A Tale of Two Systems

Discussion in 'Sony Alpha E-Mount Cameras' started by dixeyk, Aug 13, 2012.

  1. kevistopheles

    kevistopheles TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jun 18, 2012
    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...I have for the past month or so been shooting daily with my NEX and m43 systems side by side. I live with their strengths and weaknesses and thought it might be helpful to some folks if I shared them. First up, the dramatis personae:


    The top end compact Panasonic sports a newer 16mp sensor, fast AF, am improved JPEG engine, terrific build quality, compact size (it is surprisingly small) and a comprehensive set of manual controls. It seems like a worthy successor to the venerable GF1. The GX1 is a RF style body that is remarkably small. It's not much bigger than my E-PM1 was and yet it manages to fit a full complement of controls, and my favorite Panasonic touch the clickable thumbwheel. The body is all metal with a nice oversized grip that reminds me of the excellent "larger" grip for the E-P3. In many ways the GX1 is very much like the E-P3 in that it makes using it fun and effortless while still being quite compact. I use my GX1 without the optional LVF2 external EVF but I understand that it is very similar quality wise to the Olympus VF2. I'm getting somewhere around 300- 350 shots on a battery charge. I have the Panasonic P14/2.5, PL25/1.4 and PL45/2.8 as my lenses.

    I bought the NEX-C3 as a platform for manual focus lenses. It has a 16mp APS-C sensor, a flip up 900K LCD and minimal hard controls in a very compact body that is smaller than the GX1. It comes with an external flash but no ability to use the very high resolution NEX EVF. The NEX has a nice tight feel to it and sits easily in the hand. The external controls are minimal with 4 programmable soft controls, control wheel, and then buttons for video and playback. An unexpected touch in a low end camera such as the SD card having it's own door as opposed to sharing a compartment with the battery. Since I chose the NEX as a MF platform I primarily use my Vivtar 28/2 Close Focus, Olympus Pen-F 38/1.8 and Konica 24/2.8 and 50/1.4. I also have a single native lens in the Sigma 30/2.8 for when I want to have AF on the NEX (which is turning out to be almost never).

    IN USE
    I have a camera with me almost every day no matter where I’m going or what I’m doing and each day either the GX1 or C3 is inside my bag. I am not a professional but I do use my cameras quite a lot and the things I look for are how comfortable the camera is (does it sit easily in the hand and are the controls where I want them to be, does it get out of my way and let me do what I need to do (as little menu diving as possible) and do I enjoy shooting with it. I’m not particularly stuck on one brand and am more than willing to try something new if its better than what I have. The original idea of having the NEX and m43 bodies together was so I could have a system optimized for AF with terrific lenses and a system that really did MF well to use my legacy glass with.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dixeyk/7512426536/" title="Razor Break by dixeyk, on Flickr"> 7512426536_ab71076c48_b.jpg "1024" height="680" alt="Razor Break"></a>
    NEX-C3 and Hexanon 24/2.8

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dixeyk/7720743872/" title="The Hangover by dixeyk, on Flickr"> 7720743872_1e7d859d72_b.jpg "1024" height="681" alt="The Hangover"></a>
    NEX-C3 and Vivitar 28/2 Close Focus

    The GX1 is a small, fast and easy to whip out and grab the quick shot. The PL25 and PL45 are wonderfully sharp, have terrific bokeh and each produces images that are wonderfully detailed with lovely rendering and bokeh. That give me normal, portrait and macro in a nice light setup, and if you toss in the 14 (that is really not much larger than a rear lens cap) and you a remarkably capable system that fit into a super small bag. The NEX OTOH requires a bit more patience and thinking ahead. The NEX-C3 has limited physical controls. They come in the form of a set of programmable soft buttons/dial on the back. The NEX UI is a real challenge when coming from the IU on any m43 camera. The menu seems needlessly complex and navigation is counterintuitive. Luckily the programmable soft buttons give you just enough flexibility to limit your need to menu dive when using the camera. I have my buttons/dial set to ISO, WB, exposure compensation and metering. Since I set the aperture manually on the lens I find that I rarely need to venture into the menus while shooting. The UI and controls on the GX1 by comparison are logical, well laid out and make manual adjustments a breeze. The crown jewel of the GX1’s controls is the clickable thumbwheel that allows you to switch between aperture and exposure compensation. It couldn’t be simpler and that feature alone is one of the reasons why I tend to favor Panasonic bodies.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dixeyk/7756969742/" title="Future TIme Lord by dixeyk, on Flickr"> 7756969742_181cfe8f21_b.jpg "769" height="1024" alt="Future TIme Lord"></a>
    GX1 and PL45 (I couldn't catch this "moment" with the NEX as easily)

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dixeyk/7756475766/" title="Gandalf by dixeyk, on Flickr"> 7756475766_4125dccb9c_b.jpg "769" height="1024" alt="Gandalf"></a>
    GX1 and PL45 (...and the GX1 is no slouch image wise)

    You’d think that given the far better native lenses, fast AF, a full complement of manual controls (and buttons), great UI and so forth the GX1 would be the natural choice when I grab for a camera but it’s not that simple. The NEX comes to the table with a wholly different appeal. Once set up the C3 is an easy camera to love. It’s reminds me in many ways of using some of my old film SLRs (I swear the shutter on the NEX is almost as loud as my old Konica T2). First off I’ve chosen to go MF only with the NEX. My favorite lenses are the Konica 24/2.8, Pen-F 38/1.8 and most recently a Vivitar 28/2 close focus. The experience of the NEX is the polar opposite of the GX1. Going MF requires you to think, slow down and consider what you are doing. The NEX helps of course because it is uniquely suited to going MF. The NEX as most folks know by now employs a feature called focus peaking. It is IMHO the fastest and most reliable way to manually focus since the rangefinder. When looking at the LCD (which BTW is a gorgeous 900K+ resolution) the focal plane that is in focus will show highlighted in the focus peaking color of your choosing (red, yellow or white). It’s a a very different thing than looking at the LCD and having to determine if something is in focus visually. It also takes a bit of getting used to. At first I found that I needed to zoom in and check focus to be sure, but after getting used to way it works I find I am able to use focus peaking without needing to zoom in. It’s a bit like the “shimmer’ effect on my old E-P1 but more reliable and accurate. In fact, I have found that if I am using a lens like the Konica 40/1.8 that has a pretty short turn to focus I am able to shoot almost as quickly with a MF lens using focus peaking than I can with the Sigma 30/2.8 for the NEX. The APS-C sensor with a 1.5x crop means that legacy lenses give me a bit more useful ranges in terms of focal length. My Konica 24/2.8 becomes a 36/2.8 and a lens like the Vivitar 28/2 becomes a close focus 42/2. Of course like any crop sensor camera legacy WA is a rather expensive proposition and longer zooms become impressive bargains with great reach.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dixeyk/7565355084/" title="The White Queen and the Red Lady by dixeyk, on Flickr"> 7565355084_0df9d4c911_b.jpg "1024" height="680" alt="The White Queen and the Red Lady"></a>
    NEX-C3 and Hexanon 24/2.8 (the NEX and the Konicas really DO seem well matched)

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dixeyk/7600927644/" title="Occulus by dixeyk, on Flickr"> 7600927644_fda802a884_b.jpg "1024" height="680" alt="Occulus"></a>
    NEX-C3 and Pen-F 38/1.8

    There is however one significant difference that I have noticed using MF lenses with the NEX compared to native glass with m43. I find that I prefer the images that come from the NEX. I don’t know if you can attribute soley to the APS-C sensor vs. the m43 sensor. I know absolutely about nothing optics and sensors but the images that I get from the C3 have a wonderful 3D quality to them that I do not get from m43 using the same lenses. I am sure some of it is the superior DR of the sensor but it seems to be consistent with the brand of lens I am using, Konicas for instance have a very different look than the Super Takumars which is in turn different from the Pen-F and Vivitars. The Konicas appear to be particularly well suited to life on a NEX. It’s this “look” that I am able to get with the NEX that is very appealing and even more seductive. I'm not a professional but I find the NEX+Konica deliver very pleasing results. Recently I picked up a Sigma 30/2.8 for the NEX and as an AF camera my NEX is nowhere near as fun to use as it is with MF lenses. I'm not sure if its the lens or the camera but the performance of the Sigma and the NEX is not that different than say the E-P1 and the P20. Whether or not that seems perfectly acceptable or outrageously really depends on what you like. The Sigma is wonderfully sharp, has lovely rendering and very good bokeh but the experience of using the NEX/Sigma combination isn't what I would call fun. It's functional, does what it says it will do and at $200 is a very VERY good bargain but I find myself grabbing for the MF glass instead. When coming from the the PL25 and PL45 on my GX1 the difference is especially noticeable.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dixeyk/7750456012/" title="Fade by dixeyk, on Flickr"> 7750456012_40c728cb33_b.jpg "1024" height="680" alt="Fade"></a>
    NEX-C3 with Sigma 30/2.8

    There really isn't a winner. They're both good in very different ways. So which do I prefer? It really depends on what I am looking to do. For moving fast and working with a certain amount of spontaneity the GX1 is the obvious choice. The AF is fast (and generally reliable with the PL25) and the it has a great combination of functionality and small size that make it a perfect take everywhere camera. It's weakness is IQ, of course of I didn't have the NEX to compare to I doubt it would ever be an issue. BUT, I do have a NEX and once I got a look at what the NEX's APS-C sensor could do it became really tough to forget it. I look at at the images that the GX1 produces and they look great but you also know that the ones from the NEX look better. IMHO they have more resolution, better color and dynamic range. As much as I would love to say that I don't compare them, I do. In the back of my mind I KNOW that the NEX images are better, A LOT BETTER. The NEX on the other hand isn't the clear winner either. With a legacy lens attached it is really a terrific camera. It has an old school charm that you will either like or hate depending on your tastes. I have always loved shooting my old MF film cameras so I like it. It's simple and efficient. Set the camera to A mode, set the aperture on the lens and look at the LCD and go. Focus peaking is brilliant and I find that I can work quickly and accurately doing MF on the NEX. In fact, I'm probably faster using MF on my NEX than using the Sigma 30. The experience of using the NEX is basic and very gratifying. You certainly can't argue with the images. Unfortunately the NEX also has some significant limitations such as a bizarre UI, awkward handling of some controls, slow AF and a pedestrian lineup of native lenses. FWIW I suspect the handling is vastly improved on the NEX7 (and rumored NEX6) but I have neither of those so...

    As of now the systems are a compliment to one another. The GX1 is my AF system and the NEX my MF system. Neither is close to challenging the strength of the other. If I HAD to choose between them I think I'd probably pick the GX1 by the ABSOLUTE SLIMMEST of margins. It's easier to use under a variety of conditions and it does just as well if I am taking my time or photographing the family picnic. The GX1 cannot match the IQ of the NEX, but the PL25 and PL45 even things up a bit. That said, I really love using the NEX as my MF camera. The IQ is terrific and it is a absolute joy to use with a legacy lens attached...even with just the LCD (not something the GX1 does well) and if it had a better UI I can just as easily see picking the NEX instead of the GX1.

    In the end they both are great tools for making images and I really can't ask for anything more.
  2. Bimjo

    Bimjo Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Oct 28, 2011
    Washington State
    Wow, how unusual, a rational examination of two differing systems without drama. I salute you sir, well done! :)
  3. kevistopheles

    kevistopheles TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jun 18, 2012
    Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. I thought I'd go for something different. :cool:
  4. Dioptrick

    Dioptrick TalkEmount All-Pro

    Feb 4, 2012
    New Zealand
    Great post dixeyk, enjoyed reading it entirely! I've never delved into the M4/3's world so it was good to hear your comparatives... very honest but also unbiased.

    Thanks for sharing that.
  5. snkenai

    snkenai TalkEmount Regular

    Jan 22, 2012
    Campbellsville, Ky
    Stephen Noel
    I thank you, for doing a very real world comparison. Coming from the age of film, I "read" you loud and clear on MF. I have been weighing the very same choice, between m4/3 and NEX. The wife and I are sharing the E-p2 while I wait to replace the 4/3 just sold. The choice is whether to get another m4/3 and share the lenses, or different system. I have a collection of old glass, so only need adapters to move to NEX. I guess the one thing giving me pause, is in interface issues that I keep hearing about. Mainly lack of outer controls. Your description of real world working with it, helps. I am on the fence (very uncomfortable) for the moment, but expect to make the decision within a few days.
    Again, thanks for a very vivid comparison.
  6. davect01

    davect01 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Aug 20, 2011
    Fountain Hills, AZ

    I agree, nice work explaining your thoughts without the over the top explanations that often accompany such reviews. I have never gotten the "my system is the only one worth anything" concept. While the NEX is the only one I have ever owned, I am sure that others are just fine.
  7. kevistopheles

    kevistopheles TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jun 18, 2012
    Thank you, I find the over the top declarations that system "x" is the best and everything else is terrible (despite being awesome just a few months earlier) to be pretty tedious so I wanted to just lay out a realistic picture of how these two systems works for me. I think it's hard to find a bad system these dates. They might be more less appealing to folks for a variety of reasons but they are all pretty capable.
  8. kevistopheles

    kevistopheles TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jun 18, 2012
    If MF is your thing (as it is mine) the NEX is a really nice way to go. I cut my photographic teeth using compact RF cameras form the 70s. I have a real soft spot for the Konica Auto S3 and S2. I, love using a RF but when it comes to digital I doubt I'll ever have an M8 or M9. The cost of entry is too high for me. I'd rather use that money to travel or pay off my car (or what-have-you). The NEX in many ways gives me the kind of experience I was getting with my old Auto S3. Fast, reliable manual focusing, compact size and terrific optics (that's why I favor Konica glass). The Leica M8 and M9 are wonderful digital versions of the RF but the NEX IMHO is a reinterpretation of that very same idea. Ive had the chance to play with an M8 and while I liked it, I'm not sure it would suit my needs any better than my C3. In fact, I think anyone looking at an M8 should at least consider a NEX before they decide.
  9. Luiz Curcino

    Luiz Curcino TalkEmount Veteran

    Apr 27, 2012
    Uberlandia-MG Brasil
    Great comparison! I also have a m4/3 system, a Panasonic GH1 which is very good, but lately I'm just using the Nex5N with my manual focus lenses.
  10. Phoenix

    Phoenix TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Aug 25, 2011
    Melbourne, Australia
    Phoenix Gonzales
    I consider this an essential read for anyone planning to use an m43 and / a NEX camera. Factual, concise, and unbaiased. I'd encourage anyone who plans to (even those who are already) using an m43 system and / or a NEX to have a good read at this.
  11. kevistopheles

    kevistopheles TalkEmount All-Pro

    Jun 18, 2012
    They are very compatible systems and I am always going back and forth depending on my mood and what the demands of the day are.