Recently, I have been looking for something other than bird photography, and started researching available cameras. A normal DSLR like the Canon 5DIII would be a good choice, but I feel it is too large and bulky for traveling. Large lenses for candids are counterproductive, since people tend to shy away.
After much digging, I came up with the Sony NEX-7 which I find to be a jewel. It has 24.3 MP, APS-C sensor, no mirror, ISO to 16,000 (fully usable), Electronic viewfinder, lots of in camera features, excellent ergonomics and superb quality. Articulated LCD and capable of shooting 12 frames per second. Panorama and HDR features, although these only in jpg format. Add some high quality lenses and you will see what I mean.
Sigma 105mm f 2.8 EX DG OS HSM f 2.8 1/3200 sec ISO 800 (157 equivalent) hand held.
The camera is small but easy to hold in your hand, takes little getting used to. In no time, you will be able to get to all controls rapidly without effort. The camera is complex, but so is every other camera in the market, so reading the manual and spending time with it will pay dividends in the field. It is frustrating trying to find a setting having to scroll through all the menus.
The NEX-7 has its own E Mount Sony lenses but is also able to use just about any other lens with an adapter. Interesting too, that the Sony adapter for the Alpha lenses improves the AF !!!! .The camera has a phase detection AF vs contrast in DSLRs, each has advantages and disadvantages. Face AF is not very good for fast action like birds if flight, contrast has it by a mile, however, this system has an electronic viewfinder, with a choice of live histogram or a level, which is amazing. First of all you can review the image on the viewfinder, no need to take your eyes away and look at the LCD if you want to chimp, it will be discrete :). You can also change all settings looking into the viewfinder. Going back to the converter for using the Alpha lenses, the converted uses both face and contrast for AF functioning and it makes it faster. Still, not in the same league as the pure contrast AF systems.
Sony 18-200 3.5-6.3 f 13 4.0 sec ISO 100 at 18mm (27 equivalent)
I did my AF testing for flight with probably the worst lens I could use but it was the only available, the 105 Sigma macro. By the way, for macro I have been using Sigma lenses both when I was with Nikon and Canon, We like like the lenses and its the only third party lens we use. With the macro lens and converter, I was able to obtain some razor sharp flight images pre-focusing and being extra careful, without the converter and the other E lenses, It was just about impossible. Only got one, shown below.
The lens line-up for this camera is superb. I would caution from buying the smaller, black 18-200, it seems to be a Tamron with a Sony label. There is another 18-200 made by Sony (silver), a bit heavier (2 oz) and thicker, which is sharp. Not sure if we had two bad samples of the black lens but performance was not acceptable. The Sony lens was designed for their high end video cameras and has image stabilization for both still and video, the other just for stills. Price difference is about fifty dollars.
First lens to buy would be the 18-200 and then you go according to need. I want fast lenses for low light so we went with the Zeiss 24 1.8, Sony 50 1.8 and Sony 10-18, f 4.0. The 24 is the crowning jewel. Michael Reichmann raves about the lens and compares to the Leica Sumilux 24!. One amazing statement, be sure to read his reviews in Luminous Landscape for an eye opener!
The wide angle zoom is amazing, since its image stabilized, producing sharp images at low shutter speeds even hand held. The 50 1.8 is an obvious choice since the cost is not that high and the performance remarkable. My wife and I have tried and shot thousands of images during two trips to the House of the Mouse (Disney) and have been impressed. Some sample images including a couple at a ridiculously high ISO, taken by my wife and I.
Straight out of the camera with no processing Sony 50 1.8 f 1.8 1/100 sec ISO 16,000
Another good lens choice would be Leica. Lenses are small and excellent performers, you set the f stop on the lens so no complicated adapter is needed .. they are manual focus only, though. For Canon, Nikon etc you need the latest adapter so the camera communicates with the lens, otherwise the lens would default to wide open.
One safe way to try out this camera would be renting. Lots of places to rent online for very little and there is nothing like a hands on experience. First, download the online manual, to be familiar before the camera arrives. After trying I know you will not be disappointed.
Sony 10-18mm @10mm, in-camera HDR with 6 Ev range, 3 images, f/22, ISO 1600, tripod mounted. Sony IR remote.