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Sony & Zeiss; a Marriage Made in Heaven?

Daylily; Sony Nex_6; Zeiss 32mm; f1.8 Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Daylily; Sony Nex_6; Zeiss 32mm; f1.8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I am talking, of course, about the Sony NEX-6 and Zeiss. I continue to be impressed with this combination. The diminutive size of the Sony Mirrorless NEX series is a joy to carry around. And the ability to use Zeiss glass made to fit the system’s “e-mount” makes it, in my view, worth the tradeoff from my DSLR system; at least for some of my “serious” photography. Will there come a time when it supersedes the DSLR system? I don’t know, but I do know I’ll “stay tuned.”

I continue to be impressed with this combination

Last weekend, I had a chance to get out and shoot for the first time since “spring” happened (at least I think it happened – I do live in Michigan, you know 🙂 ). Traveling to Northern Michigan, I spent Saturday morning exploring along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The morning light was disappointing, but the weather, otherwise, very pleasant and it afforded an opportunity to do some recon of an area I have wanted to re-visit for some time now.

Sunrise over Boyd Field, Saginaw, MI; Sony NEX; Zeiss 24mm; f8 Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Sunrise over Boyd Field, Saginaw, MI; Sony NEX; Zeiss 24mm; f8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a large tract of high sand dunes along the Northeastern shore of Lake Michigan. I grew up near there, in Traverse City, which is arguably Michigan’s premier resort town and destination. About 1/2 hour west of there, the National Park starts in the little town of Empire. As kids, we used to make at least one annual trip there to climb the dunes. To a grade schooler, they seemed mountainous. To a 56-year old, they don’t look that high, but don’t fool yourself. You’d best be in pretty good shape if you plan to climb from the parking lot to the highest point. Fortunately, there are alternative routes up.

Just to the North is the little historic town of Glen Haven (also where the National Park headquarters are). There is a more “tame” path near the campground parking lot just past the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Glen Haven. It still had me breathing heavily when I slogged to the highest point. But from there, is a near-breath-taking (no pun intended) view of Lake Michigan.

Barn in National Park; Glen Haven, M Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Barn in National Park; Glen Haven, MI
Nikon D800; 24-70 zoom

Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Before you get to Glen Haven, there is a white barn that is part of the National Park. I have read about it and wanted to find and photograph it. Unfortunately, though I did find it (it’s on the main road, so not too hard to “stumble” onto), the light was not particularly cooperative. I did confirm, though, that it would be a good potential image when the fall foliage is in season. I thought it might have some “winter” appeal, but it is white, so I am not so sure about that. I did spot a couple weathered gray barns that I will seek out on a winter trip in the future, however.

I am being dragged, kicking and screaming toward the realization that the Sony/Zeiss combination is “serious” equipment

Arriving in the harbor at Glen Haven, it became clear that this was not going to be a day when the light would be cooperative. Also, it was already getting late and the sun would have probably been too high anyway. So I wandered out onto the beach to do some scouting. Carrying the “big rig” (D800, 24-70 and large tripod), I decided to sling the NEX/Zeiss 24mm combo over my shoulder. In comparison, it is a featherweight—hardly noticeable. But it did give me a chance to see how it performed in comparison to the Nikon/Nikkor combination. These are not “scientific” comparisons. It was almost a second-thought to do it this morning, as my primary plan had been to either shoot or scout, with my “serious” equipment (you can see that I am being dragged, kicking and screaming, toward the realization that the Sony/Zeiss combination IS “serious” equipment  🙂 ).

Harbor; Glen Haven, MI Nikon D800; Nikon 24-70 f2.8 @ 70mm; f8 Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Harbor; Glen Haven, MI
Nikon D800; Nikon 24-70 f2.8 @ 70mm; f8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Unfortunately, I was not really thinking about making useful comparisons for readers of the blog. Consequently, I am not posting this as an equipment review, but just generalized observations. When I am in the field, I try to think about the light, composition, and capturing what I “see.” It is hard for me to shift gears and be more “technical” without a solid pre-plan. What I need to do (and when I do get the chance, I’ll report back here), is map out a plan to shoot the same subject with the two different camera combinations with the same magnification and f-stops. I didn’t do that here. So what I came back with is a hodgepodge; but enough to tell me that the NEX/Zeiss combo is indeed a serious contender in the photographic world. The two images of the Harbor in Glen Haven are, not true side-by-side shots. The Nikon version is shot with the Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 @ 70mm and f8. The NEX/Zeiss version is shot with the Zeiss 24mm fixed lens @f8. So its not “apples to apples,” but what I think you can take away from this is the image quality comparison. I did roughly the same post processing for both images (adjust exposure as needed – none here – in ACR, then add clarity and vibrance; adjust contrast and open in Photoshop). In both images, I applied dFine noise reduction and capture sharpening, both at the software default levels. In Viveza2, I adjusted the brightness in a couple areas and added just a touch  of saturation (about 10% on the slider) in the sky in in the Nikon image.  You can see that I just couldn’t help myself on the Nex image and I played with the sky more.  But what strikes me is how the lower part of the image–virtually untouched except to reduce brightness ever so slightly–snaps.  The Nikon image shows some softness in the pilings (which I am certain was technique and not the equipment), so I did a small amount of selective sharpening there (and didn’t really “fix” it J ). I would have a great deal of trouble saying one blows the other away.  I do appreciate that I need to make a more scientific comparison, perhaps even (gasp) posting un-post processed images for viewing.

When I am in the field, I try to think about capturing what I “see”

Among the positives of this photographic tool is its versatility in general photography. Its estimable sensor is capable of relatively high, relatively noise free ISO. It is small, but fits well in the hand. The fast 1.8 lenses allow handheld shooting in many different conditions. It is unobtrusive which may make it better for shooting in certain situations. It is easy to carry—which means I will (and do) which goes well with the old saying that the best camera you have is the one you have with you when that “decisive moment occurs.” I don’t have any illusions that it will ever be a serious wildlife system, or that we will soon see the sidelines of the NFL or MLB populated with Mirrorless shooters. But for general photography, it’s going to be hard to beat.

Harbor, Glen Haven, MI NEX; Zeis 24mm f2.8 @ f8 Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Harbor, Glen Haven, MI
NEX; Zeis 24mm f2.8 @ f8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Out on a morning walk, earlier this week, I made the opening day lily image, using the NEX/Zeiss 32mm f2.8. This image was shot at f1.8. You could say I’m “smitten.” The real proof for me, however, will be how these images look in large print. I haven’t made an image that moves me to print it yet. When I do, I’ll be sure to make mention of it here. In the meantime, I’ll keep shooting, and I hope you will keep reading :-).

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3 Responses

  1. Andy, any thoughts about the relative DR of the two sensors? (if you tell me that the NEX is even close to the D800, I’m going to have to do some very serious thinking.)

    And–just curious–was NR really necessary with either image or is that simply part of your normal postprocessing workflow?

    FWIW, I know of several photographers–including a couple of full-time professionals–who have essentially adopted mirrorless camera systems as their primary (or sole) in-field option (one is shooting with an Olympus OM-D; I think the other is using one of the Panasonic cameras, so they’re both going with 4/3 systems).

  2. Hi Kerry: From the reading and talking to other users that I have done, I can say that the DR of this sensor is somewhere between that of the D7000 and the D800. It isn’t as good as the D700/D800. And of course, its not full frame (rumor has is that Sony has a NEX full frame in the works, though. Based on the history of the development of Sony Sensors, I wouldn’t bet against it being the equivalent or rival of the D800 – and its Canon competitors).

    It is my understanding (never officially confirmed by Nikon of course) that the D7000 16mp sensor is a Sony manufacture and the sensor they put in the NEX-6 is newer technology yet).

    As far as my own experiences go, I haven’t done enough shooting with either the D800 or the NEX-6 to really know. What I see so far is that I am seeing very close to what I had with my D700! It is impressive.

    No, NR probably wasn’t necessary. Until I had the full Suite from Nik, I never had any NR software. Most of the images (and certainly the images posted here) would not have been anything I would have been concerned about. But once I had the Dfine software and started playing around with it, what I found was that at its default setting, it almost always finds SOME noise somewhere in the image. At default settings (if I am understanding it correctly), it is only “fixing” those areas it finds. So I routinely run my images through it as part of my workflow these days.

    As an aside, I am shooting mostly at 100 ISO unless there is a compelling reason not to. But I have played around with higher ISO settings and I think the high ISO noise handling is better on this camera than any I have ever owned (cannot really compare to the D800 due to lack of empirical evidence).

    The other “witz” who reads here from time to time, (pro, Ray Laskowitz) shoots mostly with the NEX system. If you know his work, its hard to argue with his results. He is not shooting Landscapes printed to Murals, but he does a lot of interesting and low light shooting indoors and the images are pretty darn clean. I think the Oly 4/3 body is a “sexy” looking thing (retro, which I like). The Oly (Zuiko) glass has always been great. But the 4/3 sensor just isn’t big enough, IMO. I think it currently takes at least APS size to get the quality I am looking for (though I am sure those pros using the 4/3 system will tell me I am all wet). The other “contender” in the mirrorless APS size arena is the Fuji system (I read the the Fujinon glass is excellent) and the newer Zeiss “Touit” lens series is manufactured in both the Sony e-mount and the Fuji mount. If these guys are doing it, that says something to me. And the small footprint has a “freeing” aspect to it :-). I will definitely be watching the development of the FF sensor mirrorless.

  3. […] badged Sony/Zeiss). Zeiss also has manufactured lenses for the Sony line of camera, on its own. The best of these lenses were prime, very fast (f1.8 – 2.8 range) and rendered some wonderful, contrasty images with great […]

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