I have recently switched from the micro four thirds (M43) system to the Sony NEX system. One reason was the bigger NEX sensor (APS-C), another one the sheer beauty of the NEX-7 which is such a bold step away from traditional cameras. The only drawback: the NEX lens line-up is rather poor. NEX shooters, if they are like me, are constantly browsing the web for images/impressions/recommendations of possible manual focus lenses and for checking on the availability of the regular Sony NEX lenses. Not only are there few native NEX lenses but those few are actually hard to acquire due to permanent Sony delivery problems.
So I thought I would post my experiences with getting my NEX lenses together, with some comparisons with my previous GF-1 setup.
(Of course, I am also aware of the currently ongoing battle between the three top mirrorless cameras which includes the NEX-7 but also the Fuji X-Pro1 (big but excellent IQ and very retro) and Olympus OMD E-M5 (small and also quite retro). However, there are many comparison reviews out there, e.g. at the Phoblographer.)
Here’s a “lens parade” photo:
In the front row (closest to you) are the NEX lenses: Sigma 30mm/2.8, Voigtländer 40mm/1.4 (with Novoflex adapter attached) and Sony E 50mm/1.8 OSS (left to right).
The middle row shows three popular M43 lenses: Panasonic 14mm/2.5, Panasonic 20mm/1.7 and the Olympus 45mm/1.8.
In the back row, just for the fun of it, some DSLR lenses, all Minolta A mount: 24mm/2.8, 85mm/1.4 and 135mm/2.8.
As you can see, the NEX lenses are significantly bigger (and also heavier) than the M43 lineup. For some reason, Panasonic mastered the art of miniaturization in the lens arena. What’s missing is the Sony E 16mm/2.8 pancake lens but I sent that one back because the optical quality was simply too bad. The Sony kit lens (18-55mm) I kept for shooting video but, again, for photography the optical quality is insufficient.
Sony E 50mm/1.8
What’s interesting is to compare the camera-lens combinations. For instance, the NEX-7 with 50mm lens (= 75mm fullframe equivalent) with the GF-1 and 45mm lens (= 90mm equivalent). Both perfect for portraits. This is how the cameras look like:
Well, to be honest, the Sony E 50mm lens is simply dead ugly. It looks too big, it is heavy and it is silver (so cheesy) – why? OK, the GF-1 with Olympus 45mm isn’t a beauty either but at least you can put it in a (jacket) pocket, whereas the NEX combo makes the slim NEX-7 almost as big as a DSLR. However, the optical quality of the Sony 50mm is marvelous. The pixel peepers of the web agree on excellent sharpness even wide open and the bokeh (out of focus regions) is very smooth. And all this for a surprisinly low price (around 280€). Here are some samples (no postprocessing, raw files converted in LR4):
(NEX-7 + Sony E 50mm/1.8 @ 1/4000, f1.8, ISO 100)
(NEX-7 + Sony E 50mm/1.8 @ 1/80, f2.0, ISO 250)
(NEX-7 + Sony E 50mm/1.8 @ 1/200, f1.8, ISO 100)
(two pics with NEX-7 + Sony E 50mm/1.8 @ ISO 100)
While the 50mm is a perfect portrait lens it is not such a great allrounder. Therefore, I added another (size) comparison. For me, the Voigtländer 40mm/1.4 (= 60mm equiv.) has become an excellent walkaround lens, just slightly more “tele” than a standard 50mm lens. But I like to frame my subjects tightly anyway. Although the Voigtländer feels rather heavy (175g), the overall combo feels nicely compact. Here’s a comparison with my favorite M43 walkaround lens, the Panasonic 20mm (= 40mm equiv.). It seems to be the most popular lens ever for the M43 system, incredibly small, yet with superb optical quality:
So the Voigtländer 40mm is definitely less compact than the GF-1 plus 20mm. But it is quite sharp and simply a joy to use, partly because of the famous Sony “focus peaking” feature for manual focusing and partly because of the nice built quality and haptics of the lens. The bokeh of the Voigtländer can be a bit busy though:
(NEX-7 + Voigtländer 40mm/1.4 @ 1/100, f1.4, ISO 100)
Otherwise nice and sharp, once you get the hang of manual focusing:
(NEX-7 + Voigtländer 40mm/1.4 @ 1/2500, f unknown, ISO 100)
(NEX-7 + Voigtländer 40mm/1.4 @ 1/1600, f unknown, ISO 100)
And a 100% crop near the center:
One could argue that the Sigma 30mm/2.8 lens (= 45mm equiv.) is a better comparison to the Panny 20mm (= 40mm). Here’s how it looks:
The NEX-7 plus Sigma is almost pocketable. However, the lens is not very fast (f2.8). It also takes the lens surprisingly long to “wake up” (when power is switched on) which may make you miss one or the other spontaneous shot. Others have also noted the rattling when the camera is in a switched-off state which makes it feel a little cheap (you have the same phenomenon with the Panasonic-Leica 45mm/2.8 lens which I found irritating in a 600€ lens with Leica branding). Well, cheap it is indeed at only 200€. And as long as you are not indoors (i.e. in low light) the Sigma also qualifies for a nice walkaround companion.
Here are some samples with the Sigma lens:
(NEX-7 + Sigma 30mm/2.8 @ 1/60, f 2.8, ISO 800)
(NEX-7 + Sigma 30mm/2.8 @ 1/200, f 2.8, ISO 100)
(NEX-7 + Sigma 30mm/2.8 @ 1/60, f 2.8, ISO 160)
Overall, I am getting used to the NEX system quickly and the lens situation is, by now, alright. Only wide angle lenses are rare, with the notable exception of the Zeiss 24mm/1.8 which, however, is as big and heavy as the 50mm lens and also expensive (900€).
In the end, I’m happy to have traded the smaller size of M43 with the incredible image quality of Sony’s NEX line. As a former GF-1 user (12 megapix) this is step up (24 megapix) was the most important goal and, in passing, I got myself the one most beautiful mirrorless camera on the market (even in light of the new Olympus E-M5 and Fujifilm X-Pro1 cameras).