A quick look at each camera…
Sony got a lot right with the Nex 7. The resolution is incredible – 24mp gives you a lot of breathing room for crop compositions, ½ the image could still produce a stunning 13×19 print. It’s also the first Nex camera with a real flash shoe. It’s the Sony/Minolta flash socket. If you have the hotshoe that seems to adorn every other flash on the planet you have to get a $5 adapter from Amazon to make it work. I’m using my budget conscious (cheap) Cactus v5 wireless triggers and an equally wallet friendly (cheap) Younguo flash with the adapters and it works perfectly. Sony has perfected focus peaking for manual focusing – something I always do while shooting video and something that’s very handy when using manual glass. You can set peaking to show areas in focus as white, yellow or red highlights in the tilting LCD. Peaking combined with the magnify function makes manual focusing so easy you’ll want to get some old lenses just to try it out.
Some great spec sheet stuff – the Nex 7 shoots 10 frames per second, but you can’t focus and the EVF does the slideshow/blackout thing so you can’t follow action. It’s really a crapshoot. But shooting short bursts to capture a few frames so you don’t get people blinking works fine. I don’t shoot action sports with a small cam so its not an issue for me. The shutter is something of note with Nex cameras. I’ve owned the original 5, the 7 and the 5n – they all have a LOUD shutter. The clack that comes out of these little cameras is a little shocking. Its not an intimate portrait camera and the machine gun ratcheting during a burst draws attention in a crowd. Everyone looks your way when you fire the Nex shutter.
The EM5 is a lot more like a traditional DSLR than a feat of engineering like the Nex. Olympus has basically taken a DSLR and hit it with a shrink-ray, it offers the shape and all the basic controls of a DSLR in a tiny package. At 16 megapixles the EM5 is right at the top of current m43 resolution, along with the Panasonic GH3, which shoots stunning video and seems to have closed the gap with the EM5 regarding stills – but to me the EM5 shoots much nicer JPEG’s and the RAW files have incredible latitude. No surprise here as the EM5 has a Sony sensor, hence the fabulous dynamic range. The EM5 produces beautiful files up to ISO 3200, if you look at the DPreview comparison image, its competitive and in some cases superior in terms of noise and detail with any current DSLR that’s doesn’t have a full frame sensor. Small camera, big image, I like it. The shutter sound is more of a damped ka-chunk compared to the Nex. Its much more stealthy, and the touch focus/shutter makes it a great casual portrait/street camera.
The Olympus has the best image stabilization I’ve ever seen in a camera or in a lens. They call it 5-axis, so it compensates for camera shake side-to-side, up and down, and some others I don’t know – maybe rolling, spinning and the Jedi Mind Trick. All I know – it works. You can get a sharp image while shooting handheld around 1/10 second, something that usually requires a tripod. It works in video mode too, so you get a cool steadicam look that doesn’t have the nauseating shakes associated with most crappy home videos your family & friends force you to watch. The 5-axis also works with adapted legacy lenses, so virtually every lens on the planet can have stabilization – this can’t be emphasized enough… every lens is stabilized with the best stabilization system I’ve ever used. My Cactus triggers work fine with the EM5 as well.
The Fuji Xpro1 is kind of the odd camera of the bunch. The sensor has a different color array in its pixels from pretty much every other digicam on the planet – Fuji calls it X-Trans. The result is beautiful color and amazingly clean/detailed files at high ISO’s. The lenses are metal with actual aperture rings. Everything feels high quality, not the throwaway plastic most cameras are made of these days. Fuji didn’t try to shrink the body as much as possible like Nex or jam every feature into its body like Olympus; instead Fuji simply built a camera for photographers.
It has a retro rangefinder look, but its nicely done, not trendy at all. There’s no image stabilization in the body (the zooms have optical stabilization), there’s no tilt LCD or touch screen (though I wish it would tilt as I love high and low shots) and yet in most cases there’s nothing missing. The XP1 body has a metal chassis so there’s a bit of heft to the camera. AF is not as fast as the others and video is a bit of an after thought as it doesn’t allow you to make any exposure adjustments and there are no frame rate options. That’s a shame because there’s potential with the X-Trans to create a beautiful image.
The big selling point, outside of IQ, is the hybrid viewfinder. You can switch between the EVF and an optical viewfinder with graphic overlays that show all the camera’s information and frame lines for the lens. The benefit is that you can see more of the environment around frame lines – making it easier to compose shots. The drawback for me is the lack of focus information since you’re not looking through the lens, you have to trust the green focus confirm is accurate. I find myself using both; there are benefits to having an optical and electronic viewfinder and its nice to be able to simply hit the switch on the front of the camera and flick between them.
The Nex 5n is similar image and spec-wise to the 7, it just has 16 megapixels and fewer external controls. There are custom options for the three buttons and the control dial, so you can have easy access to functions such as ISO, focus magnify and shooting mode without menu diving. I’ll cover controls for all the cameras more in-depth next time.
I’ll get more into the nuts and bolts of the cameras in the next installment. If there’s anything you’d like to see compared between the four, just let me know. Thanks for stopping by.