April 24, 2014

Sony NEX-7 Hands-On Review Part 1: The New Super-Camera

Sony NEX-7 Review Series

The NEX-7 is everything I hoped it would be and more. It might even be too good!

It took over five months, but Sony finally delivered my NEX-7 kit on March 8 (my birthday, natch!). After using the camera for a few weeks, I can say it’s exactly what I hoped it would be: A worthy upgrade over the NEX-5, and perhaps the best enthusiast camera on the market. But it’s not without flaws, including some surprising shortcomings. Here’s my hands-on review!

Why Buy the Sony NEX-7?

You might also want to read Why Buy a NEX-7? Why Sony NEX At All? and Is the Sony NEX Camera System Excessively Proprietary? or my Sony NEX-5 Camera Review

The NEX-5 was a good camera, combining portability and excellent image quality. And it was a great platform for learning how to shoot. The NEX-5N remains a great step up from the point-and-shoot world, and I would not hesitate to recommend it. But “from the hip” shooting (no viewfinder) and the frustrating menu system were deal-breakers for many enthusiast or pro buyers. That’s where the NEX-7 comes into its own.

Sony brought just about everything to the table with the NEX-7:

  • The OLED viewfinder gives a more-natural shooting position for SLR users and overlays useful information on the live image
  • The tiny removable NEX flash and its proprietary connector are replaced by a Sony-standard hot shoe and integrated pop-up unit
  • The Tri-Navi control system makes it much easier to work in manual mode, with aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and more easily accessible
  • Video is improved with a standard microphone input and 1080p AVCHD mode

The NEX-7 is definitely not the camera for everyone. Average camera buyers don’t need or want these features, but enthusiasts demand them. Indeed, each addresses specific criticisms of the initial NEX cameras. The combination takes the NEX system to new levels, and folks like me are willing to pay the price.

Pair it with a great lens (like Sony's SEL50F18) and the NEX-7 is absolutely brilliant!

Why Not Buy the NEX-7?

The NEX-7 has its share of shortcomings, though.

Each new feature is a little bit flawed:

  • The cool OLED viewfinder is over-saturated and off-color, causing some owners to resort to bizarre hacks to compensate
  • Eyeglasses bump into the viewfinder hood and don’t reliably trigger the proximity sensor, and the diopter doesn’t adjust far enough for solidly-nearsighted folks like me to use it “naked”
  • The built-in flash is weak and any worthwhile Alpha flash is going to be larger than the camera body itself
  • Tri-Navi can’t do everything, so the user still has to dive into Sony’s confusing NEX menu system on occasion
  • It’s way too easy to accidentally press the video record button and there’s no way to disable it
  • The automatic audio gain on the microphone port can’t be disabled

Then there’s the sensor. As we’ll cover next, it’s almost too good, revealing the limits of Sony’s sparse lens lineup. Only a few of the E-mount lenses really do the NEX-7 justice in enthusiast hands. Even if there were an assortment of solid choices, carrying too many lenses negates the portability advantage of a mirrorless system camera.

Sony can fix many of these shortcomings in firmware, and one hopes the major gaffes (OLED saturation, the video button, audio gain, etc) will be addressed in short order. But the NEX-7 will never be perfect.

The NEX-7 and SEL50F18 are like peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly, or Kermit and Piggy!

Stephen’s Stance

Pros:

  1. Nails the feature wish list for NEX system lovers: OLED viewfinder, standard-ish flash shoe, Tri-Navi control, mic input
  2. 24 megapixel (!) sensor with image quality that’s almost too good
  3. Solid build and perfect body

Cons:

  1. Expensive (but not Leica expensive!)
  2. Image quality might actually be too good for Sony’s lens lineup
  3. Firmware isn’t perfect and old NEX menus still suck

On balance, the NEX-7 is a great option for enthusiasts, especially those with an investment in E-Mount lenses and adapters. It’s extremely capable technically, perhaps to a fault: Pair it with a great lens like the SEL50F18 and the world is yours to capture. But I cannot recommend it to casual photographers or demanding SLR users.

Note: There are Amazon links here. If you buy a NEX-7 from this link, this site gets financial support in the form of a commission from Amazon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/danmack Dan Mack

    another issue/con I have with the NEX line (I own the NEX-C3) is the limited bracketing features for doing HDR.  You can only do 0.7 EV steps and I think it is limited to only 3 steps.   I was hoping that the NEX-7 would fix this but it appears not to be the case.