20mm pancake for NEX from Sony

It’s not the fast f/2 design everyone was hoping for, but maybe the quality will be right – Sony has announced a new 20mm f/2.8 pancake lens for NEX. At the same time, the power zoom first seen at photokina, aimed at video NEX models, is available separately.


Here is the release:

Photographers and video makers are spoilt for choice with two additions to the range of E-mount interchangeable lenses for SonyαE-mount cameras and semi-professional camcorders.

E 20mm F2.8 ‘pancake’ wide-angle lens
Measuring approximately 20mm from front to back, this short focal length ‘pancake’ lens makes an ultra-slim yet tough ‘walkaround’ partner for your α E-mount camera.

With the 35mm equivalent of its 30mm wide-angle view and bright F2.8 aperture, it’s perfect for a broad range of everyday shooting opportunities,  from interiors to landscapes, street scenes and casual snaps. Excellent contrast and resolution are also augmented by enhanced clarity in corner areas to satisfy the most discerning photographer.

E PZ18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS powered telephoto zoom lens
Offering a generous 11x magnification range, this high-quality telephoto zoom makes an ideal partner for shooting video with the E-mount interchangeable lens Full HD camcorders. The NEX-VG30EH is already supplied as a kit with the E PZ 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS power zoom lens.

A comfortably positioned zoom lever is partnered with a switch on the lens barrel, allowing zoom speed to be selected in six steps, from slow, beautiful shifts in perspective to dramatic crash-zoom effects. Thanks to a newly developed internal linear motor, power zoom is complemented by exceptionally smooth focusing and aperture operation. Zoom can also be controlled directly from NEX-VG900, NEX-VG30 and NEX-FS700*.

*Firmware update is required for NEX-FS700.

Built-in Optical SteadyShot cuts the effects of camera shake, allowing handheld use of slower shutter speeds without image blur. Active Mode further enhances stabilisation at the wide end of the 11x zoom range – even when you’re walking along – making the lens a compelling choice for capturing smooth, stable video footage.

While optimised for video, it’s also a flexible choice for shooting stills with Sony’sαE-mount interchangeable lens,, from expansive landscapes to high impact close-ups of wildlife and athletes

E-mount lens family keeps growing
There’s now a family of thirteen E-mount lenses plus two converters, covering virtually any shooting situation with your Sony α E-mount camera or camcorder. Spanning ultra-wide angle,powerful telezoom, macro and fast, bright primes, the range includes premium optics by Sony and Carl Zeiss. Beautifully styled to complement yourαE-mount camera, every E-mount lens offers refined performance and easy handling.

The new Sony E 20mm F2.8 interchangeable lens will be available from March 2013,and the E PZ18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS lens from February 2013.

Swedish NEX from Hasselblad

Perhaps the strangest news from photokina, which I have not rushed to post here because I reckon every single website in the world will have treated it as urgent breaking unparalleled wonder – is that Sony and Hasselblad have signed a deal under which Hasselblad will make an APS-C (or perhaps full-frame NEX mount) mirrorless camera in Sweden.

Without any images other than a Hasselblad H logo to accompany the revelation, the world is left wondering what exactly Fujifilm has done wrong. A drawing of what might be an A-mount mopdel was shown at photokina but looks as if it could have been done by a teenager on the back of a school jotter; a prototype or mock-up NEX revision called the Lunar was little better. Clearly, Sony already announced its intention to allow approved partners to use the E-mount, and we can assume that the Hasselnex will come thus equipped. Carl Zeiss has announced a roadmap for E-mount lenses, and of course that would fit Hasselblad down to the ground. No need for a new lens range, their bodies (NEX-7/6 type?) would be sold with blueprinted Zeiss glass. Surely? Not just with relabelled Sony zooms?

And the bodies would be made in Sweden. That means less than you might assume, since all the internal component parts would presumably be sourced from Sony as a CKD kit. CKD is motor industry speak for ‘Completely Knocked Down’ – a car shipped as parts to a factory, to be assembled there. Hasselblad Sweden used once to be very good at assembling cameras, they recently moved all Danish production back to Gothenburg and re-established Swedish manufacture.

The BJP has been told the body would be aluminium. The NEX-7 is magnesium alloy. And the 7/6 body already looks really classy. The Lunar simply does not.

Image from the BJP

From the BJP report on this €5-6,000 version of the NEX-7 – click image to see their interview.

So, what of the H-series blads – made in Japan by Fuji, Hasselblad’s long-term partner in the H-range project?

And, when Hasselblad was quite willing to work with Rittreck/Norita/Fuji on rangefinder type cameras (the XPan was not their idea, it was a Rittreck/Norita concept) what has changed?

After all, Fuji’s XPro-1 and XF are staggeringly good cameras with a ridiculously ambitious and excellent range of lenses, not just superfast primes abut extending into popular zooms. They are built and styled to fit Hasselblad ambitions. Fuji optics have proved good enough for Hasselblad H.

Something has shifted. Maybe Hasselblad is no longer tied to Fujifilm and the announcement of manufacture returning to Gothenburg, made earlier this year, relates to a shift not from Denmark only but also from Japan. Perhaps Sony has demonstrated that superior medium-format size CMOS can be fabbed, saving costs for future generations of yet unimagined H-series bodies/backs where six 24 megapixel APS-C sensors will be stitched to create a 144 megapixel sensor measuring 47mm square!

Or perhaps Hasselblad realises that mirrorless need not mean hand-waved. They used to build waist-level cameras. How about a mirrorless waist-level, styled like a mini ‘blad and with the screen on top with a flip-up hood and magnifier?

Too much kölsch and imagination, I fear. But this certainly is strange news. A scoop for Sony – but exactly what for Hasselblad remains to be seen.

– DK

Sony collapsible pancake zoom specs

The Sony NEX system collapsible zoom will be an f/3.5-5.6 design focusing to 0.3m if specifications accidentally included with the information on the NEX-5R are accurate. And it will be a power zoom, we think.

The Sony.com info includes in the camera specification this line:

“AF Illuminator : Built-in, LED type (with a range of approx. 0.3-3.0m (with E PZ16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS attached))”

This is not the existing 18-55mm OSS lens shown on the camera product shots, or included in the list of compatible lenses. The clue is in the name, E PZ instead of just E or SEL. The 50mm could easily be a typo, but combined with the different focus range (down to 30cm instead of the 25cm minimum) we think this reference is definitely to a new compact, collapsing 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 power zoom.

Those who are hoping for an f/2.8 might indeed get one of a different type,  but this specification looks competitive as a replacement for the 18-55mm, and not unlike the Olympus/Panasonic Micro FourThirds 14-42mm collapsible power zooms.

All the stocks of the NEX-5R currently being offered, and all the samples apparently previewed by the press, have been fitted with the old (existing) 18-55mm OSS lens.

Here is the page on which you will find, under the specs for the AF illuminator only, the reference to the previously unannounced E PZ lens model:


Here is a page listing all the current compatible lenses (expand to view 10):


It is worth noting that the Phase Detect PDAF system of the NEX-5R could reduce the true resolution of the central focus zone by as much as 20% locally (vertical) and raw image interpolation will restore the integrity of the images despite 99 focus points, each one of which uses three different sensel-based phase detect pixel pairs to cope with the range of exit pupil positions found on different lenses. Since the outer zone of any image is usually slightly lower resolution than the centre, the effect will be to make the NEX-5R more even in sharpness/resolution across the frame but lacking the very sharp centre zone normally found.

Added: we calculate that the PDAF uses 594 single pixels at the minimum based on three pixel pairs (one for each of three exit pupil positions) per AF point.

Effective PDAF depends on the camera knowing the actual design of the lens, because the focus distance and the rear exit pupil (rear nodal point and exit pupil diameter) are both needed for the camera to switch seamlessly to the correct pitch of on-sensor PDAF points. On-sensor PDAF is a bit like the old microprism or split image screens, it depends on a relative darkening of one side or the other of a pair of pixels as focus is changed. It works best close to the lens axis and over a specific range of apertures.

New lenses can be designed to be highly efficient with on-sensor PDAF. On-sensor PDAF has probably been designed to be usable with older lenses. What you probably can not expect from the 5R, or other on-sensor PDAF models, is reliable PDAF using SSM or SAM Alpha lenses on an LA-EA1 adaptor. It may be that it won’t work at all with some Alpha lenses even if they function with contrast detect focusing (and will still use that on the 5R).

– DK

Should NEX go full frame?

Sonyalpharumours has posted a firm rumour that there will be a full-frame NEX. Anyone who understands the design of camera bodies, and the geometry of optical projection, has known from the start that this was possible given the design of the E-mount.

Those who have made uninformed comments (all over web forums!) to the effect that the rear register is ‘too short’ or would cause problems simply don’t have their brains switched on. There is no such thing as a camera body which is too thin or a mount to focal plane register which is too short.

Sony already designs lenses for NEX APS-C which incorporate what amounts to an extension tube to push the rear nodal point and exit pupil positions as far forward as needed for optimum illumination and matching of off-axis ray bundles to the sensor’s microlenses, filter array and cover glasses. That’s why the 30mm Macro is not so very different in size from putting a 30mm f/2.8 Alpha SAM macro on an adaptor (and that’s why we do exactly that here!).

What matters for full frame is a correlation between the clear lens throat diameter (the bayonet mount inside width), the sensor size, and the register.

The NEX system uses an 18mm register. That is the term of the distance between the front surface of the bayonet mount on the body (or rear surface of the mount on the lens) to the sensel layer surface of the sensor. There is a very small adjustment made in all digital cameras for the four physical layers which usually go between the sensor and the lens: the RGB filter layer (so thin it has no effect), the microlens layer (again, no effect), the low-pass or anti-aliasing filter and the infra-red cut and protective self-cleaning outermost glass. These filters may be combined into a single glass but in NEX they remain separate.

The sensor requires an image circle of just under 30mm allowing for assembly tolerances of 0.5mm overall in positioning and conformance of the lens axis. If in-body stabilisation is used, this diameter must be increased to 35mm at least; some Konica Minolta documentation suggests that a clear diameter closer to 40mm was needed for the original AS/SSS.

For full-frame, the required image circle is 44mm and the maximum diameter for in-body stabilisation could be between 49mm and 54mm depending on how Sony’s statements about sensor travel are understood (“5mm in any direction” could mean the total scope is 5mm, or that 5mm travel from axis might be possible). A good idea of the actual travel of an APS-C sensor with IBIS is given by the Pentax K-5, which has a manual sensor shift function allowing the user to move the sensor off-axis for a slight rising or cross front effect – but only by 1.5mm. This sounds more realistic though it would, of course, be a great feature if you could shift a sensor 2.5mm or an extreme 5mm – every lens with enough coverage would become a PC lens!

Now let’s compare these image circles with the lens throat diameter and its distance from the focal plane.

The Alpha system has a register of 44.5mm and a clear lens throat internal diameter around 42mm. Allowing for the orientation of the film plane and the position of control connections and the electronic contact array, the Alpha mount ends up providing an almost exact fit for the optical projection path if a 45mm diameter image circle is needed. Even if a 2000mm non-telephoto lens was attached, its image would cover the sensor without physical shadow vignetting caused by the mount.

It is important to remember that a 44.5mm register allows space for the reflex mirror, but also allows the image forming light to spread out from a rear element positioned over a wide range of possible distances, from just inside the camera body (by about 5mm before the mirror would hit it) to a good three or four centimetres in front of the mount. This allows a larger overall image circle and indeed most SLR lenses produce one greater than 50mm diameter. That’s how the Alpha 900/850 is able to offer in-body SSS, and also why certain lenses show vignetted corners occasionally when SSS is active because their image circle is only just sufficient to cover the sensor in its central, parked position.

This is a very accurate representation of 24 x 36mm sensor areas excluding any of the surrounding assembly, showing that the internals of the E-mount could be modified to fit FF. The white line shows the 24 x 36mm in the sensor plane, relative to the APS-C sensor. The red line shows the 24 x 36mm sensor as it relates to the mount, in the flange plane. The two rectangles are needed to show the size accounting for the perspective of the macro lens used to take this shot.

The NEX E-mount appears to have not much smaller a diameter, but this is deceptive. You need to look INSIDE the mount and study the position of the electronic contact pins. Once these are considered, the actual clear diameter is not 46mm at 18mm from the sensor (apparently bigger than the A-mount) it is 39mm at 12mm from the sensor. The contacts are located 5mm into the camera body and occupy a clear 3mm zone. The outermost contacts in the array are positioned  sufficiently far from the extreme corner of a theoretical 24 x 36mm sensor to allow a full frame design, assuming most of the other detail of the darkchamber design is changed to ensure the widest possible clear area.

Ideas about putting SSS and full frame into such a NEX are wishful thinking, unless the camera was to be huge and the possibility of the lens mount innards shadowing part of the image was accepted. There’s just enough room to fit a full frame sensor, and no more.

It is more likely that Sony would introduce a range of new full-frame lenses with OSS, or non-stabilised adaptors for Alpha lenses designed to allow an unrestricted light path. It is also possible that a stabilising optical adaptor could be made, but we’d put that as the least likely option and one which would probably cost over $1000. Sony would more likely to put an electronic pixel-shift IS into a full frame NEX, though at present this only works with video and imposes a slight crop (1.87X) on what would be the maximum 16:9 frame area.

As for suggestions that existing NEX lenses might cover full frame, that is also uninformed speculation. They won’t and don’t. The same applies to the LA-EA1 and LA-EA2 adpators – neither of these would allow Alpha lenses to be used on the NEX and cover full frame, though there are a few wide angle lenses which might just squeeze their image through the small internal baffles. A few of the third party adaptors for lenses such as Leica M might allow coverage, some would not, depending on exactly how the light baffles and inner mount components have been designed. For APS-C NEX, it pays to add baffles which prevent stray light and flare; for FF NEX, the same baffles might vignette the image.

The question of sensor design is another matter, but it can be assumed many owners would use a full frame NEX to host legacy full frame lenses from a wide range of systems. Most of these have a degree of telecentricity which removes corner colour shifts. New full frame NEX lenses would be designed to match the new sensor, so that would not be an issue. Old rangefinder lenses would have no more problems on full frame NEX than they do on, say, a Leica M9. Sure, there would be issues, and weak combinations alongside strong ones.

These would not over-ride the value of a full frame NEX body. Good photographers can use any format well. They do not demand ‘the full frame look’ or believe that any one format is going to change their work in some way to make it superior to others. There’s a place for every format and choice is a good thing. End of story.

– David Kilpatrick

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NEX-5n – sweet sixteen and expandable at a cost

Much of my NEX-7 critique was written while also using a NEX-5n outfit. I was lucky enough to find an opened NEX-5n 18-55mm kit missing its mini flash at a very low price, as new. By the time I had finished completing my NEX-5n system with bells and whistles, the total would almost have paid for a NEX-7.

The final kit consisted of the 5n, the FDA-EV1S electronic OLED viewfinder, the ECM-SST1 stereo microphone, and the HVL-F20S flash. The microphone was inherited from my NEX-5 so maybe doesn’t count. In the NEX-7 review, I start by suggesting that the 7 is really more part of the Alpha A-mount system and not the NEX system. The 7 either doesn’t need, or doesn’t accept, any of the accessories shown.

The NEX-7 finally became available after the 5n kit, and for a while both were used together. Just as the 5n can not use a plug-in stereo microphone or an Alpha system flash, the 7 can not use the NEX microphone or the HVL-F20S flash. Although I had one ‘NEX system’ with two bodies, the NEX-7 needed my HVL-F20AM flash originally bought for the Alpha 900 or one of the larger guns, and my Rode Video Pro mic, bought for the Alpha 77.

That’s why I count the NEX-7 as a hybrid, partly ‘big Alpha’ in heritage. It does not integrate with other NEX accessories, and vice-versa. Sony shows no sign of dropping the NEX Smart Accessory Terminal from 3 and 5 series bodies so this parallel range situation continues. If you’ve bought a mic or a GN 20 flash for your 5, it will not be usable with the 7 you plan to buy tomorrow.

The OLED Tru-Finder

Harking back to the wonderful Minolta Dimage 7i and later the Konica Minolta Dimage A2, the FDA-EV1S slightly resembles the fragile hinged EVF of those cameras. Like them, it can be flipped into a 90° upright position or used at angles between, so the eye looks down rather like using a waist-level finder with magnifier, or a Hasselblad 45° prism.

The finder is supposedly identical to the Alpha 77 or NEX-7. It has a different dioptre adjustment, a small slider which has a huge effect for very little travel. It’s not easy to adjust but stays put when set. If you wear and remove spectacles at random, and use the camera with both the naked eye and glasses, it’s one of the least ergonomic adjustments. The eyepiece surround is a semi-hard plastic and not as comfortable or efficient as a larger soft eyecup (which Sony does not make, but would be so easy to add to the system).

The add-on finder appeared to be slightly less clear and smaller to the eye than the A77. The same goes for the NEX-7 finder. The difference seems to be in the optical train, how the lenses are arranged in the ocular itself. It may even be nothing more than an eye-surround and eyepoint issue. The OLED screen is identical but I do not seem to get precisely the same viewing experience. Maybe it’s also a little dimmer by default to conserve battery power.

In use, the way the finder sticks out behind the NEX-5n rear screen is a bonus. I’d love to get an Alpha 580, my wife Shirley uses one and she is blessed with a small nose. I’m not! The 580 eyepiece is set forward of the screen surface by a good distance. It makes a very uncomfortable viewing position for me, and add-on magnifier eyepieces don’t help all that much. The FDA-EV1S in contrast is almost perfect. The NEX-7 is better because my nose can end up beside the camera not touching it.

In practice, I ended up hardly ever using the vertical viewing position. The finder sits forward when flipped this way, and somehow my hand position wasn’t all that comfortable holding the camera and looking down at a normal scene. Instead, I found the flipped-out rear screen and a waist-level camera position more useful. Then, of course, the EVF gets in the way. The sticking out eyepiece which is so comfortably in use can obscure your view of the screen slightly.

Finally, I ended up removing the finder most of the time. It seemed a bit vulnerable, it reduced battery life greatly, it prevented pocketability with my favourite 16mm lens (or at least, felt even more vulnerable in a pocket) and much of the time I realised I was composing on the rear screen anyway. As a result the buyer of my kit got a very little-used EVF.

It is the best EVF made, or at least on a level with the best other EVFs using new technology. I can work with an EVF. Some just can’t and almost need an optical finder. But I’m not sure I would ever fork out well over £200 (or around $300 before tax in the USA) on this accessory again. I’m looking at getting a 5n back into the fold, especially after going back to my raw files. I don’t think this small accessory should cost more than a lens, and the 16mm optical finder is equally overpriced. Sony’s accessory prices generally are a negative customer experience and do not create evangelists for the system.

The vertically-angled finder was tried, but not used, for this shot with the camera near ground level. It was far more comfortable just to use the rear screen.

Enhanced vision

Somewhere out in webland, it’s been pointed out I’m old and that my opinions on EVFs (etc) may be irrelevant. That’s a bit of an own goal, as EVFs have maximum appeal to those with ageing bad eyesight. Old eyes tend to be longsighted, and can’t accommodate to close focusing, needing reading glasses as well as distance glasses in many cases. Older people find composing pictures on rear LCD screens difficult, they may have to hold the camera right at arm’s length (you see it all the time!) and even then, they may not be reading the screen menus clearly or seeing the picture at pixel-sharp quality.

It’s young eyes which work best with phones and compact cameras lacking a viewfinder. They can focus on a screen held inches away from the eye. So can older eyes with serious short sight – just remove your specs, and you are away!

The EVF, especially in the NEX-7 and as an add-on to the 5n, is a boon to these with presbyopia. Suddenly, menus can be seen sharply and pictures composed and reviewed in better detail. The dioptre slider allows correction for the most common range of near and far sight, though it can’t correct for other conditions like astigmatism. For those who must always wear specs, just removing the eyepiece ‘cup’ can help.

As with the NEX-7, one key step is to disable image review when using the finder. It is disconcerting to have the image you have just shot block your view for even 2 seconds, especially when it prevents photography. The effect is different to having the same happen on the rear screen, because while the camera is to your eye, it becomes your window on the world.


Here’s something not often mentioned, and once again, I end up knocking the NEX-7. The NEX-5n and previous models have simple slot-type strap connectors mounted so that the camera always hangs with the lens down, LCD screen up. Even with a 16mm only, this lens-to-the-ground position protects your lens. You can even walk around in light rain and be confident it won’t get on the glass.

The NEX-7 with its magnesium body shell uses the higher end traditional post and triangular D-ring found on the Alpha 77, Dynax 7D, Alpha 700 and 900. And it does not hang lens down like the 3 and 5 models. The strap also gets twisted more easily. No need to say which I prefer. The cheap connector may be cheap, but it has a better function.

The rear screen mounting

The mechanism of the screen on the NEX-5n is slightly better than the earlier 3 and 5, perhaps because the EVF demands it must be able to move outwards in a slightly different way to be seen clearly for waist-level shots. It is my own view that Sony missed a trick, as the EVF on this camera would certainly have allowed a reversible, fully articulated Alpha 55 type screen and its extra thickness, without impeding EVF use.

Because the rear screens of all the NEX models do not twist to allow vertical composition combined with waist or overhead viewing, it makes less difference to me whether they are hinged at all. This probably reflects the emphasis on video shooting, where vertical composition is not needed. For the still photographer, cameras with articulated screens that can orient for verticals and also aim forwards for composing self-timer groups are most desirable. The screen is there. It’s already detached from the body. All that’s lacking is the correct mechanism, even when Sony has shown they have the necessary rights or patents, and can make them.


The NEX-5n in addition to a 16 megapixel sensor offers lens corrections (for JPEG), AF correction for Alpha lenses attached via the LA-EA2, automatic sensing of DMF (manual focus taking over from confirmed AF) with magnification and focus peaking, electronic front curtain shutter, true 50/60p HD1080 video, extended sensitivity from ISO 100 (instead of 200 minimum) to 3200 (instead of 1600 maximum), and high-speed 10fps sequence shooting (this not really matched by the focusing abilities of the camera, any more than the 1/50th second shutter lag is).

To the earlier 3 and 5 models, firmware updates have retrofitted focus peaking with or without magnification, and AF correction for lenses with the adaptor. They can’t add lens corrections, DMF, new video modes, better low light and HDR multishot modes, or change the louder double-action shutter with its 1/20th second delay.

The NEX-5n also has a touch screen. I disabled this function from the start, along with smile shutter. Face detection I leave on as this does help with focus and exposure for many shots. Since I’d parted company with my NEX-5n before using the touch screen, I can’t comment on its value. It’s just something I don’t like using.

The only advance I would argue against is the extension of Auto ISO to 3200 with no ability to control the range. Though 3200 on the NEX-5n is not unlike 1600 on the NEX-7, both these settings are too high to allow a perfectly clean image from raw after the best processing. In-camera JPEGs confirm that. I found the NEX-5n working at 3200 in many conditions where I would have been confident of a good image at 800 or even 400. This obliged me to use manually set ISO, or put up with the 3200 quality.

NEX-5n, 16mm, 1/30th at f/11, closest focus, ISO 3200, ACR conversion from raw

100% clip showing how the presence of sharp detail (wallpaper) reduces the appearance of grain compared to defocused tones (right hand side).

How good is that quality? Compared to the 24 megapixel sensor, I’d still say it’s better than a one stop advantage. One of my magazine reviews (f2 Freelance Photographer) was accompanied by a near double page spread from the NEX-5n shot above taken at ISO 3200. It’s certainly good enough for that. However, ISO 1600 is much better. ISO 1600 is so good that in decent light, you could easily be using ISO 200 off a camera of the Nikon D200 or Sony Alpha 100 era, even at 100% pixel comparison. 3200 is amazing, as you can see. But it’s definitely a grainy look where 1600 can almost be noiseless.

If a firmware update could ever achieve it, I’d like to see Sony put a maximum and minimum auto ISO selection into the NEX models, as they have done in the Alpha 77. Failing that just a maximum limit would be useful.

There is no doubt that the 16 megapixel Sony CMOS is one of the best sensors yet made, and a great balance between pixel count and image quality. See below…

16 versus 24 with ACR

Adobe Camera Raw has the ability to open files with a set of fixed size interpolations from the raw data. In this respect, it is better than Lightroom, which can export files to different sizes on demand but shows (at least from my observation) a slightly lower quality. ACR’s image sizes are slightly arbitrary and clearly are not related to the pixel dimensions of the raw image. You can open a 17.5 megapixel or 25 megapixel image from a 12, 14, 16, 18 or 21 megapixel raw.

When you select an enlarged or reduced conversion, the large image preview and editing window reflects this. Your 100% view changes to be a 100% view of the size you are producing. In the case of the NEX-7, the 24 megapixel image size is the largest option on the list. You can not open to 25 megapixels as you can with the NEX-5n. You can reduce to 17.5, 11.2, 6.3, 2.8 or 1.6 megapixels.

The largest size is always 6144 pixels wide (longest dimension), or the native size of the raw file. So a Nikon D800 image which is 7360 pixels wide also shows up with only smaller options, and rather oddly skips the 6144 24 megapixel choice. With ACR, you can not open or preview a D800 raw at 24 megapixels, only at full size, 17.5 megapixels and the smaller choice.

If the raw file has unusual dimensions – 4:3 or square for example – you may get interesting options. The 21.3 megapixel Dalsa medium format backs show a 6144-wide 28 megapixel maximum size output option. The 16 megapixel Kodak MF backs allow 5120 square or 6144 square output, the largest size being 37.7 megapixels. As these backs have no AA filter and are teamed up with unrivalled lenses, a 16 megapixel Hasselblad 80mm Planar shot scaled up to 28 megapixels is hard to tell from a native Nikon D800+zoom lens image. D800E with top grade prime beats either.

Using the NEX-5n (or the earlier 14 megapixel 3 and 5 models) ACR offers 17.5 and 25 megapixel conversion, viewing and export or opening as well as the native size and the smaller ones mentioned above. It is largely my experience using the resizing functions along with NR and sharpening that makes me prefer the 16 megapixel sensor to the 24.

This view was taken with the NEX-5n and 18-55mm at 55mm, ISO 100, happen to end at f/11 though is was intended to be at f/10 (the non-lockable controls of the NEX-5n did this to me far too often).

This view was taken a few seconds later using the NEX-7 with a different (black) 18-55mm at f/10, all other parameters being similar, and both as raw files.

Here are 100% clip sections of both images. The 5n is top, the 7 is bottom. Both files are 6000 x 4000, the 5n image was exported by Adobe Camera Raw to 6144 pixels wide. Both images use Sharpen 25, Radius 0.5, Detail 50 and zero for both luminance and colour NR. In the very subtle low contrast texture of the lamp-post and the definition of the hex nut, the 7 clearly wins but it’s a surprisingly fine margin.

Yes, the difference is obvious. The 7 wins. Think again – for this clip, I’ve put the NEX-7 native size image TOP and the NEX-5n interpolated 24 megapixel output BOTTOM. What is the conclusion? That the lens you use – even the individual sample of the lens used as no two 18-55mms will perform identically – has far more effect on usable image detail than 24 megapixels versus 16.

Scaling images down in size

When I have been editing NEX-7 images at their native 24 megapixels the NEX-5n upscaled image has sometimes looked better overall, and the native size NEX-5n image nearly always wins. The NEX-7 image misses the mark for me maybe 30% of the time. For all ISO settings above 400, I tend to set the ACR output to 11.2 megapixels. Setting it to 17.5 doesn’t lose the granular feel. ACR’s 2012 process (CS6) has noise reduction and sharpening controls which work faster and better than any of the plugins or other raw conversion programs I’ve used.

Checking as I write: for 66 images just processed from the NEX-7, Alpha 77 and Alpha 580 (16 megapixels) I counted that 33 of the 24 megapixel images had been downsized to 3600 x 2400 pixels or thereabouts to resolve issues with noise or sharpness. Not one of the Alpha 580 images had needed downsizing. The 6000 x 4000 shots could, perhaps, have been downsized to the 4912 x 3264 of the 16 megapixel sensor or the 4076 x 2731 offered by ACR; the 3600 x 2400 size is the minimum for image library Alamy. If you send them anything except the sharpest and most noise-free images, you risk having all your work rejected, your submissions placed in a slow queue, or your entire account deleted for repeatedly less than perfect technical standards.

For stock library use, this image was reduced from 24 megapixels to a slightly cropped version just over 9 megapixels. The 18-200mm Tamron lens at 66mm, with the NEX-7, was used at f/8 and the focus was on the gold pan. A 24 megapixels, the degree of softening on the young girl’s face is beyond the acceptable limit; scaled down, it looks natural when viewed at 100%. Shooting with 16 megapixels instead of 24 will give an impression of greater sharpness, or greater depth of field, when checked at 100% though this is an illusion and two prints made at the same size will show no difference.

Working with the 16 megapixel sensor, across the usual range of conditions from daylight to night scenes, hardly any images need reducing in size to hit Alamy’s QC mark. Working with the 24 megapixel sensor, every image has to go through ‘is this really OK at full size?’.

While I definitely want my 24 megapixel Alphas for studio, tripod, architectural, landscape, artwork copying and similar tasks, having sold both the NEX-5n outfit and the NEX-7 if I was to purchase again it would be a NEX-5n with reservations.


After using the NEX-7 interface, especially with the settings lock function, it is very difficult to go back to using the 5n or earlier interface. On all NEX cameras the menus are very easy to navigate, consistent, and reasonably fast. But on all NEX cameras except the 7, the rear controller is much too prone to accidental operation. The vertical straphanging reduces this a bit, as it avoids the control touching your clothing. The action is so light that just brushing against a coat or the fabric inside a camera pouch can be enough to change the aperture in A-Mode, the shutter in S-Mode, or the EV exposure correction (requires a light pressure to the bottom of the control followed by rotation).

It would be good if Sony could make a firmware modification which locked the primary function of rear controller rotation – something like a two-second press on a specified button – while leaving the compass-point click/rotate functions (located North, East, South, West or 12, 3, 6 and 9 o-clock on the controller) available.

The final reservation is where I started, about the Smart Accessory Terminal and how it differentiates the 3 and 5 models from the 7. The 7 fits well into any existing Alpha setup, the lesser models are only a partial match. The terminal has appeal. It’s long been thought that Sony could use it to add other functions, such as a GPS module or a wireless flash commander. No such accessories have appeared yet. Does that mean it’s a dead end, to be replaced by 7-style interfacing – or is the 7 a level on its own?

Sony has provided some kind of road map for lenses and would perhaps be giving too much away if they issued a roadmap for NEX development. It would make planning today’s purchases less of a gamble for existing system owners and new adopters if they could.

– David Kilpatrick

To see NEX-5n specs and prices at B&H follow this link. Clicking on our Amazon or B&H search boxes can benefit this site (many thanks to the person who keeps ordering dozens of academic books from Amazon!).

hireacamera.com invest in Alpha and NEX gear!

The UK’s top camera and lens hire company, hireacamera.com, has invested in a whole new stock of Sony Alpha and NEX gear right up to the 500mm G – their A77s come with 16-50mm SSMs… here, Guy Thatcher explains their enthusiasm for Sony, filmed at the PhotoVision Roadshow in Edinburgh on Tuesday March 27th.

It’s a 1080p HD video shot on the NEX-7 by David Kilpatrick with no accessories apart from the Tamron 18-200mm DiIII VC zoom, which at one point displays a preference for focusing on the better lit, more contrasty background.

Firmware update for NEX-5, 3, and 3C

Sony has released updated firmware for NEX E-mount cameras, FW v5.0 which updates the bodies to accept the new LA-EA2 Alpha Phase Detect AF lens adaptor. The update works for NEX-3, NEX-5, NEX-C3, NEX-VG10 and the professional video Sony NEX-FS100U.

Prior to this firmware update, the LA-EA2 only worked with the NEX-5N , NEX-7 and NEX-VG20. With the LA-EA2, a micromotor driven Phase Detect AF system is built-in, which allows the camera to focus with all A-mount AF lenses.

Key points of the new firmware update include Micro AF adjustment, when using this adaptor, for M-AF/SAL/SAM lenses, and the ability to assign AF points on the 15-point module, from the screen display.

 Download the new function manual (from Ver.04 to Ver.05)

For UK/Europe etc cameras (this site does not appear to have the VG-10 update and is slightly muddled):

NEX-5 (Windows) Firmware update , 15/12/2011

NEX-5 (Macintosh) Firmware update , 15/12/2011

NEX-3 (Windows) Firmware update , 15/12/2011

NEX-3 (Macintosh) Firmware update , 15/12/2011

NEX-C3 (Windows) Firmware update , 15/12/2011

NEX-C3 (Macintosh) Firmware update , 15/12/2011

For USA/Canada cameras:

NEX-3  (Windows) (Mac)

NEX-5 (Windows) (Mac)

NEX-C3 (Windows) (Mac)

NEX-VG10 (Windows) (Mac)

Tamron 18-200mm VC for NEX

Tamron’s has announced a high-power zoom for Sony’s NEX-series – the 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Di III VC (Model B011).

The image-stabilised lens has exactly the same nominal specifications as Sony’s own zoom. The angle of view is 27-300mm when converted to 35mm format.

It weighs 460g, uses 62mm filters, and has VC (Vibration Compensation). The metallic lens barrel exterior is available in two colors: black and silver. A newly constructed stepping motor allows contrast-detection AF during video shooting. Direct Manual Focus (DMF) allows the user to make fine manual adjustments in the AF focus.

Di III (Digitally integrated design): A new designation Tamron gives to lenses engineered specifically for mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras with no internal mirror box or pentaprism, adopting an optical design that matches the characteristics of the digital camera.

The result of this development is a lens that is compact and lightweight, featuring a 62mm filter diameter and weighing only 460g. The lens is available in silver and in black.

Tamron’s VC mechanism employs a three-coil system, electromagnetically moving the VC group via three steel balls. The VC lens elements are held in place only by contact with the steel balls, achieving smooth movement with little friction. This provides a stable viewfinder image with excellent tracking performance that eliminates the blur from handheld shots for cleaner, crisper shots.

Tamron’s earlier VC unit has a moving magnet system with heavy magnets in the vibration-compensating lens. However, the new VC mechanism adopts a lightweight moving coil system that reduces the load on the drive system. This allows the drive to be operated with smaller coils and magnets, reducing the weight and size for the entire VC unit. In addition, improvements to software and other elements of the VC mechanism used in the 18-200mm Di III VC have made the mechanism even quieter.

Specifications 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 Di lll VC (Model B011)

  • Focal length: 18-200mm
  • Maximum aperture: F/3.5-6.3
  • Angle of view3: (diagonal) 76˚ 10´-8˚ 03´
  • (Horizontal) 66˚ 16´-6˚ 43´
  • (Vertical) 46˚ 51´-4˚ 27´
  • Lens construction: 17 elements in 13 groups
  • Minimum focus distance: 0.5m (throughout zoom range)
  • Maximum magnification ratio: 1:3.7 (at f=200mm: MFD 0.5m)
  • Filter size: φ62mm
  • Length4: 96.7mm
  • Entire Length5: 102.0mm
  • Diameter: φ68mm
  • Weight: 460 g
  • No. of diaphragm blades: 7
  • Minimum aperture: F/22 – 40
  • Standard accessories: Flower-shaped lens hood (included)
  • Compatible mounts: Sony E-mount

The angle of view of the lens when used for video on the Sony digital HD video camera recorder NEX-VG10 is 32.4 – 360mm when converted to the 35mm format.

Due to an inherent characteristic of this TAMRON lens, the resulting image in the LCD monitor may be displayed in a “pumping” manner in the continuous operation of the focus search function when using the Sports Action mode on Scene Selection. The actual images captured will NOT be affected by this circumstance. In other Shoot Modes (P, A, S, M), when the focus mode is set to Continuous AF (AF-C), the same condition may also arise. The actual images captured will also NOT be affected by this circumstance.

As an alternative to the above settings, you can change the focus mode to Single-shot AF (AF-S) or Direct Manual Focus (DMF).

This lens was developed, manufactured and will be sold based on the specifications for the E-mount that was disclosed by Sony Corporation under Tamron’s license agreement with Sony Corporation

Price: The suggested retail price is yet to be announced. Availability: Early 2012. Exact date to be announced.

Image Data Converter v4 – download now

Sony’s Image Data Converter latest version – 4.0 – will handle all Alpha raw files from A100 to A77, and all NEX raw files. It offers improvements in performance and stability, but it also eliminates the need for the Lightbox application (found in v3) as a separate item. You simply browse for a folder of images, and IDC now shows a regular thumbnail browser with image information not unlike Adobe Bridge.

Double-clicking the thumb opens the image as expected in the raw editor. This has all the features of v3 are a bit more, but at least on a latest MacBook Pro with 2GB memory it seemed to crash and quit (normally after processing the file) rather too often.

One new feature, found when you save the file and not in the main processing controls, is a crop with Inclination Control and a grid:

Testing Alpha 77 raw files on the new software, the Bayer conversion seemed to be incredibly noisy and the noise reduction left fine detail heavily smeared much the same as for in-camera JPEGs, but the colour styles, DRO settings and some other aspects read from camera EXIF data are retained. It can not be recommended as a main choice for raw conversion, and certainly not for high ISO images, but it’s available and is a fairly small application to install on laptops or less powerful machines.

Download links:

Mac OSX .dmg installer

PC/Windows .exe installer

– DK

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