Some of you who stop here to read my ramblings on cameras probably know that I’ve been using a Sony NEX 5N along with some small manual focus lenses to make a fairly compact, lightweight, and capable camera system. Well, this year has been the year of new gadgets and adding more weight to my pack, so I guess it follows that my camera setup has also grown. This is just a quick update of what I’m working with now. There’s some recent NEX news also, so I’ll mention that at the end.
My Previous Backpacking Camera Setup Compared to Now
I detailed my previous setup pretty well on this post. Here’s the summary of the actual kit with the items I have since changed:
- NEX 5N + 7.5 oz
- Battery + 2.0 oz
- Battery + 2.0 oz
- CV 15/4.5 + 4.0 oz
CV 35/2.5 + 4.7 oz>> CV 40/1.4 + 8.3 oz CV 90/3.5 + 9.1 oz>> Dropped this lens from the kit
- CV 21/1.8 + 15.0 oz >> Added this lens to the kit
Leica-M to Sony-E Adapter + 2.3 oz>> LME Helicoid Adapter + 1.5 oz
- Memory + 0.05 oz
- Memory + 0.05 oz
- Strap + 0.1 oz
Total: 31.8 oz >> 40.5 oz (just over 3 lbs if I pack the 90mm)
So Why the Change?
Well, to begin with, I parted ways with my Canon 5D and associated “L” glass. That was a tough decision to make, the 5D has a great sensor and paired with lenses like the 35L and 135L it’s a joy to use. It also made for a very versatile setup along side my NEX 5N; a big/heavy system with a full frame sensor and fast lenses for low light, shallow depth of field, portraits, etc… and a small/light system with slow lenses for hiking and landscapes. Ultimately I couldn’t rationalize owning both. The performance of the 5N sensor was similar enough to the 5D that I couldn’t find any great reasons to hold onto the SLR. In terms of subject isolation, I’ve found the 5N working at f/2.0 is adequate and suits my style just fine. Overall the image quality of the 5D and good glass bests the 5N (and is excellent even with more modern sensors around) so it was a compromise, but a small one I felt. For printing, any advantages that the 5D had were equalized by the slightly higher resolution of the 5N, basically a draw in that respect.
This led me to sell off the SLR and heavy glass, leaving only my NEX, but I only owned 1 “fast” lens – the 40/1.4 (equivalent to a 60/2.0 on full frame). The lens I’ve missed the most since buying my NEX is a 35mm equivalent – especially a fast one. I broke down and bought the Sony-Zeiss 24/1.8, yes, the same lens I talked smack about in previous posts. Guess what? I didn’t like it much at all. Sold it a few months later. The image quality was a little better than Sony’s native NEX glass, but not what I want from a pricey Zeiss lens. Even more aggravating than the price was trying to manually focus with it. I think people who prefer manual focus should stick to legacy MF lenses with the NEX – trying to MF with an auto-focus lens on the NEX can be a pain in the arm. I thought if I could get along with the MF feel of the lens, or just switch to using AF, I would grab the Sony 10-18mm zoom (which looks to be great wide angle zoom) and call it a day with those two lenses… alas that idea failed.
It was about this time that I remembered Cosina Voigtlander (CV) had recently released their 21/1.8 “Ultron”, which was meant as a direct competitor to the Leica Summilux 21/1.4 (a $7000 lens which has never been on my radar). One side by side review showed the CV 21/1.8 to hold its own against the 24 ‘Lux, so I decided to pull the trigger on it. My first ‘serious’ lens purchase for the NEX. It was both larger, heavier, and more expensive than any of my previous lenses – and, a more modern design (yes, there are still MF lenses being developed and manufactured today). I’ve been very happy with the lens so far. It’s multitudes more enjoyable to use than the Sony-Zeiss 24, and gives me roughly the same 35mm f/2.0 equivalent. I’m still not sure if the image quality from this lens makes it an outstanding lens on NEX, but it’s clearly a keeper and having my favorite focal length again has been fantastic.
I decided to also part ways with my CV 35/2.5. While a little gem of a lens, I found that I preferred the rendering of the CV 40/1.4 “Nokton”. While less perfect, the results between the two seemed to always favor the Nokton. I can’t put my finger on what it is with this lens, but it really works well with the 5N. It may just be my shooting/processing style; several people I know have commented that I seemed to do no wrong with that lens, while in contrast they felt it constantly fought against them… goes to show that choosing the “best” lens is never a straight forward process. By opting for the Nokton over the 35/2.5 I again gained size/weight in the setup. It’s nice to be carrying a couple of fast lenses though.
The last thing I gave up, which is worth mentioning, are common filter sizes. Now, none of my lenses share filters. I think I’m going to focus on filters for the 21mm since this will be my most used lens. Right now I’m sort of filterless.
I’m also trying a new adapter that has a built in helicoid, meaning it has something like a focus ring that moves the entire lens closer to or further from the camera. This works like an extension tube by providing closer focusing capability (which is something that many of the rangefinder lenses lack), but it can be retracted at any time thus allowing normal focus again, without having to mount or un-mount the lens or extension tubes. In concept I like having the close focus capability, but I’m undecided how much I like the user experience. The adapter has to be fully retracted to achieve infinity focus; a small bump or wiggle can change the focus range so I’ve found it to be important to always first check that it’s fully retracted before focusing. This adds a step to the focusing process that I would otherwise not have to deal with. I’m thinking that carrying an extension tube and my normal Voigtlander adapter might be a better solution for me.
I still have the CV 15/4.5, which is an absolute gem on the 5N. Yeah, it get’s magenta color shift in the corners, but once that’s corrected it’s hard to find fault with it. Ok, mine tends to flare in some situations that I wouldn’t expect it to (although it does pretty good right into the sun), but dang, the thing is sharp and contrasty – great for wide angle landscapes. It’s also tiny, which helps – it can almost totally nest in my 40/1.4 when the hood is on.
I also have my CV 90/3.5, which is also a great little lens. It’s more long and skinny than fat, most of that is the hood which can be removed. I don’t use this lens as much as the others so I haven’t been carrying it as often. Performance wise, it’s a great lens… sharp from wide open, nice contrast, and renders colors very nicely due to it’s apochromatic glass.
All in all the CV lens lineup has worked really well for me since owning the NEX. Unfortunately the reality of needing/wanting some fast lenses after selling my SLR lenses caught up with me, but my kit is still fairly light (by my standards) and versatile.
News, Rumors, What does the Future Hold?
As for me, I plan to stick with my 5N for now. After using a friend’s NEX 5, and another friend’s NEX 6, I realized… I really like the touchscreen! It’s so nice to be able to pick an area to zoom into (for focusing) by touching it. It’s nice for auto-focus use also (though I do very little of that), and even for image review. I don’t think I could upgrade to another NEX unless it had a touchscreen.
As for the future of NEX, well it’s been getting brighter and brighter. The first of the Zeiss Touit auto-focus primes (made by Cosina) are available now and have been well received by those who are asking for premium lenses. Eventually these may pave my path away from my Cosina Voigtlander lenses… but I doubt it :) The hottest ticket in town right now is still the Sigma 19/2.8 and 30/2.8 pair, both of which are excellent lenses despite the flimsy feeling build quality. The price on the 5N body continues to drop, not much separates it from the newer 5R body, and a the replacement for the 5R is rumored to be coming along very soon (it’s been over a year already since its release).
Rumors have been circulating about an update for the NEX7 coming soon, and of course the full frame NEX talk rambles on. I have some speculation on how a full frame NEX might manifest, and I don’t think it really interests me. The update for the 7 however, rumored to sport a redesigned 24mp sensor, improved electronic view finder, AND a touchscreen… that would be very tempting. If it worked well with the rangefinder lenses I use, I might find my backpacking camera kit increasing in size once again, sigh. Well it’s only a rumor… for now!
And then there is this. We’re all shadows and dust, but photography is a nice way to pass the time. It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of cameras of recent years. So, what’s your photo kit looking like lately? Hike It. Like It.