Compact DSLR – which one is better?
Author: Raphael Chieza
There has always been a long history of rivalry between Sony and Panasonic and with the release of the Sony NEX-5, it is obvious that Sony would like to go toe to toe with Panasonic once more. Of the current models available in the mirror-less interchangeable camera segment, the Panasonic Lumix GF1 is coming out as the market leader and so it’s with this camera as the benchmark that we take a look at Sony’s first attempt in this growing niche.
The Sony NEX-5 is a really compact camera which offers a really good grip as well. Unlike the other cameras in this segment, including the Panasonic GF1, the NEX-5 has a clear grip protruding from the rest of the body so that you can hold it firmly and comfortably as you shoot. However, even with the 16mm f/2.8 prime attached (24mm in 35mm equiv.), the lens looks really large. This is in part due to the prominent circular mount which looks like it is part of the lens when one is mounted. However, this chunky impression is only in appearance and the Sony NEX-5 is still really small. Mind you, you would have to expect larger lenses for the Sony NEX-5, like for like, as the larger sensor will simply demand more space from the sensor as well as more glass overall. The prime fitted on the GF1 being a 20mm f/1.7 (40mm in 35mm equiv.), we can see that the aperture of Sony’s lens is rather less than that of Panasonic in this case.
Running on Auto or once of the preset modes, the Sony NEX-5 is a breeze to use. Leave everything to the camera and it will still impress you with the results. In comparison, the Panasonic GF1 may feel a bit more unwieldy. That is, until you become more adventurous. Trying to set the ISO and white balance to specific settings becomes more of a chore especially if you need to change the settings often. There were a few shots which I was talking that had me going back and forth betweenISO 400 and ISO 800. Using the NEX-5 was a complete nightmare in comparison to the easy access of the ISO function on theGF1 via the dedicated button. In fact, you will find that if you like to tinker with a wide range of settings between shots, the GF1 would be much easier and quicker to use. However, the Sony interface reminds me of the CA (Creative Auto) mode of Canon where the explanation is more in terms of effects rather than function. Those who are just interested in getting better photos without too much fuss would love it.
While on the topic of ISO sensitivity…
While it’s obvious that the Sony NEX-5 have the larger ISO range as well as the larger sensor, it also has a higher resolution. As such it is not a given that Sony would be significantly better at noise handling. To put this to the test, I took both cameras with me out on an evening walk and captured a few images in the neighbourhood…
While there were more details in the GF1, I couldn’t help but feel that it was more due to the lens used and the focal length difference. It is really not a valid comparison between cameras but it does give us a good idea of the noise handling for each as the ISO settings gets pushed to the limit. Sony was definitely handling the noise remarkably well and showed very usable results even at ISO 3200. While the GF1 is no walkover, the ability of the Sony to deliver such noise handling and with higher sensitivity available, the initial disappointment that the aperture was only 2.8 was quickly mitigated. You can definitely count on the Sony to give you a little more edge with its ISO settings regardless of the lens you are using, whether it’s for speed or low light.
While the Sony NEX-5 may be edged out by the Panasonic Lumix GF1, mainly due to its handling when not in auto modes, you cannot discount the areas that it does stand out in. Being so compact even though it sports an APS-C sized sensor is not easy and to be able to deliver amazing and simple to use features such as the sweep panorama. For those who like to take their camera everywhere and not fuss over it when taking photos, you can’t find much better than the Sony NEX-5. If you are more of a connoisseur and want the most mature compact mirror-less interchangeable lens camera in the market at the moment than it has got to be the Panasonic Lumix GF1.
About the Author
RAPHAEL is an ardent photographer, a member of the Marketing Communication team at DigitalRev, and a colourful personality whose favourite hobby is to tell bad jokes to people. Being driven by passion to shoot something new all the time, his photos are an exciting story if nothing else.