Cameras

Sony Alpha NEX-7 Digital Camera Review

It's pretty clear from our testing: the NEX-7 is the best mirrorless camera release to date.

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Introduction

The Sony Alpha NEX-7 is the flagship of the company's NEX line of mirrorless interchangeable cameras. It features a 24.3-megapixel image sensor, rapid 10fps continuous shooting, built-in XGA OLED viewfinder, tilting 3-inch rear LCD, as well as dual control dials. With all its bells and whistles, the NEX-7 allows a level of control that has been missing from many of the compact interchangeable lens cameras on the market, putting at the top of many enthusiast photographers' wish lists since its release. The NEX-7 is kitted with Sony's standard E-mount 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, and currently comes in black for an MSRP of $1399.

Video Review

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Back

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In the Box

Box Photo

The Sony NEX-7 comes in a very attractive box, with the body and the following accessories:

  • BC-VW1 battery charger
  • body cleaning cloth
  • SEL1855 E-mount 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
  • NP-FW50 Lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • USB cable (mini-B)
  • lens cap
  • shoulder strap
  • CD-ROM and manuals

Kit Lens & Mount

The Sony NEX-7 is available body-only or with the 18-55mm kit lens (with which we conducted the majority of our tests). The kit lens features a maximum aperture range of f/3.5-5.6 and is typical of most kit lenses, with decent center sharpness that falls off dramatically at the edges except for the middle aperture ranges around f/8. The lens itself operates smoothly, with a metal construction lending it a durability that escapes most kit lenses.

The NEX-7 makes use of Sony's mirrorless E-mount, same as their other NEX camera models. The lens family has advanced quite a bit since its debut, with an expansive array of filters available and third-party lenses (mostly by Sigma) starting to trickle out. That offers you no shortage of options to attach all sorts of lenses to the NEX-7, letting you create some pretty amazing combinations. The physical mount itself is metal, as well, sticking out from the thin body of the camera with a rounded silver protrusion that matches up aesthetically with the basic silver E-mount lenses.

Lens Mount Photo

Classic Pentax lenses can be mounted with readily available adapters.

Sensor

The image sensor on the NEX-7 is the same APS-C 24.3-megapixel EXMOR sensor as found in the Sony Alpha A77. It offers superlative resolution that is approached only by the Samsung NX-series cameras. That level of resolution is difficult to live up to, however, and you'll want the best lenses to take advantage of it. The sensor also offers superior dynamic range by our tests, in line with what we've seen from previous large Sony EXMOR sensors. Add it all up and you have a truly impressive piece of imaging technology.

Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared

Viewfinder

The viewfinder on the Sony NEX-7 is a 0.5-inch XGA OLED monitor with a resolution of 2359k dots. While that resolution seems massive, the monitor does not go far beyond what other electronic viewfinders have accomplished, certainly not quite up to the standards of an optical finder in a prosumer body. Still, given the design constraints of a compact mirrorless body, it's perfectly acceptable and unlike most viewfinders it doesn't interrupt the shape of the body, just as Fuji has done on their X-Pro 1 and X100 bodies.

We did notice some performance hiccups with the viewfinder, with the image sometimes flickering and stuttering when panning in any direction. It's more annoyance than anything, and it seems to go away once focus and exposure are locked in.

Display(s)

While the camera does have an electronic viewfinder, it also sports a 3-inch tilting LCD with a 921k-dot resolution. The monitor easily matches the displays of most prosumer bodies, and slots in flush with its compartment on the back of the camera. The monitor is not touch-enabled, leaving that functionality to the sub-$1000 NEX-5N body. The LCD hinges only vertically, with a viewing angle that allows you to view the screen at nearly any angle above or below the camera.

Flash

The Sony NEX-7 includes both a full hot shoe and a dedicated built-in flash. The flash features a guide number of just 6, providing just a bit of fill flash when necessary. It pops up from the top plate of the body with a mechanical switch, meaning it can pop up even when the camera is turned off (such as inside your camera bag). The camera allows for a flash compensation of +/- 3 stops, whether using the built-in flash or a dedicated flash gun.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

Connectivity

The NEX-7 includes a built-in mini-HDMI port, as well as a mini-USB and 3.5mm microphone port. These are both hidden behind rigid plastic doors that flip open to reveal the ports. The NEX-7 does not feature a wired shutter release port, but it does have an infrared remote window that is angled just slightly upward on the grip, allowing for a variety of workarounds for this missing feature.

Image Quality

From test to test to test, we found that the NEX-7 surpassed our already high expectations. The NEX-7's massive sensor combines superb color accuracy, high ISO performance, and superlative dynamic range. We also found that the image sensor produces great sharpness—when used with a better lens. The 18-55mm kit lens is not a poor option given the price, but it's a bit like putting bicycle tires on a Ferrari—it deserves better. With a number of lens adapters and quality E-mount lenses, there's performance here that the kit lens isn't tapping into.

Sharpness

The 18-55mm kit lens does not display great sharpness at most settings, though the center of the frame is as good 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. In the middle apertures (f/8-f/14) sharpness holds quite well through the entire frame. More on how we test sharpness.

Image Stabilization

The NEX-7 produced a phenomenal amount of sharpness when placed under the duress of our camera shaking rig, able to record relatively sharp images at 1/30th of a second in handheld shake conditions. This didn't leave much room for improvement, though the optical stabilization system did produce an average sharpness gain of a hair over 31% under the same conditions.

Color

We were very impressed by the Sony NEX-7's ability to return accurate colors for images that were passed through its JPEG processing engine. The most accurate color mode we found was its neutral creative style, which returned a color error of just 2.45, with saturation levels right around 91%. The other color modes, as expected, boost saturation (and thus color error), but still kept color error under 4 (anything under 3 is quite good). More on how we test color.

The Sony NEX-7 offers RAW shooting (letting you make your own color adjustments later) as well as several color modes, including landscape, portrait, standard, vivid, neutral, deep, clear, night scene, autumn, light, and sunset. This lets you continue to shoot in JPEG (if yo uwish) while also enhancing the natural color tones of a particular scene. 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 (landscape in greens, for example) that resulted in more pleasing images and higher mean error.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The NEX-7's ability to return color errors in the sub-2.5 range put it among the best cameras that we have tested, giving users the ability to select whether they want truly accurate colors or enhanced images right out of the camera. We found this was a better compromise than the NEX-5N, which eschewed the neutral mode, only allowing users to produce images with a color error of around 3 out of the camera. RAW shooting is of course always an option, but that requires great effort in post-production to tune colors after the fact.

Color Modes

Sony calls their color modes on the NEX-7 "creative styles" and they offer adjustments not only to color values but also to contrast, sharpness, and saturation. Each of these categories can be adjusted on a +/- 3-stop scale by pressing the bottom soft key on the back of the camera (indicated by the OPTION text on the rear LCD) when in the creative style menu.

White Balance

White balance on the NEX-7 was quite good, able to accurately diagnose common lighting conditions both with and without the use of a custom white card. While we did notice some performance hitches in the usual areas, we found a custom white balance easy to set, countering these issues.

Automatic White Balance ()

The automatic white balance on the Sony Alpha NEX-7 was mostly quite good, especially in daylight and shady lighting conditions. We did see the usual hitch under our tungsten lighting setup, as the automatic white balance couldn't cope with color temperatures as low as 2800K and instead returned a very orange image. We were dismayed to see the camera's compact white fluorescent performance, as the camera handled it well when initially adapting exposure, but gradually shifted to a white balance setting that was around 1200 kelvin too warm. This happened repeatedly as we were able to cover the lens, force it to re-meter a fluorescent-lit scene, and watch it gradually shift from an acceptable image to an overly warm shot over three seconds as the white balance meter failed.

Custom White Balance ()

Luckily the custom white balance settings performed much better than the automatic, with no large performance hitches to speak of. The worst color error we saw when taking a custom white balance with a white card was in incandescent, but even then the camera was only off by a couple of hundred kelvin.

We found that the Sony NEX-7 performed adequately in white balance tests, with the usual issue with automatic white balance's handling of tungsten lighting. The compact white fluorescent issue is troublesome, but it's nothing that can't be corrected by taking a custom white balance. If the custom white balance measurement process were more cumbersome (as it is on a Canon DSLR, for example) then we might be more irked by it, but ultimately it's a limited-use case problem that is rather easily overcome.

White Balance Options

White balance on the NEX-7 is set through the white balance menu in the "brightness/color" menu. The camera allows users to select from automatic or one of seven presets, while also setting a custom white balance, inputting the kelvin temperature directly, or using pre-determined color casts. A custom white balance is captured through this white balance menu, but can easily be accessed by putting white balance in the center soft key custom menu.

Noise Reduction

The Sony NEX-7, like other Sony DSLRs and NEX cameras, does not allow you to deactivate noise reduction. In the system menu you are allowed to merely 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. More on how we test noise.

Detail Loss

Since we test primarily in JPEG to see the full effect of a camera's image processing system, we are quite used to seeing Sony cameras and their required "low" NR setting smearing out fine detail and grain. With the NEX-7, though, we were pleasantly surprised to see the noise reduction was kept to a bare minimum, and much of the fine details in our noise samples were preserved as well as on any DSLR. While you can always shoot in RAW to get the most detail and have the most control over noise reduction in post-processing, the NEX-7 produces very fine images regardless.

ISO Options

The Sony NEX-7 allows for users to select from any ISO setting from 100-16000. The 16000 ISO ceiling is a little odd, but it's 1/3rd of a stop better than 12800. While it seems like a bit of a marketing ploy at first glance, we found that the noise levels were impressive enough at that ceiling our only wonder is why Sony didn't just push it all the way to the next full stop of 25,600.

Dynamic Range

We are truly impressed by the dynamic range abilities of the Sony NEX-7, which was able to preserve signal to noise ratio effectively throughout its ISO range. We didn't detect a drastic dynamic range falloff until ISO 800, and even at the camera's maximum ISO of 16000 dynamic range remained quite good compared to the competition. We should mention that our dynamic range test is scored based upon JPEG analysis—bringing the camera's full image processing system and noise reduction to bear—so detail loss also must be accounted for. That being said, the NEX-7 preserved more tonal range than just about any DSLR we've tested recently, putting it right in line with dynamic range all-stars like the Nikon D5100, Pentax K-5, and Sony Alpha A55. More on how we test dynamic range.

We found that the dynamic range performance on the Sony NEX-7 put it amongst the best that we have tested. We should note that our dynamic range testing involves the entire image processing engine, including noise reduction. While we turn this to its lowest levels, there is inevitably some tweaking of the noise floor for every camera. Despite this, we feel confident that the NEX-7 handles both highlights and shadows very well, with salvageable image detail across the board. We found that image quality and range didn't truly begin to degrade until ISO 800, which easily puts the NEX-7 alongside prosumer cameras like the Nikon D7000 and Pentax K-5 in this test.

Low Light Performance

We were impressed by the low light performance of the NEX-7, as it was able to cope with limited light levels in a variety of shooting scenarios. We did find that its contrast-detection focus system struggled when light was truly down, but this is common of all contrast-detection systems. The other area that can be a bit of an annoyance is the electronic viewfinder and rear LCD, both of which show considerable pattern noise and banding when used in low light. These artifacts don't appear in your final image, though high ISO shooting in low light obviously brings with it a host of noise issues as well.

Noise Reduction

The Sony NEX-7, like other Sony DSLRs and NEX cameras, does not allow you to deactivate noise reduction. In the system menu you are allowed to merely 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. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The Sony NEX-7 allows for users to select from any ISO setting from 100-16000. The 16000 ISO ceiling is a little odd, but it's 1/3rd of a stop better than 12800. While it seems like a bit of a marketing ploy at first glance, we found that the noise levels were impressive enough at that ceiling our only wonder is why Sony didn't just push it all the way to the next full stop of 25,600.

Focus Performance

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

Low light sensitivity was the only video test where the NEX-7 didn't excel. The camera required 17 lux to produce an image that is considered bright enough for television broadcast. This isn't a great showing compared to the NIkon D5100, but the NEX-7 is on par with the Olympus E-P3 in this category.

Shooting with the camera's 24p record mode does give it a boost in low light situations. The camera needed just 13 lux of light to reach the same brightness levels at 24p than it needed for 60i and 60p (both at 17 lux). Also, keep in mind that the type of lens used with the camera can make a huge difference in low light sensitivity. A faster lens with a wider aperture setting should be better than Sony's kit lens for recording low light video.

Chromatic Aberration

The kit lens on the NEX-7 left a moderate amount of chromatic aberration, mostly due to heavy diffraction at smaller apertures of f/22 and under. The camera can largely correct these color fringes, but the sharpness loss is something that cannot be replaced. If you have the ability to, we recommend shooting with an aperture larger than f/22 whenever possible.

Distortion

The 18-55mm kit lens on the NEX-7 had some distortion issues typical of wide angle zooms. At the 18mm focal length our tests indicated a barrel distortion amounting to nearly 3.75%, which is more severe than normal. While most kit lenses suffer from this, the E-mount 18-55mm lens quickly fell in the other direction, with a 2.34% pincusion distortion already visible at the middle focal length of 35mm. This was reduced to a little more than 1.2% pincushion distortion at the maximum 55mm focal length, but no matter how you slice it, it's a poor showing from this little kit zoom.

As will become a common refrain throughout this review, we recommend replacing or complementing this kit lens as soon as you can. Utilizing just this 18-55mm lens on the NEX-7 means you've paid for significantly more performance than you're getting from your camera.

Motion

The Sony NEX-7 not only offers an abundance of frame rate options for recording video, but it also captured motion extremely well in our tests. The camcorder's 1080/60p record mode is definitely its best—it produced crystal-clear video that looked smooth and fluid throughout our test. We did notice a tad more artifacting when shooting with the NEX-7's 1080/60i mode, and the camera had its worst performance using its MPEG-4 video recording option.

Having all these recording options is great for compatibility, as well as improving the versatility of the camera. Sony's 24p mode produced a very good film-like aesthetic that some users may want to use, while the 60p setting is better for recording fast-paced motion sequences. Overall, the NEX-7 did a tad better than the Sony NEX-5N in this test, but the differences were barely noticeable with the kit lens.

One thing we did notice was a tendency for the camera to overheat when used for recording video over slightly longer periods of time. While this showed up in a single video after around 20 minutes, it also happened when recording several shorter clips in succession over the same period. The camera itself wasn't hot to the touch, but we started seeing overheating warnings and performance issues with the rear LCD after just fifteen minutes in a climate-controlled (68 degrees) setting. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.


Video Sharpness

Video we shot with the Sony NEX-7 was very sharp, but the camera (with its kit lens) wasn't quite able to match the sharpness results we've seen from some of the best consumer camcorders we've tested. Still, it did a very good job in this test, registering a horizontal and vertical sharpness of 700 lw/ph in its 1080/60p record mode. Sharpness levels were a bit lower when we recorded using the NEX-7's 60i record mode, but they wren't hugely different than the top-notch 60p setting.

In low light, the camera took a bit of a hit with sharpness, but the results were still surprisingly good. With the 60p mode, the NEX-7's video had a horizontal sharpness of 600 lw/ph and a vertical sharpness of 650 lw/ph. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low Light Sensitivity

Low light sensitivity was the only video test where the NEX-7 didn't excel. The camera required 17 lux to produce an image that is considered bright enough for television broadcast. This isn't a great showing compared to the NIkon D5100, but the NEX-7 is on par with the Olympus E-P3 in this category.

Shooting with the camera's 24p record mode does give it a boost in low light situations. The camera needed just 13 lux of light to reach the same brightness levels at 24p than it needed for 60i and 60p (both at 17 lux). Also, keep in mind that the type of lens used with the camera can make a huge difference in low light sensitivity. A faster lens with a wider aperture setting should be better than Sony's kit lens for recording low light video.

Usability

The Sony NEX-7 features a level of control that is nearly unrivaled in the compact system camera market, with its three control dials allowing for complete control over exposure while shooting. The built-in function buttons and exposure/focus lock also aid a higher-level shooter, while its built-in XGA OLED viewfinder is well-implemented and satisfying to use. While the NEX-7 doesn't replace a full prosumer DSLR in every respect, it's certainly designed to accommodate even the most advanced shooters.

Automatic Features

The Sony NEX-7 includes a 1200-zone metering system that is used to automatically adjust exposure in the majority of the camera's many shooting modes. The camera uses this to supply information to its main automatic mode, intelligent auto, which will examine the scene at hand and try and select an appropriate scene mode. This will not only adjust exposure appropriately, but should also make changes to color, tone, and saturation consistent with selecting a scene mode manually.

Buttons & Dials

The control scheme on the NEX-7 can be a bit confusing if you're used to most digital cameras that feature a fully labeled selection of buttons. Most of the dials and buttons on the camera are not permanently labeled, instead having their function called out on the rear LCD. This can certainly be a bit confusing at first, and it will take some getting used to. One quirk here is that the function button on the top plate of the camera (just behind the shutter release button) is also unlabeled, though this seems to be more of an aesthetic decision than one predicated on enhancing control.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The Sony Alpha NEX-7 has a wide collection of color modes to go along with its batch of scene modes and digital effects. The camera's scene modes are located in its "SCN" setting on the digital mode dial, though the sweep panorama, 3D sweep panorama, and anti motion blur modes have their own dedicated settings. On top of that, users can set one of several creative styles (your traditional color modes) as well as one of 11 digital picture effects.

The menu on the NEX-7 is (for better or worse) identical to previous Sony NEX models. It trades more on style points than sheer functionality, but it will make anybody jumping up from an entry-level NEX model feel right at home with the more advanced model. When you press the menu key you are given six categories of options to choose from, including shooting mode, camera settings, image size, brightness/color, setup, and playback options. For the most part, finding the option you want is relatively painless, though there are some options that are seemingly hidden on purpose (such as noise reduction being in the setup folder, rather than in camera settings). This splash page menu design also requires an extra keystroke or two when you find yourself making multiple menu changes, common when moving between different lighting conditions.

Handling

Picking up the Sony Alpha NEX-7 it's immediately apparent that this is a camera that is the result of sparing no expense. The grip is plush, with contours that align extraordinarily well with the hand. Where smaller NEX cameras are awkward with small grips and DSLR-size lenses, the larger body of the NEX-7 allows for precise handling, even with longer telephoto lenses. We also reserve separate praise for the protruding rear thumb rest, which rises out from the body, offering enough purchase to allow a single hand to comfortably control the camera with even a full 55-210mm lens attached.

Handling Photo 1

The tri-navi control scheme of the NEX-7 extends the context-sensitive control scheme found on previous NEX models. As with those models, the controls on the back of the camera are not labeled, instead having their function called out on the rear LCD. This also includes the two dials on the top plate, which often adjust exposure (aperture and shutter speed_ with the rear control dial usually controlling ISO. It's a simple, elegant control scheme that provides the same level of control found on any prosumer DSLR, with the added bonus of being aesthetically pleasing.

Handling Photo 2

The NEX-7's use of a built-in electronic viewfinder also contributes to its excellent handling, as does its tilting rear LCD, allowing for shooting at nearly any angle or even in extremely bright conditions. The viewfinder and LCD both sit flush against the body, protruding only marginally from the back of the body. The result is a relatively compact body that offers just about every in-body feature you could ask for in a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The result is a camera that we're simply hard-pressed to criticize.

Handling Photo 3

Buttons & Dials

The control scheme on the NEX-7 can be a bit confusing if you're used to most digital cameras that feature a fully labeled selection of buttons. Most of the dials and buttons on the camera are not permanently labeled, instead having their function called out on the rear LCD. This can certainly be a bit confusing at first, and it will take some getting used to. One quirk here is that the function button on the top plate of the camera (just behind the shutter release button) is also unlabeled, though this seems to be more of an aesthetic decision than one predicated on enhancing control.

Buttons Photo 1

The buttons themselves physically are easy to operate, which few exceptions. The three control dials all have just enough resistance to them, allowing for quickly changing settings easily. The buttons have very little travel, but still offer a nice haptic response and (for the most part) an audible click when activated. The camera features a dedicated video record button, though it does not have a button for engaging the camera's automatic mode, instead requiring a trip to the camera's menu.

Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

While the camera does have an electronic viewfinder, it also sports a 3-inch tilting LCD with a 921k-dot resolution. The monitor easily matches the displays of most prosumer bodies, and slots in flush with its compartment on the back of the camera. The monitor is not touch-enabled, leaving that functionality to the sub-$1000 NEX-5N body. The LCD hinges only vertically, with a viewing angle that allows you to view the screen at nearly any angle above or below the camera.

Viewfinder

The viewfinder on the Sony NEX-7 is a 0.5-inch XGA OLED monitor with a resolution of 2359k dots. While that resolution seems massive, the monitor does not go far beyond what other electronic viewfinders have accomplished, certainly not quite up to the standards of an optical finder in a prosumer body. Still, given the design constraints of a compact mirrorless body, it's perfectly acceptable and unlike most viewfinders it doesn't interrupt the shape of the body, just as Fuji has done on their X-Pro 1 and X100 bodies.

We did notice some performance hiccups with the viewfinder, with the image sometimes flickering and stuttering when panning in any direction. It's more annoyance than anything, and it seems to go away once focus and exposure are locked in.

Image Stabilization

The NEX-7 produced a phenomenal amount of sharpness when placed under the duress of our camera shaking rig, able to record relatively sharp images at 1/30th of a second in handheld shake conditions. This didn't leave much room for improvement, though the optical stabilization system did produce an average sharpness gain of a hair over 31% under the same conditions.

Shooting Modes

The one complaint we could register with the NEX-7's body design is the lack of a mode dial—a common trait shared by all of Sony's NEX cameras. While we found ourselves shooting primarily in aperture-priority and manual modes (both in real life and in testing), we can see users switching rapidly between automatic, creative, and scene modes finding the compulsory trip to the camera's menu a frustrating experience. In that menu you'll find options for full manual, program auto (with shift), aperture priority, shutter priority, scene mode, anti motion blur, sweep (and 3D sweep) panorama, and intelligent auto mode.

Manual Controls

The tri-navi control scheme allows for a great deal of management over the exposure settings of the camera at any given time. In addition, the center button on the rear control dial allows you to access the camera's "custom" settings, which offer a great degree of control and access to commonly used features. This helps get around the lack of an overlay or function menu, such as seen on other cameras. Given the small issues in menu design and navigation, that's at least welcome.

Recording Options

The NEX-7 doesn't come packed with heaps of image size options, preferring the simple large, medium, and small setup with 3:2 and 16:9 aspect ratios. Users can select to shoot in RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG, with options for either fine or standard compression. As with shooting continuously, there's a slight processing delay after taking any group of shots, as the camera chews through the data collected by the large image sensor.

Speed and Timing

Sony's interchangeable lens cameras are not known for being shy around the track. While the NEX-7 doesn't make use of the translucent mirror technology found in their full-size Alpha DSLRs, it does hang with them for shot-to-shot speed, making it one of the most potent action shooters on the market despite its high-resolution sensor.

The NEX-7 includes several different drive modes that will fire off shots at various speeds. The drive menu is easily accessed by pressing left on the rear control dial, allowing you to select from single, continuous, bracketing, self-timer, continuous self-timer, and speed priority shooting modes.

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 good as you're going to find.

The NEX-7 includes several options for applying a delay before or in-between your photos. While it doesn't include a built-in intervalometer, it does allow you to select a self-timer delay of 10 or two seconds. You can also select a continuous self-timer, which will take a small burst of shots after a designated time delay.

Features

When you look at the NEX-7, you can almost imagine a group of camera designers sitting around a table making up a list of asked-for features on a compact system camera. Electronic viewfinder, built-in flash, articulating LCD, APS-C image sensor, multiple control dials, full hotshoe, dedicated mic input, HDMI and standard USB ports, and a large, plush grip. The NEX-7 ticks off all these boxes, offering the most complete package of any compact mirrorless camera we've seen, in a size that is only slightly larger than our previous favorite, the Olympus PEN E-P3.

Recording Options

The Sony NEX-7 offers the ability to record in AVCHD 2.0 1080/60p (28 Mbps) with 60i options at lower bitrates. You can also record at 24p in either 24Mbps (AVCHD) or 17Mbps (.MP4, for convenience). The NEX-7 also provides a 1440x1080/30p option at a smaller 12Mbps bitrate, which will give you a 4:3 ratio for fitting video on certain displays; retroproofing, if you will. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Since the NEX-7 lacks a dedicated video shooting mode, you're left pressing the camera's dedicated video record button, which is integrated into the thumbrest on the back of the camera. This inherits the exposure settings that you have the camera currently set to, with the exception of shutter speeds being limited to 1/30th of a second and faster. This means that in manual mode you are able to fully control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO when recording video, just as on the Sony NEX-5N. You can also adjust these settings while a recording is being taken, letting you quickly slow the shutter speed per frame down if you wish to blur action, for example.

Auto Controls

Since the NEX-7 inherits exposure settings whenever you begin a recording, that means that you can just as easily pop the camera into its intelligent automatic mode, press record, and it will automatically adjust the picture for you. This also lets you get creative, applying the camera's digital effects and creative style color modes to adjust sharpness, tone, contrast, and saturation the same way you would for still images.

Zoom

Zoom on the Sony NEX-7 is entirely manual, as you have to turn the focal ring on the lens to adjust your field of view. This means you can zoom while recording video the same way you would when shooting stills. As of this writing there are no powered zoom lenses for Sony's E-mount system, though that may change in the future should similar powered zooms for other lens families take off for mirrorless cameras. This means it can be difficult to get a smooth zoom pull without a very steady hand.

Focus

Focus while recording video is limited to contrast detection (as is focus throughout the camera's operation), which can be quite slow in low light settings. You can focus while recording video, which slows down the focusing action slightly, to present a smoother transition from one subject to another. This unfortunately doesn't offer much control, and the shallow depth of field provided by the camera makes these focusing mistakes much more apparent.

Exposure Controls

Exposure, aperture, and shutter speed are all able to be controlled manually when shooting video with the NEX-7. In any shooting mode where you have control over these settings you also can control them for video, both prior to and during a recording. If you're in a fully automatic mode, the exposure compensation value will also be inherited, adjusting the camera's metered exposure to suit your preferences.

Audio Features

The Sony NEX-7 features a built-in stereo mic as well as a dedicated 3.5mm mic port on the left side of the body, though it lacks on-screen level indicators and much in the way of audio control. While the mic port is a welcome feature for those looking to record high-quality audio on the NEX-7, the lack of control inhibits the utility of this feature for all but amateur video productions.

Mic Photo

Conclusion

When Sony debuted their mirrorless system, the promise of a full APS-C image sensor in a relatively compact body was enticing, if not entirely realized. The Sony NEX-7 scratches closer at the potential of that combination by bringing together an excellent 24.3-megapixel sensor, speedy performance, and a compact body designed for serious photography.

It seems that, prior to the NEX-7, every mirrorless camera has been an exercise in compromise; smaller size in place of increased control and quality. The NEX-7 builds off the design philosophy of earlier NEX cameras, squeezing just about every piece of hardware you could ask for into a body not much larger than the NEX-5N.

The NEX-7 offers an XGA OLED electronic viewfinder, its mammoth 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, a full hot shoe, built-in (albeit weak) flash, processing that is able to handle 10fps continuous shooting, articulating high-resolution LCD, and three control dials. Take all that and put it in a body with a fantastic grip and you have a serious tool capable of some serious photography.

That isn't to say the NEX-7 is perfect. Its focus system is still slow compared to similarly priced DSLRs (including those from Sony), while we found that its 18-55mm kit lens has poor edge sharpness and distortion issues across the zoom range. We'd also like to see future versions offer an menu geared toward NEX-7 users rather than repurposed from the entry-level NEX models.

In terms of all-around performance, though, the NEX-7 is, quite simply, the best mirrorless camera we have tested to date. Its combination of control, image quality, responsiveness, video capability, color accuracy, dynamic range, hardware features, and superb handling make it the kind of camera any photographer—professional or amateur—should love to have in their bag.

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