This is not my own comparison but one written by photographer Sam Waldron and it marks the first guest post on my blog. I am thinking of having more guest posts on my blog in the future.
I really liked the comparison and wanted to share it with people who do not read the forums it was posted on. So thanks to Sam for allowing me to post this here.
You can see his great work on his website here:
Sam Waldron Photography
Now without further ado, let's get to his comparison.
I've been using the NEX-5N with M mount lenses for about 6 weeks now – I've been happy with the set up and i'm getting better results than with my D7000 and lenses but my interest was piqued when I heard the rumour the GXR M mount could be shipping with the Sony 16MP chip in the new year.
Autofocus isn't something i've ever really needed or wanted – this is the type of thing I like to shoot.
Beyond - Sam Waldron Photography
My target output is prints, up to 16” x 24” (or Panoramas which are stitched to any size).
To my surprise, a local company had the GXM M module for rent and i've been using it the past three days. Unfortunately the weather has been terrible here so I only had a limited amount of time to do some decent shooting out and about.
I'm using it with my lenses (all very good but not without quirks) – Voigtlander 15mm M mount, Leica 35mm 2.8 Summaron, Voigtlander Nokton 40mm F1.4 and Leica 90mm F4 Elmar-C.
My general thoughts at how the cameras compare purely as a M lens platform are as follows.
Build and Ergonomics
I'm completely fine with the 5N interface, its very simple, but quick and effective to change key settings when you have it dialled in. I have added a Gariz half case to bulk up my 5N and it gives it a nicer size and helps the slightly cramped ergonomics (and I have small hands). Its a pretty well made camera too although my battery door is very flimsy.
The Ricoh is a larger, heavier and better for it. Its built rock solid with an excellent and highly customisable interface with plenty of physical controls – took me a little longer to set up and dial it in, but its truly excellent. The Ricoh isn't the most photogenic camera but in real life it looks solid, low key and serious – form follows function and I like that. Plus Ricoh sell a pretty sexy half case.
Two major benefits for me with the Ricoh is it feels much more robust moving in and out of a bag and its EVF seems more secure and less 'snaggy' than the 5N's. The sensor is also covered in between lens changes which is great for those lens changes when working in the elements.
The Ricoh takes this for sure, but the NEX is completely fine and is clever in its speed and simplicity. I think most people slamming the NEX interface have not spent much time with one.
EVF and Screen
The 5N has two major things going for it – The best EVF in the business and a touch / tilt rear LCD. The tilt LCD is obviously a boon for stealth and waist / low down shooting – I wish every camera had one. The touch screen is great for image review (touch any spot for enlarged view) and awesome for tripod manual focus work.
The GXR LCD has the advantage of using much more of its real estate for actual image review (the NEX crops away a fair amount for its interface) its a surprising difference to be honest. One thing I love about the GXR is it also enables you to zoom in with one press AND cycle through images to the same magnified spot. Sounds trivial but it makes image review and focus / DOF confirmation really fast and accurate.
My 5N has an annoying low ISO display bug where any image shot at ISO 100 or 200 will look really smeary when you zoom in on the display (like uber noise reduction). I only shoot RAW and all NR is off and the files are lovely when on the CPU – its a minor but annoying bug.
The Sony EVF is much bigger and also brighter – its hard to say, but I would guess the Sony EVF has at least a 50% larger view with meaningfully more resolution. The difference is stark when you use them side by side and manual focussing is a little more enjoyable with the 5N as a result. The GXR EVF (due for a refresh in 2012?) however is completely usable and not bad at all when you are not comparing side by side. It performs its function well as a compositional and focusing device – its just not as 'immersive' as the Sony one.
Manual Focus and Peaking
Now this is both very important and very subjective so one really needs to spend a fair amount of time with both before deciding their preference.
I prefer to use magnified view focus most of the time (i'm a pretty leisurely shooter) and the Sony offers a bit better experience here with its larger, higher resolution EVF, although the Ricoh is just as if not more accurate.
The Sony offers peaking in 3 colors and 3 levels of strength to suit various conditions. This is a good thing, and perhaps down the line Ricoh will offer a little more 'peaking tweaking'.
Where the Ricoh wins out is in offering two completely different types of peaking and enabling you to allocate a function button to toggling on or off instantly.
I would call it a draw to be honest, I 'enjoy' focussing more with the Sony (mainly due to the larger EVF) but there is no doubt that Ricohs approach is really accurate and thats the idea afterall!
Mounting lenses is via adapter with the Sony, and I don't believe there is an option for an adapter with 'perfect infinity'. The M module has as close to perfect infinity for my lenses as I need which makes landscape or deep DOF work (which is what I do most the time) really fast and precise. The flipside of this is my Summaron sometimes needs to be focussed slightly deeper than infinity to overcome field curvature and can't quite do that with the M module.
AEB – the 5N only offers +- 0.7 stops despite having the extended jpeg HDR mode. I really doubt this will change anytime soon unfortunately and is a drawback for handheld exposure blends. The 10FPS with full AEB would be awesome. The GXR offers a nice, customisable AEB range up to +- 2 stops but is only does about 3FPS (I'm not sure). GXR FTW.
The 5N has a significantly improved shutter sound compared to the 5/3 but the Ricoh's is noticeably queiter and 'softer' – it sounds nicely damped and you also have the option of a fully electronic shutter which is 100% silent – nice touches for unobtrusive shooting which is a major benefit of these small, top quality cameras.
The 5N is faster in operation with much quicker shot to shot times (The Ricoh EVF will black out for a second) and 10FPS for those trigger happy moments. This isn't so important to me, but it might be to some. The Sony possibly has less shutter lag as its absolutely instantaneous – The Ricoh is really fast too – its not a meaningful difference for those 'decisive moments'.
The Ricoh has a hotshoe which I appreciate – the EVF takes the spot, but when i'm shooting landscapes, I use a bubble level in the hot shoe and don't use the EVF. You can achieve the same with the Sony with a $50 cold shoe adapter. Also, the remote release on the Ricoh is not a drive mode (as it is on the Sony) so is more functional when you want to combine remote release with AEB / continuous drive.
The Ricoh shoots DNG – all cameras should do this. I get so sick of waiting new cameras to be supported by Capture One and Lightroom / ACR, plus its possibly more future proof and compatible with cornerfix (not that you will really be needing that, but I'll get there).
Now, let me start by saying I am happy with my results with the 5N and my lenses – i'm getting easily better results (more detail, less distortion, more accurate focus LOL and no mirror slap) than with my D7000 and Nikkor 12-24 / 16-85VR).
My particular M mount lenses are inexpensive and as such do have some minor issues to be aware of to get great results, which I can get with the NEX, it just takes a little more effort.
All images were shot handheld from the same position at ISO 200 at shutter speeds of around 1/250th. Focus was performed manually to the same position for each image at full magnification.
Lighting conditions were very steady and fully overcast to give an real torture test for color shifting in corners. Please ignore minor color differences – my 5N had a custom (slightly warm) AWB.
All images were processed with my standard minor capture / deconvolution sharpening settings in Lightroom 3 (Amount 35 / radius 0.5 / detail 100 / threshold 15). These ended up being a little strong for the Ricoh and pretty weak for the Sony. No disortion, fringing or vignetting correction at all.
I'm showing images at 100% as i'm anticipating the Ricoh 16mp module anyway. This is a very small disadvantage for the 5N, but I seriously doubt a 16mp Ricoh module will lose any acuity with good glass - its is an M mount module afterall. For the same reason i'm ignoring noise levels (a few files also had minor exposure adjustments to balance).
No images are supposed to represent the top quality these cameras can achieve – these are unprocessed files in dull, flat lighting with capture sharpening only designed to generally show minor flaws.
While I tried to make them not too boring, they are simply non scientific test shots.In good lighting conditions both cameras get a significant kick in acuity and micro contrast.
Voigtlander 15mm M mount
Voigtlander 15mm – awesome little wide angle, really sharp and as distortion free as ultra wides get, although my copy is very slightly assymetric (field curvature on the extreme left edge) so needs to be focussed accordingly or stopped down – fine for my type of shooting.
Its a symmetric design I believe and as a result can have color cast issues in corners with certain cameras and certain scenes:
Ricoh full frame - note very slight cyan shifting in the corners - this is only showing due to the overcast sky:
Sony full frame - note the magenta shift in the corners - more noticeable than the Ricoh's shifting for sure. In most real world shooting however, its not a real issue for me with the Sony - this type of shot (expansive, overcast sky) shows it at its worst:
Here are centre crops at 100%, showing off the significant acuity advantage the Ricoh enjoys. The Sony will take more sharpening of course, but I was a little surprised at the difference. Ricoh is on the left in all crops:
Now, as I mentioned previously, my copy of the CV 15mm is a little weaker on the extreme left edge on the 5N - this is at F5.6 (improves at F8). Extreme left edge crop at distance - a bit of a torture test as the focus point was only about 5 metres away on the chair:
The Ricoh looks pretty good, and easily better than the 5N - remember, this is about 1 kilometer past the focus point on the extreme edge of an ultrawide's weaker side at 5.6 - this is pretty good.
Now, another scene - full frame to show the difference in color shifting in worst case scenario conditions for it.
100% crops of the centre focus point - trees about 30 metres away (effectively infinity):
They both look good - the Ricoh is a little sharper, but it shows the NEX can do very well in less challenging cases.
Now an extreme bottom crop of the same scene - the grass close to my feet - the focus point was about 30mm past, so this area is just falling in focus:
This really shows something I noticed a lot in my field shooting - the Ricoh seems to be able to get more of the scene in crisp focus - I feel this is a result of better edge performance with RF lenses and the pixel level acuity - its a real plus for me.
Now a quick CA torture test - In my experience with the CV 15mm, its actually a pretty good performer with regards to fringing which will only rear its head in very challenging circumstances. So here is one!
Absolute extreme top left corner, back lit branches at F5.6 outside of the area of focus (this is not a corner sharpness issue):
Yes, the Ricoh is showing fringing but it is better and this is the only time I observed fringing with the CV and GXR - and I was really trying my best to provoke it. They are doing something right with their 'special sauce'.
And finally, one more with the CV 15mm. I did more testing with this lens as its my favorite field of view and is one of the more 'notorious' lenses for digital with perhaps the ZM 21mm F4.5.
Full frame - Ricoh, then Sony:
100% center crops (just past the point of focus):
No, the Sony is not out of focus here, although it appears slightly so next to that really sharp Ricoh crop. As with all these crops, the Sony will take more sharpening, but there is also some detail lacking - its not purely a sharpening / contrast thing:
And again, that troublesome left edge at F5.6:
Again, I'm really getting the feeling there is still very minor smearing with the 5N on the extreme edges (although I am showing the absolute worst of it). The Ricoh just seems to handle the tricky stuff better.
Nokton 40mm F1.4 field curvature / edge performance
This is a neat little lens - very compact, very fast with a nice classic rendering at very wide apertures and very sharp all over stopped down.
It does however 'suffer' form significant field curvature which means you need to focus a little deep (planes of focus at the edges curve towards you on all edges) and stop down if you want distant and reasonably planar subjects sharp all over (i.e. landscapes).
Here is a busy, detailed and reasonably challenging scene - Ricoh then Sony full frame:
The compositions are more irregular than my other efforts but will do the job. focus was at infinity - pretty much on the tall Skytower in the middle. This at F5.6 - the differences are more minor at F8.
Is this a tiny bit of magenta color shifting on the Sony or white balance? I'm not sure but I would not worry about it.
Centre crops on point of focus (sharpness impaired by the drizzly atmosphere and 4 or 5 kms:
Bit more moire on the Ricoh - you can get it to moire significantly more on these types of distant subjects in better conditions. I'm not worried about it though, if I had moire on a subject I wanted to print big, I'd just PP it.
Now the extreme bottom of the scene (grey house):
Now, to show off the field curvature:
The Sony isn't soft, its OOF (as is the Ricoh, but less so) Focus was identical with both cameras. While the Ricoh does not deal with this fully, I'm thinking its possibly about 'a stop' better with field curvature with the Nokton.
And finally, to demonstrate this is not corner softness - a large, extreme bottom left crop from the Ricoh frame which is in crisp focus at 5.6:
Now finally a scene I actually shot the day before on a tripod at F8 - it turned out due to the position of the Ricohs tripod mount that I was able to match compositions more accurately by hand anyway.
Full scene, Ricoh then Sony (excuse the morbid subject matter!):
Focus point was the tree trunk, center right with F8 chosen to provide enough depth of field (hypothetically). This shows the effect of field curvature as it has both objects close to and far from the camera which will show up 'depth of field differences' in certain parts of the frame:
For instance, the top right corner:
Now ignoring the difference in sharpness (the solid branch in the Sony is in focus, just less crisp thanks to it being an extreme corner) you will note the apparent depth of field differences - the leaves in the background of the Ricoh crop appear more in focus, almost as if it was shot at F11 and the Sony at F5.6-8.
This is why I feel the Ricoh negates the Noktons field curvature better by 'about a stop'.
And another section, of the top center. This crop is selected to demonstrate how the field curvature becomes more noticeable towards the top (i.e. edge) of the frame and DOF is deeper towards the center:
To me its pretty obvious that the Ricoh is handling the character of the Nokton significantly better. If I were to show you a centre crop of the same scene it would show depth of field and sharpness to theback of the frame as there is no field curvature there:
Well, that ended up being a whole lot longer than anticipated - hopefully splitting it up made it easier to read and less boring.
The NEX-5N is a great little camera - best APS-C sensor going around, superb EVF, tilt screen, 10FPS and a simple but slick interface.
It also happens to work very well by chance with most rangefinder lenses. I am showing only the more challenging cases - I can happily work around all these issues with the 5N by stopping down or focusing differently.
However, I'm convinced the GXR M does better when 'the going gets tough' and just delivers excellent results. Its also a really solidly built machine with a deep and excellent interface. Little things like the sensor not being exposed, the hotshoe, 'proper' remote mode and AEB really add value for me as a landscape and travel enthusiast.
Fortunately I am going to have the camera back over the Xmas summer holidays for two weeks in New Zealand, so look forward to shooting some proper stuff with it.
In the meantime, I'm completely satisfied with my 5N and love the EVF and the sensor.
However, if and when the GXR M becomes available with the 16mp chip, more than likely I'll be snapping one up as soon as I can.
Here are a few less boring snaps from the weekend with the GXR:
Copyright to the pictures and this comparison belongs to Sam Waldron so do not duplicate anything without his permission.