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

Advertisements

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

What’s old is new again

Before I dive into discussing some of the compact camera options like the Sony Nex 7 and the Fuji Xpro1, I’m going to talk about some of the lenses I’ll be using.  I’ll be shooting with a bunch of old manual focus (MF) lenses including some Minolta Rokkors and a really cool Kiron Macro lens.  I’m a big fan of old manual glass – they’re a great combination of low cost, bulletproof construction and optical brilliance.  Back in the day lenses were all metal and incredibly well constructed.  Minolta glass was made in Japan with Swiss watch precision and top-notch optics.  You get a lot of bang for the buck.  Some of the more popular mounts such as Canon FD, Minolta and Olympus OM are no longer used, but the glass was produced for decades leaving tons of great lenses that are very affordable.

Kiron 105mm/2.8 macro lens in Canon FD mount on the Fuji Xpro1

Kiron 105mm/2.8 macro lens in Canon FD mount on the Fuji Xpro1

Manual lenses are great for video too, you can make aperture adjustments on the lens and the focus ring doesn’t spin forever so focusing is very accurate.  They even have a nice little distance scale on the lens so you can estimate your focal plane at any given aperture right on the lens.  My favorite thing about MF lenses – I can easily repeat rack focus moves.  The beauty of modern technology is that people way smarter than yours truly have figured out that you can make an adapter to mate all the brilliant MF lenses to pretty much any interchangeable lens digital camera on the planet.  So you simply buy an adapter that serves as a coupler between an old lens and a new camera mount, and it works beautifully.

I’m back to a Canon setup for paid work after a brief flirtation (more on this one soon) with a Sony A99.  Most of the time I’m carrying something compact in my messenger bag with my laptop.  My entire travel setup fits in a small shoulder bag and I’m losing nothing in terms of image quality (IQ).  I’ll cover how the lenses and cameras perform while shooting stills and video.  I’m not some obsessive pixel-peeper, so my tests will be images from trips and photo walks, not a bunch of test charts.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris