Saturday, April 26, 2014

A new camera and video

I made a radical gear move a few weeks ago. The m43 gear, which I had been very satisfied with for two and a half years, was switched to a Sony NEX-7 camera and a few lenses. The reason for this was that I wanted to simplify the gear, but above all get a single main camera for both still photography and videos. I had the excellent still photography camera Olympus EM-5 and the excellent Panasonic GH-2 for videos, but to do both still and video photography during an outing I would have needed both, which isn't really compatible with my gear philosophy or even the space and weight constraints when doing bikepacking in demanding terrain.

There would have been a possible camera body in the Panasonic m43 range that might have done the trick, Panasonic GX7, but it was very expensive and reports about how well its IBIS (in-body image stabilization) worked were quite contradictory. Since the m43 primes are generally not stabilized, the IBIS was crucial for me and the Olympus EM-5 really shone at this. With sufficiently good video capabilities the EM-5 would have been an ideal camera for me. The EM-5 and the Panasonic Summilux 25/1.4 is really a fantastic combo both for general image quality and low light work.

The Sony NEX-7 was now available at a good price, since the successor Sony A6000 was becoming available. I purchased a NEX-7 with the kit lens and the excellent Sony 35/1.8 OSS lens as well as a Sigma 19/2.8 lens and will probably later get the Sony 55-210/4.5-6.3 OSS to complement it. The still image quality of the NEX-7 with its 24 MP is at its best really amazing, but it quickly outresolves poorer lenses and the kit lens really needs to be stopped down to at least f5.6 to get good sharpness across the entire image. (Note that we are talking about pixel peeping at 24 mp resolution, which really doesn't make much sense). Since the Sony lenses have builtin image stabilization, I think the low light capabilities of the NEX-7 with the 35/1.8 lens will be equal to that of the EM-5 with the 25/1.4 lens. I still think that a good camera should have a good IBIS implementation, but it would seem that most camera manufacturers would seem to disagree. There is another advantage to the Sony NEX-7: With its bigger sensor, shallow depth of field is achieved more easily. Generally, the NEX-7 is mechanically a very nice camera and despite its small size the ergonomics are very good with almost all important parameters immediately accessible (the only exception is turning on/off the image stabilizer, which is hidden in menus).

For video usage, the reports of the Sony NEX-7 on the internet are somewhat contradictory. The main complaint is that the sensor overheats easily and for most video work this would be a showstopper. I don't expect any such problems, since I live in a colder climate and only record a few minutes at a time anyway. The consensus about the video capabilities are that they are ok, but not as good as those of the Panasonic m43 cameras, with the actual resolved resolution being clearly weaker than that of e.g Panasonic GH2, but still better that that of most Canon DSLR:s. My first tests seem to confirm this.

I think the technical quality of the video is quite good and after the Vimeo compression it is probably hard to see any difference compared to the Panasonic GH2. When looking at a high bitrate file, the difference is there, but it is quite subtle. It does mean, however, that there is not much extra resolution for doing tricks like straightening the horizon and such, which is visible in one or two places in the video above. The colors are better in the NEX-7 compare to the GH2, though, and I think the dynamic range is also visibly better, though this needs some experimentation to find the correct picture profile settings and exposure. For most of the above video, the exposure was at least one stop too bright. The time-lapse sequences were made with a Olympus XZ-1 compact camera. The built-in microphones of the NEX-7 are quite good and most of the sounds of the above video are actually recorded that way, complemented with a Zoom H1 in some places.

The first impressions are that this system is a compromise that fullfills my need, but there are still things to learn about it.

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