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
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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