Accepted Wisdom and False Belief of Sony Lenses

The humble Sony E series 55-200mm was used here, wide open at f6.3 and 210mm at just 1/13 sec and 800ISO,  sometimes light weight and OSS trumps big fast, expensive and heavy, especially without image stabilisation when shooting on the margins of available light as in this case. Oh and please don't tie the title of the blog entry to the pic, no link intended at all I promise.

As many of you will realise I am somewhat of an admirer of the often much derided Sony NEX series.  I have in all honesty found my Nex 5n to be the most adaptable and useful photographic instrument I have ever used or owned and I have owned more than a few cameras over the past 37 years of creating images.

I'm not one-eyed, I admire and appreciate many cameras from almost all brands, I could love a Sigma Merrill, rock with a D800, travel with a Ricoh and adore an OM. In my classes I have played with them all and as such I am pretty aware of what they offer.

But the NEX 5N with all the accessories I have DIYed just works for me and gives me great results, and for the odd time when it doesn't suit I reach for my trusty A900 and a suitable lens.

But frankly I am starting to get just a little bit peeved at what I consider to be utter falsehoods leveled at Sony and the Nex series (now Alpha E Series) in regards to lenses and menus.

It is in a way as if sometime a while back,  some interweb "self anointed gurus" have cast disparaging conclusions upon the NEX range and every one else has just gone blindly along with the whole 9 yards of it, without any re-evaluation as the years have passed or bothering to to execute an examination of the facts.

Lets deal with lenses in this installment, I will comment upon the menus another time, which whilst not paragons of usability are nowhere near as bad as generally purported.

How many times have you read, “there are no decent lenses for NEXs so don't bother going there”, blow me down almost every time Sony releases a new camera this old chestnut is driven out for a spin around the pixel patch. Great tech.....grumble grumble, no lenses!

Now sure there are a lot of good and even great lenses in the Nikon and Canon catalogues, but a lot of those are actually quite ancient and both makers have been churning out lenses in their respective mounts for decades.  How many lenses did Nikon actually have in their catalogue on the day they released their first Nikon “F” SLR in 1959?  I guess they probably launched with 4 or 5 lenses on day 1, I might be wrong, as I have not been able to find any reliable stats but if someone out there knows drop me line it would be good to know.

I must mention also that even when a maker releases a new model of lens, quite often it is a reheated version of the previous model without any major changes to the optical formula, a new coating here, faster drive motor there, different case, extra electronics etc.  In other words it is much easier for a manufacturer with an established arsenal of lenses to roll out new models than it is for another maker to start from scratch, which is obviously what Sony had to do with the NEX series of lenses. 

New A7 and A7r ?   Oh yeah very innovative the naysayers state but there are no good lenses!  Lets conveniently forget that 2 of the 3 lenses released with the cameras are bloody stunners in an optical sense.  There are another two which will soon be available and of course you can use any A series lenses via the two available Sony adapters.  

It appears the new 50mm E mount FE lens is currently second only in performance to the Zeiss Otus, yet many armchair pundits have the temerity to claim it is too expensive at around the $1000 mark.  Give me a break, the OTUS is $4Gs!  Good glass costs, the new Sigma 50mm Art will be around the $1000.00 mark also and already people are proclaiming from the rooftops "bargain", lets get some perspective here, please.

But I digress, for today lets get back to the APSC NEX series.

Now exactly how many lenses do you actually need?  Not want, need!  If you need a fast super telephoto, well yes the NEX (E) series might leave you grasping, but for most needs there are lenses for every intended purpose.  

And by the way how many people really need more than 200mm on an APSC sensor, trust me it’s a pretty small segment of the market, I don’t think birding or sports photography were high items on the Sony agenda when they conceived the NEX series and clearly if your trying to do either with your NEX camera you've probably bought the wrong camera. Both Canon and NIkon do some lovely and reasonably prised DSLRs with admittedly expensive lenses to suit such needs, but as they say "horses for courses".

No one exactly gets worked up by the fact there are no super teles for the Leica M system, nor should they.  Camera makers build cameras to suit a certain niche of the market, it is simply not possible to be everything to everyone with a single camera model.  And all you DSLR apologists, don’t even start, back now, calm down....yeah sure I know you can get almost any focal length for a DSLR, but hey some of them are pretty compromised by weight, physical length, limited aperture options, oh and price!

The “Nex”, now Alpha e Mount series is what it is, a small adaptable system that suits travellers, snap shooters, photographers who love to tinker  (my group) and probably quite a few others as well. Sony didn’t set out to replace the DSLR range with the Nex range, they set out to create an additional tool for a different market.  In fact this is one of Sonys' major attributes of late, they actually do try to come up with innovative niche stuff to suit the needs of differing markets instead of trying to stuff the same equipment down everyones throat as if it were a universal tool.  There is no such beast as a universal tool, often it is not extra lenses you need but extra cameras and in the end it can even work out cheaper.

Say for example you really want fast lenses to cover the 24-200 mm range for travel usage, you could buy say a fine Canon 600D (approx A$500.00), a Canon  24-70mm f2.8 (approx A$2200.00) and a 70-200 f2.8 (A$2300.00 for IS version).  Sum total A$5000.00!  Or you could buy a Sony RX10 for around $1200.00 to do much the same thing in vastly lighter package. In many ways the whole idea of buying a camera and a heap of lenses is a little crazy and often compromising, at least in the real world practical sense.  For travel purposes the RX10 option would probably be the better choice for most users if for no other reason than when travelling weight and bulk are significant issues, and if it doesn't trade much off image quality wise (which it doesn't) what is the benefit of the former option?

The guy who shoots the footy for the Major Metro papers is not going to even think about using an NEX or RX for example, he will run with a pro grade DSLR and Super Tele and carry the tripod he needs and a big bag to hold it all in. Realistically however, does that mean that Sony should have such lenses available for footy shooting wannabees toting a Nexcam around the neck....get real and buy a DSLR if you really need a DSLR.

So lets make some comparisons, you know run some actual numbers, look at some facts.

The NEX line has been around for just on 4 years and currently there are 19 lenses and 2 wide angle adapters on offer.  These range from the cheapish and cheerful through to the expensive Zeiss optics and some newer full frame glass, the range also includes a couple of video centric models.

So what about the big C mirrorless stable? Well, it's not actually a stable but a small garden shed, their equivalent M series has spawned just 3 lenses in 18 months so not what we would call a wide range! In fact one could call this a token effort designed to avoid cutting into their DSLR lens sales and postpone the inevitable shift to mirrorless some time in the future, especially when you consider that Canon is one of the powerhouses of the lens building world.

The Nikon one series is cracking along at a fair pace, offering 11 lenses in around 2 and 1/2 years, but the actual camera is not in any way a true alternative to either DSLRs or the NEX series. Oh I would not discount it, the wee little beastie has some flash options when it comes to continuous shooting modes and focus options, but clearly it was not designed to set the world on fire!

The Leica lens range runs to 22 optics but there is nothing really long or super wide in the range and of course none are image stabilized.  Leica have had literally decades to get their catalogue in order and in any case Leica is really its own market, few NEXXERs would consider buying a Leica unless they are really loaded. However a lot of Leica owners seem to buy NEX bodies for their Leica Lenses, Oh the delicious irony of it all.

Fuji have 12 X series lenses, which cover most bases and all are of good to excellent quality  and the latest camera models are very appealing, certainly a top choice for enthusiasts and Fuji owners generally are very happy with their choices.

Olympus fares best with 30 lenses on offer over a 5 1/2 yr period, but many of these are derived from the earlier 4/3 lenses, which of course go back quite a few more years.   The Olympus offerings are not image stabilized as that feature is built into the camera bodies.

And finally we have Panasonic with 18 lenses some of which are stabilized, like Olympus, the Panasonic M4/3 system has been around for about 5 1/2 years.

So on numbers alone you would have to say that Sony have roughly the same rate of rollout as the other makers and have a range that is pretty similar in breadth and price points, except for Olympus in particular which is a far older and more mature system and offers Pro Grade lenses at Pro Grad prices and of course there is Leica, is an expensive outlier in the mirrorless world.  It should be noted that Sony also offers some Pro-grade stuff as.

All of these mirrorless brands/models mentioned can use lenses from their parents stable or other makers via adapters but not all are equally useful.  The Nikon in particular is quite hobbled as the crop factor of the format triples the effective focal length of any lens used, so in practice you don’t have a viable array of alternative wide angle options to play with, but of course you're spoilt for telephoto alternatives.  The Canon can of course use adapted EF and EFS lenses, but there are nowhere near as many "alternative lens brands" adapters for the Canon M as there are for the Sony and M4/3 systems.

The NEX bodies can literally via the LA-EA2 adapter be turned into an SLT camera and work with any Sony/MInolta auto focus lens from the last 30 years, they can also use any of these legacy lenses without auto focus on the cheaper  LA-EA1 adapter, additionally some A series lenses will auto-focus (slowly) mounted on the LA-EA1 adapter.

But moving beyond the more obvious options, the NEX can use an adapter to work with Autofocus Contax lenses and even the entire Canon EF series via the right adapter with full IS support.

Want more, well of course there are cheap adapters for almost any manual focus lens ever made including all of the NIkon series going back to day 1 and you can even get tilt/shift adapters to work with Nikon lenses and some other brands.

A natural choice of many enthusiasts is the older but often beautifully built Minolta MC/MD series lenses, many of which are truly stunning performers for their day and even by todays standards, again we have numerous and cheap adapters for those.

Equally the Olympus OM lenses (the original ones) are a great match for the NEX series because they are typically small, generally very nicely made and have the aperture rings at the front of the lens, which makes for a nice ergonomic NEX combo package from my perspective.  (most OM lenses look right at home on the NEX models)

But probably best of all, are the options that open up when you mount a Metabones Speedbooster adapter to the NEX.  In this guise you get an angle of view very similar to the full frame view of the attached lens and an increase in the maximum f Stop (by about 1 stop).

Finally, should the above options prove insufficient we have a whole array of third party lenses for the NEX (E) series from Sigma, Samyang and others, which cover cinema, ultra wide, extreme macro and fisheye options.

It could be argued that perhaps there are no super fast lenses in the Sony line-up.  True enough if you want to exceed f1.8, which frankly I find for any sensible photographic purpose is the useful limit anyway.  Most super fast prime lenses are manual focus beasties and in reality there are plenty of such options for the NEX, you can choose from specialized Nex mount lenses such as the Mitakons or use adapted fast glass from just about any maker. 

I imagine Sony thinking related to the lenses they  chose to develop was and still is driven by the desire to keep things compact and light,  fast glass is neither compact nor light,  there is no way around the physics.

And yet, even when the moaners can accept there are enough lenses, they still roll out the “oh yeah you can get some lenses but they are all crap”!  Again another load of unmitigated excrement.

Yes there are some cheapish and thus average performers in the stable and one that is to all accounts a dog  (the 16mm f2.8 pancake) but there are also some very good lenses.  The 24, 35, and 50mm primes for example are all excellent, basically if you want the goods stuff, the options are there and the cheap kit stuff is pretty much line ball with all the other brands in quality and performance.

This whole “no lenses for the NEX” argument is bovine excrement of the first order and frankly there is so much of it flowing through the internet forums and test sites I think some Web sites could do a good sideline in compost.

Ultimately bemoaning the lack of specialized native glass for the NEX line is like saying you can’t get truck tyres for a Hyundai Getz....it’s just not part of the design intent and concept....get over it or buy something else if you need it.....like a truck, I mean DSLR.

And saying there are no decent lenses for the NEX (E) mount when you take into account all the non OEM options is just patently ridiculous, unless you actually think that all Nikon, Canon, Leica, Zeiss etc glass is clearly rubbish!

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