12.19.2012

My own personal Camera of the Year. Everyone's mileage will vary.

Sony Nex 7 with absurdly retro Olympus Pen FT 60mm f 1.5 lens.

In this instance I think the "why" is more important than the "what".  Why do I think the Sony Nex 7 is my favorite camera purchase of the year? More so (by far) than the a99 and any other camera I've purchased this year? Because it is eccentric, with flashes of genius. That's why. 

Used as a snapshot camera it's no better (and sometimes much worse) than many lesser cameras but it is also a camera with a lot of potential and one that rewards a careful study of its best use. What do I mean?  While, for me, part of the lure of this camera is the jewel-like construction, small size and elegant design, the main advantage is conveys is the use of a sensor that, according to me and DXO is the best APS-C sized sensor on the market. If you use it correctly it rewards you with images that rival the best cameras on the market today. If one takes DXO readings at face value then at lower ISO's this camera walks all over the Canon 5D mk3 which is currently over three times the price of the Sony. Essentially, for around $1,000 you get a camera body that, with the right lenses, is a better image maker than  you could have purchased for anywhere near the price.

There's more to a good camera than the quality of the sensor and I have no doubt that the new lower priced, full frame cameras will change the playing field of camera buying in 2013. Especially if Nikon can get all of their quality control issues sorted out.

There are lots of other choices in the market and I certainly haven't researched them all but I know that when I pick up the Nex 7 the feel of the camera trumps the feel of my DSLT cameras and just about any other camera I have used in the past few years. Even though it is nothing like an M series Leica it is, in some regards, like an M series Leica in that when I have the camera all set up for the way I like to shoot the only two controls I need to use are the two wonderfully machined knobs on the top right. The two "Tri-Navi" (hate the name) dials.  One for shutter speed and one for aperture. If I'm shooting raw there's really no need to touch anything else. 

The camera takes me back to the days when, once the ISO of the film was set, my only controls were aperture and shutter speed.  And that's the way I shoot with the Nex-7. Full on manual, one dial for each exposure parameter and full speed ahead. It's a camera for fluid action. Very few other digital cameras work as well in the same suite of settings.

The primary reason is the instantaneous feedback supplied by the EVF. Turn the shutter speed knob and you instantly see the effect on exposure. Ditto with the aperture control knob. Instant visual feedback. On a conventional (non-EVF) camera the same kind of operation requires either a leap of faith or a careful and continuous monitoring of numerical readouts of exposure coupled with your fast, seat of the pants assumptions about how the exposure should be inflected, followed by a post shot (once in a lifetime?) review of the LCD on the back of the camera (color veracity impaired by the effects of ambient light....).

It's the confluence of simple control and tight feedback loop that make the Nex-7 such a joy to shoot. And that's a good thing because I'll be the first to admit that the menus are a disaster and the focusing is slower than I'd like. 

One of the reasons I like the who genre of mirrorless cameras so much is the short lens mount to sensor distance. This bit of engineering cleared the way to let photographers use just about any lens they can find an adapter for on the front of their cameras. 

With an LA-EA2 I've got a camera that's as fast (with Sony Alpha lenses) as the a77, which is a speedy focusing and shooting camera. The Sony adapters mean I can use all my "A" series lenses on the Nex-7, without restriction. But I can also use Nikon, Canon, Leica, Pentax and even Olympus Pen FT (old half frame system) lenses on the camera with few restrictions.

None of this would matter if the images were good. But the sensor has one of the widest dynamic ranges ever in a non-full frame sensored camera. The colors are great and, in raw, infinitely malleable.

Currently, my favorite set up is to use the camera with the 50mm 1.8 OSS lens on the front. It's a sharp optic and provides really good image stabilization.

Earlier I said I like the Nex-7 better than anything I've bought or played with this year. Really? Is that hard to believe given that I just bought an a99?  While I'm certain that the image quality from the a99 is perhaps the second best in the world (just behind the Nikon D800e-----not considering MF digital in the mix right now...) and it shoots fluidly and logically, it just seems boring to me. Staid, burgher, vanilla, routine, dependable.

What the Nex-7 delivers is flair, panache and......for a better phrase: enjoyable eccentricity. It is profoundly an artist's camera and not an engineer's camera. 

But what this reveals (if anything) is just how personal camera choice can be. There are hundreds of features, options, specifications, curves and haptic variations to consider in any camera purchase and there are few cameras that are universally loved for anything more than the quality of their image output. But the Nex-7 is, for me, all about the fun of photography. 

It is my personal choice as my camera of 2012. 

I'm sure you'll disagree so I'd like to hear from you. What one camera did you buy, inherit, invent, uncover, rediscover this year that would be your camera of the year????

Sony Nex 7 in it's half case with a Fotodiox Alpha adapter and the 30 macro for Sony DSLT.
A "nerd delight" configuration.









29 comments:

BassRock said...

I wouldn't argue against the NEX cameras but, for me, the Panny GH3 is the ideal camera I have been waiting for. Perfect fit to my hand, great IQ and a wide range of gorgeous lenses. More importantly, it brings so much FUN back to my photography. I hope that comes across from my Picture-a-Day gallery, the last few weeks of which are all GH3 pictures http://www.pbase.com/bassrock/my_life

Anonymous said...

Fujifilm X-e1, with the 18-55 lens,purchased 3 weeks ago, and haven't stop smiling. Sitting on the shelf D300s and Fujifilm X-100. All 3 have their role, however the x-e1 is the one I reach for most.

Kirk Tuck said...

Funny that we both have cameras that we might use for a specific job but when it comes to having fun it's a totally different camera choice...

Rick Baumhauer said...

For me, it's the Olympus OM-D, hands down. As I hit the end of my first of year of shooting for a living, it was hard to escape the fact that my Canon gear (bought and paid for, by the way) was WAY overqualified for the vast majority of my paying work, and carrying the bag with two bodies (5D2 and 7D + 4 lenses + 2 strobes) was killing my shoulder.

I started investigating m43 in January, purchased a Panasonic GH2 (that I just never fell in love with) in February, then a Olympus E-PM1 shortly thereafter that I immediately loved (so back went the GH2). Still, the Pen Mini just doesn't look the part when you're representing a major media company (as I am for most of my jobs), so it became my backup camera. The OM-D was announced around this time, and as information and previews started dribbling out, the implications were clear - here was a camera that had the capabilities needed to do the work and looked enough like an SLR to keep the clients from noticing.

I was fortunate to be first on the list at my local store, and even more fortunate that the single camera that arrived in mid-April was exactly what I wanted (black with the 12-50 kit lens). I immediately started using it on my daily shoots (usually with the battery grip attached), and my shoulder thanked me. A second body (in silver) arrived in June.

For me, it was the lenses available that tipped the scales toward the Olympus and away from something like the NEX (as sexy as they are). While the lens situation is improving on the Sony side, it still can't compare to what was available earlier this year for m43, and there have been significant outstanding additions to that list during the year, as well (the Olympus 75 1.8 and 60mm macro, the 12-35 and 35-100 2.8s from Panasonic). I don't have a bag full of legacy glass, and I'm just not a manual focus guy, so a nice collection of native, AF-capable glass was important to me.

One of the beautiful things with the OM-D is that it can be so many different cameras. With the full battery grip attached, it looks like a shrunken 'Pro' DSLR, and it balances well with larger lenses (the 75 1.8 or one of the 300mm zooms, for instance); with just the vertical grip attached, it makes a very comfortable rig for most uses; finally, the OM-D 'naked' is quite small, and with a pancake lens, fits in a jacket pocket, and can easily be a fun, carry anywhere camera when on vacation - just set it in one of the Art modes and snap away.

The latter is an example of the commonality between the NEX and m43 - it's really all about the EVF, and the freedom it brings. I used to use the wonderful Shadow/Highlight mode to help with exposure, but I've now gotten so used to how the EVF presents a scene that I don't even need that, and usually have my cameras set to display the built-in level instead. Like the NEX-7, the two dials on the OM-D take care of everything - since I'm usually in Aperture Priority, that would be aperture and exposure compensation (yes, the setup is a bit cramped on the OM-D, but as a left-eye shooter, no camera is ideal in this respect). With the lovely Olympus JPEGs, I'm now shooting RAW+JPEG and submitting the JPEGs whenever possible - a huge productivity gain. As a hobbyist, the thought of shooting JPEG was something I sneered at; as a working photographer, awesome JPEGs straight out of the camera are a source of joy.

I think that 2012 was the year that finally brought a sense of fun, just simple pleasure, to cameras that can also be counted on for professional work. We finally have the dynamic range, ISO flexibility, and ergonomics in small cameras that you can take anywhere that there's no excuse to not go out and shoot great photos.

mshafik said...

Same here like Rick, just finished selling off all my Canon gear (only 100L macro remaining), ai sold a 5D3, 24-105, 50 1.4, 100L Macro, 200L 2.8 and a couple of speedlites. I ordered an OM-D with the 12-50 kit lens, 25 1.4 Panny, 45 1.8 and a 40-150 M.Zuiko as a bundled gift from Amazon, I bought a nice Thinktank Retrospective 5 bag, and an RX100 just for kicks, all in all for less than half the price of my initial kit, and Much less weight.

However, I don't have impressions still because all of this will arrive next year, mid-Jan, anticipation is already killing me. I wished I could go with the NEX 7 or 6, but the Olympus lenses, standard hot-shoe and IBIS drove me to the other side.

Kirk Tuck said...

Makes perfect sense to me. It's a great system. My friends who use them seem to have lost most of their gear lust once they got their working OMD systems together. Nice.

Bold Photography said...

I rather feel "stuck" with Canon - so mine is the 5DIII I bought earlier this year. It really was my only option. I have a controller (wife) who would not let me change out my lens system (and the macro options in other systems aren't close to what I'm shooting with now...), so I did the only change/upgrade one could do. That said, the silly high ISOs that I generally ridicule really are good, and I can now shoot evening events entirely without flash and get useable results. I even shot "Main Street Bethlehem" (in Burnet) entirely without flash (didn't even bring one) at ISOs ranging from 5000 to 25k... without real worry. That's something I would never have attempted even with the 5DII. Would I like a smaller form factor, lighter lenses, and less fuss? Sure... but that for me is a ways out.

Mike said...

My camera of the year is a 5d - yep, the original one. I got it for $600 including a 16 Gig memory card and a crappy old kit lens. It is amazing for portraits and the 12.8 MP images are easy on my computer.

Fuji X100 is still my weapon of choice for street photography.

Claire said...

Kirk, I guess my biggest interrogation would be : how do you like it vs. your 6 ?? I have the 6 which is mighty capable, but I just can't seem to "fall in love" with it. Any help ?

David Liang said...

I totally agree when I pull out the a99 I feel like I have to be doing something work related, despite the fact that I love the sensor performance so much.

When I sold my a77 to buy the NEX-6 I was thinking I might end up regretting it, but that went away about the first hour I was shooting with the NEX-6.

I absolutely love it, it brought fun back into photography for me, because I don't hesitate to bring it anywhere for any reason. I also got a Minolta MD/MC to NEX adapter, and I'm using the MD 50mm f/1.4, focus peaking makes the manually focusing very efficient and enjoyable.

I sold the 16-50mm power zoom though, that lens just is not sharp and it feels so electronic, that I knew it'll break sooner or later. So I took your review to heart and bought the Sigma 30mm and I haven't looked back.

So having 3 new camera's for the year the NEX-6 has my vote. I very nearly traded the a77 for an NEX-7 but the slightly better high ISO, and Wifi(I know...but once you try it with the iPad/Android app...it's addicting) sold me.

Happy Holidays Kurt!

John - Visual Notebook said...

Stop the presses! On December 14th you stated your personal favorite camera of the year is the Nex 6, and today the personal camera of the year is Nex 7? Do we have co-winners, then, or have you been hitting the Jack Daniel's again?

Seriously, I like the OMD EVF much better (still prefer OVFs though) but the way the Nex fits my hand is just wonderful - so I'd be interested as well on your thoughts comparing the two. Thanks!

Kirk Tuck said...

We both need to spend more time with our 6's. I'm taking both with me on most shooting adventures. Love it for low light. The more time you spend with it I suspect the more you'll like it.

Kirk Tuck said...

I went back and forth. The Nex is easier to get used to right away but......those ISO 100 files from the Nex 7 are too special. Winner by a nose hair.

AlexG said...

For me the enjoyable camera is a Fuji S3 I sold one a few years ago and always regretted it probably the only camera in the digital realm I ever missed. Any how I had the itch and one came up in the local paper as not working properly with a 50mm 1.8d for £25 well good price for the lens only. So the person is saying its a power prob with the camera and they had been using cheep alkaline, one set of good rechargeable to test after getting it home sound camera. So its annoyingly slow shoot 3 frames and it locks up and then its a few seconds of wait but it does not get used for sports and the light meter seems more accurate than my d90, I rarely have to bracket or re shoot just leave it on +1/2 stop and it all comes out nice 99% of the time. She has been used with either a 35mm dx a 50mm and 85mm (all 1.8) and its working out good good. Now it makes me consider what other classic DSLR's could I have a blast with? and should I get an S5?

Ron Nabity said...

I took a buying tour of a number of camera brands this year, including a bunch of M4/3. After all was said and done, and bought and sold, my favorite camera (now) is the Canon T4i. I really expected the touchscreen to be annoying, but it is actually a pretty good implementation. I admit I miss the EVF from the 4/3s, but I will wait patiently for the EVF to meld into the DSLR designs...

I still use the 5DM2 and 7Ds for commercial, editorial and sports work, but the fun stuff happens with the smaller, lighter T4i. And it is now paired up with a used Tamron 17-50mm lens giving me some very sharp images.

I don't have a rational explanation for this, and I don't plan to get one soon.

Dave Jenkins said...

My camera of the year is a sparkling (in its new skin from Camera Leather) 1959 Minolta Autocord twin-lens reflex.

Bryan Bolea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ash Crill said...

My camera of the year 2012, and one that I hope to use for years to come, is the Olympus E-M5!

Many of the things I enjoy about this camera come down to useability - the twin controls dials, the LCD super control panel, the image stabilization, the tilting LCD, the size and feel of it; it is the right camera for me.

The more I use the camera the more I feel at home. All of my complaints are fairly minor and don't affect my picture-taking other than the lack of a distance scale. It is relaly a great camera, one that I can learn and grow with, in every way from long exposures to portraits to flash setups.

Thankfully, Oly and Panny continue to release lenses at a decent clip, maybe someday they will even create my 25mm 1.8!


The real challenge does not lie in choosing a camera at all, I am there already. The real challenge lies in using that camera to create intriguing photogrpahs that I and maybe others will enjoy viewing.

Terry Manning said...

I'm enjoying my Sony DSC-RX100. What a great little camera! And the image quality is so nice. I have Canon SLRs that I can use in particular instances, but the Sony is the one I slip into my pants pockets every day.

Wally said...

The Camrea of the The Year in my household was the Black Friday $300 Panasonic G3 with kit lens which went to my wife to replace her very slow P&S shoot camera. She was extatic that it does not come in Pink too.

Best Wishes for the Season.

Art in LA said...

Just one new camera for me ... NEX-6! Love it so far, except for sports shooting. I picked the 6 over the 7 for three reasons - 1) don't need 20+ megapixels, 2) I wanted WiFi connectivity and 3) price. I wonder what the next gen NEX-7 looks like though ... hmm. Unlike you pros (and enthusiastic hobbysists), I'm good for a while.

Craig Yuill said...

There are two contenders for my "Camera of the Year" award - one uncovered and one new.

The runner up is my old Mamiya C330f that I bought way back in 1985, and restored to usable condition by replacing the aging and crumbling light seals. It was fun using a relatively uncomplicated camera again. I shot some Acros 100 and Tri-X with it, and got the chance to once again do some home film development. Lots of fun!

The winner, however, has to be my new Nikon V1. I enjoy the compact form and simple operation of this camera. Unlike many who have used it, I don't mind the controls of this camera. I am, however, annoyed about having to work around the auto review that cannot be turned off. But this camera produces nice images (even at high ISOs), takes great video, and is generally lots of fun to use. I look forward to using it on an upcoming family trip.

Tony's Vision said...

Craig, I've never used a camera that had such a power to put me into a state of "photographic mindfulness" as my C330f. Perhaps because it was used on a tripod more often than not, together with the ground-glass focusing. And the large negatives were always a pleasure to work with in the darkroom.

Tony's Vision said...

My Nex-7 as an everyday, go everywhere with me, camera is my winner, and sits above my Panasonic GH2 hiking system and the Nikon D300 for "serious" work. But if only ... if only the designers could have figured out a way to turn the card slot 180 degrees making the card's fingernail slit accessible. The the required fiddle to extract cards has resulted in tumbles into the dirt, bounces under furniture, and takes a bit of the glow from what is otherwise physically a lovely bit of design and a pleasure to use.

thequietphotographer said...

No camera of the year, this year! Still struggling between OM-D (I never had an Olympus, now it could be time!) and the Fuji XE-1 (very curious about this new tech sensor). I'll decide after holidays, winter holidays of course!
robert
PS: thanks for this blog and best wishes for 2013 to you, your guest and readers

almostinfamous said...

considering i bought 2 of them, i guess it would have to be "last year's" D7000. a happy medium. i am sure nikon will tweak (read: ruin) the experience with an update.

enjoy the time off, kirk!

typingtalker said...

I can't say that it is THE camera of the year but the NEX-7 is MY camera of the year. It is the one that I carry with me most days. While I agree that the 50mm f1.8 OSS is a terrific lens, I'm anxiously waiting for the "16-50mm Retractable Zoom Lens" (pancake) OSS (!) release.

But I'm keeping the Canon and a bag of lenses for my serious work.

dierk said...

to be honest, I have two cameras of the year :)

I love the Nex-7.

I bought it for my wonderful Leica glass. But I wanted some lenses with full AF functions and so I bought the Sony 30mm macro (up to 1:1) and the new Sony 50/1.8 OSS, both very cheap and when the Zeiss 24/1.8 came I got this as well. Now I am waiting for the Zeiss 50mm macro.
The Sony 50/1.8 seems to be a bargain!! I have prints of portraits with this lens on the Nex-7 of 40x60cm and they are perfect!

My second camera of the year, if not of my whole live of 55 years taking photos, is the Leica M Monochrom. It is the best camera I have ever used! I printed 60x80cm and even 1m will be no problem.

I ordered the Nikon D800E after the announcement but canceled it after I red of the AF problems. After thinking about it for many months I am about to decide all my DSLR gear.

On the.me you may find a comparison ot the Ne-7, the Nikon D3 and the Leica M Monochrom:
http://the.me/bw-portrait-comparison-d3-vs-nex-7-vs-m-monochrom/

Semilog said...

I used an NEX-7 and evaluated the files from it with some care, and I did the same for the new Fujis, the X-Pro1 and X-E1. DxO hasn't released tests on the Fujis, but the files are better. And better still when one develops the RAW files with the forthcoming version of Capture One Pro, which I'm beta testing.

So I'm using a Fuji.