Mike Kobal

February 22, 2012

Street shooter comparison: Sony Nex 7, Pansonic GX1

Filed under: Gear Reviews — mike.kobal @ 7:14 pm


One of the great things about street photography is that we only need one camera and one lens. We could get philosophical about the art of street photography, quote famous photographers, discuss the illusion of reality in a photograph or why we see what we see. Instead, lets fast forward and look at two very capable cameras which allow us to capture “decisive moments”, the Panasonic GX1 and Sony Nex 7. It is great to see camera manufacturers embracing a “less is more”, back to the basics attitude. Exciting times indeed. The list of serious street cameras keeps growing and there is no end in sight, just take a look at the recently announced Fuji X Pro1.

Keep in mind this comparison is totally subjective and focuses on things I find important for my type of shooting, I am also ignoring the fact that the Nex 7 costs almost twice as much, however, if you add in the new EVF for the GX1, the price difference shrinks significantly:
Things that matter for street shooting:

1) External controls, UI, menu, ease of navigation, overall built.
2) Shutter sound, AF and MF, shutter lag and buffer depth
3) LCD/Viewfinder
4) Lenses.
5) Sensor, dynamic range, high ISO performance, color depth

I am ignoring video since it isn’t relevant here and I am putting sensor rating last, mainly because I favor high contrast b/w images and only shoot about 20% at night.

1)Let’s start with overall built, controls, UI and ease of navigation.
I usually shoot in S, A or Manual mode, depending on light conditions and subject matter.
External controls on both cameras are excellent, tri navigation on the Nex 7 becomes very intuitive after using it for a couple of days, however, there is not enough resistance turning those knobs and it is very easy to change your settings, unintentionally . Sony must have realized this and implemented a lock option. By pressing the navigation button (located next to the shutter button) for two seconds we can lock our current settings. Very practical and I use it all the time. The traditional mode selection knob and wheel on the GX1 are rock solid with just the right amount of resistance to avoid accidental changes, the GX1 has the edge here. Both cameras are built like a tank and inspire confidence. I am not too worried about banging them around.

2) Shutter sound is very pleasant and “friendly” with both cameras, the Nex 7 definitely has the edge here due to the electronic first curtain shutter.

Auto focus speed, to keep this test fair, I am comparing the 16mm pancake on the Nex 7 against the Olympus 12mm on the GX1, both producing a diagonal angle of view of exactly 84Degrees, just like a 24mm lens would on a full frame sensor and also the CZ 24mm and 20mm pancake, the Zeiss acts like a 36mm on a FF and the 20mm like a 40mm on a FF. The GX1 is a tiny bit faster (not a factor in real life situations), especially the 20mm against the Zeiss 24mm. Check the video and judge for yourself.

Manual focus: No contest, the Nex 7 wins here since we get focus peaking. A great feature, works equally well with native and 3rd party lenses.
Buffer, really not a problem with either camera shooting raw, do yourself a favor and purchase the fastest SDHC card you can afford, I am using the Sandisk Extreme 8GB, a class 10 card, it hasn’t let me down so far.

3) I can only comment on the LCD since I didn’t get the EVF for the GX1 on time for this review. the clear winner is the Nex 7 with the much better, higher resolution articulated LCD, whereas the GX1 has a non swivel lower resolution display.
Traditionally, lenses for street photography range from 21mm to 90mm, with 35mm being the most popular.
We have the CZ2418 for the Sony and the 20mm 1.7 for the Panasonic, both fantastic performers. Since the 20mm is a pankcake, tack sharp wide open (on the CZ 24mm you will need to stop down to 2.2) and about 1/3 of the price of the Sony, Panasonic’s pancake is the clear winner here.
Both systems offer lens adapters for 3rd party lenses, pretty much any lens from any manufacturer, including TV surveillance lenses, can be mounted on a mirrorless body due to the short flange distance. Looking at the offerings within each system however, clear advantage goes to the Panasonic since there is a choice of specifically designed pancake and high quality compact primes and zooms from Panasonic and Olympus, Sony has a promising road map ahead but at the time of this writing we only have the CZ24mm, pricey but stunning lens, the 16mm (and only) pancake, which performs surprisingly well on the Nex 7, a real bargain, the 50mm 1.8 and the 30mm macro 3.5, which is a very capable all round lens, great optical performance from infinity down to macro, though on the slow side with 3.5. What we need from Sony is a 30mm 2.0 pancake, a few ultra wide angle and a real portrait lens to fit the bill and a constant aperture standard zoom would also be nice to have, something like a 16-75mm f4 OSS, for instance.
5) finally the sensor, I find the sensor on the GX1 delivers impressive results but the sensor in the Nex 7 is just phenomenal. Just take a look at the DXO rating:
Got a few emails asking about the font I used on the opening image.
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  1. Thanks Mike, interesting comparison. Maybe you could enlarge on two points:
    Do you use the custom modes on the Pana at all, if so do you miss them on the Sony?
    Talking about price difference, the G3 is very much the same cam as the GX1, albeit with a vf incorporated plus a vari-angel lcd at less than half the Sony’s price. Do you see any advantages in handling for street with the G3 over the G3 and/ or GH2 that would justify the price difference?

    Comment by Hendrik — February 22, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

  2. Hey Hendrik, I don’t use custom modes, but certainly a drawback not to have them on the Sony . As for the G3, I don’t own one but I think it is a great street camera, can’t see any drawbacks.

    Comment by mike.kobal — February 23, 2012 @ 10:10 am

  3. Hello Mike, Interesting comparison. I have a GF1 and a GX1 that I really like a lot especially because of the size and overall quality of the two lenses that I use the most, the 20mm and the 7-14. When I am not too lazy I do street with a D700 and a 24mm f1.4 (even if the shutter is really loud). The resulting images are always phenomenal. This being said, since I am indeed very lazy, I use mostly the Lumixes. I was wondering if you feel the lenses are too big on the Nex? I personally think that if I am to carry a camera with big lenses, I might as well carry my full frame.

    Comment by Michel Desjardins — February 23, 2012 @ 10:31 pm

  4. Thanks Michel. Yes, I agree, they are too big relative to the body. But they are very light and that makes up for the size I think, the 24mm Zeiss and the 30mm macro are featherweights. Definitely beats a DSLR setup. Of course we need pancake lenses to take full advantage of the mirrorless design, but in practical terms walking around and shooting with the 24mm is quite nice, doesn’t feel awkward or bulky. I also have the 7 14mm and it is a phenomenal lens, though the weight is something else, one of the reasons I rarely use it for street, mostly video.

    Comment by mike.kobal — February 23, 2012 @ 11:07 pm

  5. […] Source:¬†http://www.mikekobal.com/?p=3459 […]

    Pingback by Micro Four Thirds Camera Blog – Panasonic GX1 vs Sony Nex 7 for street shooters - Micro Four Thirds Camera Blog — February 24, 2012 @ 1:21 am

  6. Nice article (got here from 43 rumors)

    As a street photographer I find that focus speed is one of the most important features of a camera.
    Auto-focus in many cases is just not fast enough and I use manual focus most of the time, even when I use a DSLR.
    Although Sony has the peaking feature it won’t be as fast as Zone-Focusing that the Olympus 12mm f/2 lens offer with the range-finder like focusing ring and the DOF scale. This lens makes any MFT camera a winner for street photography among the mirrorless cameras.
    Of course if you are going to use a third party lens with an adapter, like a Leica lens that equalizes the lens handling than the Sony sensor has the advantage in picture quality. On the other hand, the smaller sensor allows for a greater DOF that makes Zone-Focusing more accurate, just set it to f/5.6 and the distance to 6ft. and you are golden from 3ft. to infinity.

    Comment by Sagi — February 24, 2012 @ 1:44 am

  7. Hey Sagi, I agree, zone focusing was and still is very popular for street photography and the smaller sensor has the edge to achieve greater dof. But I find it is much trickier to use with digital cameras then in the film days. I use focus peaking for zone focusing with Nex lenses since there are no markings for depth of field, works great.

    Comment by mike.kobal — February 24, 2012 @ 9:12 am

  8. Mike, I think that the key to zone-focusing on either digital or film photography is in understanding what is “acceptable focus”. I don’t think that it’s more tricky in digital, it just looks like that because of how we look at the outcome. If you print it, it would look just as good as film… computer screens lie to us ;-) we tend to inspect the image pixel by pixel, we get carry away with technical aspects instead of evaluating what’s more important and that is the content of the photo.

    If it still doesn’t feel right then just add grain in post production…. ;-)

    Comment by Sagi — February 25, 2012 @ 9:03 am

  9. Hi Mike – Great comparison, I want both these.
    Mike somewhere in one of your blogs you mentioned this great cushion type thing you use to get weird angles/steady shots etc and you had a link for it to B&H, could you tell me what it was called and which video blog has the link if possible so I can buy through your link, many thanks

    Comment by Terry — February 25, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

  10. thanks Terry, just click the BH link above and then search for steadybag

    Comment by mike.kobal — February 25, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

  11. Hi Mike – what did you use to make you 16mm f/2.8 black ? Looks a lot better than Sony Silver. Also have you done this to other Sony lenses with long barrels ?


    Comment by c.d.embrey — February 25, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

  12. hehe, thanks TIA, yeah, much better, here is how

    Comment by mike.kobal — February 25, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

  13. Wow, what a great idea! I guess I should have started reading your blog earlier.

    Comment by c.d.embrey — February 26, 2012 @ 3:45 am

  14. Hi Mike,
    thanks for your post. Intending to go for the GX1 I would like to know
    until what iso you would use the GX1.
    I will mainly use it indoors and for streetphotography.
    Thanks a lot.


    Comment by Holger — February 29, 2012 @ 9:12 am

  15. Hi Holger, my ISO settings for street shooting, daytime, usually between ISO 400 and 800, indoors, 1600. 3200 still looks very good if you don’t mind a little bit of noise, it looks like Tri X film grain.

    Comment by mike.kobal — February 29, 2012 @ 9:50 am

  16. Thanks for your answer.

    Comment by Holger — February 29, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

  17. […] noise test at Alpha Numerique (Click here). Street shooter comparison: Sony Nex 7, Pansonic GX1 by Mike Kobal (Click here). Sony 55-210mm hands-on at SonyAlphaLab (Click […]

    Pingback by sonyalpharumors | Blog | Sony NEX-7 review at CameraLabs and Cnet (And more TidBits...) — March 1, 2012 @ 4:29 am

  18. Nice work Mike!! Thanks

    Comment by Jason Hermann — March 1, 2012 @ 11:16 am

  19. thanks Jason!

    Comment by mike.kobal — March 1, 2012 @ 11:37 am

  20. Mike: I prefer prefocus for street photography. Both the Leica X1 and the Fuji X100 allow one to set the focus at, say, 10′. Is there a way of doing this with the Nex7?

    Comment by John Fleming — March 9, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  21. unfortunately not, John, I usually pick an object at approx 10feet, focus on it, that’s very easy with focus peaking, then use a piece of gaffa tape to secure the focusing ring
    I sure would welcome a distance scale and lock, perhaps in one of the upcoming firmware upgrades…

    Comment by mike.kobal — March 9, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

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