Nov 02

Review: Sony NEX-7

Image Quality: Detail, Dynamic Range and Color

Locked – Sony NEX-7 with Zeiss 24mm f/1.8

If there is one thing the NEX-7 has going for it, it’s image quality, especially low ISO image quality. The APS-C sensor in the NEX-7 is among the best APS-C sensors out there, and packs 24 megapixels into its circuitry. The NEX-7 provides very detailed images with extremely wide dynamic range. Others have tested it at over 13 stops of usable dynamic range in RAW at base ISO, and my shooting bears that out. Basically, you can shoot in most any condition, and you’ll be able to retain detail in the shadows and highlights.

The NEX-7’s color response is pretty good. While I found JPEG images to be flat, the RAW files are very malleable, and the base color balance is accurate and pleasing. While by default the images aren’t particularly saturated, especially in the greens, I was able to bring out excellent color in Lightroom by boosting the saturation a bit.

I mentioned the detail, and the NEX-7 does indeed provide detailed images. I found that while the JPEG color quality was a little flat, Sony has tuned JPEGs to retain a very high level of detail. In RAW, you can get even more detail out of the images, though it does seem the NEX-7 has a moderately strong anti-aliasing filter, so the resolution advantage over 16 megapixel cameras isn’t quite as large as I might have expected.

Image Quality – Noise

Seamstress – Sony NEX-7 with Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 @ ISO 1600

While the NEX-7 contains a good sized APS-C sensor, there are a lot of pixels crammed into the sensor, so noise has the potential to be worse at the pixel level than the lower megapixel NEX cameras. Indeed, tests seem to show that a camera like the NEX-5N retains a pixel level advantage over the NEX-7 in the noise department. That said, the higher resolution will offset some of that higher per-pixel noise, and indeed, the NEX-7 has very fine high ISO capability.

At low ISO, the NEX-7 does a very nice job controlling noise. While there is still a very slight amount of noise in clear blue skies, it’s very well controlled, and better controlled than any of the Micro 4/3 cameras. At high ISO, noise remains well controlled. Images are extremely usable up through ISO 1600 for most any use, and even ISO 3200 and 6400 are plenty good enough for 8×10″ or 11×14″ prints. At ISO 12,800 and 16,000, a magenta cast creeps into the images, and noise becomes objectionable, but could still be usable in a pinch or for small prints.

Next: Conclusion and Image Samples

About the author

Jordan Steele

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


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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..


  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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