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Sony Alpha NEX-7 review: Sony Alpha NEX-7

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The Good Intuitive three-dial control system. Excellent images even at high-ISO levels. Best-in-class shooting performance. Comfortable to shoot with and well balanced.

The Bad Body and lens scratch easily. Not exactly compact with the kit lens attached. Costs a pretty penny.

The Bottom Line The NEX-7 offers the best of everything, from its reasonably compact size to its excellent image quality and fast performance. It's a worthwhile investment, should you have the money to spend.

8.8 Overall

Of all the manufacturers pushing interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) onto the market, Sony is definitely making the biggest waves with its NEX range. The NEX-7 is the big brother to all the other NEX models, featuring a black magnesium-alloy body that looks and feels the part of a serious camera.

Design and features

The NEX also has the biggest feature set we've seen so far on an ILC, including a 2.4-million dot resolution OLED electronic viewfinder that sits above a 3-inch tilting screen, not to mention the 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor behind the lens.

Previous NEX cameras have been a little cumbersome to shoot with, thanks to the sparse buttons and dials. Fortunately, the NEX-7 changes this for the better, and offers the best shooting experience of all the NEX system cameras, thanks to the three-dial system — or TriNavi, as Sony calls it. The two dials on the top panel of the camera, as well as a regular wheel at the back, provide an intuitive way to change exposure settings on the fly.

The body itself sits nicely in the hand, with a textured grip offering a comfortable shooting experience — not too big, and not too small. There's also a nice, sturdy camera strap provided in the box, while the kit 18-55mm lens is decked out in black finish to match the body. Over a few days of use, the body and lens did manage to attract some scratches, despite being protected in a bag.

A switch at the back can change between automatic and manual focus or locking the exposure; press the button in the middle of the switch to activate that particular feature. There's also a pop-up flash, which extends nicely over the lens and provides decent coverage with the 18-55mm lens.

While the NEX-5N felt like an incremental upgrade to the NEX line, the 7 is very different on all accounts. It feels like a different camera in all but name, with a more refined shooting experience, a sturdier grip and excellent EVF.

As well as some of the existing colour modes on the NEX cameras, the NEX-7 gets a few new treats to play with, including toy camera, pop colour, posterisation, retro, soft high key, partial colour, high-contrast black and white, soft focus, HDR painting, rich black and white and miniature mode. Like other Sony cameras, there are panorama and 3D sweep panorama modes available.

Just a few of the filters available on the NEX-7: we present to you pop colour, partial colour, black and white and retro.
(Credit: CBSi)

The NEX-7 uses Sony's E-mount lenses, and can also accept A-mount and third-party lenses with a separate adapter. Connectivity is via mini-HDMI and USB ports to the side of the camera, and there's an external-mic input available. The NEX-7 can accept SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, as well as Memory Stick Pro Duo and Pro-HG cards. A hotshoe completes the external specifications.

Compared to

NEX-7 vs.
Olympus E-P3Panasonic Lumix G3Sony NEX-7Sony NEX-5N
12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor (four thirds type)16-megapixel Live MOS sensor (four thirds type)24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS sensor (APS-C size)16.1-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS sensor (APS-C size)
3-inch, 610,000-dot touchscreen OLED3-inch, 460,000-dot articulating touchscreen LCD3-inch, 920,000-dot tiltable LCD3-inch, 921,600-dot touchscreen LCD
Full HD video (1080i, 24fps)Full HD video (1080i, 30fps)Full HD video (1080p, 25fps)Full HD video (1080p, 25ps)
35-point AF23-point AF25-point AF25-point AF
3.2fps4fps10fps10fps

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Time to first shot
  • JPEG shot to shot time
  • RAW shot to shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • 0.80.70.70.2Olympus E-P3
  • 0.80.70.70.2Panasonic Lumix G3
  • 10.70.80.3Sony NEX-7
  • 1.40.710.5Sony NEX-5N
  • 1.11.21.10.3Samsung NX11
  • 1.71.42.20.2Nikon 1 V1

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed

  • 10Sony NEX-7
  • 10Sony NEX-5N
  • 5.5Nikon 1 V1
  • 3.5Panasonic Lumix G3
  • 3.2Olympus E-P3
  • 3Samsung NX11

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The NEX-7 has two continuous shooting modes: standard and speed priority. Our test above was conducted using the speed-priority mode, where we found that it was able to shoot at a rate of 10 full-resolution JPEG images for approximately 17 frames before slowing to process them. Shooting RAW in continuous mode slows this down considerably, allowing for seven frames to be captured before slowing down.

Sony rates the battery at 430 shots.

Image quality

On default settings using automatic exposures, photos look excellent, with great colour saturation and very pleasing skin tones. The 18-55mm lens is able to resolve a lot of detail, and sharpness is very good edge to edge — unfortunately, we were not supplied with any other NEX lenses, but can only imagine that results would be even more appealing when using a unit such as the 16mm f/2.8 (not to mention more pocketable as an overall package).

In a surprise turn, the NEX-7 copes very well with keeping noise at bay on its high ISO images. Photos up to ISO 800 are virtually noise free, and right up to the maximum ISO rating it is possible to get a usable shot at reduced resolution, or applying a very small degree of noise reduction in post-processing.

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