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PHOTOGRAPHY Waiting for the NEX 7.

Oskar Barnack’s invention of the Leica succeeded not because the film was big but because the camera was small.

Now SONY has introduced a successor to the Leica … the NEX7.  Like a Lica C, the Nex7 is small (fits in our palm, light weight, and silent no SLR mirror! I am anxioulsy awaiting for my new camera.

Size matters!  The Leica C and its successors were hugely popular (and useful) because their small size made them practical.  After SLRs invaded, social photographers still used Leica’s because they were small and quiet.

As a social/political photographer, I need to be able to work in low light.   My current camera (Nikon D700) can do that but the camera gets far too much attention.  It is BIG and the mirror makes noise.  BUT, thee D700 has a great sensor and works in very low light.

The Leica film camera’s big limitation was not the camera but the film.  Remember Tri-X?  ASA 400?  Or push it (with lots of grain) to 1600?  A FF would add nothing but size … unless you believe sensors have met their limits.

Experts say digital camera have to be large because they need big sensors to capture low light.  Lots of small sensors on a small chip creates the ogre of quantum noise. Before these experts jump on me as being ignorant of quantum mechanics, let me remind all of the history of digital sensors.  THEY GET BETTER!

A bigger digital sensor would only be useful IF the camera stayed small and the ISO get a lot higher.

Pessimists about increased ISO ignore the amazing progress that the new sensor in the NEX 7 already represents.  Moreover, “film speed” in a digital camera does not depend only on the sensor.  Effective film speed is hugely increased by image stabilization .. by about two stops!  Imagine the impact of ASA 1600, low grain and color, film on photography in the pre digital age!

Additional digital processing tricks increase effective film speed.  The smarts in the camera can combine information from multiple exposures to create a more effective film speed and software can deal with blur much as the Lutro does with focus.

On the other hand, I REALLY want smaller lenses. If my eyeball can see it, a smnall camera should be able to do as well.  So, my “wants” are not for FF but for lens design that makes the whole thing smaller. One of the cool things about the NEX7 is that it allows one to use legacy lenses.  Lenses without such modern stuff as autofocus, autodiaphragm, and IS were (and are)  a lot smaller. I suspect the mechanical limits to achieving some of this may be real unless we give up some features.  Here are things I would trade for the ability use more compact lenses on a future Nex:

TRADEOFFS

a. autofocus.  Nice but not necessary.

b. autodiaphragm.  I am not sure that we need this.  The reasons for it in pre-digital camera were the need for a wide aperture to get accurate focus.

c. IS .. this IS very important, BUT, I wonder if putting it in the lens rather than the camera does not limit reduction in lens sizes?  There is also an obvious huge “film speed” advantage to the use of legacy lenses on an IS body.  If IS adds little to the size of the NEX, why not pout it in there and let let me choose body vs lens IS?


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