Yes, this is late. My dog ate my memory card.
No, that's not quite it. Initially, I had difficulty getting a NEX-7. The Thailand floods delayed availability to those not already on a pre-order list in 2011. Coupled with my travels, it wasn't until March 2012 that I actually got a chance to pick one up and start using it. That still doesn't explain the delay in reviewing it, does it?
More so than any camera I've used recently, I've had an ambivalent reaction to the Sony NEX-7, as in "the simultaneous existence of two opposed and conflicting attitudes, emotions, etc." Trying to suss out what exactly was causing that conflict and what to say about it is what's taken me so long.
Aside: you'll see some folk talk about my reviews as biased. Uh, yeah. All reviewers are biased. Indeed, it's usually their bias that you generally seek out, otherwise all you really would want and need is a recitation of facts. This review will not be a recital of facts (though it will contain many). It represents my experience with the camera, and unlike many reviewers you'll meet, I have field experience with an enormous number of cameras. My bias has been and continues to be: can I get great photographic results from what I'm using? If so, how difficult is that to achieve, and how does that compare to other similar products I've used?
Let's preface my main review and comments with the operative hypothesis back in fall 2011 when the NEX-7 was introduced: that this 24mp APS sensor model would produce the best possible results to date from a mirrorless camera. The elements were all there: the 24mp was the highest available resolution (and still is as I write this); the APS size means a large sensor, therefore capable of high dynamic range and low noise (at least compared to a smaller sensor of equal pixel count); the revised NEX controls, particularly the new up-top configurable dials, would answer all the usability issues with previous NEX models; and the top-of-the-line pricing indicated prosumer level, maybe even pro level, build.
In other words, expectations were very high that the NEX-7 would be the be-all, end-all mirrorless camera.
There was one initial fly and another eventual fly in the ointment, though. The initial fly was lenses. Other than the Zeiss 24mm, there didn't seem to be a lens capable of showing us what those 24 million pixels could really achieve when the NEX-7 was introduced. Indeed, in my initial playing with a NEX-5N and NEX-7 both with the Sony 16mm f/2.8, the 24mp NEX-7 really didn't shine over the 16mp NEX-5N. Ditto the 18-55mm kit lens and the 18-200mm lens I had sitting around from my VG-1. Fortunately, new lenses were coming, so I decided not to let those initial disappointments bother me too much.
The second fly was the OM-D EM-5. The February 2012 announcement of that camera pretty much drowned out the early news from NEX-7 purchasers just receiving their cameras after the delays caused by the flood. In the fickle media, a new "high end mirrorless" winner was immediately anointed. Especially considering that Olympus (with Panasonic) had the lenses to go with a high-end camera.
As it turned out, I started seriously using my OM-D and NEX-7 about the same time, on several trips into the American wilderness. My NEX-7 views suffered a bit from this, as I've got a full arsenal of excellent m4/3 lenses, but NEX lenses were still trickling in. My natural gravitation was towards using the camera with the "right lens" for a task, and that tended to be the OM-D.
You might be starting to see some of the reasons for my ambivalence:
- Positive: more pixels is always better, all else equal. In digital, more pixels gives you additional sampling, and the large APS sensor means that we should get excellent performance out of those extra pixels. Even if your lens isn't perfect, you still net gains, just perhaps not as big a gain as you might expect. The NEX-7 also is small and more easily tucked into tight bags (at least if you're not using one of the huge lenses). The controls are indeed better and more flexible than any previous NEX, and I've long enjoyed my NEX-5 with its reduced control set.
- Negative: what lens was I going to use? To put that in perspective, I'm a landscape and wildlife photographer. I want 20-24mm (equivalent) wide angles, I want a good macro lens with decent working distance, and I want a strong telephoto option. As I noted earlier, the 16mm f/2.8 is a weak lens (the Samsung 16mm and Olympus 12mm easily outperform the Sony lens). The Zeiss 24mm isn't wide enough for much of my work. The 30mm macro doesn't have enough working distance for the subjects I tend to photograph. And what's the long telephoto option here?
In short, I wanted to use the positives, but was restricted in doing so by the negatives. Meanwhile, I had no such problem with my OM-D, which made the initial cause of my ambivalence more clear to me.
Basically, I had to do what most NEX enthusiasts have had to: power through the lens disappointment and come to grips with camera as it exists as a system, not as the marketing promise hyped us.
With that as premise in mind, we're ready to proceed.
What is It?
At first glance, the NEX-7 body is a stunningly small and simple statement. For the APS sensor size it uses, the NEX-7 somehow manages to be smaller than a lot of other mirrorless cameras, even ones with smaller sensors. While there are a lot of plastic parts in the design, much of the initial bits you'll look at are metal and sturdy. Yet picking up the body only for the first time, there isn't a great deal of heft to it (10 ounces, or 291g). The impression you get is that of a high-end compact camera body build: small, relatively light, but sturdy and with only a bit of density to it.
Serious photographers get all excited about some of the details, though:
- An EVF viewfinder oriented at the top left rear of the camera. Right-eyed photographers will find their nose doesn't hit the color LCD. Left-eyed photographers will have their usual problems. At 2.4m dots, the EVF is a lot better than the usual VGA-type offering, too.
- A tilting high resolution LCD. It doesn't have a huge range (90° up, 45° down), but this 3", 921k dot display will come in handy for low and high-level viewpoints when you can't put your eye at the EVF.
- A robust right hand front grip that's rubberized to boot. While not exactly recommended for shooting, you can one-hand this camera comfortably and you never feel like the camera is slipping away from you like you do with some mirrorless bodies.
- More controls than other NEX bodies. In particular, there are two unmarked control dials at the top back right of the camera, an AEL button, a focus method switch, and another unmarked button to the right of the shutter release. Even better, there's a lot of customization available for all these new buttons and dials (as well as the usual NEX three-button interface).
- Built-in flash plus optional flash shoe. None of this "pick one" choice that a lot of the mirrorless cameras designers made. The built in flash isn't particularly high powered (GN 20 ft, 6m approximately), so you'll be using the accessory flashes if you want real power. But, with a bit of finger pulling, the built-in flash can be tilted for bounce if need be (why no click stop position?).
The shutter will manage 30 seconds through 1/4000 (plus bulb), plus handle up to 10 fps.
But it's the sensor that attracts most people's attention. APS means slightly more than a 1.5x crop from the old 35mm film cameras. Most DSLRs sold these days have APS (DX) sensors. So here we have the same expected sensor performance as a high-end DSLR in a very small, mirrorless package.
At 24mp you get 6000x4000 pixel images. To put that in perspective, at 300 dpi that's a 13x20" print, or slightly bigger than you can print on most desktop inkjet printers, which max out at 13x19" typically. As I've written on my other site, you can typically get 1.5x and often 2x out of pixels for print without any visible compromise to quality, so we're talking about a camera that should be good for a 36" print. How many of you actually print that size, let alone often?
If you're not into big prints, more pixels mean less noise and more edge acuity if you keep the output small (e.g. for Web or on-screen use). Just remember: more pixels is always good, all else equal. In essence, more pixels means "more sampling" in digital, and more sampling is not a bad thing. But we'll come back to that thought later in the review, because what you're sampling is impacted by what's in front of the sensor.
Video (at least on US models) on the NEX-7 is basically 1080P/60. There's also a 480P/30; with this camera you're going to set highest-end HD video or basic old-style NTSC video. Sony, like Panasonic, is sticking with AVCHD (in this case AVCHD2) standards, so you get the nasty Blu-Ray design-by-committee folder/file structure for videos. A real nuisance, as you'll almost certainly end up transcoding to do any serious editing, which of course means additional compression cycles.
About the only things that will seem missing to the serious shooter are a wired remote and built-in GPS. I don't see those as big losses, and both can be worked around.
How's it Handle?
If Ogden Nash were to write a poem about the NEX-7's interface it would be titled You Can Get There From Here, But Only With Great Effort.
I actually have few problems with the NEX-7 in use. At least now, after using it for months and finally figuring out how I wanted it configured and managing to get that programmed. It's getting it ready for use that will drive you a bit crazy. You've got function, AE-L, AF/MF, Right, Soft B and Soft C buttons to set up, and some of these things can control multiple things and have multiple places in which to alter pieces of their configuration…
Sony's manual won't help you decipher the mess. Sony's use of terminology won't help you decipher the mess (e.g. what's the difference between a Custom Setting and Custom 1 in Custom Key? Removing the word Custom, which is being very broadly used here, we have Setting, 1, and Key, which isn't helpful ;~).
The camera has a built in help system, which ought to help, but doesn't. For example, "Hold down navigation button for a moment to lock/unlock." Which button is the navigation button? And that direction comes up in a function that allows you to set/unset locking, so why are we confusing setting things with the instructions for locking them (if enabled)?
To put it simply, the NEX menu system is a mess, and the additional configurability of the NEX-7 is just exacerbating that. To Sony's credit, the NEX-7 is a highly configurable camera. It's just going to take you a real long time to figure out what does what, and how you want to change that into something that's perfectly personalized for you. And, of course, the camera won't allow you to create multiple sets of those configurations, so heaven help you if you want to set the camera one way for landscapes, another for shooting events.
The pieces are all there. It's the implementation that's problematic. The first problem is that it's unlikely that the NEX-7 is set from the factory the way you want it, thus you'll start menu diving to fix that. The second problem is that you won't figure out where the thing you want to change is located. The third problem will be that the nomenclature used for the thing, when you find it, doesn't exactly match what you're thinking it should be. The fourth problem is that when you look to the manual for help, you'll get further confused. I liked the word dpreview used: bewildering. (Actually, their wording was "almost bewilderingly", but I've simplified it here because that's what you'll probably experience: bewilderment).
It doesn't help that the default configuration of the NEX-7 is that some items change with other items. For instance, those two big dials up top: they do different things in Program, Aperture, Shutter, and Manual priority exposure modes, and they even do different things (or worse: nothing) in additional settings you can put the camera in. This is called "contextual UI," where the controls change depending upon the context. The problem, of course, is that you're not used to this context, so have to learn it from scratch.
That's not to say that Sony's default choices are bad. Within a few minutes of stumbling around trying to figure out what unlabeled or vaguely labeled parts do, you'll figure it out. And that will be okay for a while, as Sony's choices, as I just noted, aren't bad. But at some point you're going to want to take more control over the camera, and that's where the frustration starts.
We need a giant chart of what can be controlled, the dependencies, and what function(s) set or modify them. We don't get that anywhere.
What I call "nervous" shooters will have problems with this camera. If you think that you've got to dip into the feature set all the time and make individual changes with every shot, this probably isn't the camera for you. Like I wrote before, things change, so you'll get frustrated when something goes away that was there before just because you changed something else. That means you'll spend a lot of time menu diving.
But if you're like me and tend to leave a camera configured pretty much one way (your preferred way) and only change a few common settings (e.g. exposure compensation, ISO, or WB, etc.), you can get the NEX-7 configured in a manner you'll like and which will remain consistent. It took me about a month to get the camera set to the way I wanted to work with it, but I was often bamboozled by something early on when I didn't catch an interdependency in something I was trying to set.
Now that my camera is set the way I like it, it handles just fine, thank you. I do find myself just pressing buttons a bit more often than I do on some other cameras, which is a bit strange for a camera with three dials, but I'm comfortable with that.
Here's my advice for NEX-7 users looking for UI happiness:
- Pick an exposure mode (Sony parlance: Shoot Mode) and stick to it. This locks in definitions for the dials, except for when you press the button next to the shutter release, which allows you to get to four other uses of those dials quickly (which you'll need to eventually define, see next).
- Program the Soft buttons to something you use a lot, and program the top-side function button the same way. Basically, between the soft buttons and the function button next to the shutter release, you want to make sure all the things you normally change are within a one-button reach. Be sure to cancel out options that you don't use often so that you don't get into the multiple button press syndrome the NEX-7 sometimes generates. Personally, I don't want to set everything via these controls, just the three or four things that available through the normal controls that I use a lot.
- Do a full pass on the camera set at its defaults and note them all (as in write them all down and keep that handy). Beep is On and Auto Review is Off, which is probably the opposite of what serious users want. But note that Lens Comp: Distortion is turned Off by default, while Lens Comp: Shading and Lens Comp: Chro Aber (gotta love these abbreviations ;~) are On. In other words, the default camera is set in ways you probably don't want it to be. So take your default list and annotate it with the places where you want to override. Note that you have to do this for the Camera, Image Size, Brightness/Color, Playback, and Setup menus. Then use that list before any serious shooting session to make sure the camera is set how you want it. I can guarantee you that if you don't do this, some day something will get reset and you'll be doing a lot of shooting before you notice.
- When you're out shooting and notice that you can't set something quickly, write that down. Next time you're home with some time, do a thorough investigation to make sure that's something that can't be assigned to a button.
While four bullet points seem pretty straightforward, what I just listed will take you quite some time to get set exactly as you want and documented for the future.
Moving on. Let's assume you've got the camera set as you like. From there, handling suddenly gets very nice. Virtually everything you want to do can be done with the right hand. Of course, that means you can't be in a depth grip with your right hand, but it does mean that, once learned, your right hand position doesn't really have to change much to set most things you'd want to. Given that the lenses are relatively large for the E-mount, I'm usually cradling the lens with my left hand when shooting hand held, so I've got no real complaints about the way things work out once I've got my camera set to my desire.
The EVF at the left side of the camera is nice, too: no more noses hitting the LCD and awkward side glance problems (at least for right-eyed shooters). The tilting LCD itself has a wide range of things it can display (and how it handles the aspect ratio can be tweaked, too). Some people will find the tilt angles a little restrictive, but for my shooting they work perfectly okay. Sure, we'd all like a flip out to the side option, but the camera handles ground level and above-head shooting just fine, in my opinion.
Overall, the NEX-7 is a hassle to customize just the way you want it, but once that's done, it's a very nice, straightforward shooter.
How's it Perform?
Battery: CIPA says 350 shows using the EVF, and I've got no data that can prove that wrong. I tend to get between 300 and 400 shots per battery, depending upon how I'm shooting (this is without flash, however; flash would reduce that considerably). I'm not a fussy shooter, so I'm generally not messing around with lots of settings: I'm controlling my primary settings and shooting, stat. Most shooters will need to carry at least one extra battery to get through a heavy shooting day, especially if they do a lot of image review.
You can get a little bit more life out of the battery—maybe 20%—by just using the LCD instead of the EVF, but I'm not sure why you'd prefer to shoot that way. The EVF itself is pretty good and gives most shooters a very "regular camera" experience. Given that the sensor isn't stabilized in the NEX-7, having the camera braced against your face helps keep it steady, too.
Autofocus: I know Sony fans will bristle when I say this, but I'd have to characterize the single servo focus performance as leisurely fast. In bright light it does well enough for most subjects, but in low light it clearly struggles. But the problem is that there are mirrorless cameras out there that have very good autofocus performance. The OM-D is clearly faster than the NEX-7 at initial focus in virtually all equal situations I tried. Heck, even the previous m4/3 cameras (say Pen E-P3 or GX1) are faster at initial focus.
In low light, the autofocus system struggles, as I note. Indeed, if that low light is artificial light, it struggles more. It also has a tendency to look for anything to focus on, and often will pick backgrounds or things you don't want it to focus on. Basically, if it can find contrast somewhere, that's where it focuses. Funny thing is, turning the Autofocus Illuminator light Off actually helps the low-light focus, because it'll stick to a narrower area while attempting focus. The camera still gets things wrong a lot, but it has far less likelihood to focus on the background with the Autofocus Illuminator Off (especially when the background is brighter than the foreground).
Continuous autofocus is unusable in my opinion. Even in situations where the subject was moving slowly or only slightly, continuous autofocus had the tendency to generate slightly out-of-focus images. I found I could do a better job in manual focus (though not on every lens, as the lenses are fly-by-wire and have some variance to them).
Write speed: The buffer is okay in size, basically about 15 frames when shooting raw and almost 25 when shooting JPEG only. I found some variance between cards, even ones with the same stated performance. If buffer optimization is something of interest to you, stick to 45Mbps or faster UHS-I cards only.
I personally don't judge the NEX-7 to be a continuous shooting camera (that focus performance gets in the way), so I can't say that I ever found the write speed wanting. I was a little surprised in brute force testing that the camera frees up buffer space relatively quickly when shooting at the usual 3.7 fps max. Even filling the buffer I was getting a bit more than a frame a second until I got to some unknown hurdle dozens of frames down the line (many cameras have governors that cut off continuous shooting past a certain limit so that the camera doesn't overheat). That said, the complete buffer takes at least 10 seconds to write to the card for JPEGs, double that for raw.
Heat: Here's one I don't usually write about, but the NEX-7, like it's lower end cousins, does have a tendency to overheat a bit in absolutely continuous use (lots of still bursts back to back, or recording maximum length videos, for example). The primary heat source is right behind the LCD, and as many have discovered with Sony's tilting displays there's a printed sticker there with lots of text and icons (the bottom of the camera has so little room for all the regulatory bits, that this is where those went). Taking the sticker off (not recommended) reveals vents. So, one thing you can do is not leave the LCD plastered flat against sticker when shooting video or doing lots of continuous work. Angle it out a bit so that heat can escape at the top. If the camera does overheat, it shuts down, so failure to mitigate heat in some way can cause you to have an inoperable camera in your hands. This is not the camera I want to shoot my Lawrence of Arabia remake with.
Image quality: We've got a lot to deal with here, but let's start with the one that most people ask about most first: noise.
I haven't done my traditional basketball pictures on sansmirror.com previously, but I think it's time to start. Here's the thing: I stand in the same place at the same gym using an equivalent lens at f/2.8 and ISO 3200. I then show 100% pixel view versions of what I get. I've been doing this for a decade or so with Nikon DSLRs, now I'll start adding the mirrorless models.
Let's start with raw (Actual pixels, straight Adobe Converter Raw, with everything at defaults):
Doesn't look so great, right? How about the JPEG out of the camera? Let's look at it (camera defaults):
Okay, that's better, but there's still a rough and drab look here. Look at the top and right edge of the ball. Yuck.
So here's something that if you didn't already know, you will now, and it might change the way you look at and think about reviews: virtually all reviews try to stick to camera defaults in order to "be fair" to all equipment. Somewhere along the line the reasoning got stuck into these site's DNA that the camera makers (and converter makers) must know what they're doing.
Oh, that it were so.
One of the reasons why we have so many controls and options on cameras and in software is that there is no "right setting" that does magic all the time. You can't set a camera to one setting and get the best possible picture in every possible setting. That's why long ago I opted for a different approach to reviewing image quality: what's the best possible result I can get out of the camera?
Well, first I start with the raw file, then I use my understanding of both the camera and the raw converter to tweak settings to try to figure out "optimal results." Let me show you what I mean:
There's been a lot of work done here. Yes, I've brightened up the exposure from what the camera picked. I've applied noise reduction and sharpening, but I've picked values that still show some noise but also tend to produce more detail and cleaner edges. None of that plastic noise reduction blur for me. I've also reset the color slightly (I know this gym very, very well now, and yes, the walls are that color when both mid-day skylight and the overhead frequency based lights are mixed. I actually judge the color by the "lit" side of the rim.
One other interesting thing about this shot: I try to time my test shots of this scene with the ball just at the rim. The NEX-7 is an EVF-based camera, and we know there can be lag in EVF cameras. But it took me all of a few seconds to adjust my timing and get the ball where I wanted it. The EVF lag on the NEX-7 is relatively low, so I'm guessing that they're refreshing it at 120 fps, not 60 fps like many, plus there doesn't seem to be any real processing delay as there are in some cameras with EVFs.
Okay, so what did we learn from this test?
At pixel level and ISO 3200, we're really pushing the NEX-7's sensor, especially if we just accept what the camera or a default conversion gives us. These results remind me a lot of the Nikon D300 (12mp, 2007): a bit blocked up, lots of color noise, and a JPEG engine noise reduction that is blurring detail. But with care the results are very usable. If you're not a pixel peeper, things are better. Witness:
Same exact image as I just presented, but with a straight half width reduction (akin to 50% view). Noise looks like it's gone, doesn't it? Even though this Web site's image sizing engine uses a basic reduction routine (i.e. isn't optimal itself), the edges are still clean and I'd consider this very usable. Indeed, you should know that you're looking at only a bit over 12% of the width of the full shot. We'd have players in the full shot, and they'd look just as good as the ball and rim do.
So let's talk about noise the way you probably expected me to: above about ISO 800 there is very visible noise at the pixel level. Colors block up and color noise becomes high by ISO 3200 (again at the pixel level). I don't find ISO values higher than 3200 to be particularly useful as the degradation at high ISO values really hits hard at ISO 12800. The JPEG rendering engine does a fair (I almost wrote poor, but then I remembered how bad most other JPEG noise reduction is) job in masking noise, but does so by blocking up colors and mushing edge acuity. That said, the raw files are pretty usable even out to ISO 3200 for someone who knows how to manage noise reduction properly.
Put another way, the NEX-7 isn't a high-ISO marvel. I didn't expect it to be. Some of you are looking for a camera "that does everything." There is no such beast, but the smaller the photosites and the smaller the sensor the less flexibility you have at ramping ISO upwards. The NEX-7 performs pretty much as I expected it to: solid low ISO work, decent and usable at ISO values I'd use in low light and indoor work, and falls apart if you push it towards the extreme ISOs. No surprises there.
Dynamic range is related to noise. At base ISO the NEX-7 is pretty good, as are all recent EXMOR sensors. It probably is really an ISO 80 sensor with 10-11 stops of usable photographic dynamic range, which is quite good. You'll find measurements of engineering dynamic range (saturation minus noise floor at a Signal Noise Ratio of 1:1) as high as 13 stops, which puts it about par with the best sensors out there right now. As a landscape camera, there's nothing really to complain about.
Curiously, there does seem to be manipulation of the sensor data at above ISO 3200. While some tests will show this as a smaller drop of dynamic range, I'll stick by my earlier statements of usability: stop at ISO 3200 on this camera.
So resolution is left, and this is where we enter into some problematic discussion. Let's start simply: a NEX-7 with its 24mp will resolve more than a NEX-5 with its 16mp. You have more sampling points, so you distinguish smaller differences. If you're printing the NEX-7 and NEX-5 at the same size and view the results at the same distance, what I just wrote applies just fine.
Be careful with printing larger, though. While 24 seems like 50% more than 16, which will make some of you think that you can print 50% bigger, the actual resolution gain is far less than that. The actual resolution increase is about 22%, meaning you can print 22% bigger in any linear direction. Put another way, your 20" print can now be 24". Hmm, that doesn't seem like a big difference, does it?
That unfortunately is one of the bummers about geometry: the more pixels we add to cameras, the less actual resolution increase we get for any 8mp boost. In my book, there's not enough difference between 16mp and 24mp to get excited about. In experiments, it takes 15-20% increase in resolution before average viewers notice any difference. We're barely past that. So, if a 16mp sensor had far better properties (dynamic range, noise, color accuracy, whatever) than a 24mp sensor, I very well might take the 16mp sensor over the 24mp one. Since Sony's given us 16mp and 24mp choices in the NEX lineup, we have to consider that.
So here's what I'll say: at base ISO pick the NEX-7. At ISO 3200 pick the NEX-5 (or 3 or 6). It's actually fairly close in both cases, so you aren't very far wrong if you pick opposite of what I just wrote. But at the moment, that's exactly the way I shoot: NEX-7 for base ISO and low ISO work, NEX-6 for high ISO work.
The other problem with resolution is lenses. More resolution resolves what the lenses see better. It's far easier to see a poor performing lens on a high-resolution sensor than it is on a low-resolution sensor. And this is one place where the NEX-7 is let down by a lot of its supporting accessories. The 16mm f/2.8 wasn't exactly great in the corners with the original NEX-3 and NEX-5; now we can see better just how not-great it is. That doesn't mean "the sensor out resolves the lens" as some people write. It means the sensor actually resolves the poor edge results of the lens quite well!
We went through this same cycle with DSLRs. With 3mp and 6mp DSLRs, even modest lenses looked okay: there wasn't enough sensor resolution to accurately reflect what the lens was doing in some cases. Chromatic aberration didn't show up easily because there weren't enough pixels to clearly pick it out at edges (i.e. those edges were wider than a pixel by the time the antialiasing filter blurred them). As we got first 10mp, then 12mp, then 16mp, then 24mp DSLRs (and we're up to 36mp in the full sensor size), it got easier and easier to see differences between lenses.
The NEX series was already right above that margin with 16mp sensors. With 24mp, things are just even clearer: there aren't a lot of NEX lenses that perform well outside the central region. The 24mm, 30mm, 35mm, and 50mm are about it, and most of those need to be stopped down to really pull in the corners. So how does one in a review describe a high resolution camera? It's high resolution! That means that it better resolves whatever is in front of it, and that means that you'll see the performance of your lenses much more clearly. For a lot of people, that won't be a happy thing to see at pixel level.
Now, it may seem like I've been a little harsh on image quality here. Not really. At lower ISO levels the NEX-7 is going to perform really well. So well that you'll see the quality of the lens you use.
I'm still stuck on my overall evaluation of the NEX-7. I love it but I'm not in love with it, to paraphrase a line that's been used on me a few times.
Sony didn't make any particularly obvious mistakes on the NEX-7 design. The feature set is complete. The UI is not only usable but highly adjustable to your preferences, at least once you decipher all the nomenclature and menu dive to set it up right. The performance of almost all aspects of the camera is at least good, if not very good or excellent. The spec sheets alone drew a lot of folk to take a close look at the NEX-7, and for the most part it doesn't disappoint in real life.
There is a "modernness" to the design that some won't fancy; this isn't your father's DSLR, but a rethought out design for the 21st century. I'm not particularly bothered by that. I've been at the front edge of technology for over 30 years, including some technologies that haven't made it mainstream yet. I'm comfortable with the modernness. I just wish it had been a little easier to figure out.
So why am I not in love with the NEX-7?
Well, lenses have something to do with it. The lenses I personally want aren't there or don't perform. I love the size of the 16mm f/2.8 on the NEX-7 body, but the 16mm isn't going to deliver what the 24mp can. The center will be good, the edges poor. Bummer. So what wide do I use in its place? Some might suggest the Zeiss 24mm. Now here's the opposite problem for me: the lens pretty much delivers what the 24mp sensor can deliver, but at 36mm equivalent focal length, it's not the right focal length for me. The sad thing is that the Samsung 16mm f/2.5 for their NX line is a better lens. I get far better corners out of it on my 20mp Samsung NX camera than I do with the Sony 16mm f/2.8 on my 24mp NEX-7.
A few lenses are quite good. The 50mm f/1.8 (shown in the pictures in this review) delivers very nice results on the NEX-7. Of course, this and the Zeiss lens are relatively large lenses, so now the diminutive size of the NEX-7 body is starting to be compromised by the lens size. And you'd better like the 35mm and 75mm equivalent focal lengths a lot.
Indeed, one of the reasons this review is so late was that I decided that I wanted to sample the next generation of lenses for the E-mount before I wrote any final conclusions about the camera. I had the opportunity at Photokina 2012 to not only pretty much sample every Sony lens that's out or announced, but to take a look at a number of third-party options, as well, including the upcoming Zeiss lenses. I still haven't found the wide angle lens I really want, but at least I'm convinced that there will eventually be a wide choice of lenses that can deliver on the NEX-7, they're just not all here yet.
Unfortunately, despite finding a number of lenses that are starting to deliver the results the NEX-7 promises, every one of them felt just a little out of place on the NEX-7 body. It's a bit like putting 24" tires on a Toyota Scion: prepare for incongruity. Tiny body, big lenses. And I still haven't found a 24mm equivalent I like.
Don't get me wrong, with only a couple of exceptions these lenses don't feel unbalanced on the NEX-7. If the focal lengths matched what I tend to shoot, I'd be perfectly happy with the NEX-7, so you might find that the lens selection is perfect for you and the camera comfortable with those lenses on it.
For me, however, the mix of things that make up the NEX-7 just don't quite add up to the package I want. Funny thing is, I've now got a NEX-6 in my testing, and I'm starting to come to the conclusion that the 16mp sensor is the "more right" for the current NEX lens arsenal I'm using. If you're into the 24mm, 30mm, 35mm, or 50mm E-mount primes, the NEX-7 certainly can deliver excellent results, however. They're just not my cup of tea, so they're harshing my vibe on the NEX-7 overall. Unfortunately, most of the upcoming Zeiss and other offerings all seem to be in similar focal length choices. All I can say is that I'm holding out hope for that lone Zeiss 12mm, which would be the lens that "saves" the NEX-7 for me and might make me fall back in love.
So I repeat: I love this camera. I'm just not in love with this camera. You may not only love it, but be in love with it. Given the NEX-6, I suspect that the NEX-7 will undergo some modest updates in 2013, adding WiFi and downloadable application support. Unless you specifically need WiFi, I wouldn't wait, though. The NEX-7 is a perfectly fine camera the way it is.
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