Sony Alpha NEX-7 review
A delight to use with outstanding photo and video quality – and a price to match
Review Date: 1 Feb 2012
Reviewed By: Ben Pitt
Price when reviewed: £941 (£1,129 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
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.
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.
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.
"Higher-resolution sensors usually capture more detail at the expense of more noise"
Shoot in RAW and you'll see the noise. The camera is doing a lot to the JPEG output in order to process out the noise.
Having looked at full sized (6000 x 4000) images on the Photography Blog, I'm not overly impressed with the supplied 18-55mm lens. Somewhat soft without post-production sharpening and not stunning afterwards.
As Photography Blog themselves put it:
"Although the supplied 18-55mm kit lens is a competent enough performer, there just aren't enough premium lenses in Sony's current E-system line-up to match the sheer performance of the NEX-7 - the Carl Zeiss 24mm f/1.4 and Sony 50mm F/1.8 spring most readily to mind, but the former costs almost as much as the NEX-7 itself."
By Lacrobat on 1 Feb 2012
Ben, would you be able to comment on the camera's autofocus tracking of moving subjects, and of the amount of lag in the electronic viewfinder when panning to follow fast moving subjects. Does the viewfinder black out, and can it continue to track focus, when shooting at 10fps?
These things have stopped me recommending mirrorless EVF cameras in the past.
By Mark_Thompson on 1 Feb 2012
I don't have the camera in front of me now, but I would say that autofocus on the NEX-7 isn't really cut out for tracking moving subjects. There is a track focus option that's reasonably swift at tracking the *location* of a subject in the frame, but the relatively slow autofocus makes refocusing on moving subjects pretty tricky.
The 10fps burst shooting mode only focuses once before the first shot. Burst shooting with continuous autofocus is possible (by selecting the slower burst mode and CAF elsewhere) but it runs at 1.4fps – and even slower in low light or if lots of AF adjustments are necessary.
The screen blacks out momentarily for each shot during 10fps shooting and it's freeze-frame between each shot, but as the burst speed slows – or when a slower burst speed is selected, there's live view between shots.
By benpitt on 1 Feb 2012
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