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Sony NEX-7 Review
Check The Latest Prices
Starting around $1,100 which includes an 18-55mm lens., which is a very serviceable lens, btw.
Also see the Sony A7r Review
I recently reviewed the Sony A7r, which is the next level up from the NEX 7 and NEX 6. See the Sony A7r Review here.
UPDATE: Firmware update for Expanded Auto-Bracketing!
Get the New Firmware Update Here to get your exposure bracketing all the way to 3.0 EV! You can take 3 frames at 1, 2, or 3 EV now! For HDR, I still suggest 3 exposures at 2 EV, which would be -2, 0, and +2.
My camera reviews are strange. I’m just a guy that likes to bend cameras to my will. I’m very practical and matter-of-fact. I don’t get into all the specs beyond the basics. I understand all the specs, but I won’t burden you with strange numbers that may confuse most people.
I do work the cameras hard, and I will just talk to you about the camera like a regular guy… I hope this is okay.
I bought this camera myself right before a Disney cruise well over a year ago and I’ve been using it off and on. When my Nikon broke, I started using it more. And then, I did a bold experiment and tried ONLY using the Sony NEX-7 on a very important travel photography trip to China. That is what sealed the deal.
Sony NEX – First Three Lenses
If you are just getting started and want recommendations on your first three lenses, here they are. Often times a camera will come with a “kit lens” that is pretty versatile and can get you a long way. The Sony NEX-7 comes with a 18-55mm lens that produces great pictures. But there are many lenses that are better for more specialized situations.
- Sony 10-18 f/4 (Amazon | B&H Photo) – A great new lens that gives you maximum wide-angle flexibility for landscapes and architecture. See my full Sony 10-18mm Lens Review.
- Sony 55-210mm (Amazon | B&H Photo) – This lens is a little big but its versatility is perfect for mid-range stuff like landscapes, birthdays, sports, etc. I’ve also used it to zoom in and get shots of the moon (like you can see below)
- Zeiss 32mm prime f/1.8 (Amazon | B&H Photo) – f/1.8 will give you some incredible depth of field. It’s great for taking photos of people, objects, or other little things you find throughout your day.
NEX-7 In Action
Here is one of many videos I have made that shows the camera in action.
Interview about the Sony on This Week in Photo
Oh my gosh… everything you want to know is in this interview with Frederick Van Johnson… It’s long… you can let that scare you or excite you… but it will be a great resource if you want to know more!
The Main Reasons I prefer the Sony NEX system :
There are many reasons. These were actually drafted in reference to my decision to go with the NEX-7 instead of the Nikon Full-Frame system. I’ll list them out here, not in any order:
The onboard focus systems - Since this is a mirrorless system, I get to see exactly what appears on the sensor. If I want it to be tack-sharp, I am assured of that. I noticed with my Nikon D800 that it sometimes came out a little bit soft. I think that is because even if the mirror/lens/sensor alignment is a little bit off, you can still get softness.
The onboard Manual Focus system - When I was on a tripod and wanted to be extra-sure I got good focus, I loved switching to manual and then twisting the focus dial.It shows me in the viewfinder the scene at 100% When I had that + Focus Peaking turned on, I knew I was nailing the focus. If you don’t know what Focus Peaking is, it allows me to see a “green” (or any color) outline of exactly what is in focus. It’s like a video game, actually!
The size and weight - Man, this thing is 6x smaller than a D800. It is TINY! It’s over 9x smaller than a D4! Nine Times Smaller. And it is so light. The lenses are so light too! I was able to walk around without a bag – you can see in the video below. I would just put my favorite tiny little lenses in my jacket pocket. My arms and back never even got remotely tired. Even better, it was just an absolute joy to pick up the camera and run out for a quick shoot. I didn’t feel like I was preparing for a major weight-carrying operation.
24 megapixel – Sure, the D800 did 36 megapixel, but I found that 24 megapixels was more than enough. The Nikon D4 only has 16 megapixels, so this has 50% more and is 8x cheaper (if you’re only concerned about megapixels).
The speed – When I wanted fast photos, I could not have been more impressed with the 10 FPS.
Movable LCD – I LOVE not having to squat all the way down or lay on the ground to take a close-to-the-ground photo. My knees hate that move. My hips don’t lie.
Amazing viewfinder – Some people do not like the digital optical viewfinder (the EVF), but I love it. That organic LED is simply amazing. I love seeing the histogram and level graphical overlays on top of the photo. I feel like it is a HUD for a fighter pilot!
More inexpensive – This is not a deciding factor for me, but I do understand budgetary constraints. It’s over 3x cheaper than the D800 and 8x cheaper than the D4! This means I can buy 2 or 3 cameras and have backups and never really have to worry if one breaks for the price of one D800!
Minor Reasons I prefer the Sony NEX System
These are minor bullet points, so I wanted to separate them from the main bits above.
Intelligent Auto – Even though I am in Aperture Priority 90% of the time, I love going into iA (Intelligent Auto) when taking photos of my kids. This means I don’t always have to switch stuff around when chasing my kids from inside to outside, from daytime to night. iA almost always makes the right decision!
E-Lenses – There are not nearly as many lenses available for this E-mount system as the competing Micro Four-Thirds system, but, for me, there are enough. The 10-18mm is a godsend. I use that for 80% of my landscapes! And, the other 55-210 lens (effectively 82.5-315mm) has gotten me enough flexibility for some of those outlier landscape situations. The kit lens fixes the middle range with no problem. The lenses are not that “fast” with great f-stops, but I don’t care so much with my landscape shots where I like everything in focus.
Tiny Batteries - I like carrying around a few extra tiny tiny batteries. True, the batteries don’t last nearly as long as the professional Nikon batteries, but they are easy to pop in and out.
Firmware Updates That Don’t Suck - Everyone complained about the lame Auto-Bracketing on the first release of the NEX. A few months later, they released a new firmware that fixed all the problems. Wow. That doesn’t happen much with some of these companies! (note, see the bottom of the article for Suggested Improvements to take it to the next level)
Movie Mode – it’s even easier to get into movie mode with the NEX-7 than the Nikon. In fact, some people complain (rightly so!) that it is too easy to get into movie mode and they click it by accident a lot. That has been fixed in the firmware update and its cousin, the NEX-6.
Okay okay… what DON’T you like about Sony NEX-7?
I can compare it to my full-frame Nikon professional DSLR, where I have a lot of familiarity.
Build Quality - Those big Nikons are a bit are tougher. They can stand bumps, bruises, and drops better than the NEX cameras.
Water and moisture – The professional Nikon cameras are also more water-resistant. I’ve never had anything happen in rain or anything with my NEX, but I DO worry about it. I never worried about it with my Nikons. Well, that’s not true. I got a lot of rain on my D3X in Hawaii and it broke. So I take that back.
Action Sports with Changing Focus – Do you shoot high-speed action sports that need a focus point that is changing? The D4, for example, is still much better at getting a high FPS where the subject is moving closer or further away. I’d frankly (and controversially) say that the NEX is better if the focus is NOT changing, because you can nail 10 FPS with no problem.
Autobracketing – This is a sore spot with me! I much prefer all the autobracketing options (plus use of a timer to start it all!) on the professional Nikon bodies.
Buffering - The professional Nikon cameras also have less of a “buffering” problem. That is, the NEX can take photos very quick, but it does start to buffer pretty quick. So it’s great in short bursts, but it wills start to slow down if you’re trying to take 14+ photos very quickly. This problem did not bother me at all, since I never encountered it.
Lenses - Nikon has a ton of lenses! There is no doubt about that. If you are doing specialty work, such as wildlife or birding, for example, then you should make full use of all the Nikon cameras. You’re not going going to get one of those crazy 600mm lenses with a great f-stop on the Sony system any time soon. However, as you can probably tell, I have all the lenses I need for the Sony system already.
Astrophotography – Also, if you are into hardcore night and astro-photography, you probably also want to stay with the full-frame systems. They’ll do a better job of collecting all that light when there isn’t much of it! In fact, I’ll probably hang on to my Nikon D800 just for Astro-photography, which I do very little of. But, I would still do okay with low-light astrophotography with the NEX if so-pressed. You can see the moon shot below, although that is not really the best example because it was not pitch black.
Does any of the above affect my travel and landscape work? Not really, and that is why I use the NEX as my main weapon.
The camera feels like a solid hunk of metal without being too heavy. I even dropped it in my hotel room, and it was so light that it hardly hit the ground! It reminds me of a 3-year-old falling down… the kids are so light that it is almost impossible to get hurt. If I ever dropped my D3X, anything below it would get destroyed like Godzilla!
The controls are fun even though the UI is quite complex.
I’m sure the UI is simple to your average Japanese techno-nerd, but I can see them being pretty confusing to the common man. I had no trouble in the menu system and UI because I’ve been using cameras for a while, but I can see how it may be confusing.
Intelligent Auto (iA)
This is the “friendly green” mode on the selector dial. It’s really smart — and I mean REALLY smart. I’m a pretty hardcore camera guy, you see. I’m sort of one of those always-in-aperture-priority mode kinda guys. That means I’m used to controlling the aperture and the ISO to make sure I get the photo I want, while letting the computer choose the shutter speed. However, I decided just to try Intelligent Auto mode for about 50% of my shots, and it ended up doing a FASTER job in most cases.
The decisions I would have made were made by iA even faster. For example, I would move from indoor situations to outdoor situations, and the iA mode would figure it out even faster than I could. And the speed is important when things are happening around you. It would also turn on things like auto-stabilization and figure out when you are taking a portrait of a person. It was smart — scary smart.
Above: Here is another photo with the kit lens. If you want to see more kit lens examples, just check in the gallery down below. I keep all the EXIF info with the photos, so you are welcome to dive deeper!
Look – I’ve never been one to ridicule those that just leave their camera on “Auto”. Some photographers will do that because it makes them feel superior that they understand all the various ways to use ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. But with this NEX-7, I was so pleasantly surprised by the iA choices, that I am inclined just to leave it in that mode most of the time! This way, I can just worry about choosing the subject matter and the composition. I can pretty much guarantee that the exposure will be just right.
I have forced it into Aperture Priority mode when I want to take a long exposure in the dark, for example. I set the ISO to 100 and I let the shutter stay open a long time while the camera was stable. The results were great. iA would not have figured that out — it would have cranked up the ISO and made a bad shot… but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Other UI Controls and Shooting Modes
There is so much to say here! All of these are finer little points, so I’ll just make a bullet-point list.
- You can very easily change the speed of the shooting all the way up to 10 FPS (frames per second) if your subject is not changing focus.
- There is a panorama mode that is very fun and easy to use. You can just kind of sweep your camera across the horizon or up and down.
- The panorama mode also lets you hold the camera in portrait orientation and swing sideways. Cool!
- The Auto-bracketing mode will not work in iA — you need to be in another mode to enable that.
- The top dials are customizable
- There are many other wacky shooting modes I have not really used much, so I can’t comment on them.
The bracketing is much improved with the New Firmware Update. Now you can go all the way from -3.0 EV to +3.0 EV! But, still, it only allows three photos. More importantly, it sucks that you have to hold down the shutter button the entire time. It causes camera shake!
It’s not that bad! I had low expectations, but my samples turned out pretty well. I don’t have any to share now, but I looked at them in-camera, and here were my findings:
- It takes 3 exposures
- It automatically corrects the ghosting and does an excellent job of it!
- The HDR effect is very subtle.
- I’ve only tried it in a few situations, and I need to experiment more.
- I still generally prefer to do the HDR in software outside of the camera, where I have more control over the tonal range and final image.
- In comparison to the iPhone HDR, the NEX-7 generally does a better job.
- Sadly, the NEX-7 saves all these images as JPGs, so there is no way to get anything more out of a RAW file.
The NEXT camera – what I really want
What I really want is a full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens system. I don’t even mind buying all new lenses. But we’re not here to talk about that… But, Sony, since I know you’re reading this, just file that away.
Thinking about Lenses…
People love the idea of re-using lenses from “old” cameras and systems, but I hope (and think) that is a tradition that will fall away like using old LPs on new record players. At some point, everything changes and you just buy new kinds of “songs” for new kinds of “devices”. Now you buy MP3s from Amazon to play on your phone. I mean, things just totally change over time, and I think the same kind of thing will happen with cameras and lenses. This is especially true when a new generation of cameras and lenses is very cheap, and you’re not looking to shell out a bunch of much money to create the kind of images you want, faster and better.
Should I get the NEX-6 or NEX-7?
This is a popular question I keep getting! I’ll try my best to answer. If you are doing mostly landscapes, architecture, etc — in other words, the kind of stuff I usually shoot — stick with the NEX-7. If you tend to do more portraits and handheld stuff, go for the NEX-6. The NEX-7 has more megapixels and is better suited for epic landscapes. The NEX-6 has better performance in low-light and is better at auto-focusing. Personally, I have both! I use the NEX-7 for my landscapes and carry the NEX-6 as a backup. Now, even though the NEX-6 is a backup, I still use it to take pictures of people, objects, and this sort of thing. It’s handy to have two cameras around for different kinds of shots for me.
Improvements to the NEX-7
- Bracketing timer - Let us click a 2 second timer that will then take all the auto-bracket images without requiring me to hold down the shutter button. When I hold down the shutter button now, it causes camera shake, even with a very steady tripod.
- More Autobracketing – Let us take more than 3 brackets.
- Smarter Timelapse - Let me totally customize taking time lapse photos. I also don’t want the screen to come on all the time and wear out the weak battery. Furthermore, let me run external power to the system.
- Fun Filters – You have these great built in features like HDR, filters, B&W, and all these sorts of things, but please don’t just flatten to a JPG. Also save the RAW for me so I have more options down the road.
- Redesign the menus - Your menu systems are ridiculous. They were obviously designed by Japanese masochists. I barely understand them, and I am a camera expert! But I know they scare the hell out of “regular” people who are, I believe, your biggest customers. I can’t figure out if your menus are designed by a single masochist or a committee of them.
- Better Viewfinder Cap - I’d like a bigger, better rubbery one that covers up my whole eye and makes it nice and dark. The current one is dinky and falls off all the time.
- Waterproofing - I don’t want to worry about it in the rain.
Above: Another wide-angle shot with the NEX. Even though the “Experiment” was only supposed to last until I left China, I’ve been shooting exclusively with the NEX-7 ever since!
More suggestions for Sony
As long as I have your ear in a public forum, here are more thoughts. By the way, you’ll see my reference to the NEX-6 below. I bought the NEX-6 as a backup camera to my NEX-7.
1) Apps - Your decision to include apps with the NEX-6 is good, but your execution is something that could only come out of a committee that been infected by marketing-nonsense. While it’s a good idea to have apps on a camera, here is where you had bad execution:
- All your apps are internally made by Sony and you did not allow other developers to do it. You should open up your API and let others create apps for you. I guarantee you that people out there can make much better apps than you can.
- There are less than 20 apps, and you are charging money for them. This is crazy. If I pay $1000 for a camera, why are you trying to make a few extra dollars from apps? I can see the marketing meeting now: “Hey, Earl, you know Angry Birds made like over a million dollars!” “Wow! We should sell our apps too!” You don’t have the ecosystem to make any significant income from your apps, and you certainly never will as long as you have a closed system! (Hint: Choose Android as an OS and build on top of that. If you don’t watch out, Google or Apple will start making cameras and they will bury your camera line in less than 2-3 years. Samsung is already a threat you should watch with their Android-based cameras.)
- Installing your apps is ridiculous! My god… the app store is clunky, and then hooking up my camera via the USB and rebooting and all that nonsense… I mean… I know you guys are embarrassed by it too. If you are all are going to make “apps” the purchase and installation should be at least as easy as iOS or Android.
2) Long-Exposure Feature - The Olympus OMD has an amazing feature you should steal. You can take a long-exposure photo and watch it live as it is being built then stop it any time. This is great for light-painting, fireworks, or any other situation where it’s hard to guess how many seconds to keep the shutter open.
3) More Modular Hardware for Open Frankenstein Accessories - Many of your Micro-Four Thirds competitors have all kinds of wonderful gizmos that people attach to pimp-out their cameras. I’m jealous! Me, for example – I’d love an extended eyepiece so that my nose does not smash the screen (I prefer to use my left eye). Some people will prefer extended battery units, extended grips, or external mic booms, etc.
4) Glass - Integrate with Google Glass ASAP so that people can use Glass as a viewfinder for the NEX. The first camera company to do this will create real excitement.
5) For Professional Cameras - two card slots that will allow overflow or auto-backup.
Let’s look at some sample photos. If you are wondering about this postprocessing “look” I have, please check out the free HDR Tutorial on the site!
To see MORE images, visit my Sony NEX Review Photo Gallery over on Google+.
Above: When I got up in this situation atop one of the highest buildings in Beijing, I was used to having my old trusty Nikon system there. But, I vowed to continue the experiment and leave the D800 back in the hotel room. So it was just me and the Sony NEX-7. I wasn’t disappointed, and I am now more than confident enough in this little Asian number.
Above: These were windy and rainy conditions in Toronto, but the NEX performed well. Because of that horrible decision to require the user to HOLD DOWN the shutter button during auto-bracketing, the photos would have come out too shaky. So, that means I did not use auto-bracketing and instead turned on the 2 second timer so I could let go and let the camera become stabilized. I had to rinse and repeat this for a few different exposures.
Above: A low-light shot in China where I was really able to use the manual focus and focus peaking to make sure it was perfect!
Above: She was backlit and coming through the hallway at me. The RAW file is nice and thick and full of light… I had more than enough to get what I needed.
Above: Here’s one of the first photos I took with the 10-18mm lens of a little path down to Lake Hayes in Arrowtown.
Above: The idea that you can get to 315mm with a lens that is smaller than a Coke can is pretty mind-bending. I pulled out the camera and shot this right behind my house!
Above: I’ve gotten a lot better at taking night shots with the NEX-7. It really helps if you have a tripod and set it up with the 2-second timer so you don’t get the camera shake.
Above: Here’s a photo of my kids I took with the kit lens.
Above: Here’s an old abandoned farmhouse. This was also shot with the 10-18mm.
Above: Even though it is not as hardy as the professional builds of the Nikon, it stands up to the cold really well. I’ve yet to have a problem in this rather bitter New Zealand winter!
Above: The China Experiment actually ended up starting before China, while I was still in San Francisco. Here’s an NEX shot of the city from above…
UPDATE: Dumping Nikon for Sony
I wrote a full story about switching from the Nikon to the Sony. You may find additional information there if this is an area of interest for you!
More Photos with the NEX-7
Here’s a gallery link over to Google+ that has a bunch more photos for you.