Sony NEX-7 – Yeah, it’s really as good as everyone says it is
The Sony NEX-7 has been around for a while, and when I saw it in New York last fall I wasn’t captivated enough by it to give it a deep look. I tried to reach out to Sony, but they seemed uninterested in blogs like mine so I figured I’d focus on the much hyped Nikon 1 V1 and Fujifilm X100. Both of those cameras end up disappointing me, and the eagerly anticipated XPro-1 had brilliant image quality in yet another poorly executed end product. My dream of having everything I loved about the Fujifilm X10, yet with a better sensor had seemed to be an impossible dream.
While I won’t be replacing my X10 just yet, I’m impressed with the Sony NEX-7. I’m still in the camp that if you want a DSLR, get a great DSLR from Canon or Nikon, but if you want a compact camera then get X10. However, The NEX-7 is the camera I’d easily recommend over the Nikon 1 V1 (and J1), X100, XPro-1, and the Canon G1X.
Living with the NEX-7
Well laid out, but not has handy as you might think at first glance
While the NEX-7 isn’t as big as a full-blown DSLR, it’s big enough that it’s not going to drop in the door pocket of my SUV like some of the other cameras I’ve tested. The lenses are proper lenses, not some tiny pieces of junk like those found on the Nikon 1 V1.
The unit I tested also had the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens which surprised me with the fact that it didn’t suck like most kit lenses typically do. It seems to be well made with reasonable optics (not great, but usable) and features a very usable minimum focus distance. I also had the 50mm f/1.8 which cost the same as the zoom, but was much more frustrating to use due to its longer minimum focus distance (15.3 vs 9.84”). If I were buying one of these for myself, I’d definitely go for the zoom and pass on the 50mm. Here’s a sample image taken with both the 50mm and 18-55mm @ 50mm (both at f/5.0):
Controls & OLED Display
The grip, buttons and knobs are first class – no cheap feeling at all
This camera features an excellent grip and a very usable OLED display in the rear. I expected to be blown away by the OLED display, but I wasn’t. Perhaps I’ve become desensitized after staring at the new iPad display, but I didn’t perceive it to be any better in real-world use over the LCD’s in the latest Nikon and Canon cameras, nor was it to super to the Fujifilm cameras I’ve used. The controls have a good solid feel, but like many cameras in this class it’s lacking the controls I want where I need them, so often you are cycling through menus or buttons to get to what you need. This really hampers reactionary work, so this is definitely not a camera I would recommend to a photo journalist looking to downsize to something more discrete.
I found the pop-up flash to be just as useless as most point and shoots, despite its interesting design. It still doesn’t go high enough to clear the hood on the zoom lens, and it’s a tiny nuclear bomb of light that hits the target like a laser instead of spreading wide to light the entire scene. Here’s what you can expect in your typical dark restaurant scenario:
Pulling the flash exposure compensation back is a challenge by default, but when you set it to –3EV it gets better but is still pretty hot due to the direct nature of the flash. Here’s an example which admittedly is being impacted by the white hoodie which acts as a reflector here, but you can see on the girl and toddler that the lights not quite as hot:
Just like the Fujifilm X100 and XPro-1, this camera features a LCD viewfinder that matches what you see on the rear. However, it’s not as advanced as the brilliant Fujifilm design which also allows for true optical – there is no optical here. I also found the viewfinder to be frustrating as I’d often get my hand too close to it and end up causing the rear LCD to go black.
A good investment with growth opportunity
What I really like about this camera over the competitors is that Sony has made a great selection of E-Mount products in the NEX lineup that give you room to grow. There’s long, wide-angle, pancake, fisheye, etc… lenses as well as high quality Carl Zeiss lenses like the 24mm f/1.8 Sonnar. This is a platform that grows with you, so you won’t be left out in the cold as easily as I fear will be the case with some of the other manufacturers highly proprietary designs. In fact, if you don’t mind manually focusing, Bower makes an adapter which allows you to mount your Canon EF lenses to the NEX-7.
I found this camera to underexpose by about 1 stop compared to my other cameras so I shot all of these in M(anual) mode at +1 EV. These are all the in-camera JPEG’s with no modification. Click to view the originals for a fair assessment of image quality as artifacts appear in these small thumbnails that do not appear in the original file. I was VERY impressed with the results – this is competitive with any DSLR on the market.
This camera has built-in HDR support (JPEG only and discards exposures). The best it can do is shown above which is quite good, but one frustrating fact is that when you are in HDR mode you can’t use the timer. As a result your finger press can introduce shake that can ruin your long exposure. A remote release or great care is required to avoid camera shake at the start of the first exposure.
Mouse over to see the non-HDR and mouse out to see the HDR Auto version
I found the auto HDR setting to be very conservative, but the auto-alignment was brilliant. Hand-holding was never a problem for reasonable light exposures.
The battery was good for a day which was a big improvement over other non-DSLR cameras I’ve looked at. The performance of the Anti-Blur mode (JPEG only) was outstanding. It’s the mode you use when you are in the dark restaurant or pub and you want to get that family shot. Of course, it doesn’t help you with the the fact that there might not be a lot of light on your subjects faces, but at least your subjects won’t be hopelessly blurry.
I was impressed with image quality with the kit lens and availability of lenses (including third party), I find this to be a good choice for those looking for something smaller than a traditional DSLR – for casual use. I was also pleased with the pano feature which works much like the Fujifilm X10, but is more forgiving and fun to use (click here for samples). Video is also excellent, but sadly I didn’t get much time to test it so I have no meaningful samples to share.
My only real gripe about this camera are the annoying menu system and its lack of quick access to things like white balance and macro mode. I also hated that I didn’t have a easily accessible way to zoom the live view like I would on a DSLR. YES, I can realize I can reprogram buttons but the fact is I don’t see any candidates I’d want to reprogram. I just want more buttons for faster access, and its crappy menu system doesn’t help either.
If you are hell bent on going with a more compact alternative to a DSLR, then I think you’ll be happy with the Sony NEX-7.
Order your NEX-7 today at B&H and help support this blog!
Too expensive for your budget? How about this option…
If the NEX-7 is out of your budget, you might want to consider the NEX-F3 which is on sale now. It’s a fraction of the cost, comes with the excellent 18-55mm lens and is only $598!
The cool thing about the NEX system is that it seems to be well thought out and executed, so you could buy the F3 and then grow into the 7 down the round. Your lens and accessories would still work so you could get the body only for the 7 and you’d be back in business.
Real-World Sample Images
You can find the latest images that I’ve added at http://ronmart.zenfolio.com/nex7 as well as my article entitled “Sony NEX-7 Panorama Images Added”. Here’s a few that I’ve done so far that are worth mentioning. None have any post-processing and all link to their original in-camera JPEG’s:
This is a tough shot because my son is bouncing around like a head banger
Using the Anti-Motion / Blur feature, I stopped him his tracts and got a good clean shot.
That’s very impressive for this price point.
Macro mode was hit or miss. Here’s an example of a miss where the camera made an audible focus lock sound, but the net result was a total fail (which happened a lot):
Another horrible ISO 6400 shot, but the detail on the strawberry is impressive (ISO 1600 version)
I was provided with a loaner unit of this camera and lens which I intend to return. If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission.