Ease of Use: 3.5 / 5
Pricing: 3.5 / 5
Video Quality: 4.5 / 5
Photo Quality: 4.5 / 5
Features: 4.5 / 100
The Sony NEX 7 is Sony’s latest and greatest mirrorless camera to be unleashed within a market, that a mere two years ago didn’t exist. Every manufacturer has jumped on the mirrorless bandwagon with varied results, but Sony seems to have this end of the market nailed down tightly.
Sony was the first company to show the world a proper mirrorless camera. The rest quickly added their take on this new end of the photographic market. Nikon made the pretty camera, Panasonic, Pentax and Samsung took the middle of the road approach, Fujifilm went retro and Canon was just plain late to the party. Then Sony decided to not mess around and make the best mirrorless camera available today, with the result being the NEX 7.
The NEX 7 is an engineering marvel. Sony somehow managed to successfully stuff a full APS-C size sensor (shared with the flagship A77) into that body, have a tilting screen at the rear and still be quite user friendly to use. It’s not quite up to DSLR levels of ergonomics, but boasts the best and most clever implementation of manual controls I’ve yet to see on a mirrorless camera.
The camera body feels tough and rugged and being encased in a metal shell, it actually is. The control dials are also metal, with the handle covered in rubberized coating. It all exudes quality.
Somehow, Sony also managed to make this form factor fit nicely into your hands. This camera doesn’t feel awkward or that it needed to be bigger in order to be comfortable in your hands. It just works.
Another revelation of the camera is its electronic viewfinder (EVF). You’d think an electronic EVF on a camera this size would be shockingly bad, but the opposite is true. It does “feel” fake compared to using an optical viewfinder, but this one showed crisp and precise detail. It is something to get used to though.
The back screen is tilt-able and helped a lot when it came to filming things that weren’t easy to see through the EVF. It does feel very rugged and worked flawlessly.
The control dials work great and feels very solid. They fulfill differing tasks depending on what mode the camera is running in. The one real negative was that the Aperture dial for instance, would work in different directions when in different modes, like clockwise when in Aperture Priority, but counter-clockwise when in Manual Mode. This is stupid and should be an easy firmware fix.
Off course, no advanced camera system is complete without its lenses. And this is the NEX range and every other mirrorless camera’s problem currently. The lens systems just don’t come close to the quality of their full DSLR brethren and choice is still somewhat limited. Although it must be said that Sony does probably have the largest selection of lenses available for its NEX series. And although one can use the Sony Alpha lenses with this camera, it has to be doen with a converter.
The menu system looks very good (Sony really does make the best looking menu systems currently), but is something that you will have to spend some time with. At first it felt very illogically set out and confusing and just all over the show. But after a while you start to realize the thought processes behind the layout and then things start to make more sense and fall into place much better. This camera has broken the typical camera mould and as such the menu also goes that way. It still is a very comprehensive menu system with a lot of features.
Real world results:
This camera is a beast, being able to shoot 24MP photos, at up to 10fps. The camera also has an effective ISO range of 100-16000. Although not all of it is usable, one can easily use photos up to ISO 6400. From there on things gets a bit nasty. But for a camera like this to function that well at ISO 6400 is another testament to what Sony has achieved with this camera.
At lower ISO’s images are clean and crisp with tons of detail and a lot of latitude. There’s virtually no artifacting. I’d go as far as to say that not many cameras today (Including all current DSLRs) will deliver any clearer photos than this camera. Photo quality is simply excellent. If you browse the gallery, every photo I took before the sunrise was shot at ISO800. Try and spot the noise in those clear skies, or even in the shadowy areas. It is virtually noise free at up to ISO800.
And the video on this camera is impressive. Really impressive. This camera manages to shoot full 1080p HD video in the AVCHD codec at 50fps! Yes, that’s right. That makes for silky smooth slow-motion shots and very detailed video, because there’s a lot less motion blur. You can set different picture profiles and you can even change the exposure of what you’re shooting while recording. When in one of the automatic modes, the camera changes exposures seemlessly and very accurately. Also, because you are using proper changeable lenses, some with manual focus functions, you can use that to do focus rakes and many other focus related tricks that was previously left to the professional cameras. Overall I’d go as far as to say that this camera has the best video on any current stills camera out there. The quality even rivals and outguns in some areas, the FS100 dedicated video camera, also from Sony. And that says a lot about the quality of this camera. It is that good.
So, to sum up:
This camera marks the coming of age for the mirrorless camera segment as a whole. This camera has the internals to rival most DSLRs out there and the results to back it up. Photo quality is as good as any DSLR out there and video quality is second to none.
The form factor means that certain sacrifices, as far as ergonomics goes, had to be made, which does detract somewhat to the overall experience, but overall Sony has managed the best implementation of a mirrorless camera to date.
Whether the mirrorless camera market can outshine its DSLR cousins, is still up for debate. The NEX 7 shares some internals with its DSLR cousin, the A77, which although a bit more expensive offers all the features of the NEX 7 plus some better ones that’s not restriced to the form factor.
The NEX 7 though does finally mark DSLR rivalling quality in a more pocket friendly form factor and price. With the launch of the brand new NEX 6, Sony seems commited to this form factor and staying at the forefront of mirrorless technology.