Sony Nex-7 vs. Olympus OM-D EM-5 vs. Fuji Xpro1 vs. Sony Nex 5n … An Interweb Mirrorless Shootout — Part 2

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.

Top view of the Sony Nex7 and its Tri-Navi controls.

Top view of the Sony Nex7 and its Tri-Navi controls.

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 EM5 with the awesome grip and the amazing OLED rear screen

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.

chris

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A99 interweb video test part 2 – Sony A99 vs. Sony Nex 5n

***NOTE*** This test was performed with TWO separate copies of the A99.  Yes, I was so disappointed by the video from my first A99, I thought it was defective.  So I returned it and got the same crappy results with A99 #2.  Looking at other A99 videos across the web, its not me or my two copies, it’s the A99.  On to my story…

A99 vs. Nex 5n

I got skewered after posting my results of my A99 vs. EM5 video test with wild claims of bias (I just want good video, don’t care where it comes from), flawed testing methods (focus, push record, what am I missing?), that I rigged it to make the EM5 look better (after spending $6000 on a Sony body and lenses) and so on.  Its all ridiculous.  I put a nice consumer camera (EM5) against Sony’s professional flagship (A99) and the Sony got spanked.

So I figured I’d level the playing field by shooting another test – this time with the A99’s tiny cousin, the Nex5n.  The 5n has a 16 megapixel APS-c sensor, compare to the 24 MP full frame sensor in the A99.  So its Sony vs. Sony – and to lessen the complaints from the whiners, I’m using the exact same lens on both cameras … the stunning Zeiss 24-70/2.8.   I also have the LAEA1 adapter to make the lens work on the Nex5n.  To compensate for the 5n’s crop factor, I shot wider on the A99.  I stopped down the lens on the A99 to equate the depth of field difference between the two sensor sizes.  Everything was shot at a base ISO of 100.  Be sure to select 1080p and watch full screen, or even better on a large TV.

As long as everything is in focus, I’m not really concerned about the rest, but the pixel peeping nerds seem to care so I tried to make everything as close as possible.   The results are not surprising – again the diminutive Nex5n took the A99 to the woodshed.  The softness, moiré and aliasing are again so bad on the A99 its completely unusable.  Fine details are once again mush compared to the 5n.  Its disappointing how bad the results are for the A99.  Absolutely horrible.

Ergonomics on the A99 are a dream.  There are two control wheels – one under the shutter and one by the thumb rest – making it easy to adjust aperture and shutter speed when shooting manually.  Other shooting parameters can easily be adjusted with the joystick on the rear, functions such as focus magnify, AF lock, ISO and more all are easy to find as some buttons are convex shaped and others are concave.  The tilt/swivel LCD is something that should be on every camera, it can be placed on top of the camera for low shots, turned to the side for shoulder mounted shots and tilted down for overhead shots.  I love it.  It’s such a pleasure to shoot with the A99, and the stills results are simply stunning as you can see here.  The video leaves a lot to be desired, and if it can’t best a 5d3, the A99 is going back to Sony.

Some are saying that my results are a by-product of a full frame sensor because the Canon 5d Mark III is also very soft.  That may be the case because full-frame DSLR’s have to hatchet down sensor output in the 22-36mp range depending on your camera to just over 2mp for HD video.  Some also say I’m an idiot.  That may be the case, but the A99 needs glasses – it can’t see.  I’m going to put that to the test in my final shootout with the 5d3.  I’d rather not have to make the switch again as it’s a pain to buy and sell a complete camera system.  I need both stills and video, so my investment has to perform in each medium.  I’d love to see something with great sharpness from the A99, but I haven’t yet and I don’t think I ever will.  If you’re shooting with one and getting good results please let me know.  Until next time, thanks for stopping by.

chris

The Joy of traveling light

Can you travel to far-away destinations around the world with just 16 pounds of clothes? That’s something I’m going to explore, as the pack pictured below is my “international” setup.  While I tinker with my travel camera setup, I’m also going to refine everything else I use when traveling.  What you see below is everything I took for a month-long trip in South America, minus a small sling pack with camera gear.  Preparation was nerve-racking as I usually take more than this for a few days; I’m a classic over-packer.  This was also my first time outside of the U.S.  I don’t really consider Canada foreign – outside of the bland food and goofy accents.  Most of the shirts, all the socks and my insulating layer are made out of merino wool – it keeps you warm, its naturally wicking so it moves sweat, unlike cotton it insulates when wet, it dries quickly and its naturally odor-resistent.  All that comes at a price, t-shirts made out of merino can easily run $50-75 each.  But it packs small, its comfortable, its really light and you don’t have to do laundry as often as you would with cotton.

This is everything I took for a month in South America

This is everything I took for a month in South America

Here’s a rundown of everything pictured:
Gregory backpack – technically considered a daypack, 3 pounds, well padded/ventilated back, very easy to carry
REI green waterproof shell – came in handy a few times in total downpours
Ibex LS merino wool insulating layer – lightweight, warm, anti-stink
REI travel pants – can be converted to shorts, stink and water resistant
Exofficio underwear – great for travel, dries fast
Smartwool socks – again merino wool gets the job done
Smartwool and Ibex shirts – merino wool long and short sleeve T’s and button-ups, easily layered/removed for changing conditions
Teva sandals – my walk around shoe
Oboz hiking shoes – what I wore anytime off pavement
That’s it, crazy eh?

It all adds up to less than 15 pounds. For toiletries I just carried a toothbrush, razor, chapstick, lotion, toothpaste and some camp soap in a one-quart plastic bag.  We used/swiped soap everywhere we stayed and did laundry in the shower.   I shaved with soap too – ouch – but I didn’t want to waste space or add weight with a can of shave gel.  We had a small medical kit that my wife Caitlin carried, since I had the camera, and that was pretty much it. Packing/unpacking was never a chore because we had so little. It was easy to move about and get in and out of airports/boats/taxis/trains/busses quickly.

Posing for a shot while motoring between islands in the Galapagos

Posing for a shot while motoring between islands in the Galapagos

So what will we do different next time we go international? I felt like I really stuck out when we went out in the evenings – you just look like such a tourist when you’re the only one in a nice restaurant wearing nylon pants and hiking shoes.  Locals were in jeans and shirts and we’re sporting full on trekker gear.  At 6’2″ I stick out even more than most as I seem to be taller than most of the people we were around. I’ll be bringing a pair of jeans and a couple cotton T’s or polo’s – just to be a little more casual when we’re out at night.  Though most of the time the travel duds were fine.

Feel free to comment if you have suggestions on gear that can improve upon what I already have, I’m always on the lookout for how I can tweak things.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris