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Sony NEX-5N (monochrome) for UV/IR

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#1 nfoto

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Posted 05 March 2020 - 23:47

A few months ago, whilst participating in a Nikongear Photo Race event in The Hague, Netherlands, I ran into Vivek Iyer and his charming wife. Vivek is an old friend of mine and we had a jolly time, ending in Vivek inviting me and the other NG members of the Race to his home the next day. We spent many hours there having wonderful meals and near endless discussions and demonstrations of DIY photo gear, of which Vivek surely has an abundance. His "nerd factor" balances my own.

Suffice it to say that I departed The Hague with a bespoke Sony NEX-5N added to my camera kit. This camera had been modified, by Vivek himself, to be monochrome. As the camera's sensor literally is naked, everything passing the lens can in principle be recorded and Vivek suggested the camera might allow hand-held UV with much improved sensitivity (all b/w of course). Vivek being the kindest of souls just handed over the camera to me and said, "try it. It's yours".

I availed myself of better spring light today to test the enhanced UV assumptions. I do have a plethora of Sony E-mount adapters from the brief stint I suffered with a Sony A7-series a few years ago. Thus I had the opportunity to used my Baader U filters either front or rear mounted depending of what each lens required. While the weather for once was co-operative, I tried the 35mm f/3.5 Petri which does go pretty deep into the UV band, and the 21mm f/4 Panagor which I had just a feeling would do quite well in UV.

I processed the RAW files through the dedicated Monochrome2DNG program courtesy Iliah Borg and feed the DNGs into the ordinary processing workflow. A quick comparison indicated that my usual conversion program, Photo Ninja, could not extract all the details from this monochrome sensor. Not a big surprise, though.

The Petri allowed a fast 1/125 sec (!) shutter speed at f/8, ISO 200. This is very acceptable as the NEX-5N can do ISO 800 without undue noise.

Attached Image: S202003050589.jpg

The wider Panagor lens required, unsurprisingly, a longer exposure as a result of its more complex optics. Yet, shooting at f/8, 1/50 sec with a 21mm wide-angle lens is a breeze.

Attached Image: S202003050590.jpg

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Panagor came out with very satisfying image quality, actually besting the Petri by a wide margin despite its much wider view. It also focuses very close, to about 15 cm, so I am eager to turn it loose on the spring flowers when they eventually appear. Might be a while with all the fresh new snow, though.

It appears I need to clean the sensor better -- but for now, just disregard the dust bunnies.

#2 nfoto

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Posted 05 March 2020 - 23:56

I did try the camera with IR earlier this winter, when UV levels were minimal (almost non-existing). The old rangefinder lens 3.5cm f/1.8 W-Nikkor of the late '50s is a wonderful sharp lens and being petite by today's standards, it balances perfectly on the small NEX-5N. Previous testing showed it to be very poor for UV, but excellent for IR. For once, not the slightest trace of any hot spot.

We have a narrow-gauge museum railway in my neighbourhood. I shot it during a heavy snow fall in IR with the W-Nikkor and B+W 093 filter. The b/w tonality in IR is exquisite.

Attached Image: S201911260526.jpg

#3 KaJashey

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 02:40

Thanks for the review. A full spectrum Nex 5 is all I have to throw at UV so I'm glad there is a chance. And I could go on down to naked if I needed to.

#4 Andy Perrin

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 02:45

My NEX-7 did fine for UV with just the usual conversion also. I could take "handheld" photos at F/5.6 1/30" ISO3200. And of course my A7S does beautifully out to ISO10000 or so. The problem with Sony cameras is their menu system on the later cameras, including A7S. The NEX-7 layout wasn't too awful.

Edited by Andy Perrin, 06 March 2020 - 02:46.


#5 Stefano

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 02:50

View PostAndy Perrin, on 06 March 2020 - 02:45, said:

My NEX-7 did fine for UV with just the usual conversion also. I could take "handheld" photos at F/5.6 1/30" ISO3200. And of course my A7S does beautifully out to ISO10000 or so. The problem with Sony cameras is their menu system on the later cameras, including A7S. The NEX-7 layout wasn't too awful.
With my Panasonic DMC-F3 (a toy compared to your camera) I take photos at f/2.8, ISO 1600 at 1/8". I have to have still hands.

#6 Andy Perrin

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 02:55

Probably using a filter with a longer cutoff (also), Stefano. Remember mine turns on at 380nm.

Edited by Andy Perrin, 06 March 2020 - 03:00.


#7 colinbm

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 03:01

These are great photos & beautiful scenes Birna
Does the sensor / camera still interpolate ?

Edited by colinbm, 06 March 2020 - 03:03.


#8 nfoto

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 03:31

No.

#9 colinbm

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 04:01

View Postnfoto, on 06 March 2020 - 03:31, said:

No.
Wow, very good, how was that disabled ?

#10 dabateman

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 06:31

Very cool.
I have thought to try and do that myself on my old Olympus E510. These images look great, I don't see any obvious dead pixels or rows. He must have had a great luck or pure skill in the conversion.
Raw therapee and dark table are both reported to work well with monochrome conversion cameras. So you have options.

#11 nfoto

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 07:23

View Postcolinbm, on 06 March 2020 - 04:01, said:

Wow, very good, how was that disabled ?

Vivek converted the camera to true monochrome. No more Bayer filter. Years ago, Vivek also produced a Baader U filter cut to fit inside a Nikon DX camera for me. I'm still using this setup, only moved the bespoke Baader U from the initial D40X to a D3200. Now he makes monochrome versions of various Sony models just for the fun of it, and are talking about doing the same to a Z6.

I do use RawTherapee once in a while, but Monochrome2DNG suits my needs better. RawTherapee does run natively on Linux, however, which confers advantages once I manage to get Photoshop working there. I got Photo Ninja up and running on my Linux boxes so annoying PS is recalcitrant.

#12 colinbm

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 07:27

View Postnfoto, on 06 March 2020 - 07:23, said:

Vivek converted the camera to true monochrome. No more Bayer filter. Years ago, Vivek also produced a Baader U filter cut to fit inside a Nikon DX camera for me. I'm still using this setup, only moved the bespoke Baader U from the initial D40X to a D3200. Now he makes monochrome versions of various Sony models just for the fun of it, and are talking about doing the same to a Z6.
A very smart guy...

#13 nfoto

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 07:29

He *is* a scientist ...

#14 colinbm

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 08:13

You are a *scientist* too...

#15 nfoto

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 11:39

Many UVP members are scientifically inclined. I just follow the throng.

#16 Andrea B.

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 18:18

Wonderful story!
And I'm happy to hear that Vivek is still engaged with UV camera/gear experimentation.
I still have his IR-modified D80 which is still fun to use in spite of its increasing age.

I really like the Sørumsand train station photo.
(And I recognize the neighborhood scene! :grin: )
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#17 nfoto

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Posted 06 March 2020 - 21:54

View PostAndrea B., on 06 March 2020 - 18:18, said:

---
I really like the Sørumsand train station photo.
(And I recognize the neighborhood scene! :grin: )

You ought to, as you have stayed there !

In a month's time I'll learn yours, to bring us on an even footing. Already testing out various bits and pieces to bring with me.

#18 dabateman

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 06:10

View Postnfoto, on 06 March 2020 - 21:54, said:

Already testing out various bits and pieces to bring with me.

That can be the hardest part of travel. I seem to want to always bring a range of photo gear. That all you need right, cloths on your back and 2 bags of cameras.


#19 JMC

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 11:06

Have fun with the monochrome camera Birna. You'll have about a 2-3 stop improvement in sensitivity in he UV compared to one with a Bayer filter. Visible will be similar sensitivity and IR will be similar or even slightly lower than one with a Bayer filter. Keeping the sensor clean will be fun (and a delicate job), especially if it is a completely bare sensor with no cover glass. As you mentioned, the tonality will be excellent.

Edited by JMC, 07 January 2021 - 22:28.

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#20 nfoto

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Posted 07 March 2020 - 11:43

Thanks, JMC. I think of this as working in a "film-like" manner, thus accepting there is always some crud lurking in the final image. Part of the attraction, perhaps. I do wish for a better finder, though. Oh wait, there is no finder, only LiveView. Oh well. I'll manage to get the odd photo even then.