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 1 – Sony’s flagship A99 vs. the Olympus EM5

***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…

I discovered some issues with the video output of the Sony A99 after shooting some test video.  I alluded to this in my last A99 post, but I didn’t mention specifics beyond the fact that its absolutely terrible.  The issue is twofold – its really, really soft and the aliasing (straight lines look jagged, not smooth) and moiré (fine patterns like fabrics or roof shingles create that weird wave of color) is the worst I’ve ever seen.  Some complain about how soft the 5d3’s video looks out of the camera, but it can be sharpened nicely in post.  The A99’s video gets a little better after sharpening, but its still really bad.

To make matters worse, Sony chooses to milk the outdated AVCHD codec for another generation of cameras instead of offering a new video codec with higher bitrates.   Canon and Panasonic upped the bitrates with the 5d3 and GH3 respectively and it shows in post, you have more latitude for sharpening and color correction.  Compared to the 5d3, I can only apply about half the amount of sharpening with the A99’s video before artifacts show up.  Part of Canon’s softness is the aggressive stance Canon took against moiré and aliasing – video from the 5d3 is the best of any DSLR in that regard.  With the A99 it’s the worst of both worlds – its soft and full of aliasing and moiré.

I wanted something more concrete than just plugging the camera into my TV and being very disappointed by what I see, so I decided to have another interweb shootout while working on my mega EVIL camera shootout.  I decided to shoot the same subjects with the A99 and the Olympus EM5.  The A99 had a $2000 Zeiss 24-70/2.8 zoom while the EM5 had the cheap 14-42mm plastic kit lens.  I figured it would be a complete beat down – and it was – just not the results one would expect.

I kept it simple by with a few wide shots outside and a still life I threw together with random items from the recycle bin and a few books.  I just wanted to see how each camera renders fine detail.  I took a manually focused still frame, using focus magnify to confirm critical focus, before hitting the video record button to make sure each shot had optimal sharpness.  Watch at full screen, 1080p or on a TV to see the difference.  The moiré on the roof is horrible on the A99, and there’s absolutely no detail.  It looks like a watercolor, not full HD video. Blech.  Compare the foliage and trees, there’s so much more detail in the EM5 shots.  I even ran through the focal range, if you really want to nit-pick you can scroll frame-by-frame to find the sharpest point of the sequence.  Its pretty easy with the A99, just look for the moiré pattern on the roof, that’s the sharpest part of the focal range.  Blech again.  In the still life, bounce between the A99 sharpened shot and the EM5 shot, the difference is easy to see.

The EM5 was easily better in every way; it’s a surprisingly capable video machine.  The little Olympus, with its very limited video capabilities, completely trounced the A99.  I tend to shoot mostly wide shots with deep depth of field (DOF) and close-ups with shallow DOF.  The A99 looked good in the shallow DOF shots, but wide shots are dreadful.  The A99 will leave a bad taste in your mouth if you plan on shooting wide, especially when you think about what it costs compared to its little brother – the Nex5n.  Yes the little Nex’s video also trounces the A99… at one-tenth the price and I have the video to prove it. Ouch.

For some reason the Sony defenders on the web want to try and find flaws with my test, but its pretty straight forward — for video the A99 flat out sucks.  Period.  I have more tests that show similar results.  Its sad really, because Sony got so much right with the design and shooting ergonomics of the A99.  Control-wise it’s one of the best cameras I’ve ever used, simply brilliant.  Stay tuned…

So tell me what you think of the EM5 video vs. the A99.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

Sony Nex-7 vs. Olympus OM-D EM-5 vs. Fuji Xpro1 vs. Sony Nex 5n … An Interweb Mirrorless Shootout — Part 1

Meet the Contenders…

When I set out to find the ultimate small camera setup, I knew I would be looking at a camera with many names –  mirrorless (a camera that combines the large sensor of a DSLR without a mirror box and an optical viewfinder), interchangable lens camera (ILC, or MILC if you combine the last two), compact system camera (CSC), or my personal favorite – the electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens (EVIL) camera. You will see all these terms associated with the same class of camera.  Its a simple formula – big sensor, smaller lenses and bodies, and great IQ.  I want something that’s comfortable to shoot with everyday (if you don’t enjoy shooting with it, you’ll never actually use it), has great lenses (or works well with adapted manual focus lenses), shoots great stills and shoots video that will look good on the web and on TV’s in the 42-60” range since that’s what most seem to have these days (I have a 42). That’s not too much to ask, is it?

When the mirror is axed from a DSLR, the size can be drastically reduced, but that introduces a problem – the mirror creates the viewfinder image in a DSLR by reflecting light into a pentaprism (the hump with the viewfinder that you look through when shooting).  So a mirrorless camera needs an electronic viewfinder (EVF) in order to shoot like a traditional camera. I’ve used DSLR’s for years and I’ve grown accustomed to shooting while looking through the viewfinder – not holding it at arms length like a poop filled diaper… or a camera phone… pick your favorite analogy. So for me a viewfinder is a must. The EVF also needs to have a fast refresh rate, I had a Fuji X100 and the EVF went dark for a couple seconds after shooting while I waited for the hamster inside to get the wheel moving. So. Lame. EVF lag = return the camera before your 30-day return window closes.

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

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

Right now there are four cameras – at least in my opinion – that are at the top of the EVIL heap, the Sony Nex-7 and the new Olympus with the ridiculous name … the O-M-D-E-M-5 … I added extra dashes because I can’t remember where Olympus puts them, but I think its called the OM-D E-M5 … brilliant … not really.  There’s also the Fuji Xpro1 and the Sony Nex5n which has an optional EVF that attaches to the top, or you can go super small and shoot in poop diaper mode.

The Sony Nex-7 is the most refined Nex camera to date, combining compact size, a ridiculous 24 megapixel APS-c sensor, the highest resolution EVF on the market, 1080p video, lots of buttons and dials in a slick black metal body that screams incredible engineering – especially when you put it next to Sony’s big A77 DSLR – because its essentially the same camera. Sony has clearly established itself as the leader in sensor technology with the Nex-7 and the 36mp sensor that’s in the Nikon d800, the big S may be swimming in red ink, but it still knows how to build a sensor.

The Olympus EM5 is a micro-four-thirds (m43) system camera that’s supposed to be some sort of retro design mimicking the shape of the classic Olympus OM camera from decades ago – just what every camera buyer wants in 2013, a camera that looks like something in the back of grandpa’s closet or worse … some retro-craze piece of junk like the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Fortunately, despite its silly name and heritage nobody really cares about, the EM5 has drool-worthy specs for my inner gear geek – 16 megapixels, the first ever 5-axis image stabilization, weather sealed, a huge OLED rear screen, fast auto focus (so says Olympus), 1080p video (though limited) and what appears to be huge gains in dynamic range and image quality – improvements that rival and in many cases surpass many current entry level DSLR’s.

Olympus EM5 with the optional grip

Olympus EM5 with the optional grip

Fuji jumped into the EVIL game with the Xpro1 and its innovative hybrid viewfinder – it combines an optical viewfinder with an EVF, giving you the best of both worlds.  Sort of… but I’ll get to that.  It also sports a 16 megapixel sensor, a rangefinder styled body that places all major controls at your fingertips, high quality lenses with manual aperture rings and some of the cleanest files at high ISO’s I’ve ever seen.  It rivals my Canon 5d3 up to 6400, which is about the highest I shoot unless its something like a concert – where the noise is acceptable because of the dark environment.  Oh yeah, it also has the best JPEG files around with those gorgeous Fuji colors.  If nothing else, Fuji knows color and the Xpro1 has it in spades.

Last but not least – in terms of IQ, not size – there’s the little camera that could, the Sony Nex 5n.  The little Nex has a big 16 megapixel sensor, a really handy touch screen LCD, 1080p video capability and some eye-popping IQ for such a small camera.  You could *almost* shoot professionally with a few of these, but people writing checks like to see big cameras, not a camera smaller than my phone.  Why two Nex cameras?  Well there a significant price difference between the recently discontinued Nex5n (dirt cheap) and the flagship Nex7 (not cheap at all) and they both do 1080/60p video.  I edit everything at 24 frames per second (24p) and video shot at 60 frames per second (60p) can be slowed down to create some fantastic looking slow-motion video.  And I loves me some slow-mo.  The differences between the 5n/7 are big to some and not so big to others.  I’ll highlight some of these in the next update.

All of these cameras offer big IQ in a small package, but how do they perform head to head? I’ll update over the next few weeks to show the results of my testing.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

After technical issues, the blog is back!

Sorry about the blog disappearing, there were some hiccups.  I’m in the process of recovering all of my previous posts and I have lots of content going forward.

This little slice of the web is for me to share my photographic journey while searching for THE travel camera.  I’m a gear junkie, so the chance to endlessly tinker with cool new toys will be tough – ha, ha – but its a sacrifice I’m willing to make.  My wife and I plan to see and experience everything we can on all seven continents.  Yes that means Antarctica.  We want to share our experiences with family, friends and anyone else that happens to click on this blog.  I shoot photos and video, so they’re equally important.  I’m searching for a light camera that shoots both really well.

One of the many great shots captured with my little Canon G10.

One of the many great shots captured with my little Canon G10.

For me the days of lugging a giant camera and 15 pounds of lenses on a plane are over.  I used a Canon G10 when my wife and I traveled to South America and it was nice being able to capture what I wanted without being weighed down by a big camera bag.  My banner image of Macchu Picchu was taken with the lowly G10 as well.  I never want to be “photo tourist guy” again, you know – the guy with the big photo backpack, tripod and a giant zoom on a DSLR clogging up busy sidewalks or skinny paths through historical landmarks.  There was this guy in Vegas once, trying to shoot the Venetian on a small stretch of sidewalk when it was absolutely packed, and it just made me think there has to be a better way.  Never again.

The big camera will primarily be used for jobs, with the small cameras serving as backups.  Modern imaging sensors are capable of producing amazing results in a very small package.  I have my sights set on a few different systems including Fuji X, Sony Nex and the top micro 4/3rds cameras.  Check back or subscribe for updates as its a work in progress right now, but I’m shooting (get it, ha, ha … ok lame) for new content a few times a week.  If anyone has any gear or travel suggestions, please let me know.

chris