As promised, here is my review of the Sony NEX-7 I hired last week from the good folk at hireacamera.com. I am not going to try to replicate the thorough technical reviews you can find on-line. The experts can do a far better job. However, I will share my experiences of using the camera and maybe that will be useful to anyone thinking of buying a high end compact system camera. For high-end this little camera certainly is; with its 18-55mm kit lens, it will set you back well over £800.
This camera is aimed at enthusiast or professional photographers who want a lighter second camera but still want the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and high image quality. This is exactly what I am looking for but at that price, I want to make the best choice, hence the hire. I tested the camera in bright daylight in Dartmoor National Park and at night in the town of Dartmouth.
The camera is so light I hardly noticed it despite a long day hike on Dartmoor on New Year’s Day. I shot mostly in RAW, and the camera produced some great results, sharp, punchy images with good dynamic range. The electronic viewfinder works reasonably well so that you can still shoot in bright light that would make using the LCD screen difficult. The latter is, by the way, excellent. I found that the two dials at the back of the top plate were too touchy, easy to manipulate by mistake so you have to be very careful to check that you haven’t accidentally dialled in two stops of exposure compensation, a potentially disastrous mistake if not noticed.
The Sony NEX-7 packs a whopping 24 megapixels onto its APS-C size sensor. Considering this, noise control is reasonable. Not as good as my old 5Dii and not even in the same league as my mark III. But then, that’s not really a fair comparison. Images are very useable up to ISO 800, and some even at ISO1600 but not really beyond. I am a terrible pixel peeper (and there are lots of pixels to peep at) and at ISO 400, I found I wanted to apply some noise reduction. The noise reduction the camera applies to jpegs works reasonably well but there is a problem with it. It does very strange things to grass, as in the detail below from a jpeg taken at ISO 400.
And to faces (the image below at ISO 800).
But the noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw does a better job. Yet another reason to shoot RAW.
Although the camera does offer a number of automatic and creative modes for less experienced photographers, they are fiddly to use as the menu is far from intuitive. The menu system is perhaps the most frustrating thing about this powerful little camera. You can find yourself compromising on the type of image you shoot simply because it’s too much trouble to fight your way through the options to get to what you want. Using my 5DIII again on our return was an absolute breeze by comparison. Having said that, I did try a few of the creative modes. In particular, the in-camera HDR did a reasonable job with this high contrast scene.
I find the colours a little too vibrant but then I did select the vibrant option in the menu so that’s fair enough. On the whole, I found the creative modes were fun, but not for serious shooting. You can achieve the same effects only better in post processing. But life doesn’t always allow an opportunity to start getting the tripod out and bracketing exposures. If you are trying to squeeze your photography into odd moments on a family trip, setting the camera to HDR or whatever mode suits the occasion might be a good idea.
When I go out for dinner in the evening on holiday, I do not want to take my DSLR and tripod with me. But I usually see something I want to photograph. This is where the Sony NEX-7 really came into its own. With lens attached it is not really pocket sized but it is small bag sized. And it coped very well with my demands during a pre dinner stroll through Dartmouth.
Not too bad hand held at f.4.5, 1/8 and ISO 800.
I even gave it the difficult challenge of a shop window display at ISO1600.
With no grass or skin in sight, the in camera noise reduction did a great job with no serious noise issues even when I adjusted the underexposure of the shadow areas.
Popped onto a handy wall and used at ISO 100, the camera did an excellent job. In the next images, detail is retained from corner to corner, colours on white balance tungsten setting are good, and there is no visible noise, even after adding a considerable amount of fill light in ACR.
And look how close you can crop and still have loads of crisp detail.
And that is the beauty of this little camera – you can pop it onto ledges, windowsills, car dashboards, and into day bags that simply would not accommodate an enthusiast level DSLR and lens. Is image quality as good as my Canon 5Diii? No, not even close. But it is better than my old Canon 400D and, as one might expect, a whole lot better than my iPhone 4.
I have one more camera to test, but the Sony NEX-7 is definitely a contender.