Techniques, Reviews and Commentary
Is the 18-55 OSS really so bad?
13/11/12So is the Sony 18-55 OSS cast in the same mould or could it actually fulfill it's intended purpose upon the NEX 5N? The short answer is, yes it It’s far from perfect, but a long long way from the bottom of a beer glass. I wrote a previous blog item on how to get the optimum out of it by shooting at 26mm but I thought if might be time to revisit the subject further now that I have used it heavily in the heat of a long holiday.
By my estimation the 18-55 OSS is far more useful than might first be assumed, it seems to be well made and remains tight in service, focuses quietly and quickly enough and can be manually focused with accuracy.
The macro option has proven to be quite good and in fact it remains sharp enough in the centre of the frame at 55 mm to give very acceptable results for shooting flowers and butterflies. I know this because I took quite a few shots recently in a butterfly house and also of flowers in the woods. Would a dedicated macro lens be better, sure, but then it would be nowhere near as flexible and often I just want to carry the camera and a lens. The truth is I took a macro lens with me on my overseas holiday (Nikon 55mm f2.8) but I only used it for a dozen or so shots out of the 5000 or so I shot, perhaps I am just lazy.
The wide angle end as you have no doubt heard is not great but in a practical sense is quite OK. Truth is the great proportion of holiday images are destined for nothing more demanding than Facebook, small prints or web images. In this context the performance of the 18mm end is fine provided you get the image properly focused and stick with f9- f11, which is not much of a hardship as most times I leave the camera on 400 iso giving perfectly adequate shutter speed options. The centre of the wide angle frame is however critically sharp even wide open thus wide angle shots where the subject is in the middle and you want the rest out of focus actually work a treat. The whole frame is pretty much sharp at f11 provided you are not focused too close, which I now think is an error lots of folk are making with this lens. I feel the other common error with the 18mm end is not allowing for the field curvature the lens exhibits, if you focus dead centre the corners will be out of focus but focus about 2/3 out from the centre and presto....much sharper images.
The 55mm end is not strong in the corners or especially sharp in the centre but its acceptable for general non critical shots, and once again apertures in the f8-f11 range seem to work best. Portraits shot wide open have quite a nice look and the lack of razor edged clarity may actually be a bonus here.
I have become quite impressed with the image stabilization which in my experience has worked reliably right down to an 1/6 second or in some cases slower and here in lies a little factoid to ponder. Other lenses may well be sharper but in regular shooting under less than ideal light the OSS may well make for an ultimately clearer image if the alternatives lack that feature.
For video work the OSS is an excellent feature and makes for a steadier look but importantly the focus and aperture adjustment are close to silent so you don't hear it impacting on your audio track under normal usage.
Middle range focal lengths as I have said before are totally fine, the far corners never look truly crisp except at 24-28mm but for most uses it is irrelevant. If you are cropping the frame at all, and by that I mean to a 4:3 format or 16:9 or pretty much any other variation of a crop you will loose the far corners and even if you keep them for say a full frame postcard print the quality loss will be negligible. It would only be when printed full frame to larger than 8 by 12 inches that the lack of outright corner resolution would be noticed and honestly how many shots do we take where pin sharp corners are a requirement. Ultimately then for most folk most of the time for most subjects the mid range IQ of the kit lens is an acceptable trade off for the convenience it offers and for many shots I have taken it has proven downright excellent.
Another aspect of the 18-55 OSS is that it gives you full access to all of the NEX shooting options or in some cases makes those on offer work better. As an example the HDR option is great but in many cases the shutter speeds you end up with can be quiet slow, without stabilization the images could end up much softer than you expect. For jpegs of course you can use the inbuilt image corrections for barrel distortion, CA etc, but none of this applies to legacy glass on the NEX 5N or adapted modern glass like Canon EOS optics. For those who want to do minimal editing or just want to print postcards and put stuff to the web, these inbuilt corrections are a real bonus.
Tests I have found on the web relate tales about the lens being flare prone but honestly I have not had any issues with this except perhaps at 18mm. No doubt if you went looking for flare you could find it, but I prefer to create actual pictures with my gear, deliberately shooting into the sun to induce flare is not one of my favorite photographic pursuits.
Sitting here at my desktop computer and examining RAW files and JPEGs I can honestly say there are almost no images that have needed to be tossed due to the 18-55 lenses limitations. And if you think “Oh well you’re not being very picky” think again I am utterly anal about this stuff, if it is marginal it goes. The secret is that the OSS is actually a fine lens and more than adequate but you need to know its limitations and performance characteristics and then shoot within them, which is how I approach it.
Embrace the lenses characteristics and I think you will find little to complain about.....in fact I now think the lens is a grade A bargain, which is something I didn’t think I would be saying prior to my trip abroad.
I have a attached a couple of pics taken at 26mm for your viewing pleasure.