The Big Change Part 2- Hello Sony

December 05, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Based on my experience with my Sony NEX camera and the reviews of their new flagship full frame camera, I'm going to sell my Canon gear and buy a Sony a99...but the plan is much more complex than that...

I've purchased some inexpensive lens adapters from Fotodiox. This allowed me to do some tests at the local camera shop with a demo model to make sure it would work at all. Making sure the camera will meter correctly in Aperture priority mode is the most important thing. Second is to make sure that the lens can properly focus to infinity. if it can't, then the clearances are wrong and the lens won't be properly usable. I already know that the in body image stabilization won't work because the adapted lenses have no electronic contacts. If the camera doesn't know the focal length of the lens, it can't do the correct math on how far to move the sensor...more on that later.

These tests worked so I bought the camera...in fact I also picked up a NEX-5R because I've become addicted to that system and the 5R seemed like an incredible camera too in it's own right. So why Sony and no a Canon like I'm already shooting? Why not Nikon? (as asked by just about everybody I know). Well there are two big reasons. First is focus peaking. The Sony has an electronic viewfinder and so has focus peaking both in the viewfinder and on the back LCD screen. I've already used this with my NEX-7 and it's an incredibly fast and accurate way to focus manual lenses. The other reason is that the a99 has better video functionality than any other camera for the type of work I want to use it for. If I can get the Super Steady Shot to work, then that's another huge advantage which no other camera can offer. 

a99 with pineapple

 

The solution to the image stabilization came to me while looking at alternative ways of adapting my lenses. This is how I found Leitax.com. Leitax makes lens adapters for many brands of lenses to adapt to many types of camera body. It so happens that they make adapters for Leica R lenses and Nikkor lenses to fit Sony bodies. These adapters are a bit more involved as they replace the factory bayonet with a new one machined perfectly to fit to the lens and the body alike. The big advantage of these adapters is that they are designed to be used with the focus confirmation chips. These chips are pre-programmed by to report a focal length and max aperture to the camera. They are simply glued into the new bayonet. Once complete my Leica R and Nikkor lenses will be Sony Alpha lenses with digital contacts. I'll then use the regular Sony Alpha to E-Mount adapter to mount them onto my NEX-7 and 5R. The NEX cameras will become my b-cameras for event photography and videography and share the same set of lenses. The final package will be very capable and extremely compact compared to using modern AF lenses with multiple DSLR sized bodies or a DSLR with big lenses and the NEX with it's own set of lenses. In time I will get some native Sony lenses but I'm holding out for now as Sony doesn't make any full frame weather sealed lenses and their pricing model at the moment is a bit steep compared to what I'm used to.

Some of the lenses I use are old Tamron Adaptall II lenses. These were above average lenses quality wise in their day and well constructed. Plus they are very cheap to buy today if you can find them. I'll have to use the Fotodiox adapters mentioned previously for them but there is a possibility that the focus confirmation chips which fit the Leitax mounts will also work on the Fotodiox adapters. If not, the lenses will still work, just without image stabilization...not the end of the world.

I'm still deciding on which lenses to keep as I have more than I need. I'm selecting lenses based on image quality, quality of construction, condition, and nice-to-haves like integral lens hoods and the ability to focus unusually close. I'm still making the final decisions but so far, this is likely what the full kit will look like until I can fill the holes with new lenses.

  • Tamron SP 17mm f/3.5
  • Leica Lietz 35mm Summicron f/2 R
  • Leica Leitz 50mm Summilux f/1.4 R
  • Leica Leitz 90mm Summicron f/2 R
  • Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AiS Micro (Macro)
  • Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 AiS ED
  • Tokina 400mm f/5.6 (Nikkor Ai Mount)

One other advantage of the Sony a99 over Canon DSLRs is that it has a crop mode which emulates a crop sensor by using only the center portion of the sensor. This provides a crop factor of about 1.4x and 2x (there is also a digital zoom mode which provides gradual simulated zoom up to 8x). Given the focal lengths above, I end up with the following usable focal lengths just with the 1.4 digital teleconverter: 17, 24, 35, 50, 70, 90, 105, 126, 147, 180, 250, 400, 560, 800, and technically speaking up to 3200mm with the full digital zoom...though there might not be enough quality there to make that practical. This is not bad considering I can carry all 7 lenses in a space smaller than just a hand full of modern pro grade fast, zoom, autofocus lenses. An argument can be made for a couple of high quality zooms being more convenient as lenses don't have to be switched as often, or at all, but I prefer the speed and quality of primes for the types of work I do. Considering it would cost over $4000 to buy the two main fast Sony pro zoom lenses, my solution is much more attractive right now. There are a couple of primes I'd like to add to the list but fortunately these are old Nikkor lenses and I can pick all of them up online for less than the cost of any pro grade Sony zoom.

I've only had the camera for a day or so so it's too soon to give you too many first impressions but so far I can tell you that I've made the right choice for the set up I want and the type of work I do. The manual focus with peaking works perfectly and with some custom programming on the buttons I can quickly get up to a 5.6x focus assist zoom on the screen and in the viewfinder using the aperture preview button...something not possible with optical viewfinder dslr cameras. Also, the layout of the screen and viewfinder shows additional information almost exactly the way it does in the NEX cameras so that all 3 have a very similar feel...this is nice as well when switching back and forth. The low light sensitivity, while possibly not as good as some of it's competition, is far superior to any crop sensor camera I've used and that's a good thing. My favorite thing is that with the battery grip, it takes 3 batteries. This is going to be great when working large events or doing a full day of video.

The next post in this series will be a review of the camera once I've had a chance to use it a bit.


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