Sony NEX-7 Review
If your expecting a detailed technical review, go ahead and stop now. I’m not going to tell you about all the features and functions that the Sony NEX-7 has and can do. I’m going to discuss my experience and impressions of the NEX-7 these past 5 weeks.
Let me start by giving some background on my decision to purchase the Sony NEX-7. I currently own a Nikon D90 with a lot of Nikon Glass. I thoroughly have enjoyed taking photos with the Nikon D90 for about 27 months. I’ve learned a lot about how to use it, take some wonderful photo’s on vacations, of my children, friends, families, couples, landscapes. In all I’ve taken about 14,000 photo’s with the D90. I want to get the new Nikon D800, saving my pennies for my real “Professional Quality” Camera. It is a little pricy at $3000, but I still plan on getting one after the summer and most importantly after paying for Summer vacation to Mexico this year.
So why in the world would I buy a Sony camera, much less a mirrorless camera, that is 1/3 of the size of my D90 and requires that I purchase a bunch of new Glass? Well, this decision is based a few factors.
Number one, I wanted a carry-around camera that had the flexibility of a DSLR (manual), changeable lenses, something that was small and light to carry, has fantastic picture quality and could be a backup to my Nikon D90 or that future D800 that I’m looking to purchase.
Number two, I almost never carry around my D90 because it is to large and heavy. So I use my iPhone 4S to take photo’s with, now this isn’t much better than a point and shoot camera! Go back to reason’s in number one. I wanted something that was small and still let me have manual control of the camera. I want a good quality camera that I can take with me all the time, yet isn’t so big that it is in the way, noticeable by other people. People give you funny looks when you use a big camera, but don’t when you have a point and shoot. So something in the middle has gotten fewer of those looks.
Number three, during my research on mirrorless camera’s, I realized that the NEX-7 had some unique features, that other mirrorless camera’s from other manufactures didn’t have. Such as, a viewfinder (more on this later), a larger Sensor (NEX-7 has the APS-C (about the same size sensor as my D90), ability to have external off camera flash (TTL enabled as well), good to great auto-focus capability, fast shutter, ability to take a lot of continues photos (10FPS) and a nice range of affordable detachable lenses.
I had read a lot of reviews and watched reviews on YouTube for almost 5 months, before settling on the Sony NEX-7. I also saw that the Sony NEX-5n had received, best Mirrorless Camera honor’s. Everything I had read was the NEX-7 was even better than the NEX-5n. So, I made my decision to purchase at Amazon (I like the 0% tax option on a $1400 camera). I guess mentioning the price is important. This isn’t a cheap camera by any means. The NEX-7 with the kit lens was $1399. Being an Amazon Prime customer, I also received free shipping, although I did pay the additional $3.99 to get it shipped overnight. Once I mad the decision to buy the camera, I didn’t want to wait a single day longer to receive it. Besides, it took me almost 3 months to make the decision to finally buy the camera. I really did do a lot of research and low availability of the camera might have contributed to the 3 months.
So here are my impressions of the Sony NEX-7 after using it for the following purposes; Daughters College Graduation, day at the park with my youngest, going to the lake, sunset photo’s, animal photo shoot, impromptu baby photo shoot (niece), taking photo’s out the window of my mini cooper while driving at 60mph and other photo opportunities.
This review I’ll go into Ease of Use, Picture Quality, Picture Sharpness, Accessories, Options, Needs Improvement. I’m not going to give you a deep dive into all the functions and comparing photo quality at different ISO settings. There are enough other good reviews out there written by the professional reviewers. I know, I read them.
Wow, looking back that was a pretty lengthy intro, just to get to the review, so I guess I better get started.
Ease of Use
The Sony NEX-7 is very easy to use. It takes some time getting use to the menu layout and finding out where all the settings you need are located. This is one criticism I have of the Sony NEX-7, the Main Menu reminds me of an iPhone with Application Icon’s for the 6 different menu folders. Since there isn’t a touch screen, it requires using the selection ring on the camera to make your selection. I would have preferred a menu folder structure along the left side that took you into the sub-menu’s and then to the option. But that probably has more to do with what I’m used to on my Nikon D90.
To change the Mode on the camera (Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture, Shutter, and Manual) you push the button in the middle of the Center Control Dial, then rotate the control dial to select the mode. When you have selected the mode you want, press the middle button again. There are two additional control dials on the top right of the camera. Depending on the mode you select, you can change the Aperture, Shutter or Exposure compensation with these two dials. These dials change automatically based on the mode you are in.The center Dial next to the Display, will let you change the ISO just by rotating the control dial.
Through these three control dials, you can change all the settings you need to get the camera ready to take a photo. It is very nice to see immediate feedback on the external display or the OLED viewfinder. You will immediately see how bright or dark your settings are on either of the two screens. This is very nice. Additionally on the screen you get immediate feedback on if your picture has correct exposure.
Overall the camera is very easy to use, I would say the learning curve for an advance user is less than an hour. If you are a beginner or new user, it could take several hours and/or days to learn how to use this camera fully. In my opinion the manuals that came with the camera are poorly written and not very thorough nor explain how to use the camera very well. I found better information on the internet and some YouTube video’s that others provided. I’m pretty advanced so I could figure a lot things out pretty easily, but I don’t think that my wife (beginner) could figure it out very quickly by using the manual.
This camera has amazing Picture Quality. I broke up Quality from Sharpness for a reason, I want to talk about a capability that this camera has that enhances the ability to get amazing sharpness, so I’ll discuss this shortly.
As you can see in this photo of my daughter at her graduation, the photo is incredibly detailed. The picture quality is amazing. The photo was taken at 1/160 sec at f/7.1, ISO 400. I took this photo at ISO 400, because I forgot to change it after the indoor ceremony, which didn’t have ideal lightening. This ended up not being a problem, since I was taking a lot of photos during this time of family, which included kids, so using a higher ISO to ensure I was getting the photo at 1/160 sec, was probably for the best. There is very little to no noise that I was able to detect in this photo even at 40o ISO.
In the photo of my daughter, I zoomed into see the picture quality of her eye as seen in the photo to the left. There is very good detail and sharpness in her iris, eye lashes and even the skin around her eye, even when zoomed in on such a small section of the photo. All the photo’s I’ve taken so far, have had incredible detail in them. I’ve been able to do some creative cropping to zoom in on portions of the photo and still have a lot of quality.
The NEX-7 has a 24MP Sensor, so this is a tremendous amount of pixels. On higher ISO rates, in the 3200 ISO and above, the 24MP Sensor can cause a lot more noise than is probably acceptable for photos that would need to be printed and framed. So it has been important for me to remember to keep my ISO under 800 so my photo have the best picture quality and the least amount of noise in my photos.
I don’t think my recent college graduate would appreciate a bad photo of her by her photographer dad.
So I think that Picture Sharpness is amazing. You can see this in the photo’s I have included in this post. One of the unique features, that I discovered on the Sony NEX-7 is the ability to manually adjust the focus after the initial auto-focus has occurred. Now I’m sure you are probably already thinking to yourself, you can already do manual focus to fine tune auto focus on a DSLR. This is true, but there is one incredible feature that my Nikon D90, can’t do. In the Sony NEX-7, when you auto focus on your subject and hold down the shutter release halfway, the camera does a digital zoom about 30X from what I can tell, that allows you to manual focus, using the focus ring on the lens. What happens, since you have a mirrorless camera, the picture will zoom in on the center of the frame. If you look at the picture of my daughter and her eye, this is about the level of zoom that occurred. So you can make minuet adjustments to your focus and ensure that the eye in this case is incredibly sharp.
One of the things that you have to keep in mind, when using any camera that has auto focus, the camera’s computer will look for contrast in the picture frame and adjust focus based on this contrast. When you have higher end camera’s with more points of focus, it looks tat this information to help make the auto-focus more accurate. If what the camera uses to focus is the bridge of the nose or the lips of a face. Then sometimes the eye’s won’t be as sharp since they are farther back on the head. So sometimes, when looking at a photo on your computer, you will notice that the eyes are not in focus (or perfect sharpness). This ability to zoom in and see what the sensor is seeing live and then make manual focus adjustments will ensure that your photo’s are incredibly sharp and then you can continue to depress the shutter and take your photo.
Now one of the quirky things I discovered with the NEX-7, is that when in the zoomed view, it will stay this way for a few seconds (about 2 sec) after you have finished making your manual zoom adjustments. You have to keep your finger slightly depressed to ensure that the autofocus doesn’t start all over again. If you release the shutter and press it again, the the camera will autofocus again, causing your manual adjustments to be for nought. So you have to be patient until the view come back to normal, so you can ensure that the photo is properly framed. I have found that if I don’t have to reframe the photo after making the manual focus adjustments, then I can go ahead and take the photo even in the zoomed in state, so I don’t have to wait the full 2 seconds. Two seconds, doesn’t sound that long unless you are taking a photo of a child who moves around a lot. Of course what child under the age of 12 doesn’t move a lot. When my oldest kids were teenagers, they sometimes had trouble keeping still.
An advantage of the Sony NEX-7 and it’s powerful 24MP sensor is that you can take a photo immediately and worry about framing post-processing in the computer. The photo of my daughters dog is actually a cropped photo from 6000X4000 pixels to 4108X2935 Pixels. So about a 1/3 smaller than the original photo. This happens to be one of those photos, that I used the manual zoom and ensured that the puppy was very sharp.
Next, I would like to discuss the options that in/on the camera, that I have found useful. This isn’t all the options in the camera, and believe me there are plenty of them.
The Intelligent Auto mode, works very well. I have taken about 50 photo’s in this mode and I usually can’t tell, that I didn’t set it up manually. It is very solid auto mode. It is great, when you just need to point and shoot. I say “Better to get any shot, rather than miss the shot”. So I keep my camera in Intelligent Auto mode all the time by default and then only change out of this mode when I’m getting ready to take photos and choose either Manual mode, Aperture, or Shutter priority modes. When I turn the camera off for the day, I change it back to iAuto. There are a few issues, where the camera will take some blurry shots, but that has more to do with camera shake when the shutter get’s set to something under 1/60 second. iAuto mode won’t let you make any adjustments, so you can’t adjust the ISO, aperture, shutter. It is 100% automatic, including choosing light balance.
On Board flash
Here is what I can say about the onboard flash, “It has one!” Okay, that is about the extent of it, in my honest and semi-professional opinion, it is terrible. The built-in flash is too under powered and is completely useless, if you have a longer flash on the camera, like my 50mm f1.8 lens on the camera. When you take a picture with the longer lens you get a shadow from the lens that is seen on the bottom of the photo. Complete waste of a photo, when that happens. Now I have used the pop-up flash in daylight purely as a fill flash, and it does a decent job, when that is all you have. Check out the accessories section, where I write about a nice flash attachment that Sony has for the NEX-7.
One of the options in this camera that I think works pretty well, is the built-in HDR mode. I don’t have a good picture of the HDR capabilities, that I want to share on this blog, but it does a pretty decent job of giving a good HDR picture. The photo’s have good dynamic range exposure that doesn’t require using external HDR Software. Now one of the advantages of HDR, is the ability to have creative control of the HDR image. This HDR mode doesn’t allow that, you get what the camera provides. But it is sometimes a very nice result. My only criticism is that the camera outputs the photo as a JPG file. I always shoot and import my photo’s into Adobe Lightroom RAW (or Digital Negative (DNG)). It’s not really a problem, it’s just when I take a photo into post processing, the tools I use work in a TIFF picture format. One of the issues with JPG, is that the photo has had JPG compression applied to it and so the quality suffer’s slightly. “If I have just lost you with the discussion of JPG, RAW, and Digital Negative, I sincerely apologize, I just Geeked out in Photographer’s lingo and that was not intentional.”
So this is a slight annoyance for the HDR photo’s, but the result is pretty good. It is much better than what my iPhone 4s is capable of. The Exposure Range is settable between -6 and +6 EV. The HDR takes 3 (very fast) photos and then applies the HDR effect to the photo. you will see on the display a progress bar as the computations for the HDR are occurring. It take less than 3 seconds from my observations.
I think that Sony missed the boat on this feature. You are limited to Exposure bracketing of either -3 or -7. Pretty much useless for allowing these photos to be used for HDR. If Sony changes this in a future firmware update, then I’ll review this feature again then, but until then, this lack of allowing greater exposure range unto -3/+3 would be better. Also the ability to take 3 or 5 exposures, would also be ideal. With the 10fps capability of this camera, it would allow a very nice set of bracket photo’s even hand held for HDR processing.
Anti-Motion Blur Mode
Anti-Motion Mode is a very nice feature, that I’ve used quite a few times, is an anti-motion blur mode. What the Sony NEX-7 does, is take’s a series of 6 photos in less than a second at different internal settings of the exposure and shutter and creates a photo that doesn’t have any motion, and creates a very sharp photo. Where this is useful is when there is motion either by the photographer or subject, or in some low-light scenarios. The 6 photo’s are then stitched together into a single photo that is amazingly sharp. Now as the photographer, you have ZERO control over the aperture, shutter. you can adjust some Exposure compensation and the ISO, but other than that, this is a Program only mode in the Camera. The result is very good. There is also a Twilight mode that is very similar to anti-motion that takes a set of consecutive photos and allows for a very sharp photo in low light. These two modes, are useful but not particularly practical for my use. I’ve used them for the novelty of them and see how they work, but I really feel that I can take better quality photo’s by manually making the correct settings myself in the camera. Of course if I’m taking a photo of a stationary object, nothing works better than a tripod, so you don’t need these specialty mode’s. But I can see how in situations, when you can’t have a tripod, it is better than nothing.
Now a very interesting feature is the Panoramic mode in the camera. What the NEX-7 allows you to do, is take a series of photos consecutively while panning with the camera from left to right (right to left) or up to down (down to up). Then the camera will stitch the photo’s together and make a panoramic photo. i’ve tried, this a few times and it work incredibly well. As you can see in this photo of a college graduation ceremony, the photo was taken in about 2 seconds and this is directly out of the camera with no editing or stitching together in computer software.
Sony has also created a mode that allows the same technique to take a 3D panoramic picture. It isn’t perfect like a 3D photo would look with a two lens 3D camera, but it does a decent job of creating a 3D photo, that is a little blurry. This is more of a novelty in the 3D panoramic, while I think the normal Panoramic does a very good job. You can also take a Panoramic where you place the camera in Portrait orientation and sweep from left to right and it will create a Panoramic image that isn’t quite as wide, but has more height. In the picture below you can see how this photo in a taller panoramic looks.
The LCD screen is very nice and you have to use it to change setting on your camera unlike a DSLR’s which generally also includes a monochrome lcd screen on the top that let’s you see adjustments for your camera. The NEX-7 main screen does tilt down about 45 degrees and up to 90 degrees. I have had some issues when trying to put a Tripod mounting plate to the camera. Once the mounting plate is in place, I can no longer rotate the camera down, but this is a minor annoyance. I can’t really think of a time when I would want to use the screen this way on a tripod.
You also use the screen to navigate the menu’s in the Camera. I have used the NEX-5n camera’s screen, which has a touch screen. I wish that the NEX-7 included the touch screen instead of having to use the control dial. I would have liked to be able to use both. But this is just me dreaming/wishing for the capability. In today’s world of smartphones, touch screen’s are common place and feel more natural to use as an interface. I’m not really sure why Sony didn’t include this feature, since both the NEX-3, and NEX5n have this capability. I guess they were going cheap on the screen on a $1400 camera. Maybe next version.
OLED Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
All I can say is WOW, WOW, WOW. The electronic OLED viewfinder is amazing. I know I said, I wouldn’t talk about technical spec’s but this time I have too. The OLED view finder is bright and has amazing detail and color capability. What is amazing is the OLED screen is a 2.4 million picture element, I’m not sure what that mean’s, probably the number of pixels in the screen. It is amazing that something so tiny can provide so much information on the display and be so ‘sharp’. I have read a review, that stated it looked like the Terminator’s heads up display, and that review is correct. It is just fun to look though the EVF and get lot’s of information about the camera settings, yet still see a live representation of what the camera sensor live. The OLED screen only comes on when you bring your eye up to it. It uses some kind of proximity sensor to turn the OLED screen on and turn the LCD screen off.
Sony 16mm f/2.8 lens
Wide Angle Lens, with very good quality photo’s from it. With the APC-S sensor it is cropped to 24mm, but still very good for landscape, architecture photo’s. I’ve also used it as a wide angle lens for larger group shots. Sells for about $250. I got lucky and found it at Best Buy.
Sony 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens
This lens is the kit lens that came with the Sony NEX-7 camera. A very good and diverse lens for pretty much all photography, other than nature, or sports, since the zoom isn’t greater than 55mm. I have probably taken about 50% of my photo’s with this lens, It stays on the camera all the time. It is fast and responsive and I’m pleased with the quality of the photo’s I get out of the lens.
Sony 50mm f1.8 lens
Okay, this is my favorite lens, hands down. It is very fast, with the f1.8 aperture, it is a great Portrait lens, since it doesn’t zoom, you have to use manual zoom (basically use your feet and move towards or away from your subject). I actually had a friend use the camera to take a photo of myself with my family and she couldn’t figure out how to zoom out, to get everyone in the picture. I had to tell her to take 5 steps backwards. She looked at me like I was crazy. We really can be lazy American’s. hehe!!! But back to this lens, it take amazingly sharp photo’s more than half of the pictures in this post were taken with this lens. I can’t tell you how much I love it. It is my 2nd favorite lens next to my Nikon 70-200mm f1.8 lens. But that thing weights 3 .4 lbs, and this one weights less than 7.25oz. At $300, this lens has a great price, especially when you compare it to the $2,400 Nikon Lens.
Sony 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 lens
I’m not sure how I feel about this lens. It is very good quality, takes good photo’s. But not great photo’s. I think this probably has more to do with camera shake at the longer focal lengths 150-210mm. I think the fact that the smallest aperture is f/6.3 has a lot to do with it. I haven’t tried to take a picture on a tripod yet with this lens, so maybe it could be sharper. It does it’s job, but I think the photo’s personally come out a little dark. But this could be more to do with the fact that I expect better quality from a telephoto lens, when I compare it to my Nikon 70-200mm or my 85-300mm lens. But at $350.00, it is a very good value and you do get good photo’s with this telephoto. I have read that the Sony 18-200mm lens is a very good lens, but at $900, I would expect a lot more from that lens. I just wasn’t ready to spend that kind of money on a lens for this camera, as long as I’m trying to save $$$ for the Nikon D800 later in the summer. Overall other reviews on the Sony 55-210 lens have been very good, so I think I’m just being a little more picky based on my experience with the Nikon.
Sony HVL-F20AM Flash
The Sony HVL-F20AM Flash is a very small and compact flash that folds down out of the way on the NEX-7 when not in use. When you need to use it, just rotate it 90 degree’s up and the falls is powered up. Very nice feature. There is a selector to change the flash head to point straight ahead or face straight up to bounce the flash off the ceiling. When the flash is flipped up, it sit’s about 3 inches higher than the camera, which eliminates the shadow of a longer lens. This built-in pop-up flash has this issue. It is nice to have this alternative. Another feature of this flash, is the ability to remote trigger an off camera Sony Flash with full TTL Support. I also own the Sony HVL-F43AM flash, just for off camera flash photography. When used for Wireless trigger the FM20AM Flash is just the commander to the External Flash. This was kind of an expensive upgrade just to be able to remotely trigger my sony Flash. This capability in my opinion should have been built-in to the NEX-7. For this reason, I give Sony a BIG FAT “F” on Flash photography. The idea that I had to spend an additional $150 to get this capability is ridiculous, “Bad move Sony”. Overall I’m very pleased with this flash over the pop-up flash. It has worked very well as a fill-flash outdoors. I never use it indoor’s, only because I use my HVL-43AM Flash fired remotely for indoor photography. Generally I hand hold the HVL-F43AM flash in my left hand at arms length away and slightly higher than my subject aimed at a 45 degree angle to their face or bounce it off a wall if the wall is white or gray.
Sony HVL-F43AM External Flash
The Sony HVL-43AM external flash is very nice, it would also work on the higher end Sony DSLR camera’s. I like it’s capability and the TTL integration with my Sony NEX-7 (with the HVL-F20AM Flash). Lot’s of manual mode, remote modes, can be used as a commander to other flashes. Over all a good Flash with decent power. The photo of my daughter in her Cap and Gown at the top of this review, was taken with this flash held off hand from the camera. Did a great job as a fill flash. I decided to get this flash over the more expensive Sonly HVL-F56AM Flash based on other user’s reviews of this flash and comparison of power to the HVL-F43AM Flash. It had all the features I was looking and it was a couple hundred dollar’s cheaper.
So what does Sony need to improve on this camera? I have one HUGE, GIGANTIC, MASSIVE issue with the Sony NEX-7. The record button for taking Video’s. It is in the worst possible location. It sits on the back of the camera on the right side directly above where your thumb naturally sits. I have accidently pressed the record button with my thumb, to be more exact the base of my thumb when I’m trying to change shutter or exposure on the top two control dials. I have accidentally hit this button about 40 times inadvertently. Sony needs to provide a firmware upgrade that allows you to disable this button, or hold it down for 1 or 2 seconds to enable, or something to keep from pressing the button accidentally. I have missed more photo’s because the video was rolling, and I couldn’t take a picture. There has been a few times, I thought my camera was broken, until I figured out that the video camera was on, AGAIN. SONY, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE fix this issue.
Other than this one issue, I really haven’t found too many things that I don’t like about the Sony NEX-7. It is a solid camera that takes great photo’s.
I love the Sony NEX-7 Camera. Sony made a great camera!!! I have used it for about 95% of my photo’s these past 5 weeks over my Nikon D90. Mostly because it is my new shiny toy, and I love taking photo’s with it and it is small and compact enough that I can take “ALL” of my 4 lenses, two flashes, cleaning supplies, extra batteries, filters and the camera and it all fit’s into a single shoulder bag. The Sony NEX-7 is such a light camera. It isn’t much bigger than a point and shoot camera, other than the lenses (except for the Wide-angle) that keep this camera from being able to fit in your pocket. I regularly take two lenses, one on the camera and the other in a cargo pocket of my shorts. I will also take the small external flash with an extra battery in the other cargo pocket when I take a walk/hike with this camera and don’t want to carry the bag. Most street or outdoor photo taking can be accomplished with the 18-55mm Kit Lens, I also take the wide angle lens just in case I find the perfect time to use it.
I have found that I take my camera with me places more often than I did with my Nikon. The size and weight of the D90 (with the attached battery pack) is just to big and heavy for taking on a casual walk. I’m beginning to wonder if I really need the Nikon D800, other than I really want a Full-Frame Sensor and I own a lot of Nikon Glass (Lens) and the D800 36MP takes unbelievable photo’s. I think going forward, that the Sony NEX-7 will always be my Backup camera on photo shoot’s because of it’s small size, large sensor and DSLR Quality photo’s. I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about a mirror-less camera. You won’t go wrong with this camera.