I often get called upon, flamed, or even ridiculed, for playing close attention and giving a lot of importance to looks and feel in a camera. Cameras, after all, are tools, I told. Nobody cares what a hammer looks like, as long as it’ll drive nails in, right ?
Wrong. A carpenter will care. He’ll care how the hammer is built, how it balances in the hand, how comfortable the handle is, etc. And if it’s a carpenter with an aesthetic sensibility, heck he’ll even care how his hammer looks.
I happen to have a lot of aesthetic sensibility. As a photographer, forgive me for feeling a little concerned for my peers who don’t…
So where is this post going ? Here : as of early 2014, any recently announced, rumoured, or released digital camera with at least m4/3 sensor size is capable of pretty awesome image quality. Any of them. Sure, there’ll be some differences in output, namely DR, and high ISO noise performance, but they’ll be marginal most of the time, even if you compare sensor sizes as unrelated as m4/3 and FF, the former having really come a long way. If you shoot RAW and apply careful post processing, there isn’t a camera on the market today that should deliver too much crap.
Which means the number one differienciating factor for many people, including me, will be usability, operation, and performance. Which englobe looks, build, ergonomics, and the new kids on the techology jargon block : haptics. Oh boy, I love this guy. Haptics. As a non native English speaker, I had to look this one up the first time I came across it. I had sort of figured out its meaning, but I needed to be sure. Turns out haptics is “the science of applying touch tactile sensation and control to interaction with computer applications” (thank you WhatIs.com). So here we are, all concerned about how our cameras *feel* to the touch. As someone who was thoroughly put off the otherwise excellent and much desirable Fuji XE-1 by its offensive cheapo hard plastic faux leather material, I can only tell you how important touch is to camera operation. Now the Canon 6D I handled last week was a dream. Handsome and sleek and grippy, just the right size for a DSLR, elegantly austere in design, fast and quiet in operation. And this grip, aahh… So far however the NEX7 has been both the most beautiful and best feeling camera I’ve handled. I even think this plays a great part in the fact I’ve been shooting if for so long !
This is all so important simply because when you shoot a lot, you want a camera to work with you, rather than against you ! What about the popular saying that size doesn’t matter ? Well that’s one *big* lie. Sorry people but it does, at least in some crucial places. I’ve bitched enough about the A7’s EVF “hump”, and now I’m all excited about the Fuji XT-1, which also has a very large EVF, and hump attached. Am I crazy ? No I’m not !! My gripe against the A7 wasn’t so much the raised EVF (though it looks bad and adds uselessly to the camera’s size) but the eyecup protrudes from the back for a stupid 2.5 cm, which makes the A7 totally unable to fit where the N7 does, despite being only a couple of mm longer and taller !! The XT-1’s hump is squatty and low, and does not protrude any, so overall it’s not offensive in the least.
I’ve also ranted quite a bit about tiltable screens. While I totally understand an articulating screen, flipping to the side, is better for video, I’m a stills-only shooter and shooting from the waist needs a tiltable screen. Once you’ve gotten used to low angle shots being a breeze, you can’t go back… Screen resolution is another matter, I’ve found the 230K unit in the SLT-A37 unusable, but the 460K one on the 3N totally acceptable, with little actual, real use difference with the 900+K screen on the higher end NEX.
So , truly, a specs sheet is one thing. Hands-on experience with a camera is a totally different one. As of today the N7 is still the best feeling/looking and most complete camera I have found, and the only one ticking ALL the following boxes :Chip size at least APS-C
Built-in EVF (no hump)
Tiltable built-in flash
Direct (“hot” or “live”) access to aperture and shutter in all modes (and ISO, icing on the cake)
Accurate and reliable exposure preview (that can be turned off for flash shooting)
All the other “top dogs” are missing on at least one of those features. Until I come across another camera that ticks all those boxes, and with grace, the N7 remains my primary tool.