Sony Alpha NEX-7 review

1 Feb 2012

A delight to use with outstanding photo and video quality – and a price to match

Price when reviewed 
1,129
4

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally beginning to see compact cameras that are every bit as good as digital SLRs. The journey started with Panasonic and Olympus’ Micro Four Thirds system, followed by rival compact system cameras from Samsung, Sony, Pentax and Nikon. However, we’ve yet to see one that excels across the board.

Sony is leaving nothing to chance with the NEX-7. Not content to reuse the stunning 16-megapixel sensor from the NEX-C3 and 5N, it has fitted the NEX-7 with a 24-megapixel sensor – the highest currently available in the APS-C sensor format. Its electronic viewfinder is as good as they come, with a 2,359kpixel resolution providing a big, sharp picture that outperforms many SLRs’ optical viewfinders.

Sony Alpha NEX-7 - front

Frustratingly, it isn’t possible to enable Auto Review (for inspecting shots directly after capture) on the screen but not in the viewfinder, but we do like how the viewfinder and screen can be set to show different information. The camera’s screen is good too: a 3in wide aspect LCD with a sharp 921.6kpixel resolution, with the only disappointment that it isn’t a touchscreen, a feature that comes in handy for adjusting the autofocus point.

Otherwise, the NEX-7’s controls are extremely impressive. With two dials on the top plate and another on the back of the camera, there’s direct access to shutter speed, aperture and ISO speed. This has a profound effect to the fluidity and control, allowing you to concentrate on the photo rather than the camera.

There’s more, too. In priority and program modes, the dials are reassigned to exposure compensation and program shift as necessary. A button next to the shutter release cycles the dials through a range of other customisable functions. And, with more customisable buttons on the back of the camera, it’s possible to put all photographic settings within easy reach, from flash compensation to white balance adjustment.

The NEX-7 comes top of the class for image quality – at least as far as its sensor is concerned. Higher-resolution sensors usually capture more detail at the expense of more noise, but this one excelled for both detail and noise in low-light tests. The 16-megapixel NEX-C3 delivered slightly cleaner photos at ISO 6400 and above, but the NEX-7 wasn’t far behind, and well ahead of other brands of compact system camera.

Sony Alpha NEX-7 - rear

At lower ISO speeds, the NEX-7’s huge resolution delivered on its promises to capture stunningly detailed shots. Automatic settings gave dependably good results, and while we’d have liked some customisation of the Auto ISO mode, most users will be happy to adjust settings manually. It’s well worth reducing the noise reduction strength, or shooting RAW, to maintain subtler textures.

The video mode is outstanding, with crisp details, flattering colours and the lowest noise of any stills or video camera we’ve seen. The manual controls for photos work seamlessly for videos, too, and AVCHD encoding at 25p, 50i or 50p, plus a microphone socket, make this a prime candidate for serious use.

Details

Price ex VAT £941
Price inc VAT £1,129
Overall rating 4
Performance 4
Features & Design 6
Image quality 5
Value for Money 3

Basic specifications

Camera megapixel rating 24.0mp
Camera screen size 3.0in
Camera optical zoom range 3x
Camera maximum resolution 6000 x 4000
Camera optical image stabilisation in kit lens

Weight and dimensions

Weight 544g
Dimensions 119 x 106 x 66mm (WDH)

Battery

Battery type included Lithium-ion
Battery life (CIPA standard) 335 shots
Charger included? yes

Other specifications

Built-in flash? yes
Aperture range f3.5 - f5.6
Camera minimum focus distance 25.00m
Shortest focal length (35mm equivalent) 27
Longest focal length (35mm equivalent) 83
Minimum (fastest) shutter speed 1/4,000
Maximum (slowest) shutter speed 30s
Bulb exposure mode? yes
RAW recording mode? yes
Exposure compensation range +/- 5EV
ISO range 100 - 16000
Selectable white balance settings? yes
Manual/user preset white balane? yes
Progam auto mode? yes
Shutter priority mode? yes
Aperture priority mode? yes
Fully auto mode? yes
Burst frame rate 10.0fps
Exposure bracketing? yes
White-balance bracketing? no
Memory-card type SDHC, SDXC, Memory Stick Duo. Pro Duo
Viewfinder coverage 100%
LCD resolution 922k
Secondary LCD display? no
Video/TV output? no
Body construction Magnesium Alloy
Tripod mounting thread? yes
Data connector type Mini-USB

Manual, software and accessories

Full printed manual? no
Software supplied Picture Motion Browser, Image Data Lightbox SR, Image Data Converter SR
Accessories supplied N/A