Sony NEX-7

The Sony NEX-7 pushes the compact interchangeable mirror-less lens camera system over the cliff. The NEX-7 is a compact digital camera with professional-level technologies fused in beautifully crafted magnesium alloy. The top-of-the-line NEX sports a 24.3 megapixel Exmor APS HD CMOS image sensor with a world’s fastest 0.02-second release time lag, 1024×768 OLED viewfinder, 10 fps continuous shooting, 1080/60p video recording with full manual focus and exposure controls.

With an optional lens adapter the NEX-7 can be equipped with almost all existing a-mount lenses, including the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135mm f1.8 you see in the photo above.

I’m not impressed with camera brands that unnecessarily increase the number of pixels on the same-sized image sensor. I get the feeling Sony is saying, “More pixels on the same image sensor is better.” The NEX-5 has a 14.2 million effective pixels; the NEX-7 has 24.3, on an image sensor with the same size. This means each pixel is significantly smaller on the NEX-7. Smaller pixels generally mean less light is absorbed and that leads to problems in low light photography. Instead of adding a ton more pixels what would have been impressive is a 24.3 megapixel full-frame sensor. The iconic Leica M9 has one, and it’s not much bigger.

Let’s compare the NEX-7 to a US$7000 Leica M9 and find out if a full-frame sensor could have been fitted into the NEX-7. The Leica M9 has a dimension of 5.5×3.15×1.5 inches (WxHxD). The NEX-7’s dimensions are 4.75×2.75×1.69 inches. The NEX-7 is shorter in length (0.75 inches) and height (0.35 inches), but a little thicker (0.19 inches). The Leica M9 has a Kodak KAF-18500 CCD 35.8×23.9 mm full-frame image sensor. The APS CMOS sensor on the NEX-7 is 23.5×15.6 mm. By eliminating the tilting capability of the LCD monitor the NEX-7 could have been fitted with a full-frame image sensor.

With all of the other specifications left the way they are and by keeping the megapixel count to 14.2 as in the NEX-5, I wonder how much better the NEX-7 might have been for low-light photography. If Sony was really serious about photographic quality it should have shied away from packing so many pixels into the APS-C image sensor. Keeping the same number of pixels or moving to a full-frame image sensor would have been better choices.

Ever since photos of the NEX-7 have been appearing online, I’ve wondered what the two dials on top were for. Well, they are for whatever you want them to be. Sony calls the design TRINAVI:

The NEX-7 offers quick, easy control over creative settings via an intuitive new TRINAVI control. Two control dials on the top of the camera are complemented by a control wheel. Pushing the navigation button cycles quickly through various shooting modes, allowing enthusiasts to make custom adjustments and control images with the flexibility of a DSLR camera.

In other words, the two unmarked dials on top and the control wheel on the back can be custom configured for direct control of settings. The NEX-7 takes the concept found in previous NEX models to another level. The NEX-5 and NEX-3 had two buttons you could assign almost anything to. Not only does the NEX-7 allow you to customize a dial, I don’t know of any other digital camera on the market today that gives you the ability to customize three of them.

Unlike prior NEX cameras, the NEX-7 integrates an electronic viewfinder into the body. The biggest advantage of an EVF is the ability to take photographs in bright environments where a display-only solution would be difficult if not impossible. The 0.5-inch 1024×768 OLED Tru-Finder has an approximately 100% field coverage and is supposedly supplied by Samsung. The 3.0-inch Xtra Fine LCD monitor sports a 640×480 pixel format.

Mount Adapter LA-EA2: This optional piece significantly enhances lens options for the NEX-7 as well as the entire line of NEX cameras. The LA-EA2 uses Translucent Mirror Technology, which means light passes through the mirror component to the image sensor but at the same time light is reflected upward to another sensor for phase detection autofocus. Almost all A-mount lenses can be used on the NEX-7 with the LE-EA2 mount adapter for both still images and video.

Video capture at 28Mbps 1080/60p is impressive, but falls short of the best DSLRs with video capability. The NEX-7 easily trumps the video captured by the NEX-5: 17Mbps 1080/60i. There is a 65% increase in bandwidth and the shift from interlaced to progressive will result in better video quality. From my experience the NEX-5 produced very good 1080i video for such a compact digital camera. Unfortunately video continues to be wrapped in AVCHD; Quicktime (MOV) would have been better. For comparison, the Canon 5D Mark II records video at 38.6Mbps 1080/30p, encodes in H.264, and uses a Quicktime wrapper. And the Nikon D7000 at 44Mbps 1080/24p, H.264, Quicktime. It seems the best DSLRs with 1080p video capture capability have chosen Quicktime as the wrapper. Sony should have done the same.

The NEX-5 I’ve used for several months before selling it was manufactured in Thailand. Although the build quality was generally good enough, there were parts of the NEX-5 that felt plasticky. I hope Sony saw fit to have the NEX-7 built in Japan and expect build quality to be as exceptional as the technical specifications, especially since the body-only price will be about US$1200. Available in November.

  • Image Sensor: APS-C (23.5×15.6 mm) Exmor APS HD CMOS with primary color filters
  • Pixels: 24.7 megapixels (total), 24.3 megapixels (effective)
  • Aspect Ratio: 3:2
  • Recording Format: JPEG, RAW, 3D MPO
  • Image Pixel Size:
    • 3:2: 6000×4000 (L), 4240×2832 (M), 3008×2000 (S)
    • 16:9: 6000×3376 (L), 4240×2400 (M), 3008×1688 (S)
    • Panorama: 12416×1856, 7152×1080 (3D)
  • Color Space: sRGB, Adobe RGB
  • Video Recording Format: AVCHD v2.0 (progressive), MP4
    • AVCHD: 1920×1080 (60/50p: 28 Mbps, 60/50i: 24 Mbps, 24/25p: 24 Mbps)
    • MP4: 1440×1080 (12 Mbps), 640×480 (3 Mbps)
  • Video Compression: MPEG4 H.264 AVC
  • Video Length: Approx. 29 minutes up to 2 GB in MP4
  • Video Control: Manual focus, exposure control
  • Storage Media: Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, SD, SDHC, SDXC
  • Focus System: Contrast-detection 25-point AF
  • AF Illuminator: 0.5 m – 3.0 m built-in LED
  • ISO: 100-16,000
  • Electronic Viewfinder: 1.3 cm (0.5 inch) 1024×768 OLED Tru-Finder, 100% field coverage
  • LCD Monitor: 7.5 cm (3.0 inch) 640×480 Xtra Fine LCD with TruBlack, 100% field coverage
  • Shutter Speed: 1/4000 – 30 seconds, bulb
  • Shutter Release Lag: 0.02 seconds
  • Image Stabilization: On lens
  • Drive Speed: 10 fps (6 fps RAW, 4 fps RAW+JPG) in Speed priority continuous shooting, 3 fps in standard continuous shooting
  • PC Interface: USB 2.0, mass storage
  • Video Output: Type C mini HDMI