I mentioned that I’m using a Sony Nex in the blog on the trip to Boston, but I didn’t go into much detail about it.
Right before I headed off to Boston, I found a really good deal on the Nex 5N bundle, and picked one up. What impresses me about the Nex is not only the pictures it takes, but its E mount, which, with the right adapter, will take Leica M mount lenses.
This is very important to me!
A Little Backstory
Long ago, when I was in Journalism school, I bought a Leica M6 TTL, and it was (and still is) a great camera. The only problem I had with it is that by about 2006 or so I wanted to shoot digital, because it’s a much easier workflow. Is it better than film? Well, that’s another post.
Leica came out with its digital camera bodies around 2008 or so, and while I was excited by the concept, I was not excited about the price. At the time, I didn’t have $4000-$5000 lying around for what was essentially a camera body that will be worthless in 2-3 years.
The M8 was a fine camera, and while it had all of the Leica Juice going for it, as a digital platform, it was average at best.
Then Leica came out with the M9. It’s a much better camera than the M8, but it’s not worth $5-$6k. Meanwhile, companies like Canon, Nikon, and even Sony are pushing the limits of what prosumer cameras can do.
I love shooting Leica cameras. They’re excellent machines. They’re just not worth $7000. The M9 would have to do much much more than it does to merit $7k.
And it doesn’t. Leica does a great job of fitting its great lenses to a digital body, but that digital body isn’t any better than the digital body I could get from Canon or Nikon for 1/3 the price.
So for the last 5-6 years, my Leica gear has been gathering dust because Leica has failed to reach me as a former customer.
The company has priced me out of pretty much ever wanting to buy their gear again. The lenses are incredible, but I don’t have that kind of cash lying around. In the early 2000s, when lenses were more reasonably priced, I could afford to stay in the Leica system, but until now, it’s been impossible.
Saved by Sony
Then Sony released the Nex. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the first Nex, except for its ability to take M glass. My take on it then was that it was neat, but ultimately there were too many compromises.
So I waited.
When I saw the prices coming down on the 5N, I was ready to buy. I feel like the Nex has come far enough along, and the 5N was at a price point I could stomach.
I’m happy… for the most part.
It comes with a 18-55 kit lens, which is okay, but generally forgettable. It’s something to use for making videos with, because it’s autofocus, but as a tube with glass in it for taking pictures? I’m not too impressed. It’s a kit lens after all.
I picked up a $30 adapter ring, and all of my Leica lenses fit well enough. My 21mm doesn’t fit perfectly, but it’s good enough. (The latch doesn’t completely engage, but it engages.) The crop sensor is APS sized, and that works. It crops to make the 21’s field of view like a 34mm lens (roughly), but keep in mind that it won’t get rid of the fish bowl effect you get from shooting such a wide-angle lens. Also, you lose the shallower depth of field you’d get with a real 35mm lens on a full-frame sensor.
But I can finally shoot my Leica glass again! And I didn’t have to rob anybody to do it!
Manually focusing the Nex is something that takes getting used to. It uses focus peaking to help with manual focusing, but it’s far from perfect. I still have to zoom in to make sure I’m really in focus, and that adds to the time it takes to get a shot ready. So it’s not perfect.
Manually focusing a Leica is still faster by a good deal, but the Nex is 1/10th the price. I’ll take imperfect focusing for an extra $5-$6k in my pocket.
There’s no way around this: the Nex has a terrible bracketing mode. It only goes as far as +/- 0.7 EV, which is pretty much useless if you want to take HDR photos or just bracket your shots intelligently. Honestly, I don’t know what Sony was thinking. I hope they fix the BIOS in the camera for that. My worry is that with new cameras coming out soon, they may orphan the current Nex cameras, and just leave it unfixed. I knew it going in, but it really is a bad oversight on Sony’s part.
Finally, the viewfinder; it’s a separate purchase on the 5N. If you want it integrated in the camera, you have to shell out an extra $400 for the Nex 7, or buy a $250 adapter for the other cameras that fills your “hot shoe.” It’s not a real hot shoe, but it’s the closest you get to one. So you can either have a mic, a flash, a light, or the viewfinder. That’s leaving me scratching my head and wondering what the engineers are thinking.
Take the Good with the Bad
Even with the mixed bag of good and bad stuff, I’m generally pleased with the Nex. It takes great photos, even if the controls aren’t what I’d like.
I have to spend 5-10 seconds composing each photo to make sure it’s in focus. Sometimes longer. That makes it bad for action shots. For artsy shots, or scenery shots, it’s great. But trying to photo something like a cat or small child? Not so great. But in my case, it fills a badly needed niche.
I like my Canon 60D, and the 17-55 EFS is a great lens, but it’s lacking in the kind of sharpness I got used to with Leica glass. I can’t get the kinds of photos I could get with my Leica M6 TTL and my Leica lenses. Now that I can slap those lenses on the Nex, I can just about get those photos again, and use the 60D for more action-related stuff.
The Nex is definitely not for everyone, but if you’re like me, and stuck in that Leica purgatory where you can’t afford the bodies, but you still have the lenses, it’s an affordable option.