Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Should you buy the Sony NEX-FS100 Kit Lens?

The Sony NEX-FS100 is available in two configurations:
But what does that extra $600 get you? It get's you this:
This lens is also available separately for $799.99, so at $200 off you'd think everyone would be jumping on it.
But not so fast...

In his article about switching from the Canon 5D Mark II to the Sony NEX-FS100, Paul Antico at Need Creative says of the kit lens:
7) Its 18-200 F3.6-6.3 kit lens absolutely sucks and should be avoided (thankfully, you can order it without one) [1]
But is it that bad?

At B & H's site, 43 reviews give it an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars. That's not a bad rating, though many of these people are using it for stills, and the most common complaint noted is how large and heavy it is. Of course this feeling of size would be exacerbated when you put it on a tiny camera like the NEX-5. Still, the "Most Liked Negative Review" says:
This lens features very good build quality and good optics. It is worlds better than the other two currently available E-Mount lens from Sony. This lens lives up to the excellent sensor in the NEX-3/5.

Back in October I got to play briefly with the Sony NEX-VG10, which comes with the same lens, and had this to say about it:
The first thing that surprised me was how stiff the zoom lens is. I was expecting it to be a bit stiff; maybe like the Canon zoom lens I have on my HDDSLR, but it's much worse than that. Really unusable to zoom while shooting. Sure, using the zoom in narrative work is discouraged, but in documentary and other forms you often use a zoom now and again. [2]
Not everyone has had the same experience though, and maybe I was being overly picky; or maybe it was a bad sample, or maybe it improves over time as you use it... Still, I've seen others complain about how stiff it is.

Over at Luminous Landscape, they reviewed the NEX-VG10, and had this to say about the lens:
This lens is quite excellent. [...] What I saw during my three days of field testing was excellent resolution and high contrast combined with a low level of aberration.

The lens is mechanically very smooth, with fly-by-wire focusing and mechanical zooming. The zoom is reasonably smooth, but can't really compare with a motorized zoom, and thus the lens should really be regarded as variable focal length rather than one to be used for zooming while filming. No big loss.

The real story on this lens, particularly for video shooting, is the built-in Active Stabilization. [3]

Den Lennie, in an online chat about the NEX-FS100 said:
It's a solid piece of glass with a metal housing, very nice optical quality and resolving power. For shooting outdoors it’s a very good lens. Only f3.5 though, so indoors a little slow, but we used a Alpha 50mm f1.4 for the majority of "Vertigo," and the 16mm f2.8 Sony E mount - the 50mm f1.4 was under £400. [4]
Not exactly shouting from the roof-tops, but not totally dismissive, either.

And reviewed the lens (on an NEX-5) and found:
The optical quality is on a very decent level. It is not a flawless lens, of course, but the resolution figures are very fine in the lower portion of the zoom range and still good beyond. The distortion characteristic is about average for a lens in this class. The Sony lens produces a surprisingly low amount of vignetting even at "large" aperture settings (even in RAW images). The primary weakness of the lens are the lateral CAs at 18mm and 200mm although that's also rather typical for such lenses. [5]

It's true that most people don't like how slow it is (f/3.5 at it's widest, f/6.3 at it's worst.) This is the most often cited criticism in user reviews of the lens and camera on different web sites.

The other thing not mentioned that I personally don't like about it is how long it gets when zoomed - it really extends out of it's tube!

But if not that lens, then what do you get? There's very few E-mount lenses available, so your best bet seems to be to use the Sony NEX-Alpha mount adapter - which costs $149 - and use Sony Alpha lenses, or get a Nikon to E-mount adapter and buy Nikon mount lenses.

Philip Johnston clearly has this in mind for his FS100, and has ordered a Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens which costs $1,500; more than twice the price of the Sony lens, and 1/4 of the focal length range. Still, I bet it's a nice lens.
I decided to plum for the Nikon 17-55 F2.8 DX zoom lens as my standard lens on the AF101 which gives a crop equivalent to a 34-110 lens and the new Sony FS100, once again the Sony Super 35mm chip is almost the same size of the APS-C sensor so your choice is so much bigger. [6]
Don't forget, for the Nikon lenses you'll need an adapter like one of these:
There are cheaper adapter choices, but I'd be wary of cheap adapters; several people have had problems with the inexpensive adapters becoming loose after a short period of use.

If you don't like the price of that lens, these seem to be the cheapest alternatives:
Sony also offers lenses, though the only bargain zoom lens with a low aperture is the SAL-2875 28-75mm f/2.8 SAM Constant Aperture Zoom Lens, which sells for $799.99. There is a SAL-70200G Zoom AF 70-200mm f/2.8 APO G(D) SSM Autofocus Lens for $1,799.99.

When you look at the choices, the Sony kit lens starts to look better. Why not buy that as a general purpose lens, and then get a couple of fixed focal length lenses like Den Lennie did?

For outdoor shooting and ENG shooting, it isn't a bad lens. Ultimately, whether this lens is good for you depends on the type of shooting you do. Even if Sony isn't over-charging for the lens, if you're never going to use it, that's $600 you can put towards a lens you want.

BUT the kit lens covers a wide range of focal lengths, it doesn't require an adapter, and it supports optical image stabilization.  For those three reasons, and for the kind of shooting I do, I'd buy the kit version of the NEX-FS100 with the lens.

  1. NeedCreative: Good-Bye HDSLR For Me! Sort Of. A Look At The Sony NEX-FS100
  2. NotesOnVideoSony NEX-VG10 in the flesh
  3. LuminousLandscape: Sony NEX VG10 HD Camcorder / 14MP Stills Camera Field Report 
  4. NotesOnVideoSony Chat on the NEX-FS100
  5. Photocine.deSony E 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS (Sony NEX) - Review / Lens Test Report
  6. HDWarriorLenses Revisited “Your options are limited being a Canon owner”


controller2k said...

One thing I wanted to comment on is my saying the kit lens on this camera "sucks". It does. It's a variable apeture lens which is a no-no; you don't want to zoom and have your light and your DoF changing on you just by zooming. That's crazy. Also it's pretty slow at F3.5-6.3. Owners are far better off getting a cheap set of Nikon primes or a decent constant apeture zoom lens from Nikon or Canon with an adapter, or even a Sony Alpha lens than the thing included with the kit. I still don't recommend it. For the purposes of a cine cam it indeed sucks.

Michael Murie said...

I agree with the person that said it was a variable focal length lens, rather than a zoom lens...

H. Paul said...

Active Steadyshot image stabilization. End of story. Lots of self-proclaimed professionals claim they never use it, and it shows when they don't. There's a big empty space between tripod-mounting shooting, and a full-blown Steadicam vest.

Most all of the other issues, including the slow lens, trace back to this absolutely critical feature.

That's why "controller2k" got it dead wrong.

NeedCreative said...

I'm sorry but real pros don't need image stabilization in a lens because they use rigs to stabilize (and/or use a tripod - the most common tactic). I'll take a proper rig or tripod and fast glass over OIS anyday.

OIS is handy for shooting telephoto, I'll admit that, but for most circumstances it's not necessary if you know what you are doing. I own glass with IS (L series Canon) and without (Zeiss) for example and while the IS is nice while handheld, I am rarely shooting proper pieces handheld unless I'm on a Glidecam rig at min (which requires no vest, by the wayy). Shooting without stabilization is sloppy unless thats a specific effect you're going for to serve the story.

OIS is hardly a panacea or a replacement for shoddy shooting technique, even if you have it in your lens. Even on my Canon 100MM F2.8 L Macro lens - Canon's only lens with a true multi-axis IS, the image can shake if you're holding the camera like a tourist. Again, real stabilization matters.

If you think the multitudes of expensive cine glass and other highly regarded stills glass from manufacturers such as Zeiss have a "critical failure" simply because they lack Image Stabilization, I suppose you are welcome to use substandard slow glass that will change exposure on you as you zoom. But I won't, and neither will most professionals for most purposes.

Sure you can use it, but it's a pain in the ass and very limiting. If the kit lens was an extra $300 I might consider it, but for $700 I'd rather get some nice Zeiss glass and some subject-illuminating shallow DoF than a dim exposure-changing rather deep DoF image that partially negates why I bought a large sensor cine camera in the first place!

H. Paul said...

Pretty much the response I expected. The critical flaw is that your mindset is of having to choose between one and the other. Normal shooters want both.

Yes, stabilization independent of OIS is good. Nothing new. Having both is better. And your shot diversity might be, excuse me, sub-par if you're relying on tripod legs for every damn one. And no one, ever, straps on a Steadicam vest (if they can afford one) for anything off those tripod legs.

Lastly, the obsession over fine glass is as valuable as that over fine wine. This is not still photography. In a fantasy world, guys like you would be subjected to A-B tests, and would fail miserably trying to distinguish mere 2k video.

H. Paul said...

Oh, and another thing: the whole "real pros" thing died about a decade ago. Skilled teenagers are making old-skool-shoulder-cam-vets who call themselves "real pros" show their age.

Michael Murie said...

Uhhh...let's all play nice guys!

I don't believe there's any "right" or "wrong" answer about gear. If you like a lens, or don't, that's okay.

(Some people even argue that Gear's not important, and it's the Story that's important, but that sounds like lunacy to me!)

Nick Santos said...

Can someone please tell me if it's possible to attach the Canon EF85mm f1.2L II lens to the Sony NEX FS100 and I will buy this camera in a heartbeat. I really like the lens because of f1.2 aperture. Thanks

Michael Murie said...

You can do it with something like this: Bower ABANEXEOS Adapter with Aperture for Canon EOS Lens to Sony NEX Camera.
It let's you mount Canon EF mount lenses to the Sony NEX camera mount. I've tried this one on the NEX-VG20 (with the same NEX mount) and it works fine. This version has an aperture which lets you change the f-stop. There's also a non-aperture one, but then you are stuck with the lens being wide open.