Monday, May 27, 2013

Sony VF-49CPAM Circular Polarizer - Hands On

by Hasan Karagülmez


I´m very happy with my recent purchase of the Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS, a.k.a. SEL35F18, of which you can read about it on my recent blogpost.

The depth-of-field with which you can play with, with a wide-aperture lens, is really fun. There's one thing I was missing though, which became evident when taking pictures of my car, and that's a polarizer!

As you probably know, you can use a polarizer for getting nice blue skies, but you can also use it for shooting through reflections. And whilst you can edit-in nice blue skies in post-processing, shooting through reflections is a significantly harder trick to pull-off in PhotoShop, I'm sure you'll agree ;-)

Another reason is size. 

See, I've already got a Hoya 77mm polarizer which I use on my lenses for the Canon EOS 7D, and I contemplated for a little bit about using that for NEX-lenses with step-up rings from 49mm to 77mm. 

However, that would also mean I´d be throwing pocketability with the NEX and 35mm 1.8 out of the window, something which is a major plus for me.

Another reason for this post is that I can't find much about the Sony VF-49CPAM online, so I hope to do my part here :)

Anyway, a new polarizer it is!

Sony VF-49CPAM - Circular Polarizer

I eventually made the decision to go with the Sony VF-49CPAM Circular Polarizer filter. It's not the cheapest 49mm polarizing filter you can find, but having noticed reflections and such on cheaper polarizers, I decided to fork out a bit more.

I ended up on paying 90 Euros (about 116 US Dollars) for the Sony VF-49CPAM. Not cheap, but few things in the Netherlands are...

Anyway, I'd like to show you the effects of the polarizer on blue skies and such, but since the weather for the last weeks consists mostly of clouds, I'm afraid it's gonna be a bit hard...
The weather for the last two weeks can be summed up by the following: Thick Clouds and Rain

So, instead, I'm going to show you what you get in the box - and a bit about reflections :-)
Note that you can view all the pictures on the Google+ webalbum, or by clicking on a picture.

Let's start with the box!

Sony VF-49CPAM - Packaging

The Sony VF-49CPAM comes in a Sony Alpha themed coloured box. As you can see, It's actually not specifically marketed as being for NEX-bodies, though the Sony Website does list just about every Sony NEX lens as compatible:

Even the very expensive 24mm 1.4 is on the list, so good job on making 'em all compatible Sony!

Sony VF-49CPAM box - front
Sony VF-49CPAM box - innards
Sony VF-49CPAM box - top

As you can see, the polarizer itself is right in the front of the package, with the case in the backside compartment. The packaging is actually very easy to open, none of the regular blister-packaging nonsense.

Let's get it out of the packaging and take a closer look!

Sony VF-49CPAM - Size

With a filter size of only 49mm you'd expect it to be small, ofcourse, but seeing it in person and holding it in your hands you can see how "dinky" it just is.

In fact, it's even lower than the NEX lens-cap!

Let's see how it compares to the Hoya 77mm Circular Polarizer which I use for my DSLR:

The difference in size is enough to transform it into the realm of pocketability ;)

Mounted on a lens

Let's see how it looks like when mounted on a lens. 
As you can see, when fitted on the 35mm 1.8 OSS (see my hands-on) it's still smaller than the NEX 18-55-kitlens. Awesome :)

We can also fit it on the NEX-kitlens of course, in which case it neatly fits on the middle of the extending barrel. Very well done :)

You can also see now why having a non-rotating barrel is important. If the barrel rotated whilst zooming out, the polarizing effect would change!

Complete package

And here it is mounted on the 35mm 1.8 OSS, which in turn is mounted on a Sony NEX-5. As you can see, the package isn't much larger than it was - a big plus!

For changing the polarizing effect you can turn the ring, which, whilst small, is still perfectly operable. I'd advice you to turn the ring of the polarizer to the left (as seen when you're behind the camera) when changing polarization, because turning to the right might unscrew the actual filter itself.

As you can see, the VF-49CPAM doesn't add much additional length to the package
The all-black package of the NEX-5, 35mm 1.8 OSS and VF-49CPAM looks the part!
The front of a camera suddenly looks a lot cooler with a seemingly large piece of glass in front of it ;)

Carrying Case

Remember that photo above, with the case which comes in the box? It's a pretty neat addition, in case (ha!) you might want to pull that polarizer of the lens.

It's a bit bigger than it needs to be for this polarizer, not sure why that is actually, as it results in having a bit of empty space when the filter is placed in it. I personally would have liked for it to be smaller and neatly fitting, as it saves space.

Perhaps the case is used for other-sized filters as well?

The carrying case actually holds the polarizer in place quite well; it doesn't seem to rattle around

Sony VF-49CPAM - Markings

There are four markings on the VF-49CPAM itself, which are, in order when turning the ring to the left:

  1. Sony
  2. Carl Zeiss T*
  3. Circular PL Filter 49mm  
  4. VF-49CPAM Made in Japan

They are all spaced out 90 degrees from each other, i.e. placed at each quarter.

Even though it's marked as having Carl Zeiss optics, it's also marked as Made in Japan. I'm guessing that that means it's made by Sony, by the specifications of lens design by Carl Zeiss and using a licence for the name.
The same as the so-called Carl Zeiss compacts by Sony, read about that on this Carl Zeiss page for example.

Note that these markings are all placed on the turning ring, and so these come in handy to remember how much we've turned the ring. 

Probably not a coincidence ;)

Time will tell how well the markings stay in place.

Polarizing Test

As you've seen, the weather has been rather crappy, so I mostly did some indoor testing for shooting through reflections. This morning, at the first workday, the sun started shining again, so I took some shots of that as well.

Test 1 - Reflection

Let's start with the reflection test.
In this test, I'm shooting into the front of the Canon 7D with 24-70mm 2.8 L lens, which has the 77mm Hoya polarizer attached (which is why it looks so massive).

As you can see, I've positioned the NEX 18-55mm kitlens so that it appears in the reflection.
I've shot this with the NEX-5 with 35mm 1.8 OSS with the VF-49CPAM, with the Sony marking on the ring at the top.
VF-49CPAM attached, Sony marking on top - as good as no polarizer effect

And on the next shot, the goal was try and shoot through the reflection. 
In order for this to happen, I've turned the polarizer 90 degrees to the middle of the Carl Zeiss T* marking on the ring.
Turned 90 degrees to the Note how different the lens reflection looks like, we can now see through it. The lens hood looks really different as well.

Works pretty well huh? 

We can now see through the reflection and actually see the markings of the Canon 24-70 2.8 L lens, which wasn't visible before.
Also note how different the lens-hood looks, it's a lot deeper black and reflects a lot less. 

Very nice!

Test 2 - Reflection

Next up, let's try a different situation and use my phone. When held under a small angle, there can be quite some reflection, as evidenced in the next shot:

Polarizer ring turned 0 degrees, left on the Sony mark on the top of the ring.

Now, let's try turning the ring 90 degrees for maximum effect:
Turning the ring 90 degrees we can shoot through the reflection, and actually see the contents of the screen.

Pretty neat as well huh? The phone looks a lot better, however note the rainbowing effect on the screen? It's not inherent to this filter, as I saw the same effect with the Hoya 77mm.

You can get rid of that effect by changing your angle to the subject, for example:
No rainbowing effect with maximum polarization, but changed shooting angle

What's important to remember is that you must sometimes take extra care when using a polarizer!

Test 3 - Shooting Blue Sky

Just as I was ready to post this blogpost, there were some nice blue skies popping up for the first time in quite a while.

Ideal moment to test right? 

To test, I shot four different shots, each at the middle of each marking on the turning ring.
Note that I opened these four RAW files in PhotoShop CS6 with Camera RAW, all defaults, then resized and saved as a JPEG-image.

Let's see how it turned out:
CF-49CPAM turned 0 degrees - middle of "Sony" marking

CF-49CPAM turned 90 degrees - middle of "Carl Zeiss T*" marking

CF-49CPAM turned 180 degrees - middle of "Circular PL Filter 49mm" marking

CF-49CPAM turned 270 degrees - middle of "VF-49CPAM Made in Japan" marking

As you can see, it's polarizing effect on blue skies is there, but it's relatively subtle. The biggest effect can be seen on the right-side of the picture.

Note that I've shot these shots in the morning, you might get another effect in midday or at another time, so the Sun is in another place.


The VF-49CPAM is a nice polarizer for sure. It feels sturdy and fits neatly on NEX-lenses. All Sony NEX-lenses seem to be compatible as a result of them all using the same filter size. (update: not all it seems, the 16-50mm pancake lens has a 40.5mm filter thread...)

It works perfectly for shooting through reflections, but gives a relatively modest effect on blue skies.

It's not the cheapest filter money can buy, but the pricing does seem in line with the price of quality filters of this size.

Note I've only got it a couple of days, but I felt a little blogpost would help as I cannot seem to find that much information about this lens.

Perhaps I'll add some extra info in the future, and as always, if you've got questions let me know.

That's it, happy shooting!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS (SEL35F18) hands-on with Sony NEX-5

by Hasan Karagülmez

I don't seem to find that much info about this lens on the internet, so I thought I would write-up my experience with it - so here it goes, enjoy!

Sony NEX-5 paired with the E-mount 35mm 1.8 OSS, modelname: SEL35F18

DSLR or Mirrorless?

I'm sure many have questioned themselves the same thing, should you go mirrorless or get a DSLR?
In my case, I got the Canon EOS 7D before the advent of mirrorless camera's, I've got it for years now.

It still remains, in my opinion, a top DSLR - it has got fast and accurate autofocus, as prime feature. And whilst sensor performance on APS-C has got better in the meantime (notably the Sony sensors in Nikon DSLR's), I see no need to upgrade to another model.

Even ISO12800 on the Canon 7D can perform very nicely, I think, as long as you take care.

The thing is... it's kinda big. So, when the NEX-5N just came out and was about 600 Euro, I bought the NEX-5 for 400 Euro (about 515 US Dollar) - including kitlens.

And Presto! APS-C sensor in your pocket!

Which is great... except that the 18-55mm OSS kitlens isn't exactly inspring to shoot with, IMHO, so it was a bit of a waiting game for other lenses...

35mm F1.8 OSS for NEX sounds great!

At least, that's what came to my mind when I read about it :)

The price doesn't exactly make it an impulse buy however. In fact, at around 450 Euro here in the Netherlands (about 580 US Dollars), it's just downright expensive.

There's also this little thing called the Sigma 30mm f2.8 available for NEX, for which the DN-variant (identical optically to the new Art-series) is available for around 100 Euro (about 130 Dollar).
That's so much more cheaper than the Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS it's not even remotely funny... even the 50mm 1.8 OSS is a lot cheaper at around 280 Euro (~360 Dollar).

However, having both the Canon EF 50mm 1.8 and Sigma 30mm 1.4, I knew that, for my style of shooting, I really prefer something closer to 30mm, because I find 50mm a bit long on APS-C for walkaround purposes.

Really wanted something like the Sigma 30mm 1.4 in a smaller package, the NEX-5 and 35mm 1.8 OSS delivers!

As if by luck, there was a person last Friday (17-5-2013), selling the 35mm 1.8 OSS second-hand for about 350 Euro (450 Dollar), which makes it a whole lot more reasonable in my book! As icing on the cake, it still has all the papers for guarantee, and it was bought new at the end of 2012. That makes the lens almost 5 months old, which is peanuts!

Sounds good right?  So I went out and bought it!

First Impressions

It's tiny!

The 18-55mm NEX kitlens left, the 35mm 1.8 OSS to the right - it's quite small!

As you can see, it's actually smaller than the NEX kitlens. Even relatively small lenses still seem almost comically out-of-place on a NEX-camera, especially with a small body like the NEX-5 - it looks like a lens with a camera-body attached to it!

The Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS, posting next to the oldie NEX-5

And with the lens mounted, it´s still quite a small combination. This actually fits in the pocket of my jacket!

Rest assured though, it actually handles pretty well in practice - it's not a front-heavy combination.

It's also a heck of a lot smaller and lighter than the Canon 7D with Sigma 30mm 1.4 attached, which is a really big plus for just walking around and having a high-quality camera with you as much as possible:

The NEX-5 with the 35mm 1.8 OSS is significantly smaller and lighter than the Canon 7D and Sigma 30mm 1.4

Naturally, I wanted to go out and take some pictures, but the last three days have been nothing but rain and thick grey clouds unfortunately... but let's not get stopped by that.

Bokeh/out-of-focus area quality

Yesterday, I came across the perfect situation to test what the difference would have been if I were to have bought the Sigma 30mm 2.8 by testing the difference between 1.8 and 2.8:

SEL35F18 @ f1.8

SEL35F18 @ f2.8

This test reassures me more than I ever I made the right choice, the f1.8 version looks a lot better better to me - look at what a buttery smooth background this tiny camera is producing!

I think it's a lot more striking than f2.8.

Here´s what f4.0 and f5.6 look like, if you're interested:

SEL35F18 @ f4.0

SEL35F18 @ f5.6

I intend to use this lens wide-open or near wide-open as much as possible, of course :)

Sharpness, Close-focusing and Autofocus accuracy

The closest this lens can focus is with a subject-distance of 30cm from the sensor. That's not very close, unfortunately, but it seems to be fairly typical for this type of lens. The Sigma 30mm 1.4 has a minimum focus distance of 40cm for example.

It does focus pretty accurately and relatively quickly on the contrast-detect-only NEX-5 though. Of course, with contrast-detect autofocus focusing on sensor-output, you would expect autofocus accuracy to be close to 100% - what you see is what you get after all.

So, let's take this full-shot spider photo shot at 1.8, and see how it performs (and note how lovely the out-of-focus areas look, I really love it!)
Itsy-bitsy-spider, accompanied with lovely bokeh

And this is a big crop of the same photo, and note that this is shot wide-open:
Itsy-bitsy-spider posing for the camera

You can even see its eyes and even the tiny hairs on its legs! Sharpness is definitely in the more-than-good-enough area!

No spiders were harmed in the making of these pictures by the way, though, I do think it was a bit terrified - it didn't move at all! At least he had the decency to look into the camera, though I guess it helps if you've got 4 eyes ;)

Anyway, yes, I would say that, for me at least, this Sony 35mm lens is sharp enough!

Note that the NEX-5 is "only" 14.2 megapixel - the 16 megapixel NEX-5N and NEX-6 will be a bit more bit demanding, resolution-wise, and the 24MP NEX-7 of course even more so.

From what I read though, it'll still hold up very good.


None that I've noticed. From what I understand from reading online is that it does have a very slight distortion, also see the Matthew Durr review. I can't say I've had to apply any correction whatsoever with this lens, all lines seem straight to me, check it out:

Good news: as good as no pincushion or barrel distortion on the Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS

Abberations and fringing

Just about any large aperture lens is going to have chromatic abberation and purple fringing, and so does the 35mm 1.8 OSS. It's actually not too bad, and easily correctable in Lightroom from what I've seen so far (ignore the moire in the focus area please):

Some clour shift inevitable happens with large aperture lenses...

... but the colour-shift is easily correctable - the moire might be a bit harder ;)


Here are some other pictures I took the last couple of days (edited in Lightroom), note I only got it four days at the time of writing :)
Click on an image for a larger size, or go and flick through the webalbum!

The large aperture enables you to single out a single tulip, even in a field full of them, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/2500th

A snail defying grafity underneath a leaf, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/320th
A fly on my car, there were loads in the forest, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/1000th

The depth-of-field roll-of is gradual and very smooth, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/4000th

Pretty big crop of a yellow tulip, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/1250th
The flip-up display of the NEX-5 makes it easier to compose your photo's close to the ground, SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/4000th

The Pirelli P-ZERO tyres are highly-recommended as far as I'm concerned, very grippy :) - SEL35F18 - f8.0 and 1/60th
One of the first pictures I took with it, you can immediately see on the display what the effect of this lens is - SEL35F18 - f2 and 1/80th

The image stabilizer works quite well (didn't correct the colour-shift) - SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/20th
An orchid that just started blossoming again - SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/60th

This "Midnight Summer"-lamp, designed by Tord Boontje is really lovely - SEL35F18  f1.8 and 1/400th
Stabilizer works miracles here as well, leafs of room-plant - SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/8th

Quite a crop, liked the composition better this way - SEL35F18 f1.8 and 1/60th
Singling out a little leaf, this lens allows you to throw the background right out of focus - SEL35F18 - f1.8 and 1/60th

Spring - SEL35F18 - f4.0 and 1/4000th
Using the flip-up display for composition again - SEL35F18 - f4.0 and 1/1250th


If you've got the funds, go for it!

The Sigma 30mm 2.8 is significantly cheaper, though, and if it works for you - that seems to be a great lens as well.

Note that there's a significant difference in f1.8 and f2.8, however, in background blur and bokeh - you must decide for yourself if you find that important or not.

Also beware though, it's not like you'll buy a lens every week, so think well if you don't want save up for the Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS after all.

The Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS is plenty sharp and hardly has any distortion (I'm sure there is some, but it must be so little as to not get in the way).

Even on an old NEX-body like the NEX-5, autofocus is still plenty quick. It's not meant for sport, but then again, the NEX-5 isn't known for sports-photography. I'll be using the Canon 7D for that.
I'm using face-detect autofocus for people photography with the NEX-5 btw, which makes composition and correct autofocus a breeze.

The best thing for me is that the NEX-5 and 35mm 1.8 OSS combination actually fits in the pocket of my jacket. Believe me, you don't even need to try that with the Canon 7D and Sigma 30mm 1.4!

An high-quality APS-C camera, with a very capable lens, right in your pocket - finally I've got the mirrorless combination I´ve been wanting!

And that's that! If you've got any other questions, let me know!

Happy shooting!

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