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Can my Father’s Nikon beat your Father’s Sony at Dominoes?

Sony Nex_6; Sony 50mm f1.8 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Sony Nex_6; Sony 50mm f1.8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Knowing my penchant to rant about the appropriation of other people’s intellectual property, I spent a few minutes this morning trying to attribute the old saying, “my father can beat your father at dominoes.” Couldn’t find it. Lots of references, though, so I am reasonably certain it is in the public domain by now. But this isn’t one of those “white-hat” – “black hat” discussions, either. I have long said that a camera is a “tool.” There are many very good tools out there. Some are better at certain jobs than others. Some are higher quality than others. But it is certainly true that a skilled craftsman can get impressive results with a variety of different tools. So I am not evangelizing one brand, method or tool over another here. Rather, I am making some comparisons based on my personal observation—which is admittedly, limited so far. Over the past couple months, I have been talking (some might argue, “raving”) about my newest acquisition, the Sony NEX-6 “mirrorless,” interchangeable lens camera. These cameras are rapidly gaining ground in the battle for the hearts of serious photographers. There is a fair amount of “buzz” on the internet recently about photographer Trey Ratcliff’s announced complete move from Nikon DSLR gear to the Sony NEX system. A number of other photographers, like G. Dan Mitchell, use, have blogged about and embrace these smaller, mirrorless camera systems for limited purposes. There are 2 popular systems, the so-called “4/3” system which is embraced by such flagship camera manufacturers as Olympus, and the so-called “APS” sensor cameras found in the Sony NEX and Fuji X series. Both have their virtues. The Olympus system’s primary benefit is its full line of estimable Zuiko lenses. To me, its negative is that the sensor is too small. This means that the field of view (misnamed “crop factor”) is 2x equivalent, against the approximately 1.5x equivalent of the APS sensor. But more importantly, the image quality produced (particularly in terms of noise and bokeh) just isn’t quite good enough for my taste (the Olympus body is a pretty little thing, though, very reminiscent of the best of the “rangefinder” cameras, but with a pentaprism-look to the viewfinder).

Nikon D800; Nikkor 24-70 (50); @ f2.8 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Nikon D800; Nikkor 24-70 (50); @ f2.8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Sony Nex-6; Zeiss 32 @ f2.8 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Sony Nex-6; Zeiss 32 @ f2.8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

A couple weeks back, I posted some images from an overnight trip up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Leelanau County, Michigan, in which I had slung the Sony over my shoulder to “play with,” and take some “comparison” shots. The only problem was they weren’t really good comparisons. Since then, several readers have asked for some side-by-side images. The problem with a busy career and personal life is that sometimes there is little time for dedicated camera work. I need to “map” out a plan so that I can do comparisons at not only identical focal lengths and f-stops, but identical exposure solutions (ISO, f-stop, focal length, shutter speed and light conditions). I did play around with the camera in the back yard yesterday, trying to get some side-by-side comparisons. One thing that came to light is just how difficult it is to get true “apples to apples.” Changing light conditions, wind and camera position (because of the different relative size of the body and lens) were a challenge.

These comparisons are based on my, so-far, limited, personal observations

Some observations shouldn’t surprise. There is a very different bokeh to the Nikon images, which I am sure is strongly attributable to the much larger, full frame sensor. Is it “better?” In my view, that is a personal judgment. I continue to be impressed with the contrast, sharpness and color rendition of the Zeiss lenses. They seem a bit brighter and the color more contrasty and saturated (though “saturation” is probably not a correct term for this phenomena). Yellow is a difficult color to capture detail in. In my view, the Nikon did a slightly better job of rendering detail (but it is also important to note that the overall exposure on the Nikon shot, using AP, was less and that probably captured better detail. Again, I need to have a chart to organize my thoughts while shooting – I really need to get identical exposure solutions in order to compare that feature).  It is also worth noting that I am still trying to get a “handle” on the AF behavior of the Sony system.  It uses a different detection method and more or less constantly searches for focus.  One might think that is a good thing, but it can be disconcerting with close up images like these.  I am very comfortable with the Nikon system, having used it for 25 some years and seen it evolve.  It may be the case that I am not yet getting that part of the image I am trying to render sharp, quite there yet.

Nikon D800; Nikkor 24-70 (35); @ f8 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Nikon D800; Nikkor 24-70 (35); @ f8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Sony Nex-6; Zeiss 24mm; @ f8 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Sony Nex-6; Zeiss 24mm; @ f8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

For these comparisons, only focal length, f-stop, and ISO were constants during capture. I used aperture priority (when I get a chance, I will chart my exposure results using full manual with as near-identical conditions as possible – but don’t hold your breath for that “test” to happen soon). This is the result of about 20 minutes of “backyard” work with close shots of flowers. I have yet to try any real landscape or cityscape comparison work. Nor have I done any significant amount of low-light or nighttime shooting with either system (even the D800 is relatively new to me. I shot my last major shoot in the Michigan U.P. in October of 2012 with the Nikon D700).

This is still not an “apples-to-apples” comparison

Because I wanted to compare quality with quality, I only used the Sony/Zeiss 24mm and the Zeiss “Touit” 32mm against my Nikkor 24-70 f2.8. In post processing, I used almost exactly the same workflow. In ACR, I adjusted each image to the same color temperature, set the black and white points, added an identical amount of “clarity” and “vibrance.” I will often make a contrast adjustment to images in ACR, but didn’t do that here, as I wanted to be able to see the “contrast” of the lens (I understand, of course, that the clarity and vibrance adjustments are inconsistent with that because they are indeed “local contrast” adjustments, but I think most raw images need some “punch” – and I made identical moves on all the images). On a couple of the images, I was shooting in brighter sunlight than I would have liked, so I used Viveza 2 to globally reduce brightness on a couple of them and Pro Sharpener to do a small amount of capture sharpening. Again, all compared images were treated exactly the same. This is about as close to “apples to apples” as you are going to get from me right now.

Nikon D800; Nikkor 24-70 (50) @f5.6 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Nikon D800; Nikkor 24-70 (50) @f5.6
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Sony Nex-6; Zeiss 32mm @ f5.6 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Sony Nex-6; Zeiss 32mm @ f5.6
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Is there a “clear winner” here? I will let you be the judge.  I don’t see how you could conclude either way on that one. There are just too many variables to consider. And, though part of me wanted the Sony System to show a clear “win,” there are simply things I like “better” about each system. There is little doubt that the D800’s full frame sensor edges the Sony APS sensor, in terms of detail and bokeh. And It shoud be a matter of mathematics to know that for large prints, the D800 is going to stand up better. I will assume–though I haven’t done this comparison–that the D800 images will stand up better to more aggressive processing (e.g. crops, etc.). On the other hand, the Sony/Zeiss combination renders images that, given the compromises, are just darn impressive. And the smaller sensor means smaller file sizes, faster processing, less storage space, etc.  As the following, single image of the Yellow Day Lily illustrates, One advantage my particular Sony system has is the very wide maximum aperture lenses (of course, they are available for the Nikon system, too, including some very similar Zeiss glass and the very good Nikon glass — I just don’t have them).   I have to wonder (and maybe salivate just a bit) about how that f1.8 bokeh might look mounted on the D800? Is the Sony/Zeiss f1.8 “better?”  I don’t know.  What I do know is that its pretty darn good!

Sony Nex-6; Zeiss 32 @ 1.8 Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Sony Nex-6; Zeiss 32 @ 1.8
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Is there a clear winner?  I’ll let you be the judge

I am not ready to put the D800 and Nikkor “pro” lenses (and the heavy tripod and accessories) on eBay just yet. But I can feel pretty comfortable in using the Sony for even the most serious shooting endeavor when it suits my needs. When I am traveling (and when the trip is not a “pure” photography adventure), I will feel very comfortable compromising the possibly slightly increased performance for the convenience, light weight, and inconspicuous quality of the smaller, mirrorless system.

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2 Responses

  1. Ah…. have u actually used Olympus with some great MFT lenses? Its nothing short of spectacular. I have used FF gear and also own Fuji but MFT is just unique .

    • If you read what I said, I was careful to indicate that it was my opinion, not based on any empirical or scientific testing, but on my personal experience, what I have read and what I have observed. So ….. NO, I have not “actually use Olympus” – As I very clearly stated. This is not intended to be – nor will I allow it to be – a Ford vs. Chevy argument. Your post almost smacks of a trolling for Olympus post rather than a comment, but against my better judgment, because I don’t want to be close-minded, I will approve it, with this response.

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