So, I’m shooting a couple of new loaners – the Fuji XM-1 and the Sony Nex 6, both with their 16-50 kit zoom lenses and they're similar enough that you can't shoot with both without comparing them. These two camera bodies are fairly similar in a lot of ways (with a couple of key differences), are priced about the same, so they seemed like two good cameras to pair up. I also have the new 27mm pancake lens for the Fuji and the not-at-all new 24mm f1.8 Zeiss lens for the Sony – a bit more on those later…
Both bodies are about the same size, both have onboard flashes and both have dual control wheels. They both feel reasonably well built to me – the Fuji has been criticized on this but I’m not feeling it. It seems to weigh about what a small camera should and it doesn’t feel like its gonna fall apart on me. They both have flip up rear LCDs that are great for “from the waist” shooting (or overhead I guess, but I rarely use them that way). The biggest “feature” difference is that the Nex 6 has a great built-in EVF located in the upper left corner of the camera while the XM-1 is the first of Fuji’s APS X-series cameras NOT to have an EVF (or ‘hybrid’ EVF/OVF) – it relies SOLELY on the LCD for framing. Pretty similar packages other than the EVF/no EVF difference.
Both also have some version of wi-fi functionality but I have no experience or interest in using a camera to beam stuff up, so I can’t tell you if one is more functional than the other. Also, both have video capabilities and my general impression is that Nex takes video MUCH more seriously than Fuji, so I’d guess the Nex is far better in this regard too, but this is not based on any personal experience…
They both have fairly similar APS 16mp sensors, the Fuji with its X-Trans sensor and the Sony with a more traditional Bayer color array. I’m not going to get into the technical nits of these sensors – the issues, both pro and con, with the X-Trans have been well litigated all over the internet and I have nothing to add. I think both are great sensors with slightly different strengths, but I love ‘em both.
I tend to judge cameras mostly from my particular perspective as a street shooter with a pretty specific set of preferences. Neither of these cameras really floats my boat for this application, but the Fuji has one really big advantage over the Nex in this regard. This has to do with the ability to manually focus to a specific distance for purposes of zone focusing.
The Fuji has one thing that every camera should have, but the Sony, like every Sony I’ve used other than the RX1, inexplicably do NOT have. The Fuji has a distance scale. Its on the screen, rather than the lens barrel (unless you’re using their 14mm lens, which does have a scale on the lens), it comes with a depth of field scale that’s approximately useless, but it has a distance scale that you can take to the bank. Even using the zoom lens – I’d heard some reports that the focus scale was off with the 18-55 zoom with earlier firmware, but with the 16-50 and the XM-1’s initial firmware, it appears to be dead on. A couple of zone focused shots from the Fuji at 16mm, in bright light and low light:
Fuji XM1-66-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Fuji XM1-223-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
The Nex doesn’t have anything like a distance scale, making it a no-go for me. It does have a very visible implementation of “focus peaking” (the Fuji has a much weaker version of focus peaking), which you can theoretically use to pre-visualize your depth of field and manually pre-focus to have the “zone” you want in focus, but my experience trying to use this technique has been enormously frustrating – the peaking seems to show a much larger area in focus than turns out to actually BE in focus in the resulting shot. So I’d end up with a lot of badly out of focus shots, even in pretty good light, and particularly in lower light.
What this means is the Nex is not useable for the kind of street shooting I do except in the brightest possible light, where you can dial in so much depth of field that its almost impossible to have any part of the shot NOT in focus – and yet even in those conditions I was very hit or miss with the Nex. But in lower light, I could zone focus the Fuji with confidence while I couldn’t use the Nex at all. Here are a couple of OK zone focus shots from the Nex at 24mm in very good light, but I had lots of misses too, and no good examples in low light, with either lens:
Nex 6 Philly-268-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Nex 6 Philly-290-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Now, if you use auto-focus for your street shooting, the Nex is as good as the Fuji, maybe better because its auto-focus, which has a PDAF assist to the CDAF system, is noticeably faster than the Fuji. Also, either of these cameras can be used with adapters and legacy lenses that have distance scales right on the lens. Our friend Don “Streetshooter” Springer is doing beautiful work with the Nex 6 using mostly (maybe exclusively) manual lenses. If you haven’t visited his Flickr stream recently, do yourself a favor and check it out – he’s doing good work with the Ricoh GR too. But with the Nex’s native lenses, zone focus is a no-go.
The other thing I’ve become an unreasonable stickler about since I got spoiled using the Nikon “A” for street shooting is how a camera enables auto-ISO. With the Nikon A in aperture priority mode, I can designate a maximum ISO (6400) and minimum shutter speed (up to 1/1000 of a second – I use 1/500), and almost never have to think about ISO or shutter speed again. In good light, it will pick the lowest ISO it can while still using 1/500 shutter speed. In low light, I know that once the ISO is pegged at 6400 and there’s not enough light to maintain my fast shutter speed, the shutter speed will come down as far as it needs to for a proper exposure. So I keep an eye on it to adjust my shooting style, but I know the camera is doing exactly what I’d be doing to the settings to reach the right balance for the situation. So I don’t need to think about it and I find this incredibly liberating.
The only other cameras that come close to as good a setup for my purposes are some recent Ricohs, including the GR. The only problem with these is that they limit the minimum shutter speed to a high of 1/250 of a second – I get blurred shots from my own hand and body movements at 1/250 pretty regularly (I shoot while moving a lot), while at 1/500 on the Nikon I almost never do. The GR has a pretty workable auto-ISO in a version of manual mode (TaV), but it still requires keeping an eye on and changing shutter speeds quite a bit as the light changes…
Neither the Sony or the Fuji come close to this level of function in either aperture priority or manual mode. The Fuji at least HAS a minimum shutter speed in aperture priority mode, but the minimum shutter speed can only be set as high as 1/125, totally useless for my purposes. Auto-ISO also works in manual mode on the Fuji, but you can’t use the exposure compensation adjustment with it, rendering it pretty useless as well. The Sony is worse in both modes. In aperture priority there’s no user setting for minimum shutter speed – the camera just seems to default to 1/60 whenever possible. And in manual mode, auto-ISO does not work at ALL – with or without exposure compensation!
On either camera you can do things the old-fashioned way and just change the ISO manually as the light changes. I did this manually for years and never minded in the least. My favorite cameras for this type of adjustment were the Ricohs because of how instantly accessible the ISO adjustment was. But now that I’ve been spoiled by the Nikon’s amazing auto-ISO setup, no other system will do for street shooting and I found both the Fuji and Sony very frustrating. I must stress that this is for my own highly specific sets of wants and needs and might not be relevant to anyone else, but that’s the only perspective I’ve got, so it’s the only one I can share…
EVERYTHING ELSE (non-street specific):
In pretty much every other way, outside of my own highly specific street shooting preferences, both of these cameras are enormously good and competent, and even versatile, given the lens choices.
The controls on the Fuji are different than on the earlier APS X-series cams. There’s no shutter speed dial and there’s no specific exposure compensation dial. And there IS a traditional mode dial. But it has dual control wheels and is a breeze to adjust settings on. Its exposure compensation setup is as nice as on the other cameras because the dial that’s used for exposure compensation in either aperture or shutter priority mode and in program mode is located in exactly the same place as the dedicated exposure comp dial on the other cameras, is ALWAYS armed and ready to turn, and it even has clicks/détentes like the other dial – it merely lacks the markings so you have to check how its set on the screen. The controls on this camera are a breeze and well laid out, if not exactly the same as on the other Fuji X-models.
Controls on the Nex are Nex style controls, which are different than any other cameras I’ve used. Many don’t like them – I don’t love them in theory, but in practice they work well enough once you adapt to them. And the Nex 6 even has a mode dial – a Nex first I believe. It also has two control dials. One small nit for me is that the exposure comp (an adjustment I tend to use a lot for any type of shooting) requires a button to be pressed to arm the wheel each time you want to adjust it. The good news is that the button is the bottom of the dial you turn (on the four way controller), so once you get used to it, it’s a pretty trivial matter.
For less frequently used controls, the Fuji uses their “Q” button, which brings up a screen with a zillion different adjustments that can be changed right from that screen. This is similar to Olympus’ super control panel, Nikon’s “I” button, and sort of similar to Panasonic’s quick menu. Very intuitive and quick one-stop shopping for nearly anything you need. The Sony takes an approach somewhat closer to Ricoh where a particular fn button (ADJ button on the Ricoh), brings up a user defined list of a handful of adjustments that can be made from there. The good news with this approach is that since the user defines what’s there, its just how you want it and only the stuff YOU want on that menu will show up. The downside is you have to menu-dive for the other lesser-used functions.
Neither of these cameras has a physical switch for selecting between manual and auto-focus. On both you can get to this adjustment from the “Q” button or “fn” button. On the Sony it’s also easy to program one of the other buttons, like the AEL button, to toggle between auto and manual focus. On the Fuji you just have to use the Q button…
I don’t have anything to back any of this up from a technical perspective, but I much preferred the Fuji version of the 16-50 to the Nex version. The Nex version is very small and light, which is nice, while the Fuji is a much larger lens – very similar to the 18-55 – but feels smoother in operation and seems visually sharper to me (it does have a plastic mount though, which some seem to dislike - never mattered to me). I could be biased because I got so many MF misfires with the Sony, which is the camera’s fault rather than the lens, and I might be influenced by the popular opinion I’ve read of the two lenses. So take this with at least a grain of salt. The Nex has a power zoom option and just feels cheap in comparison, but I don’t know that it’s a worse lens – I just perceive that it is. And I’m not gonna shoot any brick walls to test my perceptions!
In terms of the Fuji 27mm f2.8 pancake and the Zeiss 24mm f1.8, both are fine lenses. The Zeiss will run you $1100, so it’s a premium lens that doesn’t appear to me to be THAT nice to me – its not super sharp although its quite good. It renders pretty nicely, as it damn well should! And its pretty fast so is probably the best available low light lens in the Nex system today. I may do a brief comparison of the Nex 6 with this lens vs the RX1 at some point later. I like this lens but I don’t know that I’d pay $1100 for it. But this is from a guy who paid crazy money for an RX1 at the same focal length, so I might just be full of hot air… If I had a Nex, I'd want this lens, but I don't think I'd buy a Nex just because of this lens. Here are a couple of basic scenic type shots with the 24mm, in case you can glean anything from them:
Nex 6 Philly-182-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Nex 6 Philly-232-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
The Fuji 27 is much more of a value at $450 and I’d say its hitting above its weight. It doesn’t have an aperture ring, but the aperture controls on the XM and the other Fuji’s work well enough without it, and it appears quite sharp and clean throughout the aperture range, although its best stopped down a bit. It’s AF is also quite fast, rather notable among Fuji lenses. This is not a focal length I’d particularly want, but if I did, I’d be really happy to have this little lens. Here are a couple of scenic and one street shot (using AF, not zone focus) from the 27mm:
XM1 Philly-3-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Fuji XM1-143-Edit-2 by ramboorider1, on Flickr
XM1 Philly-5-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
In general, the lens lineup of the Fuji line has been considered a strength, with its three great primes initially released with the X-Pro, the 14mm, and the zooms its released since all getting high marks. With a 10-24 ultra-wide and both very fast 23 and 56mm primes slated to come out fairly soon, lenses should never be a weak point for anyone considering one of the Fuji X-cameras.
Nex lenses have been a real issue in the past, but recent and projected releases indicates Sony is finally getting it somewhat together in that respect. The 24 f1.8 is a great lens, there’s now a 20mm wide angle to go along with the original and much maligned 16mm pancake. There are also telephoto options and a recent 10-18mm ultra wide angle. I don’t think Nex lenses are the weakness they originally were seen as, but any potential buyer should check the available lenses to see if they meet your needs. See Pavel’s review of the Samsung 60mm macro lens for a concise and informative rundown on the current NEX lens offerings.
No real strong conclusions here. I likely wouldn’t buy either of these cameras because of their weaknesses for street use, but I’d be happy with either for all-around shooting. I’d be more likely to choose the Sony because of the excellent EVF built into the body and the really nice grip (I may have neglected to mention the grip?), but I’d probably be more likely to choose the Fuji based on preferring their lens lineup and the slightly more intuitive controls. It would be tough to go wrong with either of these cameras if they’re to your liking and meets your needs. Just two more amazingly good, amazingly small, APS sensor based cameras that would have seemed like outrageous miracles just a few years ago and are now just very nice but sort of run of the mill alternatives to many other good ones out there… Times are good!