Sony NEX 7 Review

Sony NEX 7

Overview

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.

Ethics Statement

I purchase most of my equipment from the wonderful B&H Photo. This and all of the reviews on this website are done from my own personal experiences – in other words, I don’t do paid reviews. This allows me to be honest with the reviews that I do. They are of course, my opinions but hopefully they will help you become better informed about cameras that we discuss. If you do decide you want to order a Sony NEX 7, you can help the site by using the affiliate links on this page. You don’t have to use them, but you can help the site out by doing so which allows me to bring you more reviews, podcast episodes and content.

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:

Pros:

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…

Cons:

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.

Conclusion

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.

Specifications:

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

On Flickr:

Sony NEX 7 - Flickr 1

Sony NEX 7 - Flickr 2

Sony NEX 7 - Flickr 3

Sony NEX 7 - Flickr 4

Comments

  1. mike says

    Hi Ted,
    I have been using the Nex 7 for well over a year now. Yes it does take time to get used to it and it’s like driving a computer rather than a camera. I have found that my Canon DSLR is getting used less and less and I use the Nex 7 more as time goes on. One thing that really ‘floats my boat’ is the focus peaking which allows you to see depth of field, if its red its in focus.

    • says

      Hey Mike – I totally agree. I’m seriously impressed with this camera. I bought it to see how it would handle video. I’m blown away… seriously nice looking footage. Its almost amazing it looks so good when you’ve only seen it thru the weird electronic viewfinders.

      The icing on the cake is the size. Its an amazing camera without all the weight!

  2. says

    Hi Ted – Ive been following you for a number of years now and have found a lot of your information really useful and well presented. Im on the pinhole side of things and was looking at the NEX 6 for a digital camera for exactly the same reasons you like the NEX7 (i dont have a digital camera at the moment and with ageing eyesight – the focus peaking ticks the box). Im not sure if you’ve looked at the NEX 6 as well, but was wondering if you are aware of the differences between the 2 or if it is just a matter of hopping on board with whichever feels best?

    Cheers
    Kevin

  3. says

    I’ve been using mirror less cameras since Fuji released their XPro1. I had the micro 4/3 line a little longer, but for me the sensor on m4/3 is just a bit too small. I completely switched from my dslr cameras. I have both nex7 and nex6 and the Fuji, but I use the Sony more since I have a few old pentax lenses which work better with the Sony. As Kevin was asking, the big difference between nex7 and nex6 is that nex6 has two modes of focus. Regular contrast detection and phase detection. This allows for faster and more accurate autofocus in different conditions. Plus the nex6 has built in WiFi, and ability to run custom applications which you can by from Sony. Like a time lapse app which allows for easy setup of time lapse movies. But… There is a but… Nex7 had a 24mpix sensor and nex6 is 16. Both cameras are wonderful and I would not switch to a dslr ever again.

  4. Josh says

    So everyone is aware, only the bottom two photos are from a NEX7. The top is from a PEN and the night shot is from a Fuji. Good review of a great camera.

  5. Graham says

    I know it s off topic but can anyone tell me the village in the snow is or what it is called ?

  6. Kevin S says

    I am also very impressed with the Nex 7. I have been a dedicated SLR and then DSLR user for many years. This past year, I sold my Nikon D200 and bought the D800 with the 24-70 2.8 lens (already owned the 80-200, 105 macro, 20 mm, and so on). Anyway, my buddy had the Sony Nex 7 with the 50mm lens. I set both cameras on tripods, set my 24-70 to 50mm focal length, with all other factors being equal (shot in jpg, same ISO, same shutter speed and aperture, same white balance, etc).

    To my surprise the Sony Nex 7 out peformed the Nikon, even with its “pro” lens. The images were from the Sony were sharper, better color, and just looked better overall. The D800 cost me about 2,300 and the lens about 1,700, so roughly 4,000. For 1,850 I can get the Sony with the kit lens and for 3-400 more can get one of the prime, fast 1.8 lenses.

    So, now to my question – should I buy the Sony Nex 7 or wait for its replacement. I have been lurking for some time but there is still no solid information about when it will come out and what features it will have. One thing I like about the Nex 7 is its compact size and I have heard the replacement will be slightly larger and heavier. Not a huge big deal but sort of a bummer as I plan to use this camera as a carry around and will still likely use my bohemeth Nikon set up when I got on serious photo workshops or shoots. I guess I might be able to pick up a Nex 7 relatively cheap once the replacement comes out, but then again when it does I am probably going to want that!

    Any opinions about the Sony Nex 7 and its replacement are welcome.

    • david k says

      If it were me, I would wait for the new Nex7. I’ve heard people are already shooting it and someone supposedly posted photos on Facebook and took them down. Look at the features list on the Nex6 to get an idea of what might be on the Nex7. The old Nex7 sensor is already bigger than the Nex6, I’ve heard rumors of 6000 x 4000 resolution.

      I hope the new Nex7 is more “durable”. The rubber on one of mine is starting to come off. The LCD screen scratches easily. And, I only use mine several times a year (but heavily during those times).

      I just shot over 2 weeks of video with 2 Nex7’s and a VG30. BTW: I used the big motorized lens of the VG30 on the Nex7 and it worked fine with the servo zoom. I carried the VG30 because I often got the overheating indicator when shooting video with the Nex7 especially on a hot sunny day.

      • Ted Forbes says

        I’m with you David – they need to fix a few things with the NEX7. It makes lovely images and beautiful video, but it requires a lot of working with the camera on its terms.

  7. says

    I have had the NEX 7 for over a year and like but don’t love it. Autofocus is slow. It does not focus very fast and that makes it poor for fast moving children and sports. The best way to use it for action is manual focus. Set the AF/AE button to toggle. Then preset the focus and fire away.
    It is a perfect solution for travel and landscape work where speed is not important. I take it everywhere. My DSLR is reserved for action and portraits.

  8. says

    Keep in mind again that all Sony shots were resized to 16MP before getting the crop. Also, I let each camera choose their white balance and exposure as this is how most will shoot them. Finally, the Fuji told me it locked focus each time but every shot was out of focus somewhat and/or soft. Also, the Fuji tends to overexpose as you can see in the below examples. Again, this is a test showing ISO and exposure of each camera. I just set the lenses to f/2 on each and fired the shot after focus was locked

  9. says

    When Sony first introduced its range of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras in May 2010, the company was very clear about who it thought would buy the NEX-5 and its near-identical-twin NEX-3. Small cameras with APS-C sensors, we were told, would appeal to compact camera users who wanted to upgrade but would be intimidated by the bulk and perceived complexity of an SLR. The cameras were a sales success (especially in Japan), and their influence on this sector of the market has become increasingly clear, with Olympus’s PEN E-PL3 paying extensive homage to their key design features, and Panasonic stripping-down its GF line from the enthusiast-friendly DMC-GF1 to the distinctly beginner-orientated