Sony NEX-6 or NEX-7?

[Spoiler alert: If I had to buy today, I’d go for the NEX-6 over the NEX-7. (Yeah, I know: I’m in the minority on this one.) But if you can wait two months, the rumors are that there will be an update to the NEX-7 that will hopefully tip the scales in that direction.]

I’ve been shooting with a Sony NEX-7 on and off for nearly a year, alongside my big Nikons. (See my earlier NEX-7 review.) Although I think of the Nikons as my serious cameras, the fact is that when I looked back at the end of 2012, many of my best images were captured with the NEX-7.

When I leave home for a shoot (even a photowalk) I tend to take at least one body and far more lenses than any reasonable person would be willing to lug around. For a recent trip to Death Valley, I even brought along two tripods. (How dumb is that?) But my wife and I are taking a non-photographer’s trip to Turkey in June, and I’ve decided I want to try traveling really light. As frightening as that sounds — and it does, to me! — it means leaving the Nikon bodies and glass at home. I’m already losing sleep over this. It’s not about the gear. It’s not about the gear…

Since buying the NEX-7, I’ve often wondered if I might have been better off with a micro four-thirds camera. So many friends love them. So I got my hands on an Olympus OM-D E-M5 for a review. Bottom line: Although I made the mistake of testing the OM-D with inferior lenses, I certainly didn’t like the camera any more than I like the NEX-7. The one advantage of the OM-D was the array of superior lenses (which I didn’t test!) for the micro four-thirds system. Sony has been properly criticized for a lack of good ones.

But in the past year Sony has released new lenses. I’d also read positive reviews of the newer NEX-6 and was curious how it stacked up to the -7. And that’s the genesis of this review. I wanted to check out the -6 and some better lenses, ultimately to decide what to take to Turkey. I’ll cover the bodies in this review and save the lenses for a separate post.

Take a look at the DxOMark comparison of the two cameras’ sensors. They’re about as close as they could be, and that confirms my subjective experience. Although the NEX-7 is 24MP and the NEX-6 is only (!) 18MP, they’re both excellent. If anything, 24MP is a bit much for casual photography, particularly if, like me, you always shoot in RAW mode. (I know that five years from now that will sound ridiculous.) If image quality isn’t enough to differentiate these two bodies, what is?

The advantages of the NEX-6 are:

  • A dedicated Mode dial. This is personal preference, and I like this traditional approach. I do tend to change modes fairly often, so this works for me. Because the menu system on both these cameras is simply awful, the big issue is whether I can avoid the menus as much as possible. The NEX-6 allows me to change the important stuff without taking my eye away from the viewfinder: mode, aperture and/or shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation. The NEX-7 just gives me two different ways to change exposure compensation by adding an extra control.
  • Quick Navi menu. Available by pressing the Fn button, this bypasses that awful menu system to get you to the most-frequently needed functions. Plus, you can change (up to a point) which functions appear here.
  • Less vulnerable controls. For some reason, I move the NEX-7’s controls accidentally more than I do on the NEX-6. I can’t explain why.
  • Superior autofocus. The NEX-6 (and hopefully the replacement for the NEX-7) adds a 99-point phase-detect autofocus array and it really works. This gives the camera faster and more accurate autofocus. If you’re a video shooter — I’m not — this will be important to you since the phase-detect autofocus is even working in video mode, unlike a DSLR. Note that phase-detection autofocus only works on lenses that can support it and in some cases you need to update the firmware in both the body and the lens. In my tests, it worked on the 10-18mm, 18-55mm, 16-50mm, 50mm and 24mm, but not with the 16mm f/1.8.
  • Standard hot-flash shoe. The NEX-7 has one that’s proprietary to Sony. (When will they ever learn?)
  • WiFi. You can use WiFi to copy images to a computer or mobile device or to upload them to Facebook, but it’s a pain to do so.
  • Downloadable apps. Available from Sony’s online store, the apps are free or cost $4.99. It looks like a few of them could be useful, but I didn’t test them.
  • Lighter by 20%.
  • Cheaper by $250 at today’s street prices.

So what’s so good about the NEX-7?

  • Larger, better sensor (but not by much).
  • Tri-Nav controls. Two soft/configurable controls on top versus only one on the -6. As I wrote above, pure personal preference.
  • Battery Life. Probably because of the NEX-6’s WiFi and perhaps the phase-detect autofocus, the NEX-7 battery life is a bit better, rated at 430 shots versus 360 shots for the -6.
  • External mic jack for video shooters.
  • 3D photos for display on your 3D TV. We all have 3D TVs, right?
  • Very slightly smaller, even though it’s somewhat heavier.

As I think you can see, my feelings are that the NEX-6 is, overall, a better camera with the most important differences being the controls and the improved autofocus. I’m not switching from the NEX-7 now, but if Sony combines the best of both in an updated -7, I’ll probably bite.

Here’s Part 2: Sony NEX: The Lenses

21 thoughts on “Sony NEX-6 or NEX-7?

  1. I love my NEX-7 except for the record button being in the wrong place, easy to set off and wasted memory. Also the features for playback of movies on the viewfinder are cumbersome and difficult to navigate. Other than that, love the camera and what it does.

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    1. Make sure you get the Sony firmware update that allows you to deactivate the video-record button. I only wish they’d allow us to assign it to another function.

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  2. I do have the NEX 7( with 24mm Sony Zeiss) , I’ve just test the 6 of a friend. I’m agree with your comments . So hope the 7N will be a mix of the both.
    If I have to make a choice to day, I would probably buy the 6.
    Nevertheless, not perfect, but I am happy with this NEX system.

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  3. I have a few corrections for you my dear friend,
    first,NEX-6 is a 16 Megapixels camera,not 18
    and second the maximum aperture of 16mm lens is f/2.8,I wish it was that fast (1.8).
    Sorry for my english though,I’m Indonesian & a NEX-6 user.

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  4. Wondering you have any recommendation for a backpack, or sling backpack that is low profile for NEX system? Bag for DSLR is too thick to turn around at tight corners during conference/conventions.

    Bonus is to also have options for a 15″ macbook pro or iPad 3 as well.

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    1. (Replying a little late. :-)) I love the Billingham Hadley Pro bag for the NEX-7. It’s also my only carry-on bag for an upcoming trip to Turkey. Body, four lenses, iPad (original) and a Macbook Air 13″. A 15″ won’t fit and the Air is a tight squeeze.

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  5. I am looking to buy one of these cameras soon.
    The 6 has a Image stabilization whilst the 7 does not and that swings it for me at the moment.

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      1. Nex series of cameras do not have image IS built-in , its in certain lens. I know some cameras do have it built-in but not nex cameras.

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  6. The NEX 6 is my current favorite APS-C camera body. But no one makes a lens I care for to mount on it to tuck in a belt pouch and head for the forest.(I DO NOT use wide angle lenses) A fast, sharp 50mm pancake could work, maybe by next year a camera company will get away from “gotta please the P&S crowd”, and build for serious camera buffs. Give me a quality “always with me” APS-C camera. Canon is catching up.

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  7. Agreed. Consensus reached 🙂
    I’ve been using and still have Nex-5, Nex-6, and Nex-7.
    If buying today I’d get the Nex-6.
    That said we just returned from 3 weeks in Alaska. She that rules the world carried an A77 and Sal70-400g AND Nex-7 as back up body with SEL 18-200.
    I carried Canon 6D and Sigma 120-300mm as main and Nex-6 with SEL 10-18 as plan B.
    After the trip and over 3500 pics and a great deal of comparison I can say that we could have done the whole trip with just the two Nex’s excepting the auroras shot with the Canon.
    We’re active backpackers/paddlers/cycle-campers and the Nex is preferred for its size and weight…..but now I do wonder of their future with the new Sony mirrorless full frame counterparts.

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  8. Looking to replace my huge bulky Nikon system…so first Have you or any of your followers used the LA-EA2 adapter with the fast Sony or Sigma (Sony mount) Zooms and if so how do they work? In this respect i asking as a shooter of Dance Programs and also live theater (operas, music theater and such…and also wildlife. I was also looking at the Nex as a cam I could fly with a quad copter.
    Secondly I am looking at the Nex’s for Pro Travel photography.

    Will they fit my bill….I just carried my D3 for 10 hrs yesterday and have tons of shoulder and back pain….so as my Dr. keeps telling me….. I gotta Lighten it up.

    Thanx

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