10.30.2012

My final, exhaustive, fawning, cynical, exuberant review of the Sony Nex-7.




When I shot with the Olympus Pen cameras I always liked the form factor but I always wished for more substantial image files. More dynamic range, more detail, and more richness. Now I understand that the OMD will satisfy those parameters to a much greater degree than my previous Pen cameras but the OMD came out after I'd already switched to Sony DSLT cameras and I decided to take a chance and test the best of Sony Nex cameras, the Nex 7.

Since there are some who might be new to my reviewing style let me state at the outset that I'm not going to give you resolution charts and I won't be trotting out a flawed understanding of physics and Nyquist frequencies. My comparisons to other cameras will be based on my personal, hands on experiences with the other cameras, not anecdotal story telling. I'm not necessarily recommending this camera or the lenses I use with it as the sole basis of your inventory with which to launch your professional imaging career. I have other cameras that I use for work and, while this one is a great imager it's not my first choice for long and busy assignments for reasons other than its imaging quality capabilities. You don't have to like what I like, in fact I prefer that everyone shun the Nex 7 so I can buy a couple more used ones. Finally, all the stuff I'm talking about in this review was purchased at retail from a local "bricks and mortar" camera store. I received absolutely nothing from Sony in return for writing this independent review, nor do I expect to get anything after the review is launched. Sorry my little paranoid friends, no quid pro quo here. I'll still have an itchy back when I've written the last word.

I'll confess at the outset that there was a learning curve that almost led me to returning the camera but after a couple of weeks pounding through the menu again and again the camera started winning me over.  For those unfamiliar with the Sony Nex 7 let me take a second a flesh out a description. It's a small, mirrorless camera with a fairly substantial grip for your right hand. Most of the camera body is quite thin and, coming from beefier cameras (even the Olympus Pens are thicker) it took me a while to come to grips, emotionally, with the idea that such a small camera could have a powerful sensor and could be stuffed full of high speed imaging processors.  

The Nex 7, like most mirror-less cameras, has a very short distance from the lens flange on the body to the imaging sensor. DSLR's (cameras with mirrors) have lenses designed for them that project the images back toward the sensor over a greater distance so that the mirror can take up space in between. Since the distance is much less in mirror-less cameras it's very easy to make adapters to use all manner of lenses originally designed for mirrored cameras. In fact, part of the popularity of the mirror-less cameras is their easy ability to accept just about any cool lens you can find that was designed for traditional mirrored cameras. 

If you own Sony DSLT cameras such as the a99, the a77, the a57, etc. you can buy a Sony adapter that will preserve the full exposure automation of the lenses while using them on the Nex 7 body. One adapter, the LAEA-2 will even give you faster, phase detection autofocus when you use it in conjunction with Sony's excellent line of DT and Alpha DSLR lenses. So, quick re-cap: mirror-less gives you the chance to use lots of really cool lenses that were designed for 35mm, conventional digital SLR cameras, Leica rangefinders and even medium format cameras, with the right adapters.

One of my early and prevailing gripes about lots of mirror-less cameras was the lack of a real viewfinder. The original Olympus Pen and a number of the Panasonic G series cameras came without integrated finders. You could use an optical finder dedicated to a single focal length or you could, in some cases, buy electronic viewfinders but most people seemed to make due with what is derisively known as "stinky-baby-diaper" hold. SBD is a learned operating flaw in which the camera operator holds the camera out at arm's length (in order to see to focus and compose) and jabs at the shutter button with his or her arms positioned to transfer the maximum amount of camera movement and shake at the moment of exposure. People learn to do this out of necessity with their cellphones and some younger proto-photographers seem unaware that there are better holding techniques available with "real cameras"  if only they had the use of a viewfinder of some sort.

In critiquing poor camera holds I am not trying to be clever or irrationally perjorative. The handheld camera is much more stable when it sits in the center of at least three anchor points. In the case of the traditional hold with the camera held up to the eye, the bend of the arms takes pressure off your shoulder muscles, each hand provides one point of a human tripod and the camera, pressed against your forehead/eye socket provides a third point of stabilization. A stabilized camera is better at resisting movement and is held with more stability which makes critical composition much easier. I think so many people use such poor technique that myriad cameras are dismissed as deficient when, in fact, it's mostly operator failure.

The Nex 7 has the state of the current art EVF. The little HD TV that lives inside the finder is lit up by LED and is 2.4 million pixels worth of information.  Yes, I think we all understand that it's not the same as an optical finder in terms of instantaneous response time and unlimited dynamic range but I would like to gently remind one and all that neither does the sensor in any camera have the same attributes as an optical finder and the EVF gives you a preview of the image in front of your camera that will much more correctly track the performance of that sensor. So, in fact, you are getting much more accurate preview imaging most of the time.


I've given in to the dark side. I have only a few film cameras left and they have optical viewfinders, everything else in my studio is now replete with an inboard EVF and I love them. When I go back to a direct, optical finder I feel cheated because I am unable to "pre-chimp" and unable to see the effects of filters, color shifts, contrast settings and so much more. In fact, I'm certain that it's only a matter of a few years until nearly all cameras come complete with electronic viewfinders. Not only for economic reasons but also because, once they become familiar, there's so much more and better information that can be used to take better photographs. To sum up, I am very happy with the new generation of Sony EVF's and plan on using EVF cameras extensively in the future. If you think you are not a candidate for this new technology borrow a Sony Nex 7 or Nex 6 or one of the DSLTs and try it out for a week. I predict that you'll fall in love with the extensive amount of information at your fingertips and the pre-visualization aid of seeing clearly the effects of your settings on the images you shoot.

So much for viewing. Let's talk about taking. 


Many people concentrate on the small size of the camera body and that is part of the charm for most. I think the charming characteristics of the Nex 7 are threefold for me. First, the 24 megapixel sensor is a game changer. When I use good technique, as opposed to random, handheld, insouciant shooting I come away with files that have enormous detail and wonderful tonality. How good is the sensor? Well, noted equipment guy, Michael Reichmann on Luminous-Landscape.com tested the Nex-7 against the Leica M9 and found the Nex-7 resolved a bit more detail. He questioned, given the strikingly similar moire patterns in the test images, whether or not the Sony Nex 7 really does have and anti-aliasing filter or if it's just a really weak one. That puts the Nex-7 in pretty rarified stratum as the Leica M9 is one of those milestone cameras when it comes to sharpness, resolution and great image files.

Many people hand hold a Nex-7 with an older legacy lens attached, get a less than stellar file and rush to blame the camera. Done correctly, with lenses like the Sony 50mm 1.8, the files are quite detailed and well rendered. Another benefit of the sensor and its implementation is the wide dynamic range measured by DXO Mark. For years the begging mantra was "give us less noise in the high ISO's." Well that seems to have been replaced with, "All I really need is great dynamic range." And so far this sensor and this camera delivers just that. So, the 24 megapixel sensor is still the highpoint for detail in the APS-C universe and it's a powerful lure. 

The second lure into the gravitation field of the Nex-7 is the ability to use an incredible range of lenses inside and outside the mirrorless universe.  It seems to be the go to camera for Leica M series lens junkies and for good reason. The newest ASPH Leica lenses perform well on this platform. I've experimented with the latest 50mm Summicron and I was impressed by the performance of the combo even at f2. I routinely use the camera with several of my favorite, older  Olympus Pen FT lenses with the 60mm 1.5 being my all time favorite.

I use the entire range of my Sony lenses for the Alpha DSLT cameras and I have never been displeased by the results. If anything the greater distance from the sensor to the mounting flange of the bigger lenses seems to give the camera some optical breathing room that makes the sensor seem even better.

The third charming characteristic will cause howls of disagreement in some circles so I guess it's subjective but I would say that the high resolution LED electronic viewfinder (EVF) is the third ingredient in the total package for me. The camera shares the attributes I've come to love about the a77 cameras: You get to "pre-chimp" everything you shoot. The amount of information presented in the finder makes the creation of most available light images remarkably straight forward. It's clean and clear and present.

So, here we have a package onto which we can graft something optically fantastic, like the Leica 35mm 1.4 ASPH, pre-chimp to our hearts' delight and burn into a state of the art sensor. What's not to like?

At the outset of the review I mentioned that I was initially stumped and dismayed by the menu. But that could easily be that I've become mentally overwhelmed by a decade of wildly different menus and wildly different interfaces across a whole panoply of digital cameras. Some far better than others. I like the menus in my a77s because they are linear and one dimensional. By that I mean that nothing extends in a vertical column that I must scroll down to see and they are linear in the sense that I can march across from left to right (the way I read) and access menus divided by somewhat coherent themes.  Not so with the Nex-7. When I accessed the menus I was confronted by six colorful and nonsensical icons. Okay, the mode icon was pretty self explanatory but the other five?  The setting menu is a good example. You go there to look for the card formatting menu but you have to go through a rotation of too many items to get there. I lose "format" geography on a regular basis. Not good if one is trying to work fast.

I'm still hazy on how to set different strengths of HDR (probably a Godsend since I'm then not tempted to use it...). I'm better with DRO but not by much.

But here's the honest reality, most of us who work with our cameras regularly probably go back and forth between two modes at the most and once we program our favorite settings into a camera we don't bounce around willy-nilly changing stuff.  I work in two ways. When I'm lazy I put the camera in "A," stop the lens down to f5.6 and use center set AF-s. That's it. I don't even use the AEL button, I use one of the Tri-Navi dials to "ride" the exposure compensation button at will. All the while pre-chimping the scenes in front of my camera and making allowances for the way I like to see stuff.

When I get serious I put the camera into the "M" mode and both the Tri-Navi dials come alive with real purpose. One controls shutter speeds while the other controls apertures. One thumb makes all the magic happen. That, and the ability to monitor so much through the EVF. I like the exposure scales along the bottom of the finder and I like being able to scroll quickly (via the DISP button) to histograms and levels, etc. In this mode I also take advantage of a little talked about Nex-7 button that actually puts me into the company of a generation of Nikon DSLR and SLR shooters. This button is just under the left most Tri-Navi dial and it is really a button inside a switch. The switch lets you choose whether the button in the center is for (AEL) exposure lock or whether the button will let you choose whether you are manually focusing or auto focusing. I always set it up as the focusing control button. And you can take it one step further and set it up to toggle between the two settings.

This is almost the same (but better!) as what my heavy duty Nikon using friends swear by. The set up their pro cameras so that the shutter button is separated from the focusing action. The focusing control is "re-mapped" to a button on the back of the camera which falls under most people's right thumbs. Hold down the button and the camera auto focuses. Let go of the button and it locks in place wherever you left it last. Focus lock with no slippage. At some point it's become second nature of my peers.

But as I mentioned I think Sony makes this control even better by letting you toggle it. You use the shutter button to AF and then hit the button on the back to toggle into manual focus. Boom. Now your focus is locked where you wanted it. Need to focus again? Hit the button again to toggle back to AF. Simple and as sure footed as a mountain goat.

There are many menu settings that I thought I would never touch which I now use routinely. When I walk around on cloudy days I switch to shooting Jpegs so I can select the black and white setting in the creative controls. When I shoot color Jpegs I find some of the creative controls to be aesthetically pleasing, like "clear" which increased contrast while making files slightly more high key and a bit "colder" feeling. But at the same time it makes them seem more crisp and delineated.

I stumbled onto one setting called "autumn leaves" and found it added a nice, warm vibrance to the few landscape images I try, in vain, to capture. I've actually used the "soft skin" setting on a few portraits and have been happy with the effect. My subject's appreciated the "assist" as well.

But the controls I use a lot are the ones that have to do with noise and dynamic range.  I like using the DRO (dynamic range optimization) control and I can generally see the results right in the finder. The control works by opening up the shadow areas. Since the Sony sensors trade off some shadow noise for resolution and dynamic range it doesn't make a lot of sense to use the DRO settings in conjunction with higher ISOs. DRO works best in situations like architectural interiors, landscapes and some still life work where you would normally be working on a tripod or at least with lower ISOs. I also use DRO in the Nex7 and the a77's when I'm shooting in bright daylight where shadows can go very deep. In almost all of these situations I'm consciously choosing to use ISO 100 or 200 for optimum quality.

It's easy for critics of the camera to pick one up, with the DRO automatic setting engaged, blaze away at ISO 3200 and then harp on noise in the shadows. The wise user understands that optimizing images by lifting shadow information (raising gain in shadow areas) is always a trade off. It's a good tradeoff in lower ISO regions when confronted with scenes that contain both bright highlights and deep shadows.  A bad tradeoff where noise is already in play.

For the most part I use my Nex 7 the way I used to use all cameras. I find it very quick and very easy to use when all controls are set to manual. With focus peaking engaged it's quick to focus and with manual exposure controls you can pan across a scene and not have shifts in exposure that are based on the changing reflectivity of the scene. With the two controls up top to give me thumb tip control of exposure settings the operation is faster than the lay out of typical DSLR cameras.

When you use manual focusing with Sony lenses in addition to getting a really great feature with focus peaking you also find that touching the focusing ring of the lens magnifies the focusing area and lets you really fine focus. Stop rotating the barrel of the lens and you go back to a full frame view.

The Nex-7 comes with a well implemented set of movie making tools including the ability to shoot at 60 fps in 1080i or 1080p. The video looks good and works well for short takes. There are reports that the camera heats up quickly during longer (over five minute) takes so this is not a substitute for people who like to video record events, speeches, etc. And there's the divide between users. Documentation video was never really the implicit design intention for this type of camera. I'm convinced the designers were looking to artists who would be making programming like two minute short programs for web use and presentations. People who use editing and create moving art. If you fall into the camp that uses video to document your kid's soccer game from beginning to end, or you are routinely being hired to record speech after speech at a dental conference this is definitely not the all purpose tool you'll want to press into service. Most of those uses are much better served by traditional video cameras.

When I pull video from the 7 into Final Cut Pro X I can do really nice things with it but it's always good to remember that all the video in still cameras intended for the consumer market is already "baked" when it comes out of the camera. That means all the settings and color are built in just like a jpeg file so your editing options when it comes to correction, tonality and sharpness are limited.  Most film makers have learned that "ugly video in camera means better video in post." What is meant by that also applies to still imaging with Jpegs. 

Experienced film makers set the controls on their cameras to reduce sharpness, contrast and saturation during the filming process. While the output from the cameras is not pretty it's also much easier to manipulate in editing. It's always easier and more effective to add contrast that to try and reduce it. It's much easier to move the sharpness up in post production but almost impossible to get rid of sharpening halos generated by in camera sharpening.  And, lower saturation looks better just about everywhere. But again, adding saturation is much easier than taking it away. I have my Sony Nex 7 set to "neutral" in the creative controls when shooting video and then I go into the neutral setting and customize it by reducing both contrast and saturation to minus one. It's much easier to end up with great files that way when you have control over post production in video.

The camera has a standard 3.5 mm stereo microphone input and the audio is good. My gripe is the same as I have with the bigger cameras in the Sony line up (excluding the new a99); there's no manual control of sound levels. This means you either get to trust that Sony did a good/great job with auto level controls or you satisfy your need for control by adding an outboard microphone mixer that can add a carrier signal to neutralize the ALC or you go one step further and just record your sound on a separate digital audio recorder and marry the sound track back to your footage in post.  I like working with the Nex in a total manual fashion when I do video but normally I reach for the a77 or a57 to do video since the cameras are larger and I can use in body IS for handheld work with any lens I choose to use.  So, the wrap up the video section: Yes, you can do very nice HD video recordings (and at a higher frame rate than most competitors) and you will have lots of control over the look and focus. The audio is good but not controllable. The run times are shorter than you might expect because of camera heating issues. This is not the camera you want to use to do a long interview in a west Texas desert in August.


There is a built in flash but I can't tell you much about it because I've never used it. Everyone who loves the Nex cameras has the same complaint when it comes to flash: The crazy people at Sony kept the proprietary shoe mount from the Konica Minolta cameras that are the ancestors of most Sony cameras. Sony cameras are the only ones that use this satanic connection point. That means you can't directly mount a standard flash to the shoe, or a standard radio trigger directly to the shoe. It also means you can't use a dedicated Sony flash on any other brand of camera.  So this is a major issue for all the people who like to attach flashes directly to their cameras.  

My bigger Sony a77's have a safety valve for professional photographers: there is a standard PC socket under one of the flaps on the side of the camera that will allow you to connect a flash with a standard sync cord. Just in case. Not so with the Nex 7. You'll have to Go Sony or get yourself an adapter. I've found an adapter I like that converts the Sony shoe into a standard, single post hot shoe that works universally with all standard flashes and triggers. It also adds a PC socket on the side for old schoolers how like to bang away with cable attached flashes. Finally, the accessory adapter gives you a place to slide in a Rode Microphone for run and gun video work. The adapters I've found are about $10 each and I ordered six from the supplier through Amazon so I'd always have one close at hand. I have three in my Think Tank Airport Security case and three in the equipment drawer. I'll probably order a couple more just in case.

Now that I've laid in a supply Sony has capitulated and started designed cameras like the Nex 6 with a hot shoe that can work with standard flashes and standard accessories. Just my luck.


While the Nex 7 uses slower (but potentially more accurate) contrast detection autofocus I haven't had much problem focusing in even dim light. You'll have trouble with large, flat areas that don't have detail to focus upon but faces and day to day objects are no real problem. Likewise, the focus is not fast enough to follow focus in sports or with fast moving children so if that's your speciality you can stop reading and go find a camera with phase detection AF. If you are a Nex 7 owner and the combination of features makes you loathe to use or even own other cameras you can always purchase Sony's LEAE-2 adapter. It gives your camera the ability to use Sony's Alpha lenses for the DSLTs, including all the Zeiss glass and long, fast lenses and it gives you phase detection AF that's as fast as that in the a77, a65 and a57 cameras. The downside is that you'll gain a translucent mirror within the adapter that will rob you of one third to one half of a stop. Some people also believe that it robs a tiny percentage of potential sharpness in the files as well. (Unless you are on a tripod and shooting under optimum conditions I don't think you will be able to see any difference in quality with or without the mirror. Just my opinion).

The way I like to use the camera when I'm trying to work faster than the contrast detection AF will allow is to use the camera in manual focusing mode and depend on the focus peaking. I used to be pretty good at fast focusing in the days of manual cameras and this is no different. It just takes a bit of practice.

No review would be complete without a discussion of battery life. At least no review of a camera with limited battery life. I assume that the new batteries in cameras like the Canon 1DX and the Nikon D4 are so stout that one rarely even thinks about battery power in those camps...

If you shoot with a Sony Nex 7 you should get used to carrying around at least one extra battery that you'll more than likely use during the course of your day. While the conservative specs rate the battery at about 400 to 450 shots that doesn't really take into consideration the amount of overall time that the finder or LCD stay on and that's where the real battery drain happens. The batteries also drain quicker in RAW than in Jpeg because the processors are working harder. Worst case scenario? Constant video use.  If I use the camera in a studio setting and I'm banging through series of portraits I can generally get 700 or 800 shots before I exhaust a battery. Walking around shooting randomly is different because you're holding the camera in a "ready state" for most of the time.

Easy fix. I found several alternate sources of batteries for the Sony. One is from Maximal Power and the other is Wasabi Power. Both of the aftermarket batteries fit well and provide at least as much power, with full power remaining indications, just like the Sony batteries. I have four batteries in all. Two Sonys, two Wasabi Power batteries and I use them interchangeably. I think expensive manufacturer's batteries are very pricey. The Sony branded batteries are nearly $50 each while the Wasabi's are something like $12 each. I've used them now for several months and have no complaints. I have a small, soft case that I drop into the bottom of my camera bag or jacket pocket with three extra batteries. That means I'm ready for the unexpected.

So, lets talk about image quality. In short, I think the Sony Nex 7 sensor is the best sensor in all of the 24 megapixel and under sensors in the APS-C or "cropped" size. I have the same sensor in the a77 and I think Sony uses different filters in front of the sensor because, with the right lenses, it seems sharper overall. Since I do have a nerdy, tech-y side I confess to having put both cameras on stout tripods and shooting them with the same lenses (via an adapter in the case of the Nex-7) and found the smaller camera to be slightly better overall.

The one trade off that I've accepted that may be different for other users is where that intersection of sensor capabilities crosses paths and creates a ven diagram of appropriate sweetness which will be different for every user. I like working with lower ISOs when I know I can wring more visual goodness out of a file that way. I'm more likely to reach for faster lenses and use them closer to wide open than I am to jack up the gain via the ISO setting. The Nex 7 sensor gives and takes. At ISO 100 it gives you the kind of dynamic range that we begged for two years ago. Really amazing dynamic range in RAW files. But dynamic range in all cameras is at the optimum wide open and then drops in a steady slope as ISO increases. I am fearless with the Nex 7 in RAW all the way up to ISO 800. Then the calculus changes and I start to change mental gears, embrace some shadow noise and think of the camera as workable to 3200. But all the way up I lose the dynamic range that was, for a while, everyone's holy grail. 

You can shoot at 3200 and be fairly happy with the results if you do good post processing noise reduction. But all of a sudden you've changed the aesthetic parameters of the camera. Not every camera does everything well. The Canon 5D mk2 outperforms this camera by a mile at 3200 and 6400 but candle hold a candle to it at 100. It all depends on what you like to shoot and how you like to shoot it.

Studio portraits with ample light? The Nex is fabulous. Exterior landscapes? Dynamic range king.  Street Photography? Loads of detail and wonderful tonalities. Reportage at night in poorly lit spaces? Not so great.


Here's the real adaptation proposition for me: This is a camera that can do amazingly high resolution photography but which is small and light to carry around. Here is a camera that can do wonderful street photography but it appears unthreatening and inconsequential.  Here is a camera that can do something your Canon or Nikon can not do, it can have one of the world's greatest Leica M optics mounted on the front and out perform even Leica's own camera for sharpness and detail. And all for around a thousand U.S. dollars.

The cons of the camera have been discussed since it's arrival but it's only fair to hit them again:

1. Slow review of taken images. (just fixed in a firmware update).

2. People often hit the movie button by accident and wasted time filming unwanted video (just fixed in a firmware update).

3. Some image quality issues with wide angle lenses. ( I personally haven't been affected by this but it has also been addressed in the firmware update).

4. Slow to focus. 

5. Not enough dedicated Nex lenses. (true. but the ability to use so many other lenses is great and it's only a matter of time before more and more lenses make their way onto the market. )

6. Fiddly and fanciful menu. (guilty).

7.  Movie length limited by overheating after five to seven minutes.

8. Short battery life. (the only way around that is a bigger camera...).

9. High ISO not as good as some competitors. (Sorry but that's a trade off...).

And here, to my mind, are the pluses:

1. The best and most useful EVF on the market.

2. The ability to use some of the very best lenses in the world today, with adapters.

3. A small, agile and well designed form factor that easy to carry all day long.

4.  A high quality video implementation (where IQ is considered).

5. One of the best sensors on the market for sharpness, sheer resolution, rich color and tonality and high dynamic range. 

6. Excellent controls for aperture preferred and manual use.

7. Very useful and well implemented focus peaking for precise and quick manual focus.

8.  Electronic first shutter for fast response and lower noise. Also lower shutter wear.


final assessment: There is no such thing as the ultimate camera or the ultimate system if you live in the real world where price, performance, usability and flexibility all mix with parameters like imaging performance. Buying and using cameras and cameras systems is as much a process of compromise and consensus as most politics. And everyone will have a different combination of features they enjoy and quirks that annoy them so there is no point to even trying to find a "winning" combination. If I lived in a world of diminished or non existent expectations I suspect I'd be happy to have any camera that works well. Regardless of its quirks, appearance or lineage.

I live in a different world that straddles several different considerations. On one hand I earn most of my living making images that I can license to end users. I am a photographer. I will continue to work as one until the market either dissolves or changes so much that what I do becomes unrecognizable or untenable. As such I handle lots of different assignments and work, with a range of tools, under different pressures and expectations than does a hobbyist.  And yet I am a hobbyist at heart. After a long week of assignments I can think of nothing more fun and fulfilling than to walk through a city with a camera in my hand, looking for something visually titillating to shoot and share.

I've worked with cameras as large as single sheet, eight inch by ten inch view cameras and everything smaller. For most of the 1980's and 1990's it was the medium format film camera and since the late 1990's every permutation of digital camera. And now, in 2012, the lines between professional and amateur cameras (and photographers) are inexorably blurring. There are no more hard and fast guidelines as to what works for work and what works for pleasure. And so we're constantly experimenting to see what works for what.

While I know I can get great files out of smaller cameras I also know that bigger batteries and bigger platforms with faster focusing can be an aid to getting quality work done on long days with fidgety subjects. That's why I used Canons big cameras and Nikons big camera in the past. But over time there's a process of distillation that I can feel happening and the Sony Nex 7 was the first ultimate shot across the collective bow.  Here is a camera that, as far as IQ is concerned, can hold it's own against nearly anything out in the market today. I'll assume that the full frame cameras with their bigger pixels hold modest advantages in overall quality but only at the margins of performance. 

By the margins of performance I mean the areas I'm not normally required to shoot. The biggest difference between "pro" full frame cameras and cameras with smaller sensors will be seen in the image quality as the ISO increases. Or the ability to create images with just the slightest sliver of sharp focus while still taking advantage of normal angles of view. But most of us shoot how we drive. We get in and go from point "A" to point "B".  We may want the performance of a Porsche or Ferrari but the reality is that we wouldn't want to drive either of those cars down the freeway at rush hour. Just wouldn't. And all the performance would be meaningless.

As a professional I've seen the vast majority of imaging work head toward the web. It's the great technical equalizer of images and in a way that's good because it means you have to have a concept and a unique point of mental focus to make images that stand out. Just being ridiculously sharp or technically perfect is essentially filtered out by the monitors the images are viewed on and the compression of web experience.  But what it really means is that in my profession I have more choices I am able to bring to bear in projects.

The Nex 7 was the shot across the bow because it basically says, "here we are, ready to go high resolution with gusto. Here was are ready to use premium glass. Here we are for $1200."  The value proposition is good. The joy of using the camera is palpable. Used correctly, in most situations it can challenge much more expensive and bulky cameras in the final display.

The bottom line for me is this: I like working with the Nex 7 and get images that are better than any I got from Canon 7D's, 60D's and other cameras in the same price range. It feels good to use. I like the EVF. It has its share of quirks and I'll work around them. It won't be my last camera but it will be the one I take out today and shoot for myself and it may be the one I shoot portraits with in Abilene Texas tomorrow. It's a good tool and it's been made better by the latest firmware.

It's quirky and a bit eccentric. That makes it a good fit for me.  

If you buy one go ahead and get the kit lens, rumors of it's mediocrity are vastly overstated (and it looks good on the camera). But whatever you do be sure to grab the Sony Nex 50mm 1.8 because it's really great. Choosing between a  Nex 6 and a  Nex 7? You're on your own. The 16 megapixel sensor in the 6 is supposed to be really good and the dials are more conventional. I've made my choice and I'll stick with the 7 for now. I'm used to the way it operates and that's half the happiness when it comes to using your camera well.  










12 comments:

cidereye said...

Wow, that's what I call a review! Anybody looking at buying an NEX-7 need look no further than this one and Michael Reichmann's equally excellent one on L-L.

Thanks also Kirk for the useful tip on using AF to lock in focus and switching to MF via rear button afterwards, not tried that yet (probably as I've only used legacy lenses thus far for MF work) but will try that out tomorrow.

Agree 100% with your pros & cons list too. I guess my only two major gripes with the NEX-7 is the menus and not being able to have different shooting setup's saved to fn type buttons. That aside it is truly a superb camera and many thanks for all your posts on this wonderful little gem, so glad I got one!

Will said...

I also find it a treat to use as a second camera around my neck. Two DSLRs -- awful. One and one -- very doable. Thanks for your work!

Phil Stiles said...

Would it be fair to say that the LAEA2 auto focus adapter brings the total size and weight up to small SLR size? So an existing user of alpha lenses ought to expect to outfit the NEX with it's own E mount lenses, to get the real benefits. Or perhaps the adapter shown (no autofocus) is enough, and does make for a handier package.

Claire said...

I had a 5N and chose the 6 for the standard hotshoe, it lets my old SB-600 work like a charm. I don't get the 24MP bit maybe cleaner noise with 16, and the interface has been improved. Happy with it. I agree with you on the strength of the NEX cameras, though for the moment I still can't live with the leisurely AF, lol. It's MF all the way for me so far.

Dave said...

Just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to write this up. I appreciate your insight and unbiased reviews! I was shooting 30 school kids yesterday, bland background, sit and smile, type images. Your blog posts actually helped me get through it. It was nice to know that there are a lot of photographers going through the same work flow issues! BTW, I will be soon jumping into the Nex system, looking for a little spark and fun back into working the box. I have noticed I don't shoot my kids at home much at all anymore, the 5D just feels like 'work' when I get it out. I am hoping the Nex will bring some of that joy back.

Brad C said...

Don't knock the SBD hold, when your kids are young enough to actually have stinky diapers it is very handy for getting low shots of them :) (shots of the kids, that is!)

I have moved completely to MFT and one of the things I like most is that I use the same camera for everything now. The body and lenses are small enough to slip into a jacket for casual outings or winter activities, while at the same time you can put on a larger prime or fast zoom along with a battery grip and have an ergonomic studio camera. It is great only dealing with one sensor in terms of processing.

I too find I have two ways of using the camera. In low ISO and RAW for serious stuff, and jpg with art filters, high iso, black and white, etc. for fun. Great that one camera can serve two purposes - business AND pleasure!

Wolfgang Lonien said...

"It's quirky and a bit eccentric. That makes it a good fit for me." - that was a cool one which made me smile. Thanks for the great review Kirk, very well done again.

Keith I. said...

Thanks for a great review. As a NEX-7 owner myself I have really enjoyed it and getting used to that EVF alleviated my fears of going EVF on the full frame. You should at least peek into the A99's EVF. I was very impressed once I remembered I actually was using an EVF.

dario dasar said...

do you use a nikon SB-600 with NEX-6 ?

Dennis Harding said...

Thanks for the excellent review. I was thinking about getting a lighter camera, that will enable me to continue hiking and shooting landscapes in the future. Twenty five years ago I was carrying a Linhof Technica. next month it will be an NEX7.

Dennis Harding said...

Thanks for the excellent review. I was thinking about getting a lighter camera, that will enable me to continue hiking and shooting landscapes in the future. Twenty five years ago I was carrying a Linhof Technica. next month it will be an NEX7.

Dave Wyman said...

A little over a year later, it's goodbye, NEX. Little 7, we hardly new ye!

This is still a great review. And the NEX 7 is still alive.