I bought a Sony NEX-5N on close-out, from Best Buy, and was impressed enough to get a NEX-7, used, from Amazon. With the 5N I need my reading glasses to see the LCD screen. The Nex-7 has a viewfinder (plus the LED screen). I also wanted an external mic input. Before I go on, here is my video on how I setup and use the camera.
On Craigslist, I saw someone with a similar setup to mine, selling it. I asked him why. He said he wasn’t happy with the focusing and the menus were confusing. He wanted to get a Nikon D800. DSLRs focus better, of course, but they are considerably larger than the NEXs.
I made a video of my settings with the idea that it might make the camera more useful to him and others. At first I thought he was expecting too much from the camera, focusing wise. However, after more use, I agree that the camera often “hunts” when focusing in low-light. You need good lighting and contrast-y subjects. I don’t believe any mirror-less camera has solved this problem. In other words, if you want a large-sensor, fast focusing camera in a small size you’re not going to get it, no matter what camera you buy.
The choice? Large DSLR with quick focus (though slower image snap waiting for mirror) or mirror-less camera with slow focusing, though quick shutter release AND small size.
My experience with all the mirror-less cameras I’ve owned is that manual focus is much better (unless your subject is far away). Unfortunately, out of the box Sony doesn’t make it easy to manually focus the NEX-7. You have to go into the menu and set the AF/MF button to “Toggle.” In that way you can quickly change the camera from manual focus, to auto focus, and back, with a simple press of that button.
Once in manual focus, you need to get nimble at moving the “flexible box” around to your subject, then focusing using the focus assist, going back to full-image, and then taking the photo. This is especially crucial if you like your subject to the left or right third of the image. Center spot won’t do.
The NEX cameras take amazing video. That’s why I’m using these cameras. I’m willing to compromise on a DSLR’s focus-speed for a smaller size with good video. Unfortunately, the NEX cameras, like DSLRs, must be used within certain limitations to work well. Fast movement causes rolling-shutter (broken lines moving through frame).
When I first starting using large-frame sensors for video I was intoxicated by the shallow depth-of-field. The limitations in CMOS (rolling shutter), focus and audio have been making me think more about camcorders again. After a while, these cameras make you re-appreciate modern camcorder technology.
If you want a camera you can throw in your bag, the NEX line works. If you aren’t facing the above mentioned limitations, they deliver fantastic results.
o. The viewfinder is helpful for taking photos (I have old eyes), but using it in video mode, it may add your heavy breathing to the audio. Does for me. Without the viewfinder, I might as well use the 5N, which is smaller.
o. Once you’re recording video, focus peaking (zoom) is disabled. That means if you set your focus, manually, to someone on the left, and then start recording, and then pan and focus to someone to the right, say closer, you can’t go into focus peaking. You have to focus using the standard view. The viewfinder is not sharp enough to do this perfectly. In short, you can only use focus peaking once in video, before you start it.
o. For both photography and video, getting into focus peaking in manual mode is a pain. It only pops up when you change the focus with the lens. I often forget, then end up getting lost in menus (because I was trying to use them to move my flexible focus spot around).
o. You can’t set focus by looking at feet marker on lens, or display. There are none; that is, nowhere will you read that your lens is focused on something 5ft away.
o. Screen does not flip out to do self-videos. (just in case you miss that in product description).
o. In auto-focus mode, the camera won’t always refocus on you should you step in front of the camera. It expects you to half-press the shutter.
o. Whenever you half-press the shutter, to refocus (again, in video mode), it does it fairly quickly, but it goes in and out in a way that is not what you’d see from a professional video camera.
o. Like all CMOS camera, the rolling-shutter/jello effect, when you pan the camera, is very disconcerting.
All that said, the camera takes superb quality video. I don’t believe there are any cameras, at this size, that don’t have these issues or more.
I sold the NEX7 to fund the D600. I want to take more portraits and the Nex (mirrorless) camera can’t compete with a DSLR focusing-wise. If I wanted a carry-around camera on vacation; however, the NEX7 would be my first choice.