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.