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How did we even get here? If you'd told us in 2010 that Sony and Samung would, in two years, be vying for top honors in the now-exploding mirrorless interchangeable lens camera market, we wouldn't have believed it. Nevertheless, both have had a meteoric rise in this space, especially the latecomer Samsung, and they now hoping to dethrone Sony's powerful NEX-7 with their most expensive, most ambitious camera ever: the NX20.
The two cameras traded wins back and forth over the course of our testing procedure. The NEX-7 has slightly better color accuracy, but the NX20 has slightly lower noise. The NEX-7 has better white balance, but the NX20 has less chromatic aberration. And so on.
This continues until we hit dynamic range. Although both cameras are capable of outstanding dynamic range, and the NX20 actually has superior range at low ISOs, the NEX-7 carries its strong performance into the mid and upper ISOs, resulting in a better score for this test. That's the key difference between these two cameras and it's the reason we consider the NEX-7 a better camera for overall image quality.
You may be tempted to point out the NEX-7's higher megapixel count, which tops out at a whopping 24.3. That's a good point, however the NX20's kit lens is far sharper than the NEX-7's, and earned a much better score. So overall resolution of detail, despite the extra megapixels, is more or less the same across both models.
Winner: Sony alpha NEX-7
Features & User Experience
With almost identical image quality, fans of the NEX-7 will be happy to know that the extra cost of this camera (it's $250 more than the NX20) has been spent on control and convenience features. The NEX-7 is capable of ten frames per second burst speeds, compared to the NX20's eight, and although both menu interfaces offer extensive control, the NEX-7's is a little faster and more responsive. The NX20 does feature more "just for fun" options, like filters and effects, so if you plan to divide usage time between an enthusiast and, say, a younger budding photographer, this could be a consideration.
Both bodies have solid ergonomics, so we awarded them the same handling score, though we think most people would choose the NX20's rounded corners if they had to. Both cameras have convenient electronic viewfinders, each with have a few minor performance issues, however the NX20's swing-out AMOLED display is more useful than the NEX-7's tilting panel. We also noticed some minor focus problems with the NEX-7, while the NX20 fell victim to fewer such issues.
Ultimately the NEX-7 feels like a slightly more "serious" camera, given the hardware, interface, and continuous shot capability; excepting the focus issue.
Winner: Sony alpha NEX-7
Given that the NEX-7 took both sections of this review, one might assume this wasn't a close call. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's hard to imagine two more closely related, closely competitive cameras, including even the Samsung NX200 which borrows the very shape of NEX bodies.
Sony's NEX-7 is the better overall camera but only by the narrowest of margins and only if your shooting behavior is suited to it. The NEX-7 is stronger in low light and better for action, however the kit lens is no match for the NX20's incredible sharpness, so frequent portrait or landscape shooters should go with Samsung instead. Both are exceptional cameras and represent the two best mirrorless system cams of the year. For you, this decision should come down to whether or not your style of photography requires the NEX-7's extra expense.
Overall Winner: Sony alpha NEX-7