If you hoped to see a standardized lensmount for the APS-C-format competitors to the Micro Four Thirds system, your pipe dream has gone up in smoke. Sony, despite the NEX-5’s Alpha branding, uses the new E-mount, and Samsung the NX mount. Having ample glass to fit is a big part of system flexibility.
So thanks in part to its huge head start, as well as to having more than one company developing new lenses, Panasonic (and, though not part of this shoot-out, Olympus) comes up big. We used three lenses to cover a range of 7–200mm (14–400mm full-frame equivalent) on the G2.
To its credit, Samsung debuted the NX10 with a range of 18–200mm (27–300mm equivalent) across two lenses. For its initial two, Sony has only a 16mm (24mm equivalent) and an 18–55mm (27–82.5mm), though it plans to release an 18–200mm zoom later this year.
All of the systems have relatively fast pancake lenses with equivalent focal lengths in the normal range, except for Sony’s 16mm f/2.8, a wide-angle that’s convenient for street shooters. But, only Panasonic has a macro lens, a 45mm (90mm equivalent) f/2.8.
We don’t yet have mounts to test ILC lenses on our lab’s lens bench, but we did run DxO Analyzer 3.2 tests on these cameras’ kit lenses for distortion, vignetting, and magnification. The results can be found on the test page.
All three manufacturers plan to release new lenses over the next year, though it’s hard to tell how many and how soon. And all three make adapters to use their DSLR lenses on their ILC cameras, and the Panasonic benefits from third-party adapters for tons of legacy glass, though with some compromise in performance. (The Samsung adapter works on Pentax K-mount lenses.)
A system means more than just interchangeable lenses: Take flash, for example. Both Samsung and Panasonic offer hot-shoe accessory units (Panasonic, a choice of three) in addition to their pop-ups. But Sony’s lack of a hot-shoe on the NEX-5 is a disadvantage here.
Plus, without a built-in viewfinder, the Sony offers fewer viewing choices—just an accessory optical finder whose wide field of view makes it useful with the pancake lens but not so much with the kit zoom.
Sony and Panasonic offer stereo accessory microphones as alternatives to the tiny mics built into their bodies. The Panasonic has a stereo minijack input so that you can use third party mics as well. Sony’s nonstandard accessory port prevents this on the NEX-5.
Again, Panasonic takes the lead, with Samsung coming in second and Sony third. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Sony round out its line before long, but it must add a body with a hot-shoe to compete as a system going forward.