Control and Capability
Another big promise of the ILC concept is that these cameras will offer the level of image control—in focusing, exposure, processing—found in DSLRs, plus the kind of innovative features found in compacts. As before, these three models are rather a mixed bag here.
Relying on contrast-detection autofocus as all three models do, none of them can focus as fast as a DSLR’s phase-detection AF. But one nice thing about their contrast AF is that you can focus on any part of the screen, rather than being tied to the AF points as on DSLRs. And all three focused faster than most compacts, and close enough in speed that we couldn’t call one significantly faster than the others.
In shooting video, they all did a decent job of focusing continuously—something no DSLR can do. The Panasonic has an edge here, since you can use Touch AF to change your focus from one subject to the next. (Careful! Touching the LCD while shooting video can jar the camera, but the G2’s stylus helped.)
While all three capture video, only the Sony shoots full HD at 1920x1080—the other two shoot 1280x720. It also lets you choose between AVCHD and MP4 files, while the G2 offers a choice of AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG, and the Samsung captures just MP4.
The NEX-5 is also the only one to record stereo sound with its video. The other two are mono, though the G2 has a stereo minijack input for a microphone.
The actual footage we shot using kit lenses was pleasing in all three cases, with few artifacts, nicely saturated colors, and sharp images. But while we didn’t notice this on the other two in any significant way, the NX10 had a pretty bad case of the wobblies: Objects in motion seem to bend because the camera samples the sensor over and over instead of using a shutter in recording. So, in our footage of a subway train whizzing by, the doors looked like they were leaning at nearly 45 degrees.
With all three—and as is often the case with DSLR video—be prepared to transcode the video before bringing it into an editing program, and don’t expect to just upload your clip to Vimeo or YouTube right away. At the very least, you should run it through the software that comes with the camera before distributing it.
While the Panasonic and Samsung have built-in pop-up flashes equivalent in output, the Sony NEX-5 doesn’t have a flash built in. Instead, the camera comes with a small, comparatively weaker unit that screws into the top and folds down over the back of the lens when not in use. Why? Sony says you shouldn’t need the flash very often, given ISO 12,800 and Handheld Twilight mode, but we think it was just to make the body smaller. Strangely, Sony includes flash settings among the four things its command wheel lets you access quickly.
Among the convenient features Sony brought to the NEX-5 from its compact Cyber-shot line, Handheld Twilight shooting combines six images shot in a burst to minimize noise at the high ISOs you need in dim light. It recognizes when one of the elements in the scene moves between shots and will use only one frame for that area of picture.
Another feature, Sweep Panorama, combines many frames, shot in a rapid burst as you pan the camera, into one very wide image. The result isn’t quite as sharp as the regular pictures you’ll get from the NEX-5, but it’s by far the easiest way to make a panorama that we’ve ever tried. And a firmware update slated for July will let you display your image in 3D.
Despite the Sony’s neat features, we’d put it second to the Panasonic in control and capability, given the G2’s edge for everyday shooting considerations: video focusing, built-in flash, speed of control access. The Samsung lands in third place.