. Luckily for current Sony users and temptingly for potential new ones, however, the camera fitted with the usual 18-55mm kit lens will cost around $600, which is on par with Nikon’s lowest-end D3200 camera (while on $100 rebate program). Mind you, on paper, SLT-A58 is no slouch against its competitors.
As promised, I have performed some additional dynamic range tests on the mirrorless cameras I am testing (Nikon 1 J2, Canon EOS-M, Sony NEX-F3, Sony NEX-5R, Sony NEX-6, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D EM-5) and I have the data ready for your viewing pleasure. As expected, the Sony APS-C sensors performed the best, with the Sony NEX-5R and NEX-6 leading the game (although other NEX series are extremely close) followed by the Olympus OM-D EM-5, then Canon EOS M and then finally the Nikon 1 J2. Here is a comparison chart that shows performance of the various mirrorless cameras:
I have spent a considerable amount of time working with 7 different mirrorless cameras from Sony, Canon, Nikon and Olympus. I apologize for not being able to provide periodic updates on these cameras. I have come up with new ways to measure digital camera sensor performance, so it took me a long time to do it in a way that I believe will be more accurate and objective compared to my previous methods. Not only will you be seeing crops of sensor performance in a controlled environment, but I will also provide some numbers to quantify performance in colors and dynamic range. As I have already mentioned before, I will be measuring dynamic range myself going forward without having to rely on other websites for the data. It will be interesting to see how my data compares to other sites like DxOMark. I am not planning to do anything super intensive and I bet my measurements will not be without issues and errors, but I believe it is something worth trying. Hopefully it will give a different perspective to testing sensors.
Here is the first test that shows the low light performance of the following mirrorless cameras: Nikon 1 J2, Canon EOS-M, Sony NEX-F3, Sony NEX-5R/NEX-6, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D EM-5. Since these cameras all look excellent at ISO levels between 100 and 800, I decided to only show ISO performance at 1600 and above. Take a look!
Nikon 1 J2
It is no secret that the mirrorless camera market has been growing rapidly during the last several years. With all the major camera manufacturers in the game, the competition has been fierce, especially during the last year. Each player wants a reputable position in the market, so they are developing lots of near cameras, lenses and accessories to complement their unique systems. Personally, I have been patiently waiting for a good mirrorless system that I can invest in and stay with. Exactly one year after my first evaluation of mirrorless cameras, I decided to give another try and see if I can find something I really like, something that I can take with me anywhere I go. I am extremely happy with my high-end Nikon DSLR system, but I have been craving for something smaller and lighter that I can take with me everywhere I go. And while waiting for my right hand to recover from a recent carpal tunnel release surgery, I thought that this would be a great time to re-evaluate small cameras.
Here is what I will be playing with for the next few months:
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 12-50mm kit lens
- Olympus 45mm f/1.8
- Olympus 12mm f/2
- Panasonic 25mm f/1.4
- Canon EOS M with 22mm f/2 + 90EX Speedlite
- Nikon 1 V2 with 10-30mm & 30-110mm
- Sony NEX-7 with 18-55mm
- Sony NEX-6 with 16-50mm
- Sony NEX-5R
- Sony NEX-F3
- Sony 50mm f/1.8
- Sony 24mm f/1.4
With Sony’s big week coming to an end (they’ve announced more new products than other manufacturers, with all of them being quite exciting), we’ve missed a couple of announcements, which haven’t been directly relevant to this photography-centered website (at least for now). Both of these announcements were of their new NEX series camcorders, the NEX-VG30 and NEX-VG900. The former is a successor to the great NEX-VG20H camcorder and packs a 16 megapixel, APS-C sized sensor found in many of Sony cameras, such as NEX-6 and SLT-A57. Both new camcorders come with rather advanced video capabilities and will likely be very popular among videographers – I’ve had to trade ergonomics in favor of technical and aesthetical quality of DSLR video for a while now, and so have a couple of my close friends. With the great NEX camcorders Sony offers, both new and old models, you can get everything and for a relatively low price.
But, again, we are photography-centered at this time. Which, ironically, brings us to (the more expensive of the two) NEX-VG900 camcorder.
Why? Because it’s the first NEX mirrorless camera (which it is, only put in camcorder casing) to pack a full frame sensor, same one used in RX1 compact and A99 SLT cameras (and possibly the already immensely popular Nikon D600). And it does bring a thought. I’m not usually one to speculate, or spread rumors for that matter, but photography community has been waiting a long time for a logically priced Leica M9 (and Leica isn’t about being logical, which, strangely enough, makes sense in today’s viciously competitive market).
So.. How about a NEX-9 instead?
Many hoped Nikon would do it. Then, many hoped Canon would, or Pentax (they chose quite the opposite with Q system). Even more hoped Fujifilm would do it with their X-Pro1, after the booming popularity of their bold APS-C X100. And yet it was Sony who brought the first compact 36x24mm sensor camera. But then, is it so surprising? Sony is, after all, one of the best sensor manufacturers, as well as a electronics giant with an immense amount of resources. Why not, then?
And yet, it’s a strange camera. It only has a top shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second, which, while perfectly sufficient indoors, I know would never be enough for the kind of photography I usually do outdoors. Critically, it has no EVF (while a $850 NEX-6 does), which, again, will put off most professionals from using it as their second, small and discreet, camera. It also uses a different battery than, say, the NEX series, which means more different spare batteries and chargers lying around. On the other hand, and even more critically, it costs around $2800 and boasts a (likely) very good Carl Zeiss lens and the same 24 megapixel sensor found it the newly announced Sony A99. A question pops-up – who is this camera for and how much is one willing to pay for a compact full-frame camera with a Carl Zeiss prime lens glued on it?
It’s a strange step. A bold one, too, much like those of Fujifilm. We are yet to see if it will pay off. After all, Fujifilm X100 worked with its 35mm equivalent lens, numerous quirks and relatively high price. Why shouldn’t this? High price – check, 35mm lens – check, quirks – check. It’s unique, at least for now. Close to how unique Fujifilm X100 was. Almost as if it were a direct replacement. Something tells me it’s going to be mighty popular, at least close to as popular as it can be given the hefty price and lack of EVF.
The only thing I can promise you is that we will have a review of DSC-RX1 ready as soon as we get our hands on one and have enough field-use.