User Experience: Sony NEX-5 As Travel Camera


Over the last few days I’ve posted some images captured on a trip to San Francisco. It was one of my first opportunities to spend a few hours shooting with the Sony NEX-5 in my usual travel style.

I have two requirements for a travel camera. First, it needs to stay out of my way both in use and in transit. My Nikon DSLRs are just too heavy and complex to meet my needs. I start carrying a spare lens or two with the camera and I have a kit.

I find myself making decisions about lenses, focus, exposure that are great for contemplative landscape photography, but not my photographic mindset when walking around a city.

I shoot quickly and by instinct. If something looks interesting, I’ll focus, frame and shoot. If I’m worried about the exposure, I’ll check the image on the LCD, but mostly I grab shots and keep moving. Sometimes I stop and capture people as they pass,but its the same approach- the subject is moving instead of me.

Over the past few years I’ve created images with my Leica M6ttl on black and white film. I love the look and the Leica’s simplicity fits the shooting style. I’ve also gotten great images with the Sigma DP1. Its very slow to store a RAW image and be ready for the next shot, but that isn’t a big problem when I shoot in that slow rhythm of look and capture, look and capture.

The second requirement is that the images respond well to post processing. Exposure needs to be right on and the RAW contain enough information to re-imagine the scene using Photoshop. Both the film and DP1 meet this need in different ways. Film really auto-creates the re-imagining. The visual world rendered on TRI-X is not our world,but rather one of contrast and shading. The DP1 images have a clarity and solidity that fits my visual impressions of the world well. Both are limited by either fixed focal length (DP1) or small selection of primes (M6). Other cameras just haven’t been as responsive.

The NEX-5 is my best experience yet on both needs. It’s small and light. I don’t have a camera strap on it. I can walk with it balanced on fingertips hooked around the grip. It looks oddly proportioned but its balance as a tactile object is nearly perfect. It focuses quickly and accurately. I’ve found that using it like a rangefinder works best, keeping focus set to center spot then reframing after achieving focus. The rear LCD works well to compose. I rarely crop, preferring to frame in camera, moving until the image “looks like a photograph”.

I’m also really pleased with the sharpness and color depth in the raw files coming out of the NEX-5, These images are all captured with the kit lens, a typical midrange zoom that helps with framing and relative focus when needed. I’d like a wider angle at times, but generally in the city, my game is one of getting close and isolating as in this image.

I’ll be in Europe for a longish trip next month and expect that it will be the NEX-5 that comes along for shooting during the time off.

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