My Thoughts on the Sony NEX-7 Camera by Trey Ratcliff

Image

I love it!

I’ve been using it for about 50% of my shots recently.  You may know that I believe that “mirrorless”, or 3rd generation cameras, are the future of photography.  To me, this is the first camera that is stepping firmly into the fighting arena.

Let me tell you my situation with mirrorless and mirrored (DSLR) cameras.

I also have a Nikon D800 that I use for my “Epic” shots.  It’s a 36 megapixel camera that is a bit more robust with a wider array of lens selections than the Sony NEX-7.  It’s also more than twice as much in cost (and weight, and bulk, and hassle…).

Even though neither of these cameras is mutually exclusive, and you can take ANY kind of shot with EITHER camera, here is how my shot selection is breaking down:

Sony NEX-7 Shots

– Casual outdoor shots when just walking around – cool signs, interesting cars, street photography, found objects, shop windows – Kids and action and parties.  It was pretty much my main “walk-around camera” at Disneyworld and the cruise ship

Nikon D800 Shots

– Landscapes on a tripod in low-light or at night

Wait, you don’t use the Sony NEX-7 for Landscapes?  I want to shoot landscapes!

Whoa whoa… hold on there cowboy…  I didn’t say the NEX-7 was bad for landscapes — I’m just telling you my situation.  The D800 is better for landscapes, so I use that.  However, the NEX-7 will be just fine.

If you are in a low-light situation, you will want to use a tripod.  You won’t be able to get a good clean shot if it is dusk or night with the NEX-7 if you are trying to do it handheld.  You can crank up the ISO very very high to try to get a shot without blur, but the noise will be pretty violent.  The noise will be so bad, in fact, that it will be beyond the help of Lightroom noise reduction.

What do you like most about the Sony NEX-7?

It’s hard to rank these, but I will try!

– I love the small size.  It’s so tiny and light.  The lenses almost float around in the air while I am changing them. – I LOVE the EVF (electronic viewfinder).  I can put my eye up to it and everything blacks out.  The image inside is crisp and clear and often better than reality!  It’s so strange! – And, even better, the EVF has all these data overlays so you feel like Luke Sywalker looking through those techno-binoculars on Hoth. – I love the kit lens!  I know — what a thing to say!  When I first got it, I also bought the 16mm 2.8 lens, which I also like.  But I’m mostly keeping the kit lens on…  I’m getting a lot of flexibility out of it.  BTW – the kit lens is a  18-55mm f3.5-5.6 – The 16mm 2.8 lens is soooo tiny and light.  It weighs about the same as 4-5 poker chips! – I love the reticulating screen.  I take a lot of shots at waist-level (street shots, kid shots), and it is very nice to angle that thing up so I can check my composition. – I love being able to just press one button and quickly take an HD movie!

Okay okay… what DON’T you like about Sony NEX-7?

These are mostly minor… and I’m happy to know they will go away in future iterations of these mirrorless cameras.

– In low-light, I can’t get a clean shot without the flash – In low-light the live view looks very grainy through the EVF.  The final shot has very little grain, but that bit is a bit annoying – The battery could last a little longer.  But, I’ve gotten used to turning off the camera between uses.  This makes the battery last all day, or long enough to fill up a 16 GB card.

Toughness

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!

Lenses

I’ve only used 2 lenses, but I understand there will be 14 lenses for this Sony “E-system” available by the end of the year.  That seems like more than enough lenses to me.  I probably won’t be able to find lenses that I like as much as ones for my Nikon DSLR for another year or so (like the 50mm 1.4 or the 14-24nn 2.8), but a girl can dream…

Controls

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.

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.

Bracketing

The bracketing is kind of lame.  It does a maximum of 3 exposures from -0.7 EV to +0.7 EV.  Of course, bracketing is important to me because I enjoy taking multiple exposures for HDR treatments.  However, you can still make a mean HDR out of a single RAW, which I have tried and it works well enough.  In the next version of this camera (or in firmware?), I’d like to see more than 3 exposures, and I’d like it to go from -4 to +4 like my bigger Nikon system.

In-Camera HDR

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.

Movie Mode

It works well enough.  I did not take many movies with it, but I was impressed at the high-quality, the autofocusing, and the overall ease of making it all happen.

Overall Objective Decision Tree…

If you’re just getting into photography and scared of big DSLRs, this Sony NEX-7 is definitely the way to go.

If you are a veteran DSLR shooter that is needs action-photography performance, low-light sharpness with excellent ISO performance, or the flexibility of a robust lens system, then the Sony NEX-7 may not be for you.

Further Testing

I’ll continue to use the Sony NEX-7 over the next several months and I’ll add more and more to this review over time… consider this a “living review.”

Sample Shots

Below are many shots I’ve taken with the camera.  They’re not all works of art or anything – just a variety of situations that show the flexibility of the camera.

Note that all of them have seen at least a little bit of Lightroom love, and only two of them (on the bottom) have an HDR treatment using my usual process from the HDR Tutorial.

re-posted from ‘Stuck In Customs’ review by Trey Ratcliff     http://www.stuckincustoms.com/sony-nex-7-review/