Streetshooter: Leica M9 vs. Sony Nex-7

editorial Sep 05, 2011

In a previous post, I posited that the recently announced Sony NEX-7 stands to threaten the Leica M9 as the street shooter camera of choice. The Leica M series of rangefinders (analog and digital) were instrumental in the creation of the genre. The Leica M lenses are world renowned for their quality and ability to capture light. Can Sony’s pro level, mirror-less, APS-C camera dethrone the street shooter champ who started it all over 50 years ago?

Nex 7 vs m9

Since there are no NEX-7’s in the wild yet (I am not cool enough to score a pre-release unit, yet), we are going to take a look at the specifications of both systems. Afterwards, I will present my analysis and findings. I realize that this is all just a mental exercise, and that until you can shoot both cameras in similar conditions, you cannot actually make any kind of claim. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

Specification Comparison

For the purposes of this comparison, I have decided to set up both cameras in a comparable street shooter configuration: Basic Camera + fast 35 mm lens (or equivalent). Specifications courtesy of dpreview.com.

NEX 7 von Sony schwarz 17

M9 front black

Body type

Body type

Rangefinder-style mirrorless

Rangefinder-style mirrorless

Sensor

Max resolution

6000 x 4000

5212 x 3472

Image ratio w:h

3:2, 16:9

3:2

Effective pixels

24.3 megapixels

18.0 megapixels

Sensor photo detectors

24.7 megapixels

18.5 megapixels

Sensor size

APS-C (23.5 x 15.6 mm)

Full frame (36 x 24 mm)

Sensor type

CMOS

CCD

Processor

Bionz

Image

ISO

Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800, 16000

Auto, Pull 80, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500

White balance presets

6

6

Custom white balance

Yes

Yes

In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)

No

No

Uncompressed format

RAW

RAW

JPEG quality levels

Fine, Normal

Fine, Standard

Optics & Focus

Autofocus

Contrast Detect (sensor), Multi-area, Selective single-point, Single, Continuous, Live View

N/A

Digital zoom

No

No

Manual focus

Yes

Yes

Lens mount

Sony E Mount

Leica M mount

Focal length multiplier

1.5×

Screen / viewfinder

Articulated LCD

Tilting

Fixed

Screen size

3″

2.5″

Screen dots

921,000

230,000

Touch screen

No

No

Live view

Yes

No

Viewfinder type

Electronic

Optical (rangefinder)

Viewfinder coverage

100%

Varies by lens

Viewfinder magnification

1.09×

0.68×

Photography features

Minimum shutter speed

30s

4s

Maximum shutter speed

1/4000 sec

1/4000 sec

Aperture priority

Yes

Yes

Shutter priority

Yes

No

Manual exposure mode

Yes

Yes

Subject / scene modes

Yes

No

Built-in flash

Yes (Pop-up)

No

Flash range

6m

External flash

Yes (Hot-shoe)

Yes (Hot-shoe)

Flash modes

Auto, On, Off, Red-Eye, Slow Sync, Rear Curtain, Fill-in, Wireless

Front Curtain, Rear Curtain, Slow sync

Continuous drive

Yes (10 fps)

Yes (2 fps)

Self-timer

Yes (2 or 10 sec, 10sec (3 or 5 images))

Yes (2 or 12 sec)

Metering modes

Multi, Center-weighted, Spot

Center-weighted

Exposure compensation

±5 EV (at 1/3 EV steps)

±3 EV (at 1/3 EV steps)

AE Bracketing

(at 1/3 EV steps)

WB Bracketing

No

No

Videography features

Format

MPEG4

Audio channels

Stereo

No

Clips

Yes (1920 x 1080 (60 fps), 1440 x 1080 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps))

No

HD Modes

1920 x 1080 (60 fps), 1440 x 1080 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps)

FPS

1920 x 1080 (60 fps), 1440 x 1080 (30 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps)

Storage

Storage types

SD/SDHC/SDXC/Memory Stick Pro Duo/ Pro-HG Duo

SD/SDHC card

Storage included

None

None

Connectivity

USB

USB 2.0 (480Mbit/sec)

USB 2.0 (480Mbit/sec)

HDMI

Yes (Mini Type C)

No

Wireless

None

None

Remote control

Yes (InfraRed (optional))

No

Physical

Environmentally sealed

No

No

Battery

Battery Pack

Battery Pack

Battery description

Lithium-Ion NP-FW50 rechargeable battery & charger

Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery & charger

Battery Life (CIPA)

430

Weight (inc. batteries)

291 g (0.64 lb / 10.26 oz)

585 g (1.29 lb / 20.64 oz)

Dimensions

120 x 67 x 43 mm (4.72 x 2.64 x 1.69″)

139 x 80 x 37 mm (5.47 x 3.15 x 1.46″)

Other features

Orientation sensor

Yes

Yes

Timelapse recording

No

GPS

None

None

Price as configured

$2,198 USD

$12,990 USD

Notes

With Panorama, 3D Sweep Panorama functions

Analysis

Based on specifications alone, we can see that the NEX-7 dominates in many key areas. Granted, street shooters are purists at heart and features like scene modes, sweep panoramas, and art filters will be wasted on them, so those features will not be included in the discussion. Based on what I have been provided and my own personal experience with the M9, I see the NEX-7 taking the lead based on:

  1. Price: the NEX-7 with the Carl Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 weighs in at a dainty $2,198 USD vs. the Leica M9 + Summilux 35mm f/1.4 at a staggering $12,990 USD.
  2. Ease of carry/pocketability: while neither camera is a Minox by any stretch of the imagination, the M9 with its all-metal and glass construction weighs in at 2 lbs, whereas the NEX-7 (with magnesium alloy construction) weighs a mere 20 oz (12 oz. lighter).
  3. Autofocus: The Leica M9 draws upon the heritage of the Leica M Rangefinder family dating back to 1954. It’s lenses are strictly manual focus, mechanically linked affairs. Do it any other way and it would stop being an M lens. Sony, is not burdened with this weighty history and is free to do whatever it wants, including contracting Carl Zeiss (arguably the best lensmaker in the world after Leica) to make autofocus lenses for this format. Say what you will about manual focus, but it has been my experience that autofocus gets you out of a pinch situation more times that manual focus does.
  4. Low Light/High ISO: Leica’s approach to this situation has always been to design ever more amazing optics. Optics are what they are great at. Sony, like most other Japanese tech companies, is great at electronics. They tackled this issue by improving the sensor’s ability to work under these conditions. To be honest, an M9 in poor light is not usable above ISO 1250, but the Summilux lens does make up for the shortcoming of the sensor.

Conclusion

Based on specs alone, the Sony NEX-7 looks poised to topple the Leica M9 as the King of the Street Shooters, but there are other factors to be considered which cannot be done until I get an actual production camera in my hands. Ergonomics, image quality, shutter noise, AF speed and card writing speed are among the technical issues that remain to be tested. Leica also has a long and storied history having been the camera of choice for many of the greatest photographers of the last 60+ years.

I personally can’t wait to try a NEX-7 out.

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