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Part #: Nau-17406
The Sony NEX series of cameras have been wildly successful since their introduction with good reason. Sensor size, resolution and image quality are all squarely in the DSLR realm and the video specs have always been superb. The 16 megapixel NEX-5R demonstrates Sony’s evolution as a camera manufacturer as they continue to improve on already good products in response to enthusiast demand. The end users are the winner in this process as the top-notch image quality of the NEX-5N is preserved with some useful improvements added to the functionality of the camera.
The Industry leading features of previous housings are present such as the effortless (but secure) single rotating housing latch, rugged machined aluminum case, 100 meter depth rating and the patented port locking system. A new rear mounted housing o-ring makes maintenance easier than ever and a re-engineered camera tray makes installation a snap. Of course dual fiber optic synch ports are standard and take advantage of the supplied Sony accessory flash.
Like all Nauticams, the Nauticam NA-NEX5R/5T underwater housing is engineered for optimal ergonomics. Every control is designed for easy access while maintaining hand position. The Sony control wheel and new control dial are easily accessed by thumb for DSLR-like control of aperture and shutter settings in manual mode. The new function (Fn) button is immediately adjacent to the patented two stage shutter release for rapid activation of settings like focus modes and white balance function. The redesigned playback and record buttons are easy and intuitive. The Sony accessory flash can still activated and deactivated during a dive with a simple lever. Video shooters will appreciate the dedicated ISO button located close to the right thumb. Most importantly, Nauticam delivers all this friendly functionality in a housing built to same rugged standard as their top-of-the-line professional DSLR housings. A powerful system at a modest price - the NA-NEX5R/5T is ready to go at a moment’s notice.
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I just returned from Bonaire, where I used the Sony NEX-5R in the Nauticam housing, with a single Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobe (one bright light!), along with an iTorch Pro4 Video light. I shot both strobe and ambient light photos, as well as a good bit of video, using the Sony wide angle conversion lens (which mounts on the 16mm pancake lens), under the Nauticam 4-inch dome port. My shots were all wide angle (I'm just not that into macro photography).
The whole rig -- housing, port, strobe, video light, ultralight arms and tray, all fit nicely in my Thinktank backpack (which also held my laptop), which I carried on the plane. It is a compact, yet powerful, setup.
The housing is reassuringly sturdy, but in the water, it was easy to handle -- even for a novice like myself. It's heavy out of the water, but I was able to get it neutrally buoyant with 4 of the Stix floats attached to the arms, and tray.
The buttons and dials on the housing worked beautifully, mirroring the controls on the Sony NEX-5R. The 5R is much nicer than it's predecessor 5N in terms of ease of use -- the additional context-sensitive control dial on top makes it a snap to change settings on the fly. In manual mode (where I had the camera most of the time), the back control wheel (works as well or better in the housing) controls the shutter speed, the control dial on top controls the aperture, and the function button on top allows for quick changes to the white balance. In sum, this little camera, in the Nauticam housing, really allows full and easy manual control.
Others have reviewed the YS-D1 strobe, so I won't comment too much here. But I will say that I found the one strobe perfectly adequately, even for the wide angle shots that I was taking. It's one bright strobe, and the TTL worked perfectly with the camera. If anything, it was so bright I was tending to overexpose some of my photo shots (I kept underestimating how much I really needed to close down the aperture, even at ISO 200).
Paired with this housing, I found my NEX-5r was really a powerful camera. A couple of other points I will note:
1. Lenses: The fisheye lens is great (I had a BLAST with it), but sometimes it is a bit soft on the edges. The problem is that the 16mm pancake lens that mates under the fisheye conversion lens isn't optically the greatest (pretty mediocre actually). That said, it's just fine for underwater use, where you expect a lot of distortion, especially when you are shooting with a fisheye (a fun kind of distortion). I found the net effect was pleasing -- gave some nice bokeh to my shots. But if you are someone who is looking for crystal sharpness from edge to edge -- this probably won't do it. The NEX system is still pretty young and immature in terms of lens options (a couple of years behind the micro-four thirds ecosystem that Panasonic and Olympus have), but that is rapidly improving, as Sony and Leica bring out new lenses for the NEX cameras.
2. Screen Size: The LCD screen on the back seemed small, at least when I am shooting big wide angle reefscapes. Truth be told, I think the issue wasn't the screen size -- I can't think of any camera of any class where the screen is dramatically larger. I think the problem was that I am coming to that point where I need bifocal panes in my mask (ah, the joys of aging). One other thing to note -- unlike the NEX-6, the NEX-5R does NOT come with an EVF. An EVF is great above water (I have a Panasonic GH2 which has a nice one), but I find them too small to be useful underwater. Others, which sharper, younger eyes, may feel differently.
3. Custom White Balance: Sony has helpfully pre-assigned the White Balance function to the FN button on the top of the NEX-5R (I think the button is programmable, but I am happy with what Sony has assigned to it already). I used it frequently, when I did a custom balance (using either a white plastic slate, or pointing at the sand). However, I would usually get a message stating the reading was a "WB error". I would just hit the OK button anyways (accepting the reading), because in fact -- it was a false error message. The shots I took with the custom WB were fine. I'm not sure if the false error message was a function of the camera's computer, or was due to the fact that I was shooting with a very wide angle lens in a dome port (letting in too much light over too wide an area). It's not a real concern, but it was a bit confusing at first.
4. Video light -- I found the video light of limited utility, since I was shooting wide angle. It performed perfectly well, it's quite bright, but even a bright video light doesn't light very far. I'll keep it for now, in case I do some macro type videos.
5. Video quality -- This camera really shines in video mode. It shoots really nice video clips (even in my novice hands), and was easy and quick to manually change/control the settings.
Nauticam has done a nice job mirroring the controls on the camera, making it easy to really enjoy the camera's full capabilities. I upgraded from an ancient Canon point-and-shoot, and am very pleased with the results. That said, I think that DSLR photographers may seriously want to consider the 5R (or NEX-6) housings, because they can get a more compact, travel friendly setup that has a very nice APSC sized sensor that many entry level DSLR's use.
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