This is an in-depth review of the Sony NEX-7 mirrorless camera that was released on August 24, 2011, so this is obviously a long delayed review that I have not had a chance to publish due to time constraints. I decided to finish it up and get the review published before the highly anticipated full-frame Sony A7 and A7r are announced later this week. The Sony NEX-7 is considered to be the top of the line NEX-series camera, with the highest resolution 24 MP APS-C sensor, built-in OLED electronic viewfinder, tilt-screen, three dial interface and the highest price tag in the line. In this review, I will go over the features and capabilities of the camera and compare it to other mirrorless options, including the Olympus OM-D E-M5, Canon EOS M and other Sony NEX cameras.
Sony has been quite successful with its NEX line so far, thanks to the small form factor of the cameras, excellent image quality and rich features. The Sony NEX-7 was specifically targeted at professionals and photo enthusiasts that are looking for a compact mirrorless camera with superb image quality, so Sony added many bells and whistles to the NEX-7 and enhanced its ergonomics with flexible controls to make it an appealing camera to those with past DSLR experience. Sony’s efforts paid off, because the NEX-7 was received quite well by most pros and photo enthusiasts, including our team at Photography Life. At this point, Sony currently offers four different NEX lines: NEX-3 (entry level, current model is NEX-3N), NEX-5 (mid level, current model is NEX-5T), NEX-6 (advanced) and NEX-7 (professional). These models are separated by features, ergonomics and price. Both the NEX-3 and the NEX-5 series are available in different colors, while the higher-end NEX-6 and NEX-7 are only available in black. Let’s take a look at the specifications in detail and go over the features of the Sony NEX-7.
1) Sony NEX-7 Specifications
- 24.3 MP Exmor™ APS HD CMOS image sensor
- 25 AF points with contrast-detection AF
- Full HD movie shooting 60p/60i/24p
- 11 Picture Effect modes
- Panorama Mode
- HDR Capability
- Battery life for up to 430 images
- Tiltable 3″ LCD with 921K dots
- XGA OLED viewfinder with 2.395K dots
- Intelligent Scene Recognition and Face Detection
- “SteadyShot” Image Stabilization Technology
- Electronic First Curtain shutter
- Up to 10 fps continuous shooting at full 24.3 MP resolution
- Peaking AF display for precise manual focusing
- Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) technology
Detailed technical specifications for the Sony NEX-7 are available at Sony.com.
2) Sony 24.3 MP Exmor Sensor
One of the most important attributes in a digital camera is its sensor – the heart of the camera that is responsible for capturing images. The Sony NEX-7 features the highest resolution APS-C sensor in the NEX line, with a total of 24.3 MP. This particular sensor was also used on the Sony A77 SLT camera, which we reviewed and liked. With a whopping 24.3 Megapixels of resolution, the pixel density of the NEX-7 is very high, with a pixel size of just 3.89 microns. Contrary to what a lot of people think, having smaller pixels is not always bad, especially when dealing with a lot of them. The benefits of high resolution sensors kick in, allowing to yield sharper images and to reduce noise levels at high ISOs when images are down-sampled / resized to smaller resolution. The real advantage of the NEX-7 sensor, however, is its low ISO performance. Images at ISO 100 look stunning, with plenty of details, colors and dynamic range to play with. As long as you are using good lenses that can resolve good details (more on lenses in the next sections of this review), you will not be disappointed with the sensor performance.
A big advantage of the Sony NEX-series mirrorless cameras compared to other mirrorless cameras on the market such as Micro 4/3 and Nikon 1, is the physical size of the sensor. The 23.5×15.6mm APS-C sensor is currently among the largest sensors used in mirrorless cameras. Large sensor size means larger pixel size, which translates to better low-light (high ISO) performance and better dynamic range. Sony picked the same 1.5x crop factor APS-C sensor size that is used in their “SLT” APS-C cameras, which is slightly bigger than Canon’s APS-C sensors (1.6x crop factor) and about the same as Nikon’s DX sensors. Here is a chart that summarizes sensor size differences (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Another advantage of a larger sensor is smaller depth of field, which translates to better opportunities to isolate subjects from the background – an important factor for many photo enthusiasts and pros out there. Coupled with fast prime lenses like the Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS, one could capture creative photographs with beautiful bokeh – something that is harder to achieve on small sensor cameras. At the same time, a larger sensor requires a bigger image circle from lenses, which negatively impacts the size requirements of both lenses and the lens mount (read more on this below).
3) Camera Construction and Handling
The Sony NEX-7 has a very different ergonomic design when compared to other NEX cameras. Sony wanted to make the interface fluid and easy to use for quickly changing camera’s exposure settings such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation, so it developed a “Tri-Navi” interface with three separate dials to achieve that. Unlike the traditional PASM dial approach seen on DSLRs and advanced cameras, Sony chose to prioritize exposure settings over different camera modes. For example, in manual mode, the top two dials are used to control aperture and shutter speed, while the rotary dial on the rear of the camera is used to change ISO. The function of the second dial changes depending on the camera mode. As a result, the ability to move between different camera modes was moved into the camera menu system. This is a drastic change in ergonomics and it is something one would have to get used to. Personally, I really like the stacked dial on the NEX-6 and prefer its ergonomics, since I know exactly which mode I am in before I turn the camera on and the smaller dial allows me to change the primary exposure function (such as the aperture in aperture priority mode). On the NEX-7, I have to turn the camera on to see which mode I am in and if I decide to change it, I have to use the menu system. A simple dial to change the exposure mode might not sound trivial for most people out there, but I personally look at it as a must-have for any serious camera. Even Nikon realized this with their high-end mirrorless camera V1 and added it on the new Nikon 1 V2, as shown in our Nikon 1 V1 vs V2 article. Here is the top of the NEX-7, illustrating the dual dials:
From that standpoint, I really like the ergonomic design of my Olympus OM-D E-M5. Olympus did a great job by placing a PASM dial to the left of the camera, the viewfinder in the middle and two functional rotary dials to the right of the camera, one of which also works as a shutter release. Take a look at the comparison between the OM-D E-M5 and the NEX-7:
The interface on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 looks a little cluttered in comparison, but it is actually easier to use and provides more functionality.
When you look at the top of the NEX-7, you will notice that it sports Sony’s proprietary flash hot shoe as some other Sony Alpha cameras. I have never been a fan of proprietary hot shoes, because they require carrying an adapter in order to use third party flashes and triggers. Sony definitely screwed up there with the NEX-7 design and I am glad that the idea was later abandoned and Sony went back to an ISO standard hot shoe, as we have seen on the NEX-6 and A99. I am sure that Sony will use standard hot shoe in their cameras going forward, which is good news. Unfortunately, because I did not have an adapter while reviewing the NEX-7, I could not test its flash performance with on-camera speedlights and off-camera flashes.
The front of the camera looks very simple, just like on all other NEX cameras. The hand grip is very convenient to use and makes the camera very comfortable to hand hold. Sony did an excellent job with the protruding grip – something I wish all other mirrorless camera manufacturers did as well.
The back of the camera looks pretty busy, with lots of functional buttons, which is good for quickly accessing important camera functions. Take a look at the back of the NEX-7:
To the right of the vertical diopter adjustment dial there is a flash button, which is used for raising the built-in flash. As on all built-in flashes in small mirrorless cameras, this one is not very powerful and is only good for photographing a single subject or a small group at close proximity. Personally, I would avoid it in low-light situations and use it as fill flash instead. If you want something more powerful, I would recommend either using Sony’s speedlights or other third party flashes with an adapter. Next, there is a playback button in the center, followed by a switch labeled “AF/MF and AEL”. This switch is a design error, since the label does not correctly match its function. When looking at the switch, one would assume that the top part is for AF/MF and the bottom is for switching to AEL. Makes no sense right? Well, in reality, the switch is for switching between AF and MF – when it is on the top, the camera is in autofocus mode, while the bottom part is for switching to manual focus. The button in the center is what’s used for setting auto exposure lock! Sony could have easily addressed this design issue by moving “MF” to the bottom and imprinting “AEL” on the small button in the center.
To the right of the switch, there is a single button on the grip side with a red circle in the middle for recording movies. Seems like a dedicated video recording button is now a must-have on all cameras. On the bottom of the switch there is another unlabeled button, which is used as a functional button in the menu. The rotary dial is pretty big and convenient to use, with sides of the dial serving different purposes (such as Display, Timer, etc). While the rotary dial itself is used for navigating the menu settings, it is part of the “Tri-Navi” control system, so it is also used for changing the camera ISO. The last button is used for setting different options within the menu, similar to the one above the rotary dial.
The ability to tilt the LCD up and down is a great bonus on the NEX-7 for photographing subjects at different/difficult angles and is a must-have for videography. Sony did a great job with the tilt screen LCD, considering that it is a high-resolution 920K dot screen and 3″ in size.
Now let’s talk about the size and bulk. While the camera itself is thin and relatively lightweight, it has a rather large mount, which translates to bulky lenses. As I have already pointed out, a larger sensor requires larger lenses, which is a disadvantage of all APS-C mirrorless cameras, including Sony NEX. Aside from the 16mm and 20mm pancakes and the 16-50mm zoom, all other regular lenses like the 24mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8 and 18-55mm are big and heavy when compared to the Nikon 1 or Micro Four Thirds lenses. If Sony is to make more zoom lenses in the future, they should seriously consider lens design similar to the 16-50mm, which is pretty small in comparison to other lenses. Otherwise, large lenses defeat the purpose of a compact mirrorless system. Unless you have the pancake or the new 16-50mm lenses mounted, forget about storing the camera in your pockets – it just won’t fit.
Although the Sony NEX-7 is not weather-sealed and offers no dust protection like some of the advanced DSLR cameras, I have used it in very cold temperatures below 10°F and it survived just fine. The camera battery did not last very long in cold weather, but that’s expected, since any battery drains faster in cold temperatures (the Fuji X-series cameras and a number of other mirrorless systems are not weather sealed either). If you shoot in extreme weather and dusty environments, you might want to consider the new Olympus OM-D E-M1, which is fully sealed and will withstand all kinds of abuse.
4) Camera Menu System
While most of the settings can be adjusted easily through function buttons and rotary dials, you will be visiting the camera menu quite often to change your shooting mode and adjusting other important settings. The camera menu is organized by large descriptive icons and you can navigate through them by rotating the dial on the back of the camera. The first “Shoot Mode” menu is used for changing the camera mode. The “Camera” menu contains many options, including Drive Mode (single, continuous, bracket, etc), Flash Mode, Autofocus Area and Face Detection / Registration. The “Image Size” menu is for picking Image Size and Quality, Panorama Size and Direction, Movie Format, Aspect Ratio, etc. The “Brightness/Color” menu contains White Balance, Metering Mode, HDR, ISO, et (not sure why Sony decided to stick “ISO” into “Brightness/Color”, because it really should be under “Camera” menu instead). The “Playback” menu is for configuring image playback for viewing images on the LCD. Lastly, “Setup” contains important camera setup options, such as Noise Reduction, Lens Compensation, in addition to “Peaking Level” and “Peaking Color” – two very useful functions for shooting with manual focus lenses. While using the camera menu can sometimes be slightly laggy, I found it quite easy to use overall.
5) Features and Responsiveness
The Sony NEX-7 has a rich set of in-camera features that can be useful for everyday photography. The “Lens Compensation” feature found in the “Setup” menu allows fixing len-specific issues like vignetting, chromatic aberration and distortion. Obviously, the amount of lens correction depends on each lens, so Sony included current lens profiles in its camera firmware. New lenses that come out in the future will also be supported via firmware upgrades.
Aside from a boatload of Photo Creativity Modes and Picture Effects, the Sony NEX-7 also has a neat “Sweep Panorama” mode, which is used for shooting panoramas. While I personally prefer to manually stitch my panoramas, since I can get a lot more resolution by doing that (see my panoramic photography howto), the built-in panorama feature is a great way to get a quick stitched panorama in JPEG mode. Here are a couple of examples of how the camera can shoot and stitch panoramas (taken with the NEX-5R, which has exactly the same Panorama mode as all other NEX series cameras):
I am not a big fan of this particular feature, because it creates a JPEG file and if the settings are not consistent, it can create ugly panoramas that look like this:
I prefer to shoot panoramas hand-held, one exposure at a time in RAW, then stitch it in Photoshop, as explained in my Panorama Tutorial.
One catch to the NEX-7 is that it does not come with a built-in intervalometer. I really hoped that Sony would address it via a firmware update, but as far as I know, even the latest firmware update does not have this feature. I am not sure why Sony has neglected the NEX-7 in that regard, because it is supposed to be an advanced camera. Interestingly, you can buy an intervalometer app for $9.99 for the NEX-6, but there is no such option for the NEX-7! Sadly, the only option is to use a wireless infrared remote that has timer capabilities. Many NEX-7 owners have been pretty frustrated with Sony’s unwillingness to add an intervalometer via a simple firmware update. It should not be that difficult to add.
6) Sony E-mount Lenses
Sony has been making more and more E-mount lenses for the NEX cameras during the last couple of years, including some fast prime lenses. While the selection of lenses is nowhere close to what Micro Four Thirds has got to offer today, the available lenses do cover a broad range from wide angle to telephoto. Here is a list of all current lenses for the E-mount by Sony:
- Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS
- Sony 16mm f/2.8
- Sony 20mm f/2.8
- Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
- Sony 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS
- Sony 24mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E
- Sony 30mm f/3.5 Macro
- Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS
- Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS
- Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
- Sony 18-105mm f/4 G OSS
- Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS
- Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS
The good news is, Zeiss and other third party manufacturers like Sigma and Rokinon have also been producing lenses for the NEX mount, so the lens selection is definitely growing pretty faster year by year.
In general, the above Sony E-mount lenses have solid performance characteristics with good overall sharpness and colors. One thing you might have noticed from the above list is “OSS” (Optical Steady Shot) on some of the lenses, which means that the lenses are stabilized. This is a disadvantage of the NEX-series cameras – they do not have in-camera image stabilization like Micro 4/3 cameras do. While it is understandable that in-camera IS might have resulted in a larger body and could have increased the cost of the camera, I still think Sony should have followed the same approach as in their SLT cameras, which is to use in-camera IS instead of lens-based IS. When working with short focal length lenses, in-camera IS is the way to go, especially when using LCD/EVF for framing shots – see my article on lens stabilization vs camera stabilization to understand the differences. Those shorter focal length lenses also would have greatly benefited from in-camera image stabilization in low-light situations. Lens stabilization has an advantage over in-camera stabilization for long lenses, but these mirrorless cameras are really not designed for super telephoto lenses anyway (at least not yet).
As for manual focus, unlike the Nikon 1 lenses, the Sony E-mount lenses feature a manual focus ring for smoother and more precise MF operation. Once you put the camera into manual focus mode through the “Camera” menu, you can configure the camera to automatically zoom in when the focus ring is turned.
7) Autofocus / Manual Focus Performance and Metering
The Sony NEX-7 has the original contrast-detect autofocus system, which later was replaced by a “hybrid” AF system on the NEX-6. This unfortunately means that the AF speed is limited by the speed of contrast-detect, which cannot really compete with phase detection autofocus. In my experience, the NEX-6 got a pretty good boost in AF performance when compared to the NEX-7, contrary to what some other photographers have experienced. When I compared the AF speed between the NEX-7 and the NEX-6 to see how much faster the new AF system was in good light conditions, the NEX-6 seemed to acquire focus about twice faster. Note that I specifically highlighted good light conditions – if you want to compare the two, you must do it in bright light, or the hybrid system will automatically fall back to contrast detect. So if you want to shoot moving subjects or need to acquire focus fast, the NEX-6 will be a better choice over the NEX-7. Now I am not trying to say that the AF system on the NEX-7 is terrible – it is still pretty snappy for contrast detect. But in my experience, the hybrid AF system on the NEX-6 is faster.
Because of contrast detect, you might also notice odd behavior when using the camera in AF-C mode. The camera will continuously try to acquire focus back and forth, and this repeats in a loop and never ends. This is normal behavior, because contrast detect “probes” for focus continuously. If you come across this behavior and it irritates you, the best thing to do is switch to AF-S mode.
The advertised 10 FPS speed can only be achieved when using a special “Speed Priority Continuous” mode, where the camera’s exposure and focus are locked and live view is cut off. The camera buffer fills up quickly after about 15 images in JPEG mode, slowing down to approximately 2 frames per second. If you want to see what you are shooting in live view between frames, then you will have to use the “Continuous Advance” mode, where the camera slows down to approximately 4 FPS.
The Sony NEX-7 is a very friendly camera for manual focus operation. If you choose to use third party lenses with an adapter, you will love the focus “peaking” feature (can be found in the camera “Setup” menu). I found focus peaking to be a very useful feature, because you do not have to guess anything when shooting in MF mode. The camera will automatically detect sharpness and paint it with a chosen color, making manual focus operation a breeze. In addition, the two zoom levels (4.8x or 9.6x) let you get much closer to the focus area and really nail focus. I used the 9.6x zoom and selected a desired area to focus on and got great results, both when shooting on a tripod and when hand-holding the camera. This MF implementation is the best I have seen so far on a mirrorless camera – the MF operation on the Nikon 1 and Fuji X cameras is much worse in comparison (although the split screen focusing on the X100S is pretty cool).
As for exposure and metering, I was rather pleased with the accuracy and of the camera exposure and metering system. In most cases it provided accurate results, minimizing the use of exposure compensation (I primarily shot in Aperture Priority mode).
8) Movie Recording
Every new camera that comes out seems to have impressive movie features and the Sony NEX-7 is no exception. It can record full 1080p HD movies at 60 fps (AVCHD 2.0) for smooth playback, which is very impressive. You can also pick lower resolution MPEG-4 format and slower rates (down to 24 fps) for smaller movie files. Another advantage of the movie mode is that you can fully control the exposure while recording movies – you can easily adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO when shooting videos in Manual mode. If the scene you are recording is too bright or too dark and you are in one of the P/A/S modes, you can also use exposure compensation to adjust the brightness level. The camera LCD will reflect these changes and you will see exactly what you are capturing. As for Sony’s Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, it works pretty well when recording videos, but you have to be careful when panning the camera with SteadyShot turned on, because it will occasionally bump the camera up or down. This is normal behavior and the same thing would happen if you were to pan while taking stills.
9) Dynamic Range / HDR / DRO
A big advantage of a larger sensor is its ability to produce images with more dynamic range. Compared to the Nikon 1’s much smaller sensor, the Sony NEX-7 1.5x crop factor sensor is capable of producing higher dynamic range, as can be seen from the below graph:
DxOMark has slightly different results, with NEX-7 leading the pack in dynamic range.
I have already talked about how good the Sony APS-C sensors are and you can see proof of that by looking at the above chart. Sony consistently scores the highest among different brands and it provides impressive dynamic range – something to be expected from such a superb sensor. As with all digital cameras, increasing camera ISO also decreases dynamic range, so shoot at base ISO of 100 if you want to preserve the most amount of information on your photographs.
A neat feature of the Sony NEX-7 is built-in High Dynamic Range (HDR) capability, which allows capturing multiple images and then combining them into a single JPEG image. While I personally like to shoot HDR photographs in manual mode in RAW format and then process them to my liking using specialized HDR software tools, the built-in Auto HDR mode can produce rather good results. I am not a big fan of the HDR Painting feature (especially the “HIGH” setting), because it produces ugly/unrealistic tones that many photographers seem to be obsessed with today. There is also a B&W HDR capability, but I did not spend much time experimenting with it, since I do not like in-camera B&W conversation.
Like on all recent Sony cameras, the NEX-7 also has a feature called “Dynamic Range Optimizer” (DRO), which is similar to Nikon’s “Active D-Lighting”. DRO applies a tone curve to images and does a decent job at recovering shadow details. This is only truly useful for JPEG images though, because the tone curve is not applied to RAW images.
Let’s see how the camera does in ISO performance against other cameras.
10) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
Some Technical Info:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 4500 Temp, +6 Tint in Lightroom
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Tested with Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens
- Aperture: f/5.6
- Manual Focus
- DRO: Off
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO HR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Imported images into Lightroom and cropped to 100%
- No exposure adjustments were performed in Lightroom (besides White Balance)
- Lightroom sharpening: 25, 1.0, 25, 0 (default)
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
Let’s take a look at how the Sony NEX-7 performs at low ISOs. Here are some 100% crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
Both ISO 100 and 200 look very clean with no visible artifacts, even in the shadows.
ISO 400 adds a tiny amount of noise. At ISO 800 we see even more noise, but the image still looks very good with no loss of details anywhere in the image, including the shadows.
11) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-25600)
ISO 1600 increases the amount of noise and the grain size now looks bigger and more noticeable, especially in the shadows. Increasing ISO to 3200 nearly doubles noise and now we are starting to see some artifacts in the shadows. Both ISO levels are very usable though and a single pass of noise reduction software will deal with it pretty well, since most details are preserved.
Further increasing ISO to 6400 adds a lot more noise and now we are at a point, where we are definitely losing details. And by ISO 12800, the image looks pretty much unusable to me. The last available ISO level is 16000, which is way beyond my comfort level, so I did not bother providing it here.
Overall, I am impressed by the ISO performance of the Sony NEX-7. Let’s see how it fares against other cameras.
NOTE: Please note that I had to downsample the NEX-7 images to lower resolution to make the below comparisons fair. It is expected that the NEX-7 won’t do as good as other sensors with larger pixels at 100% view. Read on the benefits of high resolution sensors to understand why this must be done when comparing sensors.
12) Sony NEX-7 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 200-800)
Let’s take a look at how the Sony NEX-7 compares to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 with a Micro Four Thirds sensor. The base ISO of the Olympus sensor starts at ISO 200 and it can go all the way to ISO 25,600. Here is a comparison of both cameras at ISO 200 (Left: Sony NEX-7, Right: Olympus OM-D E-M5):
Both cameras look very clean at ISO 200, with no difference in noise characteristics. However, the image from the NEX-7 appears sharper, thanks to the advantages of downsampling.
The same is true for ISO 400.
As we increase ISO to 800, we start to see more noise on both cameras. But I can’t say that one is better than the other – despite a smaller sensor size, the OM-D has impressive image quality.
13) Sony NEX-7 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
At ISO 1600, sharpness aside, there is still very little difference between the two.
Both cameras add plenty of noise at ISO 3200, but the Sony NEX-7 seems to look a tad better due to smaller grain.
Pushing ISO to extreme (for APS-C) values obviously results in significant amount of noise – ISO 6400 is already above my comfort level. Once again, the NEX-7 looks better and sharper due to smaller noise patterns / grain and has the down-sampling advantage.
At ISO 12800, there is too much noise on both cameras. However, you can still see some details on the NEX-7 image, while the OM-D E-M5 loses most of the fine details.
14) Sony NEX-7 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 Summary
As you can see from the above crops, the Sony NEX-7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 generally have similar noise characteristics at lower ISO levels. However, the NEX-7 has the upper hand due to its high resolution and down-sampling advantage. This is especially true for very high ISOs, where the NEX-7 shows better details and smaller grain. When looking at image crops, you might have noticed that images from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 look slightly darker. This is not due to a difference in exposure – if you look at EXIF data from all images, you will see that there were shot at exactly the same aperture, shutter speed and ISO. After testing a number of mirrorless cameras, I came to the conclusion that the OM-D has a tendency to slightly underexpose by about 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop (it was the only camera that did it). This means that ISO 200 is not really ISO 200, but something like ISO 160.
15) Sony NEX-7 vs Sony NEX-6 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Let’s take a look at how the NEX-7 compares to its smaller brother, the NEX-6 with a 16 MP sensor. Here is a comparison of base ISO 100 on both cameras:
While both cameras produce impressive, noise-free images at ISO 100, the Sony NEX-7 produces slightly sharper images. Once again, this is due to downsampling – the NEX-7 has a lot more resolution to play with.
ISO 200 again looks impressive on both cameras.
We start seeing some noise at ISO 400, but there is no clear winner here – both cameras produce about the same amount of noise at the same resolution.
The same goes for ISO 800.
16) Sony NEX-7 vs Sony NEX-6 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
The NEX-6 shows a little bigger grain than the NEX-7 due to lower resolution.
Which we see again at ISO 3200. The NEX-7 seems to lose a little bit in the shadows.
Despite the bigger grain on the NEX-6, it seems to retain the shadow details and colors a little better than the NEX-7 at ISO 6400.
This is even more noticeable at ISO 12800 – the shadows on the NEX-7 added quite a bit of artificial red.
Both images look terrible, but the NEX-7 certainly has better details, despite the added red color all over the image.
17) Sony NEX-7 vs Sony NEX-6 Summary
When comparing images between sensors with different resolution, the only proper way to do it is to downsample images. Otherwise, sensors with bigger pixels (lower resolution) are always going to show better noise characteristics (assuming both are of similar generation/technology). In this case, the NEX-6 has a 16.1 MP sensor, while the NEX-7 has a very high resolution 24.3 MP sensor. An 8.2 MP difference can play a huge role when comparing sensors. As I have pointed out before, the NEX-7 has the advantage of a high resolution sensor and its images retain excellent detail even at very high ISO values. It certainly does lose to the NEX-6 in the shadows at extremely high ISOs, resulting in visible artificial colors in the shadow areas, but the amount of detail is still higher. Overall, it would be wrong to say that one is better than the other, since both have their uses. For landscape photography, the NEX-7 would be the obvious choice, while for everything else, the NEX-6 also produces superb images at lower resolution (only considering the sensors). Now ask yourself this question – do you really need 24 MP for your photography? If the answer is yes, then the NEX-7 is the way to go. Otherwise, the NEX-6 has a lot to offer both in features and in comparable image quality.
18) Sony NEX-7 vs Canon EOS M (ISO 100-800)
The Canon EOS M mirrorless camera has the same APS-C size sensor from the Canon EOS 650D DSLR. Physically, the sensor on the EOS M is a little smaller than the one on the NEX-6 (1.6x vs 1.5x crop factor).
As usual, there is no difference in noise characteristics at such low ISO values. A little bit more detail on the NEX-7 side again.
The same goes for ISO 200 – both cameras show no noise, even in the shadow area.
At ISO 400 we start to see some grain on both cameras, but the NEX-7 seems a tad cleaner.
ISO 800 looks great on both, with the NEX-7 still leading with cleaner image due to smaller grain.
19) Sony NEX-7 vs Canon EOS M High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-12800)
Boosted to ISO 1600, the Canon EOS M seems to produce a little more noise.
Not much change at ISO 3200.
Both are comparable, with the NEX-7 retaining the details a little better.
And at the maximum ISO of 12800, both look really bad.
20) Sony NEX-7 vs Canon EOS M Summary
In this case, the NEX-7 seems to perform at about the same level as the EOS M in terms of noise. Details are still retained a tad better, thanks to higher resolution of the NEX-7 images. But this is only an image quality comparison – the EOS M is not on the same league in terms of features, lens selection and other criteria.
The NEX-7 definitely shook up the market when it was first released, thanks to its rich feature set, small form factor, unique design / ergonomics and a very high resolution 24 MP sensor that had no competitor in the mirrorless market. It has been over two years since the announcement, and the NEX-7 is still holding its ground, with no comparable product that can match its resolution. Such high resolution APS-C sensors only made their way to SLT and DSLR cameras, but we are still yet to see a mirrorless camera that can truly compete with the NEX-7’s sensor in that regard. So in a way, the Sony NEX-7 can be considered a pioneer, a unique and an innovative product, having survived this long. And compared to its competition, the NEX-7 amazingly only dropped $100 in price in these two years, still selling for around $1100 for the body-only version today. Compare that to the Nikon 1 V1, which was priced at $900 for a basic kit initially, and sold for $300 in just 12 months. Or the Canon EOS M, which initially sold for $800 for a basic kit and is now worth a mere $350! Now that’s what you can call rapid devaluation. The cause is quite simple – when a product does not sell and it sits on shelves of retailers gathering dust for months, that’s what eventually happens to its price. Both Nikon and Canon have been selling their mirrorless cameras in desperation because very few people are buying them. And it is definitely not the case with the NEX-7 – the biggest discount it has gotten so far was a $300 instant rebate, which did not last very long.
Without a doubt, the NEX-7 has created a lot of hype around its name initially and it has been holding up its image ever since. This tells a lot about the quality and the capabilities of the product. If the NEX-7 did not deliver, it would have had a similar fate as other failed mirrorless cameras on the market. Sony has done a good job with the NEX-series cameras and I personally enjoyed using all of them, especially the NEX-6 and the NEX-7. If I were to pick my NEX camera of choice today though, it would be the NEX-6 over the NEX-7. Why is that?
When evaluating the NEX series cameras, I spent quite a bit of time evaluating both the NEX-6 and the NEX-7. My goal was to thoroughly understand where each one excels or loses and which camera ultimately represents a better overall value, irrespective of its price. As I used both more and more, I started to realize that the NEX-7 just did not justify its high-end status. Towards the end, I found myself using the NEX-6 way more than the NEX-7. There were four main reasons for this. First, the NEX-6 has a much more robust hybrid autofocus system that worked better than the older contrast-detect AF system on the NEX-7. Second, I really liked how Sony implemented the PASM dial on the NEX-6 – it just felt like a small DSLR to me. Third, the ISO standard hot shoe meant that I could use the NEX-6 to trigger standard flash accessories, including my speedlights without having to attach any adapters. That alone was a huge deal for me, because I do quite a bit of studio work. And lastly, 16 megapixels just felt “right” for an APS-C sensor, with very low levels of noise, excellent colors and wide dynamic range. I asked myself a number of times – would I really need 24 MP on a mirrorless system? And my answer was “no” most of the time. If I needed more resolution than 16 MP, my D800 with its amazing 36 MP sensor was there for a reason. So 24 MP just sounded like an overkill to me for everyday photography. With an inferior autofocus system, proprietary hot shoe, higher price tag and no other notable advantages, I just did not see much value in the NEX-7 compared to the NEX-6. Now if I did not have a D800 and I wanted a camera for landscape or architectural photography needs, the NEX-7 would have been my top choice. I would not worry about using flash and the contrast-detect AF on the NEX-7 would have been more than sufficient for my needs. I know a couple of photographers that went with the NEX-7 for those same reasons.
With the upcoming Sony A7r full-frame mirrorless camera and its super high resolution 36 MP sensor, Sony will certainly shake up the market again. Those that were holding up to their D800 cameras just because of the high resolution might consider permanently switching to Sony. The only issue will be lenses – Sony will need to produce a number of high resolution lenses quickly to meet different demands.
22) Where to buy and availability
23) More Image Samples
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
Photography Life Overall Rating