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Why I just bought a Sony NEX-7...

Published December 25th, 2011

I've been a Nikon user for a decade. My mother was a Nikon shooter when she was working in French newspapers in the 1990's. I absolutely love Nikon ergonomics. I trust Nikon's philosophy more than most of its competitors (especially Canon, sorry). However, I've just sold most of my Nikon stuff and acquired a Sony NEX-7 (the Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 is also on order and part of the story).

As some of my followers may know, I really enjoy street and people photography. I believe that fast primes on light bodies are the way to go to shoot in this conditions. That's why I was using a Nikon D90 with an assortment of 3 fast primes (20mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.8). All great gear, never let me down. I was always satisfied of image quality and versatility.

But I wanted more, I wanted even lighter and more discrete. I've gaffer taped my Nikon gear so it didn't catch everyone's eyes when I was shooting. It did help. However, I happen to work in a store where the main products are Leica ones. As you know, Leica rangefinders cameras are small and offer a different way of shooting from DSLRs. The rangefinder system allows for smaller lenses (no mirror-pentaprism mechanism to deal with, huge advantage), quieter cameras, and absolutely stunning wide-angle lenses in a small package (the Nikon 24mm f/1.4 is beautiful, but weighs 650g...).

Enters mirrorless digital cameras. I've followed this evolution very closely. I've seen a lot of photographers buying Panasonic and Olympus M4/3 cameras to put their Leica glass on it, or even to use Lumix and Olympus glass. Recently, these companies have produced very nice lenses. I've seen some 16*20 enlargements of pictures taken with a Panasonic GF1, it was impressive. It was all first gen however, and I wanted to wait for this system to improve. In the meantime, my D90+lenses combination offered me a better image quality, especially above ISO 800, and Nikkor lenses were more versatile. Then, Sony entered the game last year with the NEX series, and this might have been the final blow to entry-level DSLRs (along with Richo, Samsung and soon-to-be Fuji APS-C systems).

Sony has nothing to lose by going wild with its mirrorless cameras, Nikon has. That's why they came up with APS-C sized sensor and why Nikon came up with the 1 system, with its small sensor and unique set of features (like 60fps shooting...). Nikon doesn't want to eat their own DSLR market. Sony, which has developed the most imaginative 2011 DSLRs (the SLT series), doesn't care to eat its own market share. It stays Sony's right? In my opinion, Sony's long term insight beats Nikon's.

Now, to the camera. The NEX-3 and 5 where weird cameras, full of unfulfilled potential. Basically, they behave like APS-C compacts. I wasn't impressed. Then came the NEX-3C and NEX-5N, definitive improvements, but still not good enough. Too small, to "compact" in the spirit, even if great cameras (especially for IQ). Panasonic came up with the GX1, Olympus had the EP-3 (which lags in term of image quality though). The whole mirrorless gang was maturing. Enters the NEX-7, the first real-life mirrorless camera for a guy like me.

Sony uses APS-C sensors, which is the biggest available for mirrorless cameras (except for the Leica M9, which is out of the question price-wise). Its engineers had two great insights: the Ti-Navi system (two wheels and a button on the right side) and an EXTRAORDINARY viewfinder on the left side. Putting it on the side and not in the middle makes a HUGE difference. Believe me, try a NEX-7 and a Nikon V-1 or Panasonic G3 and you'll see. It just handles better, at least for me.

Balance is perfect between size and efficiency (granted, a 1.95m guy with huge hands might find the NEX too small, but same would go for a D5100 or a T31). The mirrorless design allows none retrofocus wide-angle lenses. Therefore, they're gonna be smaller and lighter (the Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 is a Sonnar lens, not a Distagon like all Zeiss SLR wide lenses). It is compatible with a lot of legacy lenses (but has a color shift problem with the Biogon and some Leica wide-angle design. The Panasonic G series has exactly the same problem but nobody seems to care, weird). Sony has a 2.4M pixels sensor in a big viewfinder. That's 1M more than the competition (like the Lumix GX1's big, without eye-level detection, expensive external viewfinder, you got the point).

True, the NEX lens system is still small, and the new Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 (which I have on order and dying to get) is the only truly great lens in the lineup (Sony's 50mm f/1.8 seems good too, but I haven't seen any serious reviews of it so far). But this system is growing. By next year (2013) we'll have at least 4-6 more E-Mount lenses, and probably one of them will be Zeiss (a 35mm f/2? PLEASE). Evolution in motion.

I'll let you know of my impression in actual shooting. I've put my Nikon AF 20mm f/2.8D with a Voigtlander adapter on it and it's both bulky and awkward. Results seem fine though, but this lens is not made for that. The front element is big and heavy, unbalancing the whole camera (especially because the adapter creates a big empty space between lens and camera). However, I'll soon try a Leica 35mm Summicron f/2 with an adapter. That ought to be something else. Adapter and lens are WAY smaller than the Nikon version (because of the aforementioned SLR design) and it's going to be a lot closer to what I expect for the NEX-7 to offer.

I've also seen a lot of very nice results from Zeiss glass on Leica cameras, or even on M4/3 and I want to try it for myself. Zeiss optics have a different character than Nikon's or Canon's (which a very close to one another in this regard). Just like Leica's, they seem to "detach" things more, to create a better 3D effect. I don't know exactly how to put it, but I find their look more attractive. They're not necessarily sharper than their Japanese counterparts, but European lenses (designed by European companies, they can be made anywhere) tend to have a different look, one that I've grown fond of in the last years.

I'll let you know in the next few months if my insights where good or not...

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Untitled

Sony NEX-7 + Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 (photo credits: Google :-p).

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JimRectorJr
Jim Rector  about 4 years ago

Enjoyed your review. I rented an NEX-7 (Owned C3 and 5) for a recent trip to Lake Tahoe. Found it to be a great camera! Well above the C3 and 5. Based on that I bought the NEX-6. I don't seem to miss much with the 6 vs the 7. Just some megapixels and I love the wifi and apps.

mrtoes
Matthew Alonso-Quiano  over 5 years ago

Thanks for the review. Was looking seriously at this camera, but was put off by the lack of small, fast primes which is why I went with the GX1. And the cost. Looks awesome though, amazing what they managed to fit in such a small body