Sony NEX-5 High ISO Performance
About two weeks ago, I went down to the University of Texas at Austin to attend a photography lecture. Four published Texas photographers presented their take on “Living in Texas”. While the lectures were interesting and informative, I also used it as an opportunity to test out the Sony NEX-5 that I recently purchased. Whenever I get a new tool such as a camera or lens, I tend to use it quite a bit to get a feel for it. I find out what I like and dislike about the product. I try to find what it does well and no so well so that I can see how it fits into my arsenal of photography tools. Inspired by a blog post by Steve Huff called Sony NEX-5 and 16mm at ISO 6400 on the Light Rail!, I also wanted to do some high ISO candid photographs with my NEX-5.
I’ve been impressed with what the Sony can do at high ISOs. It compares favorably with the quality of my Canon 7D. I have not done test photographs comparing the two cameras in the same scene at the same ISO, so my comments here are based more on the feel I get shooting the images. Sometimes I think the Canon does a better job but at other times the Sony seems better. I find that much of the noise in high ISO photographs are dependent upon the exposure and colors in the photograph. A high ISO image of a bright scene is usually going to look better than a photographs with a lot of shadows. The main take away for me is that the performance of the 7D and NEX-5 are similar enough that I don’t give a clear advantage to either camera. This in itself is the great thing about the Sony. It’s such a small camera but gives really great high ISO quality. This is not entirely surprising since the Sony and Canon both have image sensors that are about the same size. Actually with a 1.5 crop factor the Sony senor is a tad larger than the Canon that has a 1.6 crop factor.
The images were converted to black and white in post processing, for several reasons. First, regardless of the general quality, at ISO 3200 to 6400, the images are still going to be noisy. I figured the black and white along with the digital noise will give a more of a film look. I also have a growing appreciation for black and white and given the candid subjects, it feels more like an old-time documentary photograph. I’m sure I was also influenced by Steve Huff’s images in his blog which also showcased his photos originally in black and white. Unlike Steve though, I used the 18 – 55mm kit lens with my NEX instead of the 16mm lens. Be sure to click on the images to see a larger version.
My Thought Process
Image 1: This gentleman was setting up the Keynote (Apple’s version of PowerPoint) presentations for the lecturing photographers. The only light in the room was the projector displaying the photographs and this lamp that is right by the MacBook Pro laptop. I noticed him peaking around the corner during the presentation and I thought it would make an interesting photograph. This was taken at ISO 6400. I used Topaz DeNoise version 5 to reduce a bit of the noise in this image.
Image 2: I took several audience photos but this one is my favorite. I liked how the light from the projection screen highlighted the facial details of the man with the glasses. Also his glasses and haircut seems to have a retro quality that give this image more of a timeless feel. Also taken at ISO 6400 and noise reduced with Topaz DeNoise.
Image 3: I wanted to capture one of the photography lecturers. Here I decided to frame the speaker between two audience members. The kit lens gave a bit of a shallow depth of field so that I can focus on the lecturer and keep the audience members somewhat out of focus. This photograph was take at ISO 3200 without any further noise reduction. This was cropped into a 4 x 5 format to eliminate some distractions on the left side.
Image 4: This University of Texas student was keeping the door open to an adjoining room that contained after lecture refreshments. I framed this scene with her slightly off-center. I like how the other people in the frame, in front of her and behind her, seems to have a layering effect on the image. I think the motion blur of the other people adds to this effect. I would like this photograph even more if the others in the frame were even more motion blurred — this would highlight my intended subject even more. This was taken at ISO 1600 with no additional noise reduction.
[Note: Click on the images for a larger version]
All of the photographs were taken in RAW with the Sony NEX-5 with the 18 – 55mm kit lens. There were post processed using Aperture 3. I used the black and white conversion built into the Aperture to create these photographs. The sharpness and brightness were increased and a slight vignette was added to darken the edges.
Image 1: f5, 1/40 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 6400 at 46mm
Image 2: f5.6, 1/5 sec, +2 exposure compensation, ISO 6400 at 55mm
Image 3: f4, 1/40 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 3200 at 18mm
Image 4: f3.5, 1/40 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 18mm
Other Sony NEX-5 blog posts
Here are some other posts I made about the Sony NEX-5.