November 22, 2014

Why Buy a NEX-7? Why Sony NEX At All?

I got a great question via email this week. So good that it demanded a long, detailed answer worth sharing!

Your tweets about your NEX have intrigued me a bit…I get tired of lugging my Nikon D90 around with my kids, yet I find the quality of most point-and-shoot cameras terrible…so the NEX seems like an interesting compromise.

I’m trying to decide between the NEX-5N, Nikon 1 v1, and the NEX-7.  I’ve read all the reviews, and for the price, the NEX-5N seems like the obvious choice…with one potential fatal flaw: no viewfinder.  I’m often trying to get three kids to look at the camera, and waiting for that one nano-second where they are all looking and maybe smiling, or at least not making ugly faces….just can’t see doing that on the screen on the back.

What has been your experience?  Are you happy with composition on the LCD panel?  Any other thoughts on whether the NEX-7 is worth the significantly higher cost? Much obliged…

Great question!

The first part is simple: Compact System Cameras like the NEX and Nikon 1 are an amazing combination of image quality, flexibility, and portability. They’re nearly (but definitely not quite) as good as DSLR cameras. Why not as good? Well, there’s the lack of a viewfinder, the slow and imprecise contrast-based focusing, and the dearth of lenses. But they’re so much more portable (not to mention generally less expensive) it’s a compromise lots of folks are willing to make. And there’s just no comparison to a compact digital camera – it’s night and day with the big sensor and interchangeable lenses.

You should also read my Sony NEX-5 Camera Review and Hands-On Review: SLR Magic 35mm Sony NEX Lens

Owners of compact system cameras like the NEX, Nikon 1, and Micro Four-Thirds handle the lens issue with adapters. I’ve got a Minolta adapter for my old SR-mount lenses, and lots of folks use Nikon, Canon, and even exotics like Contax and Leica screw-mount. The main issue with these is that they’re not generally auto-focus capable (with some exceptions like the amazing Sony NEX LAEA1 and LAEA2 Alpha-mount adapter), they don’t have image stabilization (so you must use a tripod with your telephotos) and they add significant bulk to the camera. But real system lenses are coming along, and some are really quite good (the Panasonic pancake, Sony Zeiss 24, etc). And there are some awesome third-party lenses like my SLR Magic 35/1.7!

The Nikon 1 V1 is awfully expensive for such a small sensor and unproven lens system

These cameras are really awesome, but the next decision is why to go NEX rather than Micro Four Thirds or Nikon 1. I picked the NEX due to its larger APS-C sensor (twice the size of the MFT and three times larger than Nikon’s) and the promise of better optics that brings. In reality, it’s not much of an advantage. But Sony’s sensor development is setting the industry on fire (everyone is switching to them) and the 14 megapixel sensor in the NEX-C3 and NEX-5N is amazing! Then there’s the 24 megapixel sensor in the NEX-7 and initial reports are very enthusiastic! So the Sony is a great choice, even though the Panasonic, Olympus, and Nikon cameras are nice too.

The NEX-C3 is a good camera, and fairly inexpensive too. But the lenses cost the same (since they are the same) as on the NEX-5N and NEX-7, so the savings is quickly wiped away. The NEX-5N is really a better choice, thanks to a solid metal body and the possibility of a viewfinder (at $350 extra). The touchscreen control is kind of cool too, but it can’t mask that the NEX operating system is difficult to use quickly in the field.

I’ve become pretty good with the screen, really. I can focus quickly (now that I’ve gotten used to the “peaking” setting for my manual lenses) and have adjusted to shooting “from the chest”. The flip-up/down screen is actually pretty nifty in some situations. Sure it’s not a viewfinder, but it’s acceptable if not awesome. Although you can buy an accessory viewfinder for the NEX-5N, it’s kind of weird and definitely expensive.

The Sony NEX-7 adds just about everything I could want to the NEX system, including a viewfinder and better controls

So why spend twice as much on a NEX-7? It addresses every shortcoming and complaint I have about my NEX-5 as well as the current cameras. It has a well-received OLED viewfinder. It has a microphone input for movies and a Sony Alpha-standard flash shoe rather than the weird NEX flash mount. But most importantly it has the “Tri-Navi” control system that makes if super simple to adjust aperture, white balance, ISO, shutter speed, etc on the fly. Seriously, the NEX-7 controls look even better than those on real DSLRs, and that’s saying a LOT. It’s also got the 24 megapixel sensor, but I’m not all that excited about it really. I don’t need more pixels, I need a functional camera!

My suggestion is first to look at the NEX system as a whole. Do you want to buy into Sony’s compact system? Are you going to be happy with just half a dozen purpose-built lenses and a universe of non-AF/non-IS adapted lenses? The lens situation is the major drawback of this system, really. But the walk-around-ness is the saving grace. It’s astonishing to slip a NEX-5 into a jacket pocket for a family trip.

The Sony NEX-5N is a great all-around camera

Maybe consider buying a NEX-5N first to give the system a test drive. Get the 18-55 kit zoom and an SLR Magic 28 or 35 mm “fun lens”, as well as an adapter for your existing SLR lenses. See what you think. You can always sell it later and apply the resulting $400-$500 to an NEX-7 if you decide you like the system. That’s what I did!

  • Aipalovik

    I’ve been taking pictures for 56 years and I had to wait for the NEX-7 to more than fulfill my dreams. With this camera, I can take excellent pictures in any kind of circumstances without being constrained by the bulk of conventional DSLRs. The viewfinder is extraordinary.