Ease of Use
Since camera makers aim ILCs primarily at people stepping up from compacts, they should be fairly intuitive and easy to use.
Panasonic brought some fresh ideas to the G2, most notably its touchscreen controls, dubbed Smart Touch operation. Touch Shutter lets you tap a subject in the LCD image shoot the picture, and Touch AF and AE let you base its autofocus and auto exposure on whatever you select. An included stylus (which attaches to the strap) makes it easier to pinpoint your selections more exactly and avoid jarring the camera. Hate touchscreens? There are plenty of buttons, dials, and switches for control, too.
On the NX10, Samsung stuck with an approach very similar to entry-level DSLRs, with single command wheel and a healthy number of buttons, including a function button to access a menu of commonly changed settings. Its role may not be immediately clear to newcomers, but it provides a good shortcut once you figure it out.
On the other hand, with the NEX-5 Sony completely rethought how to interact with a camera—with mixed results. The LCD is wider than usual to accommodate different labels for the “soft buttons,” two controls whose functions change according to what you’re doing with the camera. These were intuitive enough for us to figure out in our firrst day of shooting, even without consulting the manual. There’s also a clickable control wheel.
But despite the elegance of its design, Sony’s sparse array of physical controls force you to use menus too much. And these seemed odd: With one section named Camera, another named Setup, and a third called Brightness/Color, we occasionally looked in the wrong place to change a setting and wished we could find some functions together in one list rather than having to jump between sections.
For instance, you have to press four buttons and scroll around just to change ISO, and the NEX-5 pauses dramatically when going from the menu to the jazzy ISO selection screen. With the G2, not only can you switch from manual focus to single-shot AF faster than the NEX-5’s menu takes to pop up, you can also look at the switch while the LCD is off and know what your current setting is.
We ran into some small annoyances with the NX10, too. It tends to lock up when processing and writing an image to the memory card, making RAW or RAW + JPEG capture clunky. Sure, we’re used to having to wait to shoot as a camera’s buffer fills, but the NX10 won’t let you change your settings while you wait. Try adjusting the ISO, and the screen tells you it’s processing. Yet it still took less time than changing the ISO on the NEX-5.
With no through-the-lens prism finders as on DSLRs, ILCs view the scene either via the LCD screens or eye-level electronic view finders (EVFs). Both the Panasonic and Samsung have built-in EVFs, though the G2’s has significantly higher resolution than the NX10’s, while the Sony relies on the LCD. Of course, this makes them bulkier, while the NEX-5, without a lens, is the smallest, lightest ILC body on the market.
But the more we used these cameras, the more we liked holding them away from our faces to grab shots from odd angles. We often found ourselves shooting the NEX-5 at waist level, twin-lens-reflex style thanks to its tilting LCD.
This was harder to do with the NX10, the only one of the three with a fixed LCD. The screen’s angle of view is good enough that you can still shoot from odd positions, but you have to hold it further away to see what you’re framing. Also, when in bright daylight, all three LCDs were harder to see. Tilting the monitor of the Panasonic and Sony helps compensate a little. Not so with the NX10.
Overall, the Panasonic G2 gets the prize for ease of use. We loved shooting with its touchscreen but, if you feel otherwise, you still have plenty of traditional, manual controls at your disposal. The Samsung comes in second here, despite the slow processor and fixed LCD, and Sony’s interface system bumps it to last. We do think that Sony will be able to evolve it into something better, but it still has some mutation to go.