A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?

Started Oct 24, 2013 | Discussions
mrbenji Regular Member • Posts: 337
A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?
1

I've had a NEX-5 for a few years now, and was planning to upgrade to a NEX-6 until the 7/7R announcement gave me pause. I'm not heavily invested in APS-C glass... in fact, I only have the 50/1.8 and 18-55... the rest of my lenses are some terrific Konica Hexanon and Minolta MD manual glass. I'm primarily a "papa-razzi" (i.e. mostly pictures of my kids) but have recently started doing some shoots for friends and am thinking of branching out into the occasional paid job.

I think I have a decent-enough understanding of the differences between APS-C and FF... and something has started nagging at me that I'd appreciate help clearing up.

Basically, unless I'm misunderstanding something, my fear is that the A7/A7R will represent a step DOWN in "real-world" low light performance. By "real world," I'm referring to handheld, indoor shots.

Let me see if I can express my concern clearly. Whenever I'm shooting, one of the things I'm considering is (of course) DoF. Say we're considering the same scene, shot with a NEX-5 + 35/1.8, and with an A7 + 35/2.8.

As I understand it, if I frame the shots identically (i.e. standing closer with the A7 than the NEX-5), and I shoot the NEX-5 at f2, shooting the A7 a stop slower at f2.8 will provide an equivalent depth of field. But as far as light gathering goes, f2 & f2.8 are f2 & f2.8 regardless of the sensor size, so achieving the same exposure on the A7 would require using half the shutter speed, double the ISO, or some mix of the two to compensate.

Then you consider the fact the 35/2.8 is unstabilized... Sony claims a 4-stop advantage from OSS! Even if that's wildly optimistic and the advantage is "only" 2 stops, you'd still have to QUADRUPLE your ISO again to achieve a shutter speed high enough to compensate!

If you were shooting the A7 with the 55/1.8 (or, more precisely, a hypothetical 52.5/1.8), you could use f2 from the same spot as the NEX-5 + 35/1.8 and get ~ the same FoV and DoF... but would the resulting output actually be better after you factored in a quadrupled ISO?

It would, of course, be nice to have greater DoF control in bright light (due to the FF FoV's effect on DoF *and* the 1/8000 shutter), but as is, in bright light I just slap a polarizer and ND filter on my 50/1.8... that blocks enough light that I can even shoot wide open in full sun if I want to! There's no equivalent way of physically compensating in a low-light, handheld situation.

In short, although have little doubt I'd get better detail & DR from an A7 (or A7R, of course) in broad daylight... or in a static, tripod-mounted, low light situation, I'm starting to wonder whether the downside on the low-light end isn't too big to justify the added cost. I'm beginning to feel like the omission of IBIS/OSS in the current lineup is a WAY bigger deal than Sony would like us to believe.

Thoughts?

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Erik Magnuson Forum Pro • Posts: 12,247
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?
4

mrbenji wrote:

As I understand it, if I frame the shots identically (i.e. standing closer with the A7 than the NEX-5), and I shoot the NEX-5 at f2, shooting the A7 a stop slower at f2.8 will provide an equivalent depth of field. But as far as light gathering goes, f2 & f2.8 are f2 & f2.8 regardless of the sensor size, so achieving the same exposure on the A7 would require using half the shutter speed, double the ISO, or some mix of the two to compensate.

If DXO can be trusted, the noise for a NEX6 at ISO 1018 is the same as a Nikon D600 at 2980. So you will likely be able to easily double the ISO and still come out a little ahead.

If you were shooting the A7 with the 55/1.8 (or, more precisely, a hypothetical 52.5/1.8), you could use f2 from the same spot as the NEX-5 + 35/1.8 and get ~ the same FoV and DoF

No, the 55/1.8 would have less DOF. You'd need to shoot the 55 at ~f/2.5 to get the same DOF.

I'm starting to wonder whether the downside on the low-light end isn't too big to justify the added cost. I'm beginning to feel like the omission of IBIS/OSS in the current lineup is a WAY bigger deal than Sony would like us to believe.

OSS only helps camera shake - if your subject is not absolutely still then motion blur typically limits the shutter speed. So YMMV depending on what you shoot and what's the more important limiting factor (camera shake, motion blur, focus quickness vs. accuracy, etc.)

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Erik

Khanh Junior Member • Posts: 47
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?
1

It's not as simple as f-stop, shutter speed and DOF combination.  There's also the total amount of light that the sensor gets to represent the gradient of a scene which is a function of the f-stop and sensor size.

Carbon111
Carbon111 Contributing Member • Posts: 555
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?
1

Khanh wrote:

It's not as simple as f-stop, shutter speed and DOF combination. There's also the total amount of light that the sensor gets to represent the gradient of a scene which is a function of the f-stop and sensor size.

Exactly. This is why big sensors are in general such great low light and low noise performers!

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Sean_Jayhawk
Sean_Jayhawk Veteran Member • Posts: 7,448
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?
4

Erik Magnuson wrote:

mrbenji wrote:

No, the 55/1.8 would have less DOF. You'd need to shoot the 55 at ~f/2.5 to get the same DOF.

I'm starting to wonder whether the downside on the low-light end isn't too big to justify the added cost. I'm beginning to feel like the omission of IBIS/OSS in the current lineup is a WAY bigger deal than Sony would like us to believe.

OSS only helps camera shake - if your subject is not absolutely still then motion blur typically limits the shutter speed. So YMMV depending on what you shoot and what's the more important limiting factor (camera shake, motion blur, focus quickness vs. accuracy, etc.)

If the OP is shooting people then I would never want to shoot them at 1/30 or whatever slow shutter speed OSS can afford. People are dynamic and always moving even if slightly while posing (perhaps even a split second eye blink). Speed up your shutter for people shots to ensure a better quality shot. If you're shooting a 50mm or 55mm lens and want to get people who are close to static (not kids much of the time) then you could perhaps go with 1/80. I don't go below 1/125 sec. to be safe. If people are walking or moving then you need to go even faster to get a sharp shot. The OSS won't come into play.

The benefits of the FF sensor on the A7 are going to be very clear over the NEX 5.

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SQLGuy
SQLGuy Forum Pro • Posts: 12,011
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?
1

Erik Magnuson wrote:

OSS only helps camera shake - if your subject is not absolutely still then motion blur typically limits the shutter speed. So YMMV depending on what you shoot and what's the more important limiting factor (camera shake, motion blur, focus quickness vs. accuracy, etc.)

Exactly. A very important point.

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OP mrbenji Regular Member • Posts: 337
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?

sean lancaster wrote:

If the OP is shooting people then I would never want to shoot them at 1/30 or whatever slow shutter speed OSS can afford. People are dynamic and always moving even if slightly while posing (perhaps even a split second eye blink). Speed up your shutter for people shots to ensure a better quality shot. If you're shooting a 50mm or 55mm lens and want to get people who are close to static (not kids much of the time) then you could perhaps go with 1/80. I don't go below 1/125 sec. to be safe. If people are walking or moving then you need to go even faster to get a sharp shot. The OSS won't come into play.

OP here. I was initially inclined to agree with you completely, but upon further reflection, I don't think it's nearly as black and white as you imply. Handheld shake and motion blur work in tandem to create the total blur relative to the sensor, so I'd expect you to be much more likely to grab a clear handheld photo of a moving subject at 1/80 *with* OSS than *without* -- i.e. I think IBIS/OSS doesn't only make slower baseline shutter speeds possible, it also reduces required handheld shutter speeds across the board (although above 1/125 or 1/250 it might often be a distinction without a practical difference).

So I dunno... I'd still argue that estimating a 2-stop advantage handheld is not unreasonable, even for the shutter speed range you're referencing, which brings us back to the prospect of an eightfold-or-so increase in required ISO. (2x to preserve desired DOF, and an additional 4x to compensate for handheld shake.)

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OP mrbenji Regular Member • Posts: 337
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?

SQLGuy wrote:

Erik Magnuson wrote:

OSS only helps camera shake - if your subject is not absolutely still then motion blur typically limits the shutter speed. So YMMV depending on what you shoot and what's the more important limiting factor (camera shake, motion blur, focus quickness vs. accuracy, etc.)

Exactly. A very important point.

I'm fully aware of this, but as I alluded to in a different post in this thread, total blur relative to the sensor is going to equal the sum of camera shake + motion blur. A 2-4 stop advantage, despite being applicable to only the left side of that equation, will still have a positive effect on the total effective blur (blur relative to the sensor).

And yes, I'm aware that depending on the direction of these two motions there could conceivably be a cancelling-out effect, I'm just talking about planning for the worst case (motion blur and camera shake going in opposite directions at the moment the shutter fires).

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SQLGuy
SQLGuy Forum Pro • Posts: 12,011
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?

mrbenji wrote:

SQLGuy wrote:

Erik Magnuson wrote:

OSS only helps camera shake - if your subject is not absolutely still then motion blur typically limits the shutter speed. So YMMV depending on what you shoot and what's the more important limiting factor (camera shake, motion blur, focus quickness vs. accuracy, etc.)

Exactly. A very important point.

I'm fully aware of this, but as I alluded to in a different post in this thread, total blur relative to the sensor is going to equal the sum of camera shake + motion blur. A 2-4 stop advantage, despite being applicable to only the left side of that equation, will still have a positive effect on the total effective blur (blur relative to the sensor).

And yes, I'm aware that depending on the direction of these two motions there could conceivably be a cancelling-out effect, I'm just talking about planning for the worst case (motion blur and camera shake going in opposite directions at the moment the shutter fires).

And I'm talking about actual, practical, photography, where motion blur of the subject is usually undesirable and not appealing. In real world photography of non-static subjects, IS is not terribly helpful.

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Sean_Jayhawk
Sean_Jayhawk Veteran Member • Posts: 7,448
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?

mrbenji wrote:

sean lancaster wrote:

If the OP is shooting people then I would never want to shoot them at 1/30 or whatever slow shutter speed OSS can afford. People are dynamic and always moving even if slightly while posing (perhaps even a split second eye blink). Speed up your shutter for people shots to ensure a better quality shot. If you're shooting a 50mm or 55mm lens and want to get people who are close to static (not kids much of the time) then you could perhaps go with 1/80. I don't go below 1/125 sec. to be safe. If people are walking or moving then you need to go even faster to get a sharp shot. The OSS won't come into play.

OP here. I was initially inclined to agree with you completely, but upon further reflection, I don't think it's nearly as black and white as you imply. Handheld shake and motion blur work in tandem to create the total blur relative to the sensor, so I'd expect you to be much more likely to grab a clear handheld photo of a moving subject at 1/80 *with* OSS than *without* -- i.e. I think IBIS/OSS doesn't only make slower baseline shutter speeds possible, it also reduces required handheld shutter speeds across the board (although above 1/125 or 1/250 it might often be a distinction without a practical difference).

That's news to me. I have checked a few sources and I cannot find the benefit you note when going above the "1/focal length rule" - can you point me to the reference that suggests that OSS helps even above 1/focal length for a normal photographer (and this isn't even getting at the barely acceptable shutter speed for a moving subject - remember, I noted close to static, so movingly only slightly - that will cause blur regardless of all of the OSS in the world)?

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Erik Magnuson Forum Pro • Posts: 12,247
People and percentages
1

sean lancaster wrote:

That's news to me. I have checked a few sources and I cannot find the benefit you note when going above the "1/focal length rule"

That's not a "rule" it's a suggestion, YMMV.  The only absolute shake prevention is a sturdy tripod.  Everything else just increases the percentages of good shots.

- can you point me to the reference that suggests that OSS helps even above 1/focal length for a normal photographer

Try this one.

http://www.slrgear.com/articles/ISWP2/ismethods_v2.html

Look at the 70mm lens graph.

(and this isn't even getting at the barely acceptable shutter speed for a moving subject - remember, I noted close to static, so movingly only slightly - that will cause blur regardless of all of the OSS in the world)?

I think his point is that blurs combine, i.e. if either subject motion blur or shake blur were barely acceptable on their own, the combination of both might be unacceptable.  True, but in my experience it doesn't happen that way often enough to matter.

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Erik

Anadrol Contributing Member • Posts: 513
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?

f is f whether it is for FF or APS-C, but it just tells how much light is gathered per surface.

A FF sensor has a 864mm² surface, whereas an APS-C sensor has 370mm², meaning that a FF sensor gathers 2.33X more light in total, for the same f.

The current problem with the A7 line is:

-we don't know if rangefinder (or even maybe DSLR) lenses will work well on the A7R (they apparently work bad on the A7).

-very few native lenses available now.

So if for example your favorite focal length is 35mm FF eq,

On a NEX you can shoot with the Zeiss f1.8,

or on the A7R you can use the Zeiss f2.8,

but the thing is that you get about the same light amount !

So currently if you want to use the 35mm focal length, I doubt that the A7 line will give you much advantage for low light shooting, if any.

If you want to shoot with the 55mm though, you'll get about one stop gain though !

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Astrophotographer 10 Forum Pro • Posts: 13,909
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?

You need not be concerned. I have had a D800E for a year and bit now and its quite the opposite. It has the best low light performance out there bar the D4.

I shoot nightscapes with little noise 30 seconds ISO6400. I have taken 1 hour long exposures at ISO200 with almost no noise.

You've got to understand this is the premium sensor out there right now. It is simply the absolute best. Its amazing.

The A7r version likely is slightly better than the Nikon one as the Bionz X processor no doubt allows better noise reduction. I read where Sony has a selective noise reduction system which is possible with the Bionz X.

I recently shot indoors in Europe with an XE1 and the strategy that worked really well was auto ISO set to 3200 and I would set the exposure speed to 1/125th to get rid of blur and shot at F2.8. The Nex 6 and Fuji XE1 have a higher pixel density than the A7r has (they have smaller pixels). I did notice blur.

The only concern I would have about the A7r and we need hands on testing to know, is the magenta cast and vignetting on some legacy lenses due to the small flange distance.

Greg.

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RussellInCincinnati Veteran Member • Posts: 3,201
1/4 second for (even group) portraits often fine

sean lancaster wrote: If the OP is shooting people then I would never want to shoot them at 1/30 or whatever slow shutter speed OSS can afford. People are dynamic and always moving even if slightly while posing (perhaps even a split second eye blink). Speed up your shutter for people shots to ensure a better quality shot.

Sean am guessing you do not not work with a tripod much. My own experience is that posed portraits, even group posed portraits, work out pretty nicely at shutter speeds down to a 1/4 sec. (A quarter of a second, 250 milliseconds.)

In fact my base shutter speed for portraits where people are not trying to make your picture hard to take, is about 1/8th of a second/125 milliseconds.

Of course you can find scenarios where these "slow" shutter speeds don't work. But would not want you to discourage people who are using a tripod or otherwise supported camera, or perhaps some kind of stabilized rig, from experimenting with people pictures at shutter speeds much longer than 1/30th of a second.

viking79
viking79 Forum Pro • Posts: 14,157
Full frame 1 1/3 stop more flexible... (more)

I prefer to think of full frame as having 1 1/3 stop added flexibility vs APS-C. It isn't "better" without making some other trade off.

For example, 24mm f/1.8 on APS-C will deliver the same image as 35mm f/2.8 on full frame, both with the same shutter speed, and the full frame at 1 1/3 stop higher ISO.  Even image noise will still be similar in this case assuming similar sensor technology.

The full frame is more flexible because you could shoot at the same ISO as the APS-C camera and use either a larger aperture or longer shutter speed to get a cleaner image than APS-C.  The trade off is either depth of field or shutter speed for this cleaner image.

Also, full frames are less demanding on the lens (center anyway) for the same number of pixels.  A 24 MP full frame is not going to need as good of a lens as a 24 MP APS-C since the pixels are much larger.  If you have ever looked at DXOMark notice how much higher full frame cameras score due to this.

Again, there are tradeoffs.  Even though a full frame f/4 lens like the Zeiss 24-70mm is about equivalent to an APS-C camera with 16-45mm f/2.7, the 16-45mm would have higher intensity light to focus and frame the image, so you can only take the full frame equivalence so far before you lose ability to focus.

Eric

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Erik Magnuson Forum Pro • Posts: 12,247
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?
1

Anadrol wrote:

On a NEX you can shoot with the Zeiss f1.8,

You can shoot with the same NEX lenses on the A7-series - you will give up some resolution but if you are already at the light and hand holdability limits implied by the OP,  number of sensor pixels are not going to be critical.

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Erik

EinsteinsGhost
EinsteinsGhost Forum Pro • Posts: 11,977
Re: A7 & A7R... could real-world low light performance be worse?

mrbenji wrote:

Let me see if I can express my concern clearly. Whenever I'm shooting, one of the things I'm considering is (of course) DoF. Say we're considering the same scene, shot with a NEX-5 + 35/1.8, and with an A7 + 35/2.8.

Here's the interesting part. You can also use the 35mm f/1.8 lens on A7. It will work in crop mode (or you may not even need that... it may cover most of the FF). The question then becomes, while 35/1.8 will give you a larger aperture useful under some circumstances, will it match the optical qualities of the 35/2.8 from f/2.8 onwards?

As I understand it, if I frame the shots identically (i.e. standing closer with the A7 than the NEX-5), and I shoot the NEX-5 at f2, shooting the A7 a stop slower at f2.8 will provide an equivalent depth of field. But as far as light gathering goes, f2 & f2.8 are f2 & f2.8 regardless of the sensor size, so achieving the same exposure on the A7 would require using half the shutter speed, double the ISO, or some mix of the two to compensate.

The 35mm f/1.8 on your NEX-5 would comparable to 53mm f/2.8 lens on A7 in terms of field of view and depth of field.

In terms of exposure, the faster lens will have an advantage, but then, you have to consider the advantages of a FF sensor over APS-C (much less the 4 year or so old sensor in my NEX-3 and your NEX-5).

Then you consider the fact the 35/2.8 is unstabilized... Sony claims a 4-stop advantage from OSS! Even if that's wildly optimistic and the advantage is "only" 2 stops, you'd still have to QUADRUPLE your ISO again to achieve a shutter speed high enough to compensate!

Stabilization is useful only under extreme conditions. It doesn't address motion blur issues. But, if you compare 35/1.8 on NEX-5 to 35/2.8 on A7, here is an interesting part: Due to the narrower (53mm) field of view on NEX-5, the recommended handheld shutter speed (and your camera will usually default to it, under Aperture Priority, Auto ISO) would be 1/60s. Whereas, the 35/2.8 on A7 would be fine until 1/30-1/35s (about a stop advantage already). But, of course, we're not matching the field of view anymore.

If you were shooting the A7 with the 55/1.8 (or, more precisely, a hypothetical 52.5/1.8), you could use f2 from the same spot as the NEX-5 + 35/1.8 and get ~ the same FoV and DoF... but would the resulting output actually be better after you factored in a quadrupled ISO?

You'd need a 36mm f/1.2 lens on NEX-5 to match 55mm f/1.8 on A7.

It would, of course, be nice to have greater DoF control in bright light (due to the FF FoV's effect on DoF *and* the 1/8000 shutter), but as is, in bright light I just slap a polarizer and ND filter on my 50/1.8... that blocks enough light that I can even shoot wide open in full sun if I want to! There's no equivalent way of physically compensating in a low-light, handheld situation.

It is a stretch to assume that low light photography is non-existent without the lens being faster than f/2.8. And if you use a zoom lens, are you out of luck? Even with lenses faster than f/2, it is not unusual for me to use f/2.8 or f/4, just to gain sufficient depth of field. If I want quality to go with it, I prefer to use flash (usually, bounce). A FF sensor simply gives you more flexibility to explore higher ISO than you'd like to with APS-C or smaller sensors.

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Sean_Jayhawk
Sean_Jayhawk Veteran Member • Posts: 7,448
Re: People and percentages

Erik Magnuson wrote:

sean lancaster wrote:

That's news to me. I have checked a few sources and I cannot find the benefit you note when going above the "1/focal length rule"

That's not a "rule" it's a suggestion, YMMV. The only absolute shake prevention is a sturdy tripod. Everything else just increases the percentages of good shots.

It's a fairly common rule, but I made sure to qualify it in part of my sentence that you eliminated where I noted for "a normal photographer." Some of us have steadier hands and some shaky, but the average photographer can use the rule and have decent odds in a pinch, I suspect.

- can you point me to the reference that suggests that OSS helps even above 1/focal length for a normal photographer

Try this one.

http://www.slrgear.com/articles/ISWP2/ismethods_v2.html

Look at the 70mm lens graph.

Thanks. That's a really nice study. I may add it to Wikipedia. 

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Sean_Jayhawk
Sean_Jayhawk Veteran Member • Posts: 7,448
Re: 1/4 second for (even group) portraits often fine

RussellInCincinnati wrote:

sean lancaster wrote: If the OP is shooting people then I would never want to shoot them at 1/30 or whatever slow shutter speed OSS can afford. People are dynamic and always moving even if slightly while posing (perhaps even a split second eye blink). Speed up your shutter for people shots to ensure a better quality shot.

Sean am guessing you do not not work with a tripod much. My own experience is that posed portraits, even group posed portraits, work out pretty nicely at shutter speeds down to a 1/4 sec. (A quarter of a second, 250 milliseconds.)

Rarely, you're right. My comments are largely directed to handholding, which is appropriate in a topic about using OSS or not.

In fact my base shutter speed for portraits where people are not trying to make your picture hard to take, is about 1/8th of a second/125 milliseconds.

Russell, the group shot you used has multiple people displaying significant blurring. I don't think it proves your point unless the intention is to leave the image at a very small size.

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OP mrbenji Regular Member • Posts: 337
Re: People and percentages

Erik Magnuson wrote:

sean lancaster wrote:

- can you point me to the reference that suggests that OSS helps even above 1/focal length for a normal photographer

Try this one.

http://www.slrgear.com/articles/ISWP2/ismethods_v2.html

Look at the 70mm lens graph.

Thanks, Erik... I'd seen that exact graph before, wasn't having much success track it down via Google.

(and this isn't even getting at the barely acceptable shutter speed for a moving subject - remember, I noted close to static, so movingly only slightly - that will cause blur regardless of all of the OSS in the world)?

I think his point is that blurs combine, i.e. if either subject motion blur or shake blur were barely acceptable on their own, the combination of both might be unacceptable. True, but in my experience it doesn't happen that way often enough to matter.

Thanks again, this was my point exactly... the other part of what I said is that there'd be some shutter speed (I threw out 1/125 or 1/250 because that's what Sean said he targeted) over which the improvement would be imperceptible.

Perhaps you've simply gotten good at targeting just such a shutter speed, or else better than average at steadying your camera, so "barely acceptable" shutter speeds work for you?

I'm curious to know what you target... do you tend to hover around the 1/FL rule of thumb?  As to the matter of camera steadying, the NEX-5 (i.e. no viewfinder option) is the only "real camera" I've ever used, so I guess an additional unknown variable for me is how much better I'll be at holding the camera steady once I finally have an EVF to compose through.

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