UPDATE : A summary of all this website’s reviews of the Sony NEX-5n and NEX-7 is now available.
It has been a great week for Dear SusanS: a new author, Philippe, has joined the crew. We met over comments and since met in real life to swap lenses for our Sony NEX-5N cameras. Philippe does semiconductor consuting for large corporations, so he travels a lot. He is committed enough to rise before the sun and has a great eye, so you can expect wonderful pictures from around the world 🙂 His first post, a beautifully written account of a sunrise over the Golden Gate in San Francisco, will give you a glimpse of things to come !
Secondly, a hasty meet-up on Tuesday with Philippe (yes, the same Philippe) gave me the opportunity to try out the Sony NEX-7 I have lusted over so long. My NEX-5N in hand and some great lenses between us, it was gunfight at OK Coral (or mirrorless shootout at Le Louvre, in our case 😉 The idea (well, really, the idea was just to get my hands on the NEX-7) but what was in my mind prior to this great moment, was – obviously – to see how much the 8Mpix difference influences image quality.
Update: More pictures from that day are available in the next post: Le Louvre Museum and naked ladies in Parisian windows 🙂 (please note they are not technical pictures made to evaluate anything, just pictures :))
In the hand
As much as I love my little NEX-5N, it looks like a hand-held game thingy for pre-teens, compared to the bigger brother. The NEX-7 is larger, the grip more curvaceous and organic, and falls better into hand.
The EVF? Well, it’s difficult to describe better than what other reviewers have written. I personally prefer the larger rear screen, but that’s entirely personal. Looking inside feels like watching a small but high-resolution (and high contrast) TV. Looking at the rear is more like the back of a tiny view camera. To each his own.
That being said, I looked directly into the sun and the frame stayed perfectly clear, even though the shadows were a bit too dark for comfort. The viewfinder is at top left, which is perfect for people with noses beneath their eyes, and the Sony NEX-7 is more reminiscent of my beloved Mamiya-7 than any other camera I know of. Lovely.
Why I dream of the Sony NEX-7 …
Enough with the banter, this is what you’ve been waiting for. IMAGE QUALITY.
For the test, we used the sharpest lens I have ever used: the Zeiss G Planar 45mm f/2. Here is the test scene.
Here is a a series of frames at 100% just off-center to show the difference in resolution at various apertures.
So what do these pictures tell us?
First, look at the complete series and you will see a distinct warm to cool balance shift. It is present with both cameras, possibly slightly more pronounced with the NEX-7. What isn’t apparent is that exposure was not all that consistent between frames, on either camera. I corrected level (auto setting in LightRoom) to present them here.
Secondly, the Planar is an incredibly sharp lens. At f:2, there is a slight softness and a very faint trace of chromatic aberration. From f/4 up to f/11 sharpness is simply incredible. Bear in mind that the enlarged frames are about 3-5 feet wide on-screen. The recent announcement of the Nikon D800’s 36MPix resolution rose worries about the ability of lenses to deliver such an amount of information to the sensor. Well, a full frame sensor with the same pixel density as the NEX-7 has would have 60 Mpix. The Planar easily delivers this level of detail (at least in the central region) and then some.
Finally, and more to the point, the NEX-7’s image quality is indeed much higher than the NEX-5N. Be sure to click the individual frames to view the difference in detail between the two cameras. Here’s the deal: not only does the NEX-7 have 50% more pixels than the NEX-5N, but per-pixel sharpness also seems slightly higher, as if the AA filter was slightly less strong on the 7. I’d love to see large prints compared to the Leica M-9 and Nikon D3x.
What about the cornrers of the frame ? Strictly speaking that’s more a test of the lens than the sensor, but since IQ problems arrise with angular rays, here’s a sample at f/4 (you’ll just have to trust me with the other apertures, this is such a pain to do ;))
Verdict: In ideal conditions, IQ is the best I’ve seen this side of medium format backs costing 10-30 times the price.
… And why I probably will never buy it
The glitch in this verdict resides in these three words: In ideal conditions.
Your mileage may very, but my money is always placed on lenses, not on the cameras. In 3 years time either of these cameras will be obsolete or broken. Quality lenses will still be doing stirling service and probably appreciating financially. So, for me, a choice of camera is always dependant on the lenses it lets me use.
However good optically, the Sony Zeiss 24/1.8 will always be limited to APS cameras. It has no focus ring or aperture ring. It is not a lens for tomorrow. Lenses such a Voigltanders, Zeiss ZM, Contax G or Leica (in screw, M or R mount) are both solid investments and marvelous to use.
A camera that cannot work with these is not a camera for me. And this is where the cookie crumbles. Here are more pictures taken that day with my trusty Zeiss ZM Biogon 25mm f/2.8.
NEX-5NNEX-7 As you can tell, results are very poor. At f/11 anf f/16 corners get in shape. But who want to shoot at f/11 all day long on an APS sensor ? To be fair, the Biogon uses a symmetrical design that presents a worst-case scenario to the NEX-7’s sensor. If at all possible I will test the Leica-R 19mm Elmarit and the Zeiss ZM 18mm Distagon. FIngers crossed.
Verdict: The Sony NEX-7 is a high-end Ferrari. Give it a track and perfect conditions and it will outpace most other cars on earth (no discussing finer automotive points hear, you get my drift). Compared to which, the NEX-5N is a Range Rover. It will tackle most anything you can through at it with grace and efficiency.
For someone travelling, sometimes in bad light, and using manual lenses, there’s simply no match. A NEX-7 body with a NEX-5N sensor would be wonderful, but I’m happy with it as it is. Next on my list is the Fuji X-PRO1, but pictures so far do not show any advantage compared to the NEX-5N, so it looks like this little puppy is going to stick around for some time. At least until the full frame mirrorless comes along, that is 🙂
If we can, Philippe and I will test the NEX-7 with more lenses and we will report here. If you have any exotica you’d like us to test, send them over 🙂