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Nov 02

Review: Sony NEX-7

Operation and Menus

Sony NEX-7 – Rear

I found the NEX-7 to be a relatively well-thought out camera with regards to the controls and operation, though there were a few quirks. The dials and some buttons are programmable, allowing you to set up the camera to operate how you’d like them to operate. Because of the well laid out controls and the flexibility in button customization, the camera can be set up to the photographer’s liking.

The menu system is broken down into six main menu sections, though sometimes settings weren’t in the section you’d expect, and the individual sections are LONG, with many, many options to scroll through. This can make things a little daunting when trying to find a setting you want to change. Overall, though, there weren’t any major issues with the menu system.

One thing that I did find a little jarring was the lack of a touch screen. While touch screens are somewhat newer additions to cameras, after using them extensively on my Micro 4/3 cameras for the past two years, it was a little hard to remember that I couldn’t set focus points by simply touching on the screen. While these touch features are very welcome, and I enjoy having them, once I got over that fact and became comfortable with the camera, it wasn’t really an issue. However, I think that it would be wise of Sony to add this functionality to future cameras.

Screen and Viewfinder

NEX-7 Rear Screen in Dim Light

The rear screen and viewfinder for the NEX are both high quality and high resolution. There is a proximity sensor that will switch to the EVF when the camera is raised to your face, and it works well, though it’s not perfect. While the sensor on the Olympus OM-D is too sensitive, and often switches when holding the camera at waist level for shooting, the one in the NEX-7 is not quite sensitive enough, and you really need your eye in good position before the switch occurs. As a result, there is a small delay when the camera switches to the EVF.

In good light, the EVF is beautiful. It’s very high resolution and is quite sharp. It can have a little too much contrast, however, and in high contrast scenes, blacks will block up pretty easily. However, it’s merely a cosmetic issue, as you can still easily frame and focus your shots. In good light, it’s among the best EVFs available. However, in dim light, both the EVF and rear screen will become quite noisy and moderately laggy. You can see the noise visible in a low light situation by clicking on the image above, showing the rear screen of the NEX-7.

Focus Peaking

One awesome feature of the NEX-7 is focus peaking. This is especially helpful for users of adapted manual focus lenses, as it highlights the in-focus areas of the image in a color of your choice. I chose yellow, as it stood out enough to be noticed, but wasn’t distracting to me when composing an image. You can also select white or red. (Clicking on the screen image in the previous section, you can see the focus peaking display on the edges of the chair)

I found the focus peaking mode to work relatively well, and it was especially helpful on more distant subjects. It certainly works better with higher contrast lenses, especially in portraiture. I found shooting something like my Hexanon 57mm f/1.2 wide open didn’t provide enough contrast in portraits to allow for the focus peaking to work well. However, in those situations, the EVF was clear enough to allow for accurate manual focus regardless. This should be in every EVF equipped camera. Period.

Performance

The NEX-7 is a responsive camera. The camera starts up quickly and operates quickly as well. Shutter lag is nearly non-existent, with near instantaneous shutter response once the button is pressed. The camera is capable of shooting at 10 frames per second when locking focus beforehand, and 3.7 fps when continually focusing, however, like all cameras using contrast-detect autofocus, the continuous autofocus left a little to be desired.

Autofocus performance in single shot was quite nice, though I only had the 24mm to test. While not quite as quick as some of the fastest mirrorless cameras around, it’s certainly fast enough for most anything. The camera locked focus surely and accurately.

However, there is one big failure of the NEX-7′s autofocus system. In any sort of low light, the camera will switch off single point autofocus and revert to full area AF. So, instead of focusing on a single point, it will choose something to be in focus over the entire frame. This happens at, in my opinion, a ridiculously bright level: EV 5. That is, f/1.8, ISO 1600 and 1/125s (or whatever combination of that exposure). This is NOT that dim of a condition, and is frankly about the level of a typical room in my home at night. After further research, it appears that you can avoid this by turning off the AF assist light at the expense of AF speed. Still, this is a very baffling design decision that is unnecessary. Given the good high ISO performance of this camera, it is strange to me that they would hamper the autofocus in dimmer light like this.

Flash

Unfortunately, I failed to test the built-in pop-up flash. I tend to use flash with portrait type subjects, which demand softer light from bounced flash, and it completely slipped my mind to test the pop-up flash for this review. Since the camera is now back at Lens Rentals, I can’t retroactively test it. However, it brings up another point:

The NEX-7 contains a proprietary Sony hotshoe. As I don’t have any Sony flashes, I also couldn’t test the hotshoe, or take images with the NEX even using my manual flashes. It is a very odd decision in my opinion to have a proprietary hotshoe on a camera of this caliber…it eliminates everything but Sony accessories, including my wireless flash triggers and manual flashes. Luckily, the newer NEX-6 has replaced the Sony hotshoe with a standard center-fire hotshoe. I would assume that any future NEX cameras will have the standard shoe.

Next: Image Quality

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

7 comments

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  1. Visa Jokelainen

    In case you haven’t seen this, it’s possible to have ugly but functional focus peaking on E-M5 too. Just put art filter 11 to a Myset and set Fn1 to activate it. Just did this a couple of days ago. Works like a charm!

  2. Joel

    Nice review. However I’d like to make a few comments as a long-term NEX-7 user:

    - I’ve not seen the AF switching behaviour in low light that you mention. I’ve just tried single and flexible spot AF on the 18-55mm kit lens and the Sigma 19mm/2.8 in low light (about EV2) and it stays single point and does not switch area AF. Which firmware version were you using? My tests were done with v1.01. Did you have the AF assist light turned on?

    - The look of the EVF is controlled by the Creative Styles settings. To lift the blacks and decrease contrast, you can change it to Portrait style and -3 contrast giving a flatter preview.

    - I’ve been using cheap adapters from the iISO to ISO flash mount for years. I have no problems with using conventional flash accessories (radio triggers etc.). Amazon or eBay have these for just a few bucks, it’s easy to get several and have one in every camera bag. Personally, the iISO flash mount is mechanically superior to the ISO hotshoe, quick and easy to mount and dismount, one-handed operation, positive locking without having to turn any levers or turn screws, and push-button unlocking. It’s a shame other manufacturers are still relying on a mechanical “solution” little different from the 1913 Ur-Leica. Herbert Keppler wrote an article about the flash show http://keppler.popphoto.com/blog/2007/01/shoe_fetish.html which has a bit of history of the flash shoe.

    - I love the grip of the NEX-7. I find it secure and adaptable in hold, especially when used one handed (I use it in all sorts of positions when doing candid/street photography). This is of course an individual preference, I have medium-small hands but I have no problems with the grip of a D300 either.

    - If you’re left eyed, then the position of the EVF allows either the nose (landscape) or forehead (portrait with grip up) to brace the camera.

    The NEX-7 isn’t perfect (AF could be improved, low light a little less noisy, menus could be streamlined, at least they fixed the video button in the latest firmware) but I think it’d does enough things well to make it a great photographic tool. For me, it does double duty as a landscape camera (the dynamic range is simply invaluable here) and as a street shooter (the small unimposing size and focus peaking is great).

    1. Jordan Steele

      Thanks for your thoughts. My feeling on the grip is, of course, personal preference. It just never felt right to me.

      The AF behavior was very reproducible for me. DPReview also noted this behavior: “One weak point of the NEX-7′s AF system is when used indoors under artificial lighting, which tends to present a tricky combination of low light and relatively low contrast. At this point focus speed drops right down, and the camera has a tendency to fall back on its ‘large green rectangle’ mode – in essence analyzing almost all of the frame to acquire focus. ”

      However, it appears from further research that this doesn’t occur when the AF assist light is off. As I don’t generally turn this feature off in any in my cameras, I didn’t do it here. I have updated the review accordingly.

      While the hotshoe may be a good design, using an adapter is a kludgy solution, and nearly every flashgun made since about 1970, and many even before that, use the standard ISO hotshoe, so it would still be my preference to have that. Sony seems to agree, since with the NEX-6, they’ve switched.

      I did lower the contrast for the EVF. It’s a good EVF, and is the best I’ve used in some respects, and not as good in others.

  3. andy

    I’ll second the observation that without the AF light on there is no switchover in the AF under low light.

    As a photographer interested in a quick, unobtrusive camera, I was interested in the NEX-7 when it came out but initially turned off by the aggressive pricing and lack of lenses. I was shooting M4/3 at the time, which had lenses but in 12MP incarnation, the files were marginally good at lower light and lacked dynamic range, badly. I know the 16MP version is better, and the GX1 was pretty good, but I won’t work well with clip on viewfinders.

    I picked up a used NEX-7 and a kit lens and a Sigma 30/2.8 for probably the same price as a OM-D body. My main worry was whether the AF was good enough, as I had seen some harping on that from reviewers. I also read how the menu system was a mess and all about the video button.

    With a bit of surprise, I found the NEX-7 to be quite quick, certainly fast enough to shoot candids, and a real ergonomic pleasure. You can program it to have every essential, and some non-essential functions at your fingertips, so menu diving is almost never necessary. The EVF is excellent, as the previous commenter mentioned, once you reduce contrast. I can’t think of a camera that lets me adjust exposure, F stop, shutter, ISO, focus mode, etc., without taking my eye away from the VF unless you go to high-end DSLR’s.

    Focus peaking is nice, but another surprise is how effectively it can be set up to check AF focus and override it. You can set the AF/MF button to trigger MF, focus with AF and by touching slighly the focus ring have instant magnification and override. Tapping the shutter button brings back the original VF view. It’s very fast and intuitive.

    Finally, small point that those of us who do a lot of street shooting will appreciate. You can turn off the LCD and operate with only the EVF. The Panasonic GF1 let you do that, the GX1 did not. For less conspicuous nightime shooting, it’s a real bonus.

    As far as IQ goes, the sensor is just about as good as it gets. People have disparaged the kit lens, which you can get ridiculously cheaply for about $150 (in beautiful black), but miss a bit of the point. The NEX fixes the CA and distortion pretty well by software (I can’t find any when looking at files in Aperture), and whether or not resolution is ideal (it may not be any better or worse than other kit lenses), all the sensor’s DR goodness is fully resolved by the kit lens. It is simply a nicer file than anything I’ve ever seen from a M4/3.

    All in all, a real winner.

  4. David DeBar

    Thank you for the review Jordan. I was particularly interested how well your Konica 57 f/1.2 lens worked with the camera, as I have that lens and consider it the best lens of all time. After reading your review I’m holding off and waiting for the full frame version. Hopefully by then they will have the auto-focus improved. I expect we will get even better use out of old legacy glass on the full frame version.

  5. Alan

    Thanks for the review, I’ve yet to find one of these in the shops and I have to buy much of my gear on lineso I’d like to ask a question please…

    How is the EVF when shooting at night?

    My current G1′s EVF is fine in low light but in very low light and nightime the EVF kicks out a lot of light and acts like a torch shining directly into my eye. It’s so uncomfortable that I can’t use it for more than a few shots, plus the EVF blacks out in very low light and fails to displays things that can be seen by eye.

    If Jordan or anyone has anyone used a Nex 7 or 6 for nightime shooting I’d appreciate any thoughts on these two points as if I go for one of these I’ll probably have to buy it online..

    Thanks.

  6. asha

    Please. Let me know in what settings to photograph, to get clear photographs in low light, using next with the kit lense.

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