Sony NEX-5 and 16mm at ISO 6400 on the Light Rail!

More Sony NEX! This will be my third article on the past week on this little camera, but I have been enjoying it more than ever lately. So here is more, especially for those who e-mailed asking for more!

The other day I posted some samples with the NEX-5 at ISO 6400 at the state fair. Tonight I wanted to post more at high ISO with this camera as it is being used in real world scenarios. I was on the light rail in Phoenix last night and grabbed a few snap shots from my seat. The cool part? No one even realized I was taking photos. The NEX-5 is so discreet with the 16mm lens that it’s easy to grab shots. Anyway, this is for those who e-mailed me asking me for more high ISO. I even added one at 12,800 for kicks. This site has always been about the passion of taking photos. The NEX-5 is another camera that I feel brings the passion to photography.

ALL photos below: ISO 6400, 16mm at 5.6 and converted to B&W with Alien Skin Exposure 3 – click any image for a larger version

and I decided to get wild and crazy and try ISO 12,800…

The NEX-5 allowed me to get these images without being noticed, allowed me to shoot ISO 6400 and get usable results and is super lightweight. All for $649 WITH 16MM lens. This is a HUGE bang for the buck camera when you think about everything that it does for so little.

UPDATE: As requested by Elaine in the comments section here is an out of camera (from RAW) shot in color, again, this is ISO 640o. Click image for full size file. I saved it as a level 10 JPEG in Photoshop so it is 6.9MB

and a few more I found at 6400 while on our way to get  to the Light Rail…


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  1. Hi Steve, do like your pictures especially in B/w but do not understand your emphasis on material, what matters most is your ey, yes or no?! these days everybody is talking about camara’s, what if you made them with a Practica… they would still be just as good yes or know?
    Cheers Douwe

  2. Hi Steve,
    What are your thoughts on the big lens from Sony 18-200mm?
    I have the Nex-5 and am hanging out for the Nex-7 already!

  3. What effect is used to get the black and white photos to look like that? Prolly a stupid question but ive tried adjusting my b&w photos from my brand new nex-3 to look something like they do in those pictures but i dont even come close. Any chanse I can see the raw images and then compare them with mine to see if they are very different from the outset? Has contrast been adjusted, brightness or what? Any help is very much appreciated.

  4. I’m deciding about the M9 and the D-Lux 5, but the Sony NEX 5 is like the best of both worlds. It’s like the poor man’s Leica! LOL! I have the D-Lux 4, so really don’t need to upgrade to the D-Lux 5, and felt that the NEX 5 to have a better sensor, plus I could use my Leica glass. Now all I need to do is hit that Buy button at BH Photo. I like what’s coming out of this little camera with different lenses, even the Sony lenses have a certain character.

    Can you shoot in manual mode, meaning pick your own aperture and shutter speed? I didn’t see any way of doing that without annoying menus. Is there are way to do that? Also, when other lenses are on this camera, how do you focus it? The AF is gone, right? Is the LCD too faint to see in bright light to use focus assist? Can you shoot square with this? Did anyone upgrade their software and see noticeable improvements?

  5. Steve,

    Well I did, got myself a NEX-5 with both the 18-55mm and the 16mm a couple of days ago. I was already liking the camera before your recent NEX articles but they pushed my over the edge.

    I just did a blog post on my initial impressions with the NEX-5.

    Sony NEX-5: A New Angle on Photography

    Thanks for all your help. I’ll probably add more NEX related posts in the future as I put it through its paces.


    • andy!
      what a great blog! really enjoyed reading your two pieces. and found it very useful and informative your blog on your decision-making process….ie: ultimately NEX-5 vs. EPL1.
      thanks for that mister!

      • Thanks GordieAcorn. After a full weekend of shooting with the NEX-5, I’m liking it even more. I think the value of the flip up screen can not be underestimated — something the EPL-1 does not have. It lets you get into tighter places and make more creative compositions.

  6. Terrific review and insight to this little cam.

    It’s all about what you think, it’s all about what I think, it’s not about what you think that I think of… I could care less!

    You make you, and no one else. Having said that, every camera I’ve read about on this blog has given me great interest for it’s strenghts, weakness and funky things that make them likeable. And I like this camera.

    Thanks for your passion, committment and the direction you have come from and are going to.

  7. Thank you Steve! And if I didn’t need video, what about the NX-3?, same pictures?, same software?…is the shutter sound LOUD as claimed, and can it be adjusted, and ….you dont have a Voightländer 15mm or an M-Elmarit 21mm to put on and just show me/us ???
    Yes perhaps it could be a real-life-pocket-camera, with the possibelity of going even wider with the 15mm Voightländer, which the E-PL1 can’t.

    • ps….no, she is definitely looking at you, perhaps thinking “what does this odd guy do with his little sneeky swirvel-camera, trying to look invisible….ups there goes the loud shutter..” 🙂

  8. I just got one of these today, I am still waiting on the adaptor for my Leica glass. Its a great piece of kit, I’m hopefull it will help me produce a lot of nice candids at considerably lower ISO’s than 6400 which I find to grainy to use. Up to 1600 is excellent though! The only thing I’m not sure about is the shutter is really LOUD! OK in a noisy environment but very obvious somewhere quiet

    I’m looking forward to seeing what you can do with some proper glass on the front!
    great site!

    • Neil, I totally agree. I love my NEX-5, but it attracts WAY too much attention when people hear the shutter sound (during panoramic shots especially). I find it very difficult to snap candids because it puts the subject on guard. It’s much easier for me to snap candids when the subject doesn’t even know the shutter went off (as with my other compacts). The DP1 with all it’s flaws was at least quiet. Sigh.

  9. I have a problem with this is just to much ! I love my Nikon D700 and i also love my GF1 i alreayd have 4 lenses and i can traverl every were light weight. I will not buy another system, is just to much.

    One light system is enought for me , i know something better will arrive every year, but i already make my bet. my next camera 2 or 3 yeras from now will be an M9 as soon as the M10 shows up !


  10. Steve, Can you show the color files of these? I would like to see what they look like out of camera. This is a nice little camera, i must say. What is the 16mm really on that camera?

      • Thanks, Steve. I love the red color shot. It’s also nice to see the color comparisons to the B&W shots. Reminds me of Kodachrome 64 film! I’m impressed with the street capabilities of this camera. What adapter would you recommend for using Leica M lenses? Also, do you need to use different adapters for different lenses. How do you know what this camera will take? I don’t understand what EVIL is either. This camera has a different sensor than the other 4/3rd cameras? Is this considered a 4/3 camera or its own entity? I get confused with all the jargon.

        • Oh, and that woman sitting down isn’t looking at Steve. She is looking at that guy’s back pocket. He has a small flask in it.

        • Thanks Elaine. That Red color shot was with the 50 Summitar at night..there were red lights reflecting off the ground when I took it though I enhanced the color a bit there.

          The Sony NEX camera is not a m4/3 camera. It uses an APS-C sensor which is bigger than the M4/3 sensor. It is the same size sensor as a Leica X1 so you will get better High ISO than a M4/3 camera. Focus is fast, video is very good and its tiny.

          As for the adapter, I bought this one:

  11. The middle of the frame with the Sony 16mm is VERY sharp at f2.8, but the corners are not. However, at f5.6, the corners sharpen up nicely, especially, it seems, if you’re focusing at 10 feet or more.

    If you know how to shoot this little lens at its strong points, it is very useful. It’s actually incredibly good, considering its focal length and size, and it stands up to just about any other aps-c lens out there around at 16mm.

  12. This just makes me more excited to see what happens when you put your Leica glass on your nex 🙂

  13. I think you can see in a few shots that some people did notice. The young women in #1 and # 4 noticed as did the guy at the back in #5…..Love the grain

    • If you click on #1 and look at the larger version you can see no one noticed. In #4 she was looking at me but she thought I was just looking at images on my LCD and if you look at #5 you will see he is not looking at me but someone else behind me. I was not hiding the camera at all just composing using the LCD while the cam was in my lap. #5 I was standing and just held the camera out and snapped.

  14. Hi Steve…nice shots..!!!…but have would you compare it to the E-PL1 camera which seemes to to sharper pictures ???

    • Well, the E-PL1 will give you sharper results if you are comparing the kit lenses. The Sony Kit lenses have distortion and are not the sharpest in the world BUT there is a ceratin “look” I am finding…a “NEX” kit lens lok. Ha ha. That is unsharp and a little smooth at the same time with great color. With better glass the NEX is sharp as a pin. BUT if comparing Kit lenses, the E-PL1 will be sharper but…I would not have been able to get these shots with the E-PL1 without holding the camera up OR just shooting blind. The NEX has the swivel up LCD which allowed me to just look down and grab the shots.

  15. As a street shooter. One bit of advice.

    DON’T HIDE THE CAMERA. It is what ticks people off and can cause problems.

    Discreet yes. But hiding the camera and trying to trick people is a big no no…


    • While I totally agree with you that hiding a camera is not a wise idea using a NEX and shooting from waist height and composing with the tilt screen isn’t hiding the camera.

      I’ve been shooting street with the NEX5 + 16mm and 28mm Contax/Ziess for a few months and no one notices it, it allows you to shoot so close to your subject and go unnoticed, you just can’t do that with many other cameras and still capture high quality images.

  16. Great candids here, that is one stealthy piece of kit! Love the tones here too, nice conversion!

  17. These are something. Add in the images using the Leica lenses and I am in. My order from B&H will be here in a few days with the adapter from Amazon.

    Thanks for the images Steve, and the link to B&H.

    • Many were JPEGS and a couple from RAW but really didnt matter at this size and ISO level. For critical shooting RAW is slightly better but for stuff like this, JPEG works equally as good.

  18. Steve, these look great. A bit grainy of course but it goes well with the black and white. I’m getting really excited about the NEX5 I thinking I’m going to buy one either this week or next.

    I’m also curious about the b&w processing. Using the on-camera NEX black and white mode vs. NIK Silver effects pro vs.Alien Skin Exposure 3. Is there a big difference in the look and feel.

    Thanks again. I’m really enjoying your site.


    • I have tried in camera but preferred the B&W look from Alien Skin. If you did not try the demo yet you should, its free for 30 days. Great stuff 🙂 Thanks!

  19. Steve,

    Given your admissions of the flaws (outside the os), particularly lens issues, can you please quantify why you are enjoying this machine so much?

    I’m just about to give up on the x1… actually completely retool – maybe an m9 or 5dmk2 – and a small camera.. so I’m really interested as to not only how you feel, but why you feel that way. What is it about this little camera with not so great lenses you love?

    I looked at the state fair pics and while they showed you are an excellent photographer, I also noticed some pretty glaring flaws in the lens – namely soft soft soft.

    I’d love to read your additional thoughts on why the machine overcomes the technical limitations.


    • The reason the NEX grew on me more and more is due to a few reasons.

      1. It’s size. Especially with a small lens on it like the 16mm or a Leica lens with adapter.
      2. It’s larger sensor, and superb high ISO capability.
      3. Knowing that Sony is releasing future lenses, including Zeiss which will be much better than the current offerings
      4.The fair pics had ZERO sharpening. If I sharpened them a bit for web use they would have been sharper. Still the 16mm is not Leica sharp, nor should it be for it being $649 WITH the camera.
      5. Stealthy.
      6. The new firmware now allows us to assign the buttons to whatever we like.
      7. Price. As mentioned, $649 with lens is a damn good price for what this camera is capable of and its tiny size.
      8. Being small, it is still built well and feels nice to hold.
      9. When I saw a file taken with my 1942 Leica Summitar at 100% at 5.6 I knew the sensor was highly capable. 🙂
      10. Basically, I feel there is superb future possibilities. Better glass on the way, and even as it is, the NEX with the 16 can take some very good photos. Sharpness does not make a photo, especially photos like these. Even with that said, for ISO 6400 I find these pretty sharp.

      The NEX has grown on me and it is versatile (superb video), it is tiny with good build, it is superb in low light and the price is right!

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