My Sweet Little NEX-7, A Personal Perspective
A clunky, utilitarian approach to pro digital photography
BASIC SPECS- Mirrorless rangefinder style, 24.3MP CMOS APS/C sensor (1.5x focal length multiplier), 3:2 image ratio, adjustable 3″ LCD, 2.4 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder, proprietary Sony hot shoe, pop-up flash, no built-in image stabilization (lens only), Sony AF/E lens mount, SD/SDHC/SDXC and Memory Stick Pro cards, USB 2 and HDMI ports, AVCHD Progressive 1080p video at 60 or 24 fps with stereo sound recording capability via a microphone socket, weight with battery- 14.11 oz.
The Sony Alpha NEX-7 has been out well over a year so there are tons of reviews about it. My two favorite reviews are about as different as you can get. The ridiculously in-depth review over on DP Review is so long, I don’t think you need the camera manual to figure it out. I didn’t.
They are usually pretty even handed though it’s obvious they really liked it. If you find the 28 page review too intimidating, skip to the ‘next-to-last’ page to read their findings and conclusions. They also have a lot of sample images to view.
They consider the NEX-7 a game changer and gave it their highest rating.
The only real criticisms were its somewhat clunky user interface and the lack of Sony AF/E mount lenses available for it back then. When you start shooting at 24MP, lenses matter. The choices for AF have improved over time, and many more are in the pipeline.
The other ‘rolling’ review is more of a personal ramble by Michael Reichmann over at Luminous Landscape who shoots way more than I. He really puts the NEX-7 to task. Especially the lenses he mounted to it. Most of those lenses were not auto focus. There were a few criticisms, but in the end, he liked it enough to keep using it.
This is the review that convinced me the NEX-7 was the camera I had been waiting for.
To be fair, I had the same issue with constantly bumping ‘on’ the Video Record button when using the camera in vertical mode as he did. Sony finally fixed this issue and a few others with a software update to the camera. Now that button can be disabled.
I had been looking for an electronic camera that did not rely on anything ‘mechanical’ to deliver a quality experience… the NEX-7 comes close.
It uses a digital shutter to start the exposure but finishes the exposure with a mechanical shutter. If you couple it with a manual lens, you get rid of the auto focus mechanism and mechanical couple between the camera and the iris diaphragm. Some of us expect to control those things ourselves. Most Pros qualify as ‘Control Freaks’.
Compared to an SLR-
The NEX-7 sports an all electronic viewfinder that requires no optical path like a traditional SLR. The pentaprism (or porroprism) sitting on top of an SLR adds to the weight, bulk and complexity of the device. My glass pentaprism example was stripped from a busted 35mm AF SLR and weighs in at 44.2 grams (1.55 oz.). It’s one of the smaller ones I’ve seen.
Then there is the mirror box below the prism required to support a true ‘through the lens’ optical viewfinder. Hence the term- ‘Single Lens Reflex’ (SLR). That’s fine for telephotos, but it put’s a real design crunch on wide angle lenses. Wide angles could be much smaller if it were not for the mirror box in every SLR ever made.
The mirror has to flip back and forth, every time you take a shot. A marvelous invention, but very complex and somewhat noisy.
It’s why lenses for rangefinder cameras are so much smaller- no mirror box to contend with. They are also a lot quieter as a result, just like the NEX-7. This opens the door for a bunch of other possibilities.
Of course none of that matters if the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is not ‘up to snuff’. Well, guess what? The NEX-7 sports the same EVF as in the Sony A65, A75 and the newest, A99. It is state of the art. I’m sure in another year, Sony will introduce a better one, but not today.
I hate using cameras without an eye level viewfinder.
I feel very disconnected from my subject when I’m looking at a 3″ LCD. I need to look through to my subject. The less that interferes with that, the better. This is where the NEX-7 shines. The EVF is so bright and crisp, you sometimes forget it’s not optical. You really have to see (through) it to believe it.
Stop the lens down and you still get the same bright view regardless of the lens you have mounted. ƒ8.0 looks just as good as ƒ2.0. In very low light, it will start to show some pixelation, but it’s still a brighter view than through an SLR. Much, much brighter.
So the NEX-7 was the first digital camera to deliver high resolution (24.3MP) without an SLR mirror box or optical viewfinder, but still provide a practical eye-level solution.
The Wide Angle Lens Dilemma-
Wide angle lenses have a problem that’s hard to get around.
Out at the corners of the frame, the light is striking the sensor at very steep angles. The wider the lens, the worse it gets. The individual receptors of an image sensor are not perfectly flat so they respond to light in different ways at steep angles. Some sensors display a slight purple cast out near the edges because of this. It has been a constant source of frustration for both sensor designers and lens designers. 35mm SLR wide angle lenses have a somewhat longer path to film plane (or sensor) because of the dubious mirror box as mentioned above. This longer optical path actually helps wide angle lenses cope better with some digital cameras so bigger is not necessarily bad. Go figure.
One added bonus, when using older 35mm manual focus lenses, you are only using the center of the lens… its ‘sweet spot’. This helps eliminate most corner issues these older lenses might have had. Especially wide angles.
A Zillion Lenses, Ready to go.
This IS a big deal and what attracted me to it.
That alone makes it a game changer because now you can mount any 35mm lens ever made.
And by any, I mean ANY!
The first lens I bought for the NEX-7 was a ‘like new’ Nikkor 24mm ƒ2.8 manual focus lens I scored off eBay. Nikon was the last major 35mm lens maker to suspend the manufacture of manual focus lenses which means there is some real good glass to be had. The focus ring is silky smooth and lightly dampened. It’s razor sharp and the close focus is very good.
To be fair, Olympus and Panasonic have a Micro 4/3rds mount that will also take older manual focus lenses via adapters, but the image sensor is so small, you have to divide the focal length by 2 to get its effective focal length. Again, no big deal for telephoto enthusiasts, but not so much for wide angle. A 24mm very-wide effectively becomes a 48mm ‘normal’ lens. That don’t cut it for me.
This is most reasonable.
So there are literally tens of thousands of lenses I could mount to the NEX-7 and focus manually. I have a bag of old Olympus OM lenses and they all work great. Some better than others, but they all work.
Personally, I think Auto Focus is grossly over-rated.
I don’t have the space to go into all the things I like about it, but the NEX-7 also features a manual focus aid called ‘Focus Peaking’. It electronically highlights the area of critical focus making it extremely easy to set critical focus as well as accurately previewing ‘depth of field’. Something that was very hard to do on a classic SLR.
As mentioned earlier, there are dozens of adapters to mount almost any 35mm SLR or rangefinder camera lens ever made. A couple of innovative companies have even come up with adapters (expensive ones) to mount Canon AF/L and Konica rangefinder AF lenses to the NEX. Sony has two adapters that will let you use the older Konica/Minolta/Sony Alpha AF lenses on any NEX camera. One that allows the AF to work and a cheaper one that does not, but still allows you to set the F-stop via the camera. I have the second one. If I owned a bunch of Canon ‘L’ lenses, I would definitely bite the bullet and buy the expensive adapter.
WIth an image sensor at 24.3MP, the lens becomes another ‘variable’.
I like the idea that the sensor can out-perform the glass. Now I can pick up older lenses with particular optical traits. Some of the softer ones make great portrait or ‘people’ lenses. Macros have been around since the beginning of photography… I was always in the habit of moving in and out on my subject to get critical focus. Old telephotos and mirror lenses with small F Stops (ƒ5.6 or smaller) are easy to focus when using ‘Focus Peaking’.
I have a razor sharp 600mm ƒ8.0 mirror lens (made by PerkinElmer in Canada for Vivitar) from 25 years ago. It was a real bear to accurately focus back then, but it’s a breeze now.
But how does the camera perform, you ask?
That will depend how you define ‘performance’. At 14 ounces with batteries and a card, I can carry it all day and never know I had it around my neck.
I own only one AF lens at this point. A most economical 19mm ƒ2.8 AF Sigma. The auto focus is snappy and quick. It’s not very well suited for manual focus, though it will do the job. It has a ‘floating collar’ for focus adjustment which I don’t care for. Nor does it have built-in image stabilization. It only suffers from a bit of chromatic color shift… very easy to fix in Photoshop.
On the downside, no juice, no camera. You cannot look through it with the power turned off since there is no optical anything. But I know of NO digital SLR that takes pictures without juice so what’s the point? Another reason to keep a mechanical, 35mm film camera around.
I’ve had my NEX-7 for about 8 months now and I love it. It’s perfect for me, but it might not be perfect for you. If I lost it or broke it, I would do what ever I could to replace it with a new one.
It’s put the FUN back into photography for me.
But that’s mostly because I prefer a more methodical approach to shooting. That’s not always practical. Especially if you shoot much action. I have considered getting the new Sony AF/E collapsable pancake lens- 16-50mm ƒ3.5-5.6 PZ OSS as it is made for the NEX. It’s supposed to deliver much better results than the original kit lens. The price seems fair since it incorporates image stabilization. Compared to a standard 35mm SLR lens, it would be the equivalent to a 24-75mm lens. A range I really like. Perfect for those fleeting moments.
The first accessory I bought for the camera was a quick-release ‘L’ bracket. It makes swapping out from horizontal to vertical quite simple. I never take the bracket off as it does not interfere with any ports or doors.
A last word about video-
I did not buy the camera to do video, but from what I’ve read, it does as good a job as any of the high-end digital SLRs. Commercials have been shot with specially rigged NEX-7′s coupled to expensive prime cine lenses. I’m not surprised since Sony has had a presence in both amateur and pro video from the very beginning.
I treat the subject of video separately and think ALL photographers should give it a try. Who here has never watched a YouTube video? I’ll talk in much more detail about this subject in another post.
In conclusion, the only thing that matters is that you are comfortable with your camera, your gear…
that you can trust it to do what you want it to. That’s the big deal. I like this one, you may not.
Note: If the NEX-7 seems a little too expensive, Sony recently introduced a 16.1MP camera with pretty much the same specs- the NEX-6.
Copyright © 2012-2013 by Robert D. Westmoreland of 24mmPOV, Coamo, Puerto Rico, USA, All rights reserved without condition.