Friday, February 7, 2014

Shootout - Fujifilm X100 vs Sony Alpha NEX-7 vs Nikon D600 - 35mm Equivalent Battle!

Based on the popularity of the last Shootout series (found here: The Pentax Q vs NEX-7 vs D600, and The Sequel) that I've posted on this website, I now follow up with the ultimate battle at 35mm-equivalent views.

The contenders today are all highly commended individuals, scoring many wins in their respective categories.

The Fujifilm X100 is a fixed-lens APS-C camera launched in 2010. The Sigma DP series came earlier, around 2006, but I think the Fujifilm X100 really brought large-sensor compact cameras into popular use. The X100 was also the first to feature a hybrid optical-electronic viewfinder, comes with a high quality 23mm F/2.0 Fujinon fixed lens, and 12 megapixel sensor. It also launched the entire X-series for Fujifilm, which now mostly focuses on X-trans sensors (the X100 features a traditional Bayer type sensor).

The Sony Alpha NEX-7 was one of the first enthusiast level mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, with a 24 megapixel sensor that is still among the top of APS-C size sensors. For this review, the NEX-7 has been paired with the Carl Zeiss Sonnar E 24mm F/1.8 lens, which is generally regarded as a top quality prime lens.

The Nikon D600 is also a very special camera, being the first to bring down the size of a full frame DSLR. It also features a 24 megapixel sensor, but covering a full frame (FX) area. Here it is paired with the Sigma Art Series 35mm F/1.4, also regarded as one of the top prime lenses for DSLR users (and often preferred over the Nikon and Canon equivalents).

All three options today offer an equivalent view of approximately 35mm in full frame terms, with real apertures ranging from F/1.4 to F/2.0.

Figure 1 - The Shootout Contenders - Nikon D600, Fujifilm X100, Sony NEX-7

Let's compare some statistics of these three options:

Fujifilm X100
- Size: 126 x 75 x 63 mm [W x H x D]
- Weight: 445 g (including lens and battery)
- Sensor: APS-C

Sony Alpha NEX-7
- Size: 124 x 70 x 110 mm [W x H x D]
- Weight: 353 g (including battery) + 224 g (lens) = 577 g
- Sensor: APS-C

Nikon D600
- Size: 142 x 116 x 160 mm [W x H x D]
- Weight: 850 g (including battery) + 665 g (lens) = 1515 g
- Sensor: Full Frame

Size is measured as an imaginary box containing the entire camera and lens.

So as we can see, from both Figure 1 and the statistics, that we have a wide range of sizes and weights, but all offering the same effective perspective when taking photos. There are some obvious differences in operation, such as autofocus speeds and accuracy, continuous burst shooting, manual settings, etc. In this review we are mainly focusing on the camera sensor-lens combo, and the image quality judged mainly by sharpness.

Test Scene

The test scene was set up to have fine details, mainly to test the resolving power of the sensor and lens combos for the three cameras. The key details are in the centre of the frame, where maximum sharpness is expected.

Figure 2 - Test Scene for 35mm Shootout Battle

Photo Settings

In an attempt to compare the three cameras in a fair manner, I've selected some settings that should equal the playing field for the lenses and represent a normal scenario for the sensors.

  • All cameras set to Manual mode, fixed ISO
  • ISO set to 400
  • Lens are all prime, approximately equivalent to 35mm view on full frame.
  • Aperture set to F/2.8, shutter speed 1/30s
  • Contrast-detect autofocus where possible, to minimise error in AF-fine tune for phase-detect methods.
  • Multiple photos per camera, sharpest selected. 
  • Crops taken close to centre of photo.
  • All images shot in RAW format, processed in Lightroom with default settings, white balance correction, and exported to JPG.

Full resolution crops of the centre of the test scenes are available here:

Figure 3 - Sony NEX-7
Figure 4 - Nikon D600
Figure 5 - Fujifilm X100
Immediately there are obvious differences in the exposure. The Nikon D600 image is clearly brighter than the other two, although exposure settings were supposedly equal. This can be due to different cameras reporting their ISO inaccurately, and some lenses being more efficient at transmitting light. The white balances were also a bit different, so that was corrected in Lightroom.

Comparison of Centre Details

Figure 6 - Comparison Whole Scene

With the first comparison we compare the whole scene detail. The obvious difference in exposure does make the Nikon D600 image look better, but otherwise the details seem quite similar. It is noteworthy that the D600 image has less depth-of-field than the other two cameras, which is due to it using a full frame sensor but same aperture as the other two APS-C size cameras. We could choose a smaller aperture to match the effective depth-of-field, but this would impact the exposure.

Let's take a closer look at some details.

Comparison Crop A

First up lets see a crop centred on the fine black & white text detail on the packaging on the left.

Figure 7 - Comparison Crop A
The three images were resampled to give the same effective resolution. This puts the Fujifilm X100 at a disadvantage, since it has a lower resolution sensor.

The Fujifilm X100 image is definitely less sharp, with the text being less readable, and less definition in the fur of the soft toy. The NEX-7 and D600 images look a lot closer, with the text being equally readable. I'd say that the NEX-7 image seems slightly sharper, but also with more visible noise occurring.

Comparison Crop B

Our second crop focuses on the package of toy erasers in the centre, which has colour and more low contrast detail.

Figure 8 - Comparison Crop B

Similar observations are made for this second comparison. The Fujifilm X100 clearly has less detail than the other two, with everything appearing a little soft.

The NEX-7 and D600 are again hard to differentiate in terms of pure detail, but I'd give the edge to the D600 due to less appearance of noise. This difference may have been a benefit of the brighter exposure on the D600.


In conclusion I'd say that the results are pretty close to my expectations. The Fujifilm X100 is a lot of fun, and produces high quality images, but cannot compete with the Sony NEX-7 which is one of the best resolution APS-C cameras, and the D600 which is full frame.

The NEX-7 is very close to matching the D600 in this test, and that is very impressive given that it is older and significantly smaller. The benefits of taking the Nikon D600 over the Sony NEX-7 would have to be the bigger aperture/sensor combo (being able to produce images with less depth-of-field), as well as the superior focusing with a proper phase-detect AF system.

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