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My take on the Sony NEX-5N


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Custom Cropmarks for Magic Lantern on the Canon 550D

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My 550D (T2i), even though it is as good as it was the day I bought it (actually, it's better, thanks to Magic Lantern), was feeling old. The new Canon 650D (T4i) has the same aliasing/moire issues of its old brothers, and the 5D3, which doesn't have them, seems overpriced (if not for video, then at least in its core market -stills- and compared to the D800).

So I thought to myself: maybe I can get by for another year or two with a cheap upgrade, while I wait for a new generation of cameras (the one I'd look forward the most: a second generation BlackMagic Design Cinema Camera with a bigger sensor).

The hacked GH2 has some mighty strengths, but the image just doesn't call me. It's totally subjective, but to me it just feels too digital. And it lacks DR. I like DR. The D3200 seems to have the same aliasing/moire issues of my 550D. It may be just as good, but it wouldn't feel like an upgrade. The Sony DSLRs seem to have many usability issues induced by silly design choices. The Pentax K-1 has a great sensor and in-body image stabilization, but the codec is not great and it's relatively expensive.

So I got myself a second-hand Sony NEX-5N, and I have to say, I'm very happy with it so far. I have created some Flaat settings for it, and, while they're not as good as what I could get if the camera allowed me to load custom-made picture styles, with this the camera is producing some very nice images, with good DR (much better than with the recommended settings I found around the web) and great colors (specially skin tones).

I have tested it against the 550D, and also the GH2 and the D800, in the Flaat Shootout 2012. My preliminary conclusion is that this is a very lovely camera, with some moderately minor drawbacks. It didn't "win" any of the tests, but it was also the only camera without any major flaws.

* Much reduced aliasing and moire issues.
* Sharper than the Canons. Great balance of softness and detail.
* Nice colors (similar to Flaat on Canon).
* Focus peaking works great.
* It doesn't overheat at all if you're not recording. Unlike the Canons, you can leave this one on as long as you want. I hardly ever shoot takes of more than a couple of minutes, so this fits my workflow very well.
* Quick and easy user interface. The custom menu with your 5 favorite settings is great (Canon's Q-menu is even better, but this is close enough for me). The only thing that takes a bit more time to change is the frame rate (and still, going from 24p 1/50s to 60p 1/125s with inceased ISO takes me less than 20 seconds).
* Touchscreen functionality can be turned off (I prefer buttons, and, as stated above, they work great).
* Small and light. Which makes it quite confortable to handhold (but too shaky if you want to have any camera movement in your handheld footage).
* In fact, nearly-pocketable when paired with the Sigma 30mm f/2.8, which is a very cheap lens that delivers very sharp pictures.
* Great stills. With 10fps mode if you need it.

* Not a world camera: the European version records only 25p and 50p, the US version records only 24p and 60p. It won't be easy to get the one you want if it's not the one from your area (I bought mine second-hand on ebay just so it had 24p and 60p).
* Exposure changes when you hit record, specially in the shadows (i.e. the preview has a lot less latitude than what you get when you hit record). And once you're recording, there's no histogram, no zebras, no nothing. You have to eye-ball your exposure with test-takes (and I know I'm not good at this). It seems this only happens when you use a DR parameter that's different from DR-0; but I like DR-1.
* No way to record timelapse (well, there's a way, but it is through an obscure workaround, using a programmable IR light).
* It overheats very quickly once you hit record. Takes of 4 minutes or more may not be possible depending on the weather. Even with this DIY fix applied.
* Slightly less DR than the Canons (but it's very close).
* It's way too easy to change the shutter speed by mistake, bumping on the wheel button.
* No hotshoe mount. I use that to mount accessories. Mitigated by having two 1/4" threads: one in the camera, one in the lens adapter.

Still unknown:
* Codec strength: some people have complained that the codec breaks down easily when graded. So far I haven't found any issues, but they may be waiting to appear when they can hurt me the most (as issues do). With my limited experience with the camera, the codec doesn't seem to break any easier than the one in the first generation of Canon DSLRs (5D2, 7D, 60D, etc). But when it breaks, it's the ugliest thing you can imagine. I had to shoot a short bit in a night club, with available light; at ISO 3200 and with the lens wide open, it was still heavily underexposed; pushing that image to get somewhat acceptable exposure revealed the ugliest compression artifacts I've ever seen. The Canon might have been even worse, since it's a lot noisier at ISO 3200, but I can understand why people complain that the codec breaks very badly. I had to apply Magic Bullet Denoiser II with its strongest settings ("300") to get bearable images (they now look more SD than HD, but they're much better this way).

Some links:
Flaat for the NEX-5N
Flaat Shootout 2012: 550D (T2i) vs NEX-5N vs GH2 vs D800

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