a28 January 2014

Sony NEX-6 - first field test

Sony NEX-6

I finally managed to test Sony NEX-6 in real-life situation - I decided to test it during blue hour in Warsaw - you'll find "test" photo later in this post. Also my girlfriend played with it a few days earlier so generally I now know more less its strengths and weaknesses (the camera, not my girlfriend). Note it's not the review yet. It will come at later date, after I will use NEX for longer time.

The biggest advantage of Sony NEX-6 for me is its size and weight. It's really small and light. It really looks like a typical compact camera. Together with a lens it weighs less than Canon DSLR body alone. It's so light that when I had it in my backpack I needed to check it's really there or whether I forgot to take it from home. It's really light.

With its small size, comes one issue though. If you have large fingers or try controlling this camera wearing thick gloves, you might have problems. As you will read later on, I tried to shoot in gloves (it was cold!) but as I ended up pressing various buttons accidentally (eg. for changing ISO or switching from AF to MF) or changing exposure I gave up.

What's really important is that image quality is really impressive (much better than I expected from camera of that size). 16 megapixel ASP-C-sized sensor is really powerful. In fact it's noticeably better than on my backup DSLR - Canon 50D. It handles high ISOs very well with ISO 3200 being perfectly usable and ISO 6400 also usable (although there is quite a lot of noise in it). I didn't go further so I'm yet to make my opinion on even higher ISO values. Also dynamic range seems to be very good what's another positive surprise.

Generally the camera is really advanced and packed with features that both amateurs and professionals will love. From manual modes (bulb mode is also present), wide ISO range (ISO 100 - ISO 25600), RAW support to focus assisting features. There are 2 I especially like (both available when focusing manually):
  • Focus peaking - shows which parts of the image are in focus using bright colour (eg. red or yellow) visual cue,
  • Focus assistant - automatically zooms in when you're focusing so you can set your focus precisely.
These features weren't new for me as I'm using MagicLantern on my Canons but I'm glad they are present on NEX-6 :) There are more interesting features like 10 fps burst mode, excellent electronic viewfinder (that can show you real-time histogram), a lot of creative effects and more.

One of the biggest disadvantages for me is how quickly the battery drains. Sony says it should suffice for around 300 photos, which is already a rather low number, but for me it was usually even lower. Probably due to the fact that I was shooting in cold (batteries drain faster) and using longer exposures (batteries don't like that). For a whole day of shooting I will need around 3 batteries I guess. Or 4. And oh - recharging seems to last forever!

And finally a few disadvantages for HDR photographers:
  • You can only capture 3 exposures in auto-bracketing mode, at 3 EV spacing maximum. It alone wouldn't be a big problem as it's sufficient in many cases, but there is something worse...
  • Auto-bracketing CANNOT be started with neither 2s delay nor with remote controller. Basically it means that in order to capture photos in auto-bracketing mode you need to hold shutter release button while all 3 exposures are taken. It's not a big deal when you're shooting in bright light with fast shutter speed, but when you're shooting sunset for instance or long exposure - it becomes a serious issue. Holding shutter release will introduce a lot of camera shake and thus will significantly affect images sharpness. What I do to overcome this is to shoot in Manual mode and quickly change exposure between the shots - this way I can at least use remote controller. Photos might be a little misaligned but it's still better than blurry.

Daily photo - Warsaw: City in Motion

Time for a daily photo - today long-exposure High Dynamic Range image taken with Sony NEX-6. I'm hardly ever happy with my photos but I'm really satisfied and proud how the one below turned out:
Blue hour in Warsaw

I took this very image from viewing terrace of St. Anne's Church in Warsaw. Not only was the terrace full of ice (I almost felt over a few times) but also it was freezing cold with temperature around -10 Celsius degrees and strong cold wind. Oh and snow! And to get this very image I stood there for 2 hours. Almost without any movement - I sometimes just moved a few inches to protect my tripod from wind (it was literally moving it!). It's easy to imagine that after such time I almost didn't feel my fingers anymore (Sony NEX-6 is virtually impossible to operate with gloves... so I didn't use them for most of the time).

As for technical information, to get this image I in fact captured... 40 photos. They had different exposures ranging from 5 seconds to 30 seconds. The idea I had in mind was to capture as much movement as possible but at the same time to avoid long-exposure noise (which is believed to be quite strong on NEXs although I'm yet to confirm that) and to reduce effect of strong wind, i.e. to prevent camera shake. Also I wanted to have different exposures to be able to restore details from shadows and highlights - as with normal HDR photo.

Later at home, when I unfroze a little, I manually blended all those 40 exposures. In the process I dropped a few of them which didn't provide useful information but I still had to blend around 30 - 35 images. It goes without saying that it took some time (and that Photoshop wasn't keen on it either, slowing down whole machine drastically). And would probably take even more without my tablet. What I wanted to achieve via blending was clean long light trails with as little distracting elements as possible. So I needed to get rid of parts of cars, headlights, buses, people crossing the street etc. Thanks to blending I did it pretty well. But as you can see trams remained untouched. Why? Without them the middle of the photo was very boring, life-less. By leaving tram there, there is some point of interest.

I will go into more details (including composing this image and fixing various issues) when showing how I post-processed this image in my Post-Processing Workflow series. I hope to share details about this image in a few days from now.

Technical details:
Camera: Sony NEX-6
Lens: Sony 10-18 f/4
Focal length: 10 mm
Aperture: f/8.0
Exposure time: varying - 5 - 30 seconds
ISO: 200
Number of exposures: 40
E.V. Step: n/a
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: Cokin ND X variable density neutral gray
Technique: long exposure, manual blending, luminosity masks
Software: Lightroom 5.0, Photoshop CC, Topaz Clarity

Where was this photo taken:

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