From Steve: Yet another cool Guest contribution! I have been down and out the last two days (sick) so these guest articles have been a huge help. By the end of the week I should have my Pentax K5 review up so stay tuned! Enjoy!
Using The Sony NEX-5 with Leica Lenses
By Paul Barclay
I have been following this site daily for the last several months and decided to buy the Sony NEX-5 camera with 16mm kit lens based on Steve’s Arizona State Fair photos and the links to other images made using Leica lenses. Once I received both the camera and lens adapter, and had the battery charged, I set off to a boat dock near where I work to make a few images to see how things work and possibly get an image worthy of a daily inspiration. I knew going in that the Sony lens was not the sharpest, but I was not prepared for the disappointing results I got from my Zeiss and Leica lenses.
Image #1 is one of these images and as you can see it is a little soft. I went back the next day because the light was better and I would have more time to put into focusing the camera. Looking at the second set of images, some of them were better but not all. Image #2 was also taken using my Zeiss 25mm f2.8 ZM lens. The first impression of this image is it is better than the images from the previous day, but when enlarged to 100% it is not as good as hoped for from a Zeiss lens. Because of these results I decided it was time to go into the studio (a.k.a. garage) and make the dreaded test target shots to try to find out what is going on. I won’t bore everyone with these images, but I did learn some things that may be helpful to anyone interested in a Sony NEX-5 camera with lenses from other manufacturers.
First, the tables below show that my Rainbow NEX-Leica lens adapter does not position all lenses at the correct position in front of the sensor. In my test shots I set the camera on a tripod at a fixed distance from the test target, measured the distance from the front lens element to the target then focused optically using the focus assist; I focused the Sony lens both using the camera and manually. For lenses with an actual focal length 50mm and wider it is necessary to focus closer than the actual distance to the subject, and this adjustment increases significantly as the lens gets wider. For lenses longer than 50mm the adjustment would be to focus farther than the actual distance, but this adjustment is so small it won’t be worth the effort. Since estimating the distance to a real subject won’t be that precise. It may be that the adaptor manufacturer decided that the ideal lens for most users is a 50mm lens or longer, or there may be some variation in the camera and adapter mounting distances working together. So it will be worthwhile for a wide-angle user to test their lenses on their camera to learn what adjustments are needed for their camera and adapter combination.
Since I generally want to maximize image sharpness and I also use large format equipment, I prefer to use a tripod for most of my photography. Unfortunately, as image #3 shows, the base of the NEX-5 is not flat. It is “V” shaped where the lens mount meets the base with the portion holding the tripod socket extending below the rest of the base by about 1/8 inch. Due to how narrow the base is this gives us a flat surface to rest the camera on a tripod about the size of a dime. (image #4) Which means that if the camera is on a tripod it will be very easy to rotate the camera and change your image composition and not notice it. It also means that the camera can be very prone to vibrations from shutter bounce, which is possible since this camera is very lightweight and does have a noticeable “bump” when the shutter closes, opens, and closes again during an exposure. In this case I think it might be desirable to use the camera hand held unless a dedicated adapter plate is available from one of the specialty manufacturers. Even with a dedicated adapter plate it will probably be desirable to keep both hands on the camera body to dampen the vibrations.
Manual focus is a challenge with 50-year old eyes and wide-angle lenses, even on a tripod. This is caused by the low magnification from the lenses and the small size of the rear LCD screen. Add in bright light and the value of an LCD shade or accessory viewfinder (either an electronic finder or a finder that uses the rear LCD) becomes apparent. As expected, manual focus gets easier with longer lenses since magnification is increased. Now that I have a bit more practice, manual focus is almost easy provided that you can see the screen, your subject has a pattern that is easy to see, and you hold the camera steady enough. I have found it easier to hold the lens with my left hand over the top and my thumb under the lens, on the focus aid if the lens has one. This gets my left arm out of the way of the back of the camera and lets me hold the camera out far enough to see with my glasses. In addition, this lets you use your left hand to support the weight of the camera and focus using the camera’s first manual focus assist feature. When you have achieved focus, pressing the shutter release half way will reset the screen to normal so you can adjust the composition before making your exposure. So far, trying to use the exit button just causes me to move the camera and shift the focus on the lens. So doing anything to reduce your hand motions is a good thing.
Finally, there is good news to share from these experiences. First the Sony 16mm lens is better than it is given credit for. Its optical focus limit is probably close to 10-12 Ft, and the test images looked pretty good up to 50% enlargement; at 100% the lens is still a little soft. Though I do get better results viewing J-Peg images on a PC using the Windows viewer or using iPhoto09 on a Mac, rather than using the Sony software on a Mac; Capture One does not convert the NEX raw files yet. Second, as the remaining images show, using Leica, Zeiss, and Voightlander lenses will provide very good results once you have a chance to practice your focus and distance estimating techniques. Even when used handheld at ISO 800, which includes many of the images shown here.
So, in conclusion, the NEX-5 is a worthy experiment at this time. But it will need some aftermarket accessories to be a worthy user with non-Sony lenses. Also, while I did try using this camera with my 90mm and 135 mm lenses on a tripod, their size and weight suggests that the camera mount may not hold up to much use with these lenses. So, using long lenses with an integral tripod collar, or making sure the lens adapter is supported by the tripod quick release plate is a good idea. If using these lenses handheld, using the lens to support the camera body will be necessary.