Sony Alpha NEX-7 Digital Camera Review$1,349.99
Picking up the Sony Alpha NEX-7 it's immediately apparent that this is a camera that is the result of sparing no expense. The grip is plush, with contours that align extraordinarily well with the hand. Where smaller NEX cameras are awkward with small grips and DSLR-size lenses, the larger body of the NEX-7 allows for precise handling, even with longer telephoto lenses. We also reserve separate praise for the protruding rear thumb rest, which rises out from the body, offering enough purchase to allow a single hand to comfortably control the camera with even a full 55-210mm lens attached.
The tri-navi control scheme of the NEX-7 extends the context-sensitive control scheme found on previous NEX models. As with those models, the controls on the back of the camera are not labeled, instead having their function called out on the rear LCD. This also includes the two dials on the top plate, which often adjust exposure (aperture and shutter speed_ with the rear control dial usually controlling ISO. It's a simple, elegant control scheme that provides the same level of control found on any prosumer DSLR, with the added bonus of being aesthetically pleasing.
The NEX-7's use of a built-in electronic viewfinder also contributes to its excellent handling, as does its tilting rear LCD, allowing for shooting at nearly any angle or even in extremely bright conditions. The viewfinder and LCD both sit flush against the body, protruding only marginally from the back of the body. The result is a relatively compact body that offers just about every in-body feature you could ask for in a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The result is a camera that we're simply hard-pressed to criticize.
Buttons & Dials
The control scheme on the NEX-7 can be a bit confusing if you're used to most digital cameras that feature a fully labeled selection of buttons. Most of the dials and buttons on the camera are not permanently labeled, instead having their function called out on the rear LCD. This can certainly be a bit confusing at first, and it will take some getting used to. One quirk here is that the function button on the top plate of the camera (just behind the shutter release button) is also unlabeled, though this seems to be more of an aesthetic decision than one predicated on enhancing control.
The buttons themselves physically are easy to operate, which few exceptions. The three control dials all have just enough resistance to them, allowing for quickly changing settings easily. The buttons have very little travel, but still offer a nice haptic response and (for the most part) an audible click when activated. The camera features a dedicated video record button, though it does not have a button for engaging the camera's automatic mode, instead requiring a trip to the camera's menu.
While the camera does have an electronic viewfinder, it also sports a 3-inch tilting LCD with a 921k-dot resolution. The monitor easily matches the displays of most prosumer bodies, and slots in flush with its compartment on the back of the camera. The monitor is not touch-enabled, leaving that functionality to the sub-$1000 NEX-5N body. The LCD hinges only vertically, with a viewing angle that allows you to view the screen at nearly any angle above or below the camera.
The viewfinder on the Sony NEX-7 is a 0.5-inch XGA OLED monitor with a resolution of 2359k dots. While that resolution seems massive, the monitor does not go far beyond what other electronic viewfinders have accomplished, certainly not quite up to the standards of an optical finder in a prosumer body. Still, given the design constraints of a compact mirrorless body, it's perfectly acceptable and unlike most viewfinders it doesn't interrupt the shape of the body, just as Fuji has done on their X-Pro 1 and X100 bodies.
We did notice some performance hiccups with the viewfinder, with the image sometimes flickering and stuttering when panning in any direction. It's more annoyance than anything, and it seems to go away once focus and exposure are locked in.
The NEX-7 produced a phenomenal amount of sharpness when placed under the duress of our camera shaking rig, able to record relatively sharp images at 1/30th of a second in handheld shake conditions. This didn't leave much room for improvement, though the optical stabilization system did produce an average sharpness gain of a hair over 31% under the same conditions.