Monday, May 17, 2010

Sony’s new NEX cameras - very EVIL!

What are EVIL cameras?
Known affectionately by their informal acronym, Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) cameras belong to a growing new class of cameras that sit between the slim (but functionally limited) compact cameras and bulky (and powerful) DSLRs.

Compact cameras are slim and great to have around for point-and-shoot photography, but they are very limited in terms of control and the lens cannot be interchanged. DSLR cameras are bulky and not something you want to lug around for casual photography, but they offer the ultimate speed and control, together with a host of interchangeable lenses to expand your horizon.

EVIL cameras incorporate the controls that photographers are used to having with their DSLRs (such as aperture and shutter), as well as the flexibility of having interchangeable lens. At the same time, the size of the EVIL cameras are much smaller than DSLRs because they do not have a reflex mirror. Instead, they incorporate an electronic viewfinder to allow users to view and compose their photos. Both in terms of size and functionality, they are smack in-between the compact cameras and pukka DSLRs.

The EVIL concept has just taken root recently, but there’re already of host of models in the category. The Panasonic GF series, Olympus E-P series and Samsung NX series are some of the cameras in the fray. Most of these cameras belong to the micro four-thirds sensor category, with the exception of Samsung’s NX10 which is using APS-sized sensor as well.

The drawbacks of the EVIL cameras include slower focusing than DSLRs, because they use contrast focusing instead of the faster phase detection focusing of DSLRs. In dark and low contrast situation, the focusing can be abysmal. In addition, the range of lenses dedicated for the EVIL system can be pretty limiting because these camera systems are still in their infancy.

For traditional SLR users, the concept of using a viewfinder to compose the photos is sacrilegious. Gone are the crystal clear view of a optical viewfinder afforded by the prism and reflex mirror, replaced by dark, dingy and pixilated LCD screens. The latest LCD screens on EVIL cameras deliver excellent resolution and results, but in bright sunlight the glare can make LCDs difficult to view. But to look on the bright side, EVIL users do not need to contend with dealing with vibrations from mirror flip.
Sony’s new Alpha NEX-3 and NEX-5
Sony has just hopped onto the EVIL bandwagon with their new Alpha (α) NEX-3 and NEX-5 mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. And unlike most of their evil cousins (sorry… couldn’t resist the pun) the α NEX cameras incorporate a large14 mega pixel APS HD CMOS sensor APS size sensor, promising to deliver DSLR quality with ultra-compact dimensions.

Both the new Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5 share many common features, including high-speed burst of full-resolution images at up to 7fps, and a high-performance 3” tilt LCD. The Sony NEX-cameras include a cool Sweep Panorama function that allows users to just press the shutter button and swing the camera side-to-side or up and down, and a high-speed burst of frames is stitched together automatically to create 23 megapixel panoramas with a 226 degree effective angle of view. Sounds cool even though I wonder how often I’d use this function.
Unlike its DSLR cousins in the Alpha family, the NEX-cameras are well-endowed in video functionality. The NEX-3 offers 720p HD video capture, while the NEX-5 delivers full 1080i AVCHD video capabilities.

I have stated time and again that a camera is only as good as the lenses it can use, and the Sony NEX system is definitely keen to avoid being stranded without a good lens system. The cameras are using a new E-mount lens system (groan), BUT they are compatible with α DSLR lenses with optional Mount Adaptor.

There are 3 E-mount lenses at the time of the launch of the new Sony NEX system. Most users will purchase the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom with image stabilizer, which comes in kit form with the cameras. For the most compact form factor, the 16mm f/2.8 pancake delivers a 24mm equivalent view, while being extremely small and offering a relatively bright f/2.8 max aperture. For those who want it all, the 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 superzoom with image-stabilizer is an excellent choice, even though it is so much larger than the camera!

My thoughts on the Sony Alpha NEX system

A compact form interchangeable lens camera with a large sensor sounds like a great idea, and Sony will definitely want to make a dent in the universe with their new foray into the EVIL territory (since it’s having a hard time against Nikon and Canon in the DSLR arena). The system sounds promising, but it is difficult to determine its potential without checking out its actual performance.

There’re several things that can potentially go wrong. Focusing speed of EVIL cameras has always lagged behind DSLRs, and sensor noise-control hasn’t exactly been the strength of Sony. I am not too enamored about the looks of the NEX system, given that the design looks lopsided (more lens than camera I’d say), and the styling of the grip looks like it came straight out of 1985. The handling is suspect, especially at longer focal length where users do not have the stability of pressing their cameras against their face as in the case of a DSLR.

However, if you’ve always been looking for a small form camera with a large sensor size and interchangeable lens, you can only choose between the Samsung NX10 and Sony NEX-system. Oh… if you’re feeling rich and do not need a interchangeable lens, do not forget the Leica X1 with its Leica 28mm f/2.8 lens!

No comments: