Of all the manufacturers pushing interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) onto the market, Sony is definitely making the biggest waves with its NEX range. The NEX-7 is the big brother to all the other NEX models, featuring a black magnesium-alloy body that looks and feels the part of a serious camera.
Design and features
The NEX also has the biggest feature set we've seen so far on an ILC, including a 2.4-million dot resolution OLED electronic viewfinder that sits above a 3-inch tilting screen, not to mention the 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor behind the lens.
Previous NEX cameras have been a little cumbersome to shoot with, thanks to the sparse buttons and dials. Fortunately, the NEX-7 changes this for the better, and offers the best shooting experience of all the NEX system cameras, thanks to the three-dial system — or TriNavi, as Sony calls it. The two dials on the top panel of the camera, as well as a regular wheel at the back, provide an intuitive way to change exposure settings on the fly.
The body itself sits nicely in the hand, with a textured grip offering a comfortable shooting experience — not too big, and not too small. There's also a nice, sturdy camera strap provided in the box, while the kit 18-55mm lens is decked out in black finish to match the body. Over a few days of use, the body and lens did manage to attract some scratches, despite being protected in a bag.
A switch at the back can change between automatic and manual focus or locking the exposure; press the button in the middle of the switch to activate that particular feature. There's also a pop-up flash, which extends nicely over the lens and provides decent coverage with the 18-55mm lens.
While the NEX-5N felt like an incremental upgrade to the NEX line, the 7 is very different on all accounts. It feels like a different camera in all but name, with a more refined shooting experience, a sturdier grip and excellent EVF.
As well as some of the existing colour modes on the NEX cameras, the NEX-7 gets a few new treats to play with, including toy camera, pop colour, posterisation, retro, soft high key, partial colour, high-contrast black and white, soft focus, HDR painting, rich black and white and miniature mode. Like other Sony cameras, there are panorama and 3D sweep panorama modes available.
Just a few of the filters available on the NEX-7: we present to you pop colour, partial colour, black and white and retro.
The NEX-7 uses Sony's E-mount lenses, and can also accept A-mount and third-party lenses with a separate adapter. Connectivity is via mini-HDMI and USB ports to the side of the camera, and there's an external-mic input available. The NEX-7 can accept SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, as well as Memory Stick Pro Duo and Pro-HG cards. A hotshoe completes the external specifications.
|Olympus E-P3||Panasonic Lumix G3||Sony NEX-7||Sony NEX-5N|
|12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor (four thirds type)||16-megapixel Live MOS sensor (four thirds type)||24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS sensor (APS-C size)||16.1-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS sensor (APS-C size)|
|3-inch, 610,000-dot touchscreen OLED||3-inch, 460,000-dot articulating touchscreen LCD||3-inch, 920,000-dot tiltable LCD||3-inch, 921,600-dot touchscreen LCD|
|Full HD video (1080i, 24fps)||Full HD video (1080i, 30fps)||Full HD video (1080p, 25fps)||Full HD video (1080p, 25ps)|
|35-point AF||23-point AF||25-point AF||25-point AF|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- JPEG shot to shot time
- RAW shot to shot time
- Shutter lag
Panasonic Lumix G3
Nikon 1 V1
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed
Nikon 1 V1
Panasonic Lumix G3
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The NEX-7 has two continuous shooting modes: standard and speed priority. Our test above was conducted using the speed-priority mode, where we found that it was able to shoot at a rate of 10 full-resolution JPEG images for approximately 17 frames before slowing to process them. Shooting RAW in continuous mode slows this down considerably, allowing for seven frames to be captured before slowing down.
Sony rates the battery at 430 shots.
On default settings using automatic exposures, photos look excellent, with great colour saturation and very pleasing skin tones. The 18-55mm lens is able to resolve a lot of detail, and sharpness is very good edge to edge — unfortunately, we were not supplied with any other NEX lenses, but can only imagine that results would be even more appealing when using a unit such as the 16mm f/2.8 (not to mention more pocketable as an overall package).
In a surprise turn, the NEX-7 copes very well with keeping noise at bay on its high ISO images. Photos up to ISO 800 are virtually noise free, and right up to the maximum ISO rating it is possible to get a usable shot at reduced resolution, or applying a very small degree of noise reduction in post-processing.
100 per cent crops of high ISO JPEG images produced by the NEX-7, showing incredibly clean results.
Autofocus for stills shooting is quick and mostly accurate, though for any critical shots we suggest reviewing and zooming in on an image to double check that the point of focus is correct. Once or twice, our photos looked OK and in focus on the screen, only to discover that when reviewing them on a PC in a larger format, the point of focus was selected incorrectly by the camera.
Unfortunately, our review camera was not supplied with a copy of the RAW-conversion software that can read the files produced by the NEX-7, and, at the time of writing, Camera RAW has not been updated to read the particular ARW files the camera produces.
100 per cent crop (inset) of an image taken at ISO 160 on the NEX-7.
Video quality is on par with that found on the Sony Alpha range of digital SLRs. Again, like the images, the NEX-7 delivers excellent colours across the video image, and decent sound from the built-in stereo microphone, with ample separation between channels. One issue comes down to the focus selection, which should be set to continuous when filming to ensure that everything is in focus — if only we worked that out before filming our test video below.
Exposure: 1/80, f/5, ISO 1000
Exposure: 1/100, f/4.5, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/100, f/5.6, ISO 320
Exposure: 1/60, f/4, ISO 640
With a few more E-mount lenses up its sleeve, the NEX system is shaping up to be an excellent investment for serious photographers looking at an interchangeable lens camera. The NEX-7 offers the best of everything, from its reasonably compact size to its excellent image quality and fast performance. It's a worthwhile investment, should you have the money to spend.
The NEX-7 retails for AU$1499 as body only, or AU$1699 with an 18-55mm lens. At the time of writing, due to the floods in Thailand, the camera is listed as out of stock on Sony's Australian website, and stock is limited at major photographic retailers.