The Sony NEX 7 represents a new generation of mirror-less cameras. This is the 3rd camera in this series to be released and the 8th model at that, but Sony are obviously dedicated to this system investing in what one day could possibly re-define what a professional camera is. Is the Sony NEX 7 capable of fabulous stills and video? Yes – the results are impressive and outstanding. And the camera offers some flexibility and features that you can’t get with other systems. Is it natural and easy to use? Well, sort of. The lack of a mirror places you at the mercy of the LCD screen and OLED viewfinder. Not natural at all. If you can get used to this unnatural way of shooting, you will get some amazing results. In fact I’ll go on a limb and say the image quality is so good for a camera so small that its completely worth the hassle of learning to shoot with it.
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So what is the Sony NEX 7?
The NEX series is Sony’s offering to the new breed of mirror-less cameras. Mirror-less cameras are designed to monitor off the sensor to an electronic viewfinder or live-view screen. They don’t physically use a reflex system of mirrors for framing up the image. This design allows the camera to be built much smaller than a DSLR. Mirror-less cameras include the NEX line from Sony, Micro 4/3 cameras such as the Olympus PEN series (see the Olympus PEN E-P5), various offerings from Nikon and Canon and others.
The best way to think of it is a point-and-shoot camera with interchangeable lenses and DSLR image quality. The video capabilities are outstanding as well and what’s particularly exciting is the size. These cameras are just about pocket cameras. They are light, they handle well and are amazingly ergonomic.
So what does this mean in terms of features? For me its the ability to choose just about any lens you can find an adaptor for. Sony uses their own proprietary e-mount system which is very similar to Micro 4/3. They have a small line-up of exceptionally well designed lenses that are getting some rave reviews. I’ve only used the kit lens, but it is fantastic to say the least (more on that in a minute). But I have a few adaptors that allow me to use my old screw-mount M39 lenses, my old Canon FD lenses, my Canon EF lenses and my Nikon F lenses. Of course using an adaptor means you’re going to loose a little functionality, in particular auto-focus. But as I use alternate lenses for video this is not a big deal. Even for stills, the Sony Nex 7 has a function for showing regions in focus using a red color – this acts as a nice focus assist. Sony calls this “peaking” and you can select the accent colors to be white, red or yellow. I actually think this is better than using the auto focus modes as its much faster and way more intuitive than what’s built into the camera for the most part. I’m particularly excited about being able to give a new life to my old Canon FD mount lenses as they are amazing quality. You do have a crop factor so the focal lengths are different than their original intention, but they are very usable.
In order to use non-e-mount lenses that require an adaptor, you will need to disable some of the auto lens functions and enable the ability to release the shutter without a lens attached, but it works beautifully. For me, this ability to use any lens you can find an adaptor for makes this camera an amazing tool.
Do I Need a Mirrorless Camera?
There has been some controversy and a little bit of debate over this in the last year or two. Is there a place in your life for this type of camera? Do you need one? Is it really a game changer?
First lets establish as I said above that the Sony NEX 7 makes fantastic images. Seriously, the optical quality is outstanding. The color and detail are amazing and it performs as well in low light as the Canon 5D mk II, the Nikon D7100 and a few others. In fact in some cases I think it might even out perform them.
So given that I think highly of the quality – here’s some pros and cons:
1) This camera is a great size. Its a tiny body built around a sensor. Its sooooo compact. There’s an almost “sharper image” vibe to the whole thing as it really is a dream size. Its discrete and quiet.
2) Its versatile – you can use a wide range of lenses with this. Anything you can find an adaptor for will work.
3) The kit lens is really, really good. And its only $150 when you get it with the camera.
4) The fact that a camera this size can make such amazing stills AND video… this really is a dream.
5) Just about every knob and button is customizable and I love the fact that you can assign the 2 dials on the top of the camera.
And now for the bad news…
1) The screen and OLED viewfinder are mediocre. In bright light they are okay, but its still like watching a video. I can shoot video this way, but it bugs the hell out of me to do stills this way. In low light its excruciating with all of the digital noise and color crap buzzing around the screens. Its not on the same feed as what the camera is seeing. I can see why its designed like this, but its frustrating.
2) Battery life. Its just okay. I think you should get way more out of a camera these days, but when you’re constantly having to have “live view” on to use the camera, I understand.
3) The interface is nice, but its a little fiddly. Takes a little getting used to if you’re used to a DSLR. The help menus are on by default and you can’t see the options to turn it off because they’re covered with text. The UI prettier than Nikons and Canons, but needs some more refinement.
4) No custom presets. The amount of customization is crazy, but there’s no way to store and recall different setups.
5) Slow responsiveness due to the design. This thing is a point-and-shoot on steroids. Its slow just in how its set up. A DSLR is part of your body when its connected to your eye – your hands place themselves on buttons so you can change focus points and other quick tasks. This camera is not that. If you shoot sports or anything fast moving forget it. This will frustrate you.
6) ISO for video tops out at 3200. Stills go all the way up to 16,000. Not sure why video is capped.
Is This My Next Camera?
I bought this for the video functionality and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of stills. I’m very happy having purchased the camera. The price is good as well and its worth every penny.
If you need a DSLR because you need serious autofocus and speed for stills, you probably won’t like this.
However if you do landscapes, portraits, still life and other set up shots you’ll be very amazed.
Is the Sony NEX 7 a game changer? I think so. Is it perfect? Not yet. One day technology will catch up and these mirrorless cameras will have a place in anyone’s camera bag. For now they are only fantastic if you are willing to put up with the few shortcomings. I am so it works great for me. Does it replace a DSLR? Not really. But for the money these are strong cameras and definitely worth considering.
The Sony NEX 7 is somewhere between a point and shoot and a smartphone. Its incredibly versatile. It shoots stills and video exceptionally well. I haven’t even gotten to playing around with the panorama modes that look quite interesting. I’ve posted an image found on Flickr below.
If you do video, its essential because of its size. I can shoot on my big bulky cameras for important things and switch to this for “run and gun” b-roll or second camera shots. It gives you 85% of the image quality of my more expensive cameras for 1/5 of the price. Its amazing. You can go do shoots just with this camera and a small bag of lenses, a tripod and optionally a steadicam. You’ll be happy.
Lens Mount: Sony E Mount
Sensor: 24MP APS-C CMOS Sensor (1.5x crop factor)
LCD: 3.0″ LCD
Auto Focus: 25 AF Points
ISO Range: 100-16000 (Extended Mode: 12800)
Shutter: 1/4000 – 30 sec
Frame Speed: up to 10 FPS
Storage: Memory Stick PRO HG Duo, Memory Stick Pro Duo, SD/SDHC/SDXC
Viewfinder: electronic view finder
Video: MPEG-4, AVC/H.264
Video Frame Rates:
1920×1080: 60fps, 25fps, 24fps