Sony NEX-7 Review
The Sony Alpha NEX-7 is the flagship of the company's NEX line of mirrorless system cameras.
In test after test, we found that the NEX-7 surpassed our already high expectations. Its massive sensor combines superb color accuracy, great high ISO performance, and superlative dynamic range. The image sensor also produces great sharpness when used with a good enough lens. The 18-55mm kit lens is not a completely unreasonable option, given the price, but it's a bit like putting bicycle tires on a Ferrari—the camera just deserves better. With a number of lens adapters and quality E-mount lenses, there's raw performance capacity here that the kit lens can't tap into.
Sony has kept their tendency towards oversaturation in check, providing great color accuracy.
The NEX-7's JPEG engine produced impressively accurate colors. The camera's best color mode, the "neutral" creative style, returned a color error of just 2.45, with saturation levels right around 91%. Users will probably want to pump up the saturation in post-processing to avoid flat-looking shots, but the potential for realistic rendering is there. The other color modes, as expected, boost saturation (and thus color error) well above the ideal, but still kept color error under 4.0 (anything under 3.0 is quite good).
The Sony NEX-7 offers the option to shoot RAW files, letting you make your own color adjustments later, as well as numerous JPEG color modes. These include landscape, portrait, standard, vivid, neutral, deep, clear, night scene, autumn, light, and sunset. We found that the clear, deep, night scene, neutral, and standard modes kept color error under 3, while the others tended to push saturation in key areas (greens in landscape mode, for example) that resulted in more pleasing images but higher mean error.
Noise Reduction & Detail Loss
Sony's aggressive noise reduction habits are alive and well, but shots are printable up to ISO 6400 with little work required.
The Sony NEX-7, like other Sony DSLRs and NEX cameras, does not allow you to completely deactivate noise reduction. In the system menu, you are allowed merely to select from one of three strengths: low, normal, or high. While the feature is titled "high ISO noise reduction," shooting in RAW and JPEG shows that there is some level of reduction taken even at ISO 100. Overall, though, we found the low level of noise reduction to be effective in producing printable shots at ISO 6400 and lower, with higher NR settings keeping noise lower at the expense of fine detail.
Sharpness & Resolution
Do yourself a huge favor and replace the kit lens immediately.
The 18-55mm kit lens does not display great overall sharpness at most focal lengths or aperture settings, though the center of the frame is as sharp as you'd expect across the aperture range. Unlike many kit lenses for compact mirrorless cameras, the 18-55mm E-mount pushes the minimum aperture past f/22 to f/32 at the maximum focal length. While this flexibility is admirable, anything past f/22 is all but unusable outside of the center of the frame. At the largest apertures we found a similar problem, with sharpness falling off dramatically at the edges. With middle apertures (f/8-f/14) the images look softer, but the sharpness falloff is far less dramatic.
Great shot-to-shot speed and response time are somewhat limited by a mediocre focus system.
The most interesting mode for you speed junkies is going to be the speed priority continuous mode, which allows the NEX-7 to hit a blistering 10fps shot-to-shot rate. We tested the NEX-7 using an electronic timer and found that it hit a near perfect 10fps steadily throughout its burst. It accomplishes this by using an electronic first curtain, eliminating the need for a mechanical shutter to both cover and uncover the image sensor. This drastically reduces the shot-to-shot time in addition to making the camera more responsive as a result. If you need a camera for capturing fast-moving action, the NEX-7 is just about as fast as you're going to find...with one caveat.
The autofocus system of the NEX-7 is slower than we've seen on competing mirrorless cameras such as the Olympus E-P3. It doesn't track subjects as well as phase detection AF systems and it's not as quick in acquiring focus on the initial shot. In short, the NEX-7 can be blazingly fast, provided it doesn't have to focus. Our advice is to try and frame your shot so the subject is moving parallel to the camera, rather than straight at or away from you. That kind of shooting is just too much to ask of the focus system.
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