Friday, February 17, 2012

A Practical Shootout - Nikon V1 vs NEX-5N vs Canon S95

Shootout at the Camera Corral

From left to right - Sony NEX-5N, Canon S95, Nikon V1

So it just so happens I have my hands on three cameras with different-sized sensors (I actually had four, but sold my Canon 5D before I could do this comparison!) and thought I would try a little practical exercise.

The depth-of-field/Bokeh/"blur"/Isolation Test

The fake situation I've put myself in is rather simple.  I'm standing at point A, aiming at subject B, and I want a framing of C.  Given the cameras and their respective kit lenses, how do the photos turn out?

A few more details:

  1. All cameras were shot in RAW then exported as JPEG using Adobe Lightroom 4 and the default profile.  this prevents any of the blur (bokeh) being affected by different contrast curves the cameras apply to JPEGs.
  2. I mounted each camera on a tripod and tried to adjust framing to be as similar as possible (harder than it sounds).  I came close, but it's not perfect.
  3. I made a moderate effort to get exposures as similar as possible, but I didn't pour a whole lot of time into this aspect - any differences were adjusted in LR4 beta.
This was just a quick exercise into just how much blur is "lost" due to using a smaller V1 sensor as compared to the NEX-5N's sensor.  Also, just how much smoother is the V1 going to be over a good point and shoot, the Canon S95?

Image 1 - Sony NEX-5N
51mm, f/5

So here we have the first candidate, the NEX-5N.  In case you're not sure, I'm focusing on that awesome hot-pink Kitchen Clip.  Pay attention to the background - I've placed some random objects to simulate a "busy" (non-pleasing) background.  The distance from the clip to the objects in the back was approximately 5-6 feet.

Image 2 - Nikon V1
30mm, f/5.6
Here's the second shot, from the smaller-sensored V1.  Notice how the batteries and blinds have a slightly more-defined structure now.

Image 3 - Canon S95
18.1mm, f/4.5
Our last image is from the even smaller (body and sensor) Canon S95.  The background has gained even more definition, meaning we have less subject isolation (isolating the clip from the background) than the previous images (though one can argue hot pink is certainly isolated against both white and black!)


There are really a few ways to conduct this test, but I decided to simulate a "what if" scenario:  if I were walking along and found a subject I wanted to photograph, and that subject was both close to the background and to my camera (which was about 3-4 feet away in these samples), what would the results look like?

As can be seen, due to the larger sensor size of the NEX-5N, it naturally has a more shallow DOF than the other two cameras.  While the V1 isn't bad, it certainly shows a degree of definition in the background that isn't found in the 5N.  Still it does a reasonable job.

Of course once we step down to the S95, we're looking at a pretty distracting, almost in-focus background.  Poor subject isolation means it "runs into" the background and you lack a sort of 3-D effect that the NEX-5N gives you.

Unfortunately I don't own a full-frame camera any more, but if I did, we could see an even smoother background than the 5N's image.

The take away from this is that given all else equal (almost*), when it comes to framing the photo and taking the shot from the same location, the larger sensor is going to yield a smoother background.

Fret not, though - there are actually other ways to blur out the background even with smaller sensors - it just becomes much more difficult.

As an extreme example of what the larger sensors can do, here is a Nikon D700 shot using an 85mm lens set at f/1.4 (big sensor + fast lens + close subject = bokeh paradise!)

My wife
Nikon D700 with Rokinon 85mm at f/1.4

*Now, some caveats - I realize the apertures aren't the same between these photos - that's because I was doing a "real-world" experiment in that I was shooting wide open on all three cameras.

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