Sony is not a company that is known for interoperability and compliance with standards. Quite the opposite, in fact, if one considers technologies like Memory Stick, Blu-Ray, and most every other development they have made in consumer electronics. But what about the NEX mirrorless cameras? How do they compare to similar offerings from other vendors?
Advanced interchangeable lens camera systems like the NEX from Sony are never entirely open or closed. Rather, they incorporate standards where they must and innovate everywhere else. Let’s consider the main components of interchangeable lens camera, and identify which generally are proprietary and which are standardized.
Widely-Standardized Camera Components and Connectors
Memory media is generally a standard format like SD, CompactFlash, or Memory Stick, though most cameras including the NEX are increasingly turning to SD and its derivatives. I simply would not have bought the NEX-5 if it was not 100% compatible with SD and SDXC cards like most low to midrange cameras on the market today. It’s nice that the NEX is also compatible with the line of Wi-Fi SD cards from Eye-Fi.
Audiovisual connectors are generally standardized, including HDMI for audio/visual (formerly S-Video and RCA) and TRS mini jacks for audio. Only the NEX-7 includes a standard microphone input, though all NEX cameras have a mini HDMI connector. The lack of a microphone input on my NEX-5 had been a great disappointment, leading me to pack a separate video camera.
Lens filters are broadly standardized in terms of diameter and thread pitch. The NEX cameras use the common but not ubiquitous 49 mm filter format. I have been able to buy third-party filters, including an inexpensive circular polarizer, without any trouble.
|The industry-standard flash shoe||Sony’s iISO as on the NEX-7||The proprietary NEX flash mount|
If a camera includes an accessory connector for a flash, it is generally the ancient U-shaped shoe first created by Leica almost a century ago. The NEX-7 includes the Sony/Minolta iISO hot shoe, while the other NEX cameras have a proprietary connector that also includes the microphone input. The slim NEX connector is a limiting factor to the lower and Sony cameras, but the iISO on the NEX-7 enjoys much wider support. I’m not troubled by the lack of a Leica-style hot shoe given the wide variety of iISO attachments.
Most cameras feature a standard tripod mount, though not all are optimally located. The Sony NEX line does indeed use the standard screw mount for tripod attachment.
Usually-Proprietary Camera Components
Some low-end cameras use a standard battery, but most high-end cameras use one of a number of batteries developed but their manufacturer. The entire NEX line uses the same Sony “intelligent battery” NP—FW50 cell, also shared with some Sony Alpha cameras. This battery technology is entirely proprietary, and Sony actively works to exclude third-party manufacturers. My own experience with “compatible” NEX batteries has not been positive.
With very few exceptions, camera lens mounting systems are proprietary to a single manufacturer and range of cameras. Sony’s E-Mount lens system is one of the defining elements in the NEX line, and the company has published mechanical and electronic specifications to allow the development of third-party adapters and lenses. While not cross-corporate like the Micro Four Thirds system, the E-Mount is about as open and standardized as any other lens system.
The availability of lens adapters is a revelation for long-time SLR users, and one of the main attractions of mirrorless camera systems like the NEX and Micro 4/3. The fact that such adapters are not yet available for the Nikon 1 (apart from Nikon’s own F-Mount) likely turns away some prospective customers. By opening their lens specifications, Sony and Panasonic/Olympus have given consumers a marvelous boon.
The Sony NEX line is not as open as it could be, but the NEX-7 addresses many of the shortcomings found in earlier cameras. The addition of a standard microphone input as well as the adoption of the widely accepted iISO flash attachment are welcome changes. But it is the broad availability of third-party lenses that really makes the NEX and Micro Four Thirds systems shine.