...Or, the conclusion of the conclusion. (Sigh.)
Our earlier articles about the Sony NEX-6, in order, are:
Seeing the world: the viewfinders
Mirrorless cameras suffer from viewfinder problems, pretty much universally. They're just not as good as DSLRs in this respect. As long as the light level is reasonably low, looking at the viewing screen is a joy, and works fine; but when the light gets bright, you have to do something else. With my old Panasonic GF1 (I never invested in the EVF for it), it was basically worse than a point-and-shoot in outdoor daylight. It was a point-and-pray.
The NEX-6 gives you a much refined and greatly more workable system. The viewing screen is much better and more resistant to reflection and glare than than GF1's. And, when the light overwhelms the viewing screen and you have to switch to the EVF, it's right there, built in, at the correct position on the camera for easy use, with a very good eye-control switchover—block the EVF and the viewing screen turns off and the EVF turns on. It happened a few times that I blanked my viewing screen by holding the eyepiece too close to my body, but it's a very minor inconvenience. Generally it works great.
The EVF itself is supposedly "better" than older ones. That's like saying the Tax Code is friendlier than it used to be. It still largely sucks as a way of engaging with the world visually. The EVF on a mirrorless camera—every mirrorless I'm familiar with, anyway—is a workaround for those inevitable occasions when the viewing screen becomes inadequate. [UPDATE: I forgot to mention that several readers have sent in the same tip given here by Daniel: "To reduce the contrast of the EVF, switch to Portrait style and crank the contrast to its minimum. It doesn't affect the basic RAW file but does give a viewfinder image with greater dynamic range." I didn't discover (or try) this in my five days with the camera, as I shot mostly with the viewing screen, but it's definitely worth trying to open up the shadows of the EVF view. —Ed.]
That said, it's good by today's standards. I adapted to the viewing system quickly and without any angst. I love flip-up viewing screens, and the Sony's works just the way I want it to. The EVF stepped in capably when needed. For really engaging with fast-action subjects in a dynamic way, nothing beats an FF SLR viewfinder. But for my style of shooting, the two finders built into the NEX-6 worked well.
You know, I'm just relaxing about cameras these days. When I first used a digital camera, it was the mid-1990s and the word "megapixel" was still in the future...and I distinctly remember thinking "this is really a lot of fun...too bad the image quality is so atrocious." Digital image quality these days is certainly better than good enough, although it has a clinical, sometimes hyper-real, too-sharp, too-clean look that I just get tired of. I long for a bit of character, the kind you often couldn't avoid with film and film cameras even when you wanted to. But I digress. The point I wanted to make was that so many cameras are just so good that good cameras are good enough. If ya follow. In the early aughts, were were naturally consumed with better-better-better, but that was mainly because the cameras weren't good enough. They've been good enough for a while now.
If it's getting less important to optimize your IQ, then things like the usability, convenience, control arrangement, how the camera feels to you, and how well you're able to understand it come that much more to the fore. First and foremost, you need to be able to trust your camera—even if they're too complicated now to truly master for many of us, you have to get to the point where you have sufficient mastery that you feel confident.
In this regard, some cameras tend to fight you, some are demanding, and some you just can't quite get used to because they're not what you've been used to in the past. And others—the ones we're all looking for, at least as our second cameras—are enablers; they help you do what you want to do. They come to feel friendly and familiar. They give you what you want without a lot of fuss.
But, for the most part, frankly, I'm getting over the rabid comparo-fest we all engorged ourselves with for ten years or more. I don't worry about sharpening routines any more; who looks at digital pictures and thinks they're not sharp enough? I don't worry about noise at all. I kinda like a little noise, and a little is all we get these days. You might say it makes more difference if you're a printmaker, and that's right, but the limits of many cameras' quality is expanding outwards; Ctein demonstrated quite convincingly with his Big Print sale from a year ago that a 12-MP Micro 4/3 file is fully capable of superb print quality at a size most people would be more than happy with. Even dynamic range is getting pretty good; I actually like the B&W I came up with using this camera.
It seems to me that the NEX-6 extends these attitudes and advantages a little further. It's a pretty straightforward device as digicams go: fairly easy to set up, easy to master, and ergonomical. With a little time to practice, I'm fairly certain most people will be able to quickly and easily make the camera do what they want it to in the field.
I also had a blast with it. It's just fun to use. Makes you want to go out and take pictures. Begs to be used. Or at least that's the way it was with me.
Conclusion (of the conclusion of the conclusion)
So here's the upshot of my experience with the NEX-6 and the Zeiss 24mm:
- It's quite a fun little camera to use.
- Results are consistently very good to great.
- The lens can be lovely, and actually has a little of the traditional Zeiss magic.
- The camera takes it easy on you. Doesn't fight you with its menus and buttons; tends more to enable you.
- It's fast and responsive, and focus is for the most part accurate.
- It tended to crush the torture tests I threw at it, from dogs in semi-darkness to B&W conversions to tough-to-expose scenes to using the lens wide open. The only exception is that flare resistance is more towards average.
- Auto-exposure and highlight protection are outstanding, making you look like a better technical photographer than you might actually be.
- Handles quite nicely...it handles better than it looks.
- It's a good size, about as small as it can be without becoming too small, although some people will still want a more compact lens.
It's main problem at this point in time might be that the NEX-7 is not that much more money...that, and the fact that the NEX-6 gives off a sort of stalwart, utilitarian vibe—it's unspecial; it doesn't impart any bragging rights. It's just a good solid workhorse little mirrorless camera, good in all ways, horrible in none, but at the same time not the bestest or the mostest in any way I can identify. It like that about it. Some people might not find it appealing.
At this point I've owned four mirrorless cameras and have used five others, most recently Ken's RX1 at the Milwaukee Art Museum of the other day. Much as I admired the RX1—it's a joy to use—and much as I'd have been completely over the moon about it in, say, 2006, I don't think it tempts me excessively now, given its price (although I do think it's worth its price). And I'm pretty committed to the Micro 4/3 system, which offers far and away the best choice of cameras and especially lenses for the enthusiast.
But I'm very impressed with my first exposure to the NEX system. In fact, I have to be perfectly honest: the Sony NEX-6 and Zeiss 24mm, taken as a pair, is my favorite out of all the mirrorless cameras I've used so far.
Current products mentioned in this whole series of posts:
Sony NEX-6 body ($748—the price has dropped $100 since the first post in this series)
Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm ƒ/1.8 ZA lens ($1,098)
Sony NEX-7 (body only, $998)
Nikon D800 ($2,797)
Panasonic GX1 (a steal right now at $275)
Sony NEX-3N (with 16–50mm lens for $498)
Sony NEX-5R (body only, $548)
Olympus OM-D E-M5 ($930)
Ricoh GXR (modular system)
Fujifilm X-E1 ($999)
Nikon Coolpix A ($1,097)
Zeiss Makro Planar T* 100mm F/2 ZE for Canon SLRs ($1,843)
Zeiss Macro Planar T* 100mm ƒ/2 ZF.2 for Nikon SLRs ($1,843)
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
GH: "Something to keep in mind about the NEX-6 vs. NEX-7, is that the NEX-6 has on-sensor PDAF, an improved EVF (despite the stats being the same,) and a regular hotshoe. The NEX-6 also deals with wide angle rangefinder lenses better in the corners."
Eduardo Cervantes: "If the NEX-6 had a full swivel screen I'd have ordered one right at announcement. With the exception of the Canon G1X (wonderful IQ but slow as a turtle), no manufacturer offers a 'full swivel' screen outside of the DSLRs. I truly beats me why. Keep on waiting and waiting!"