I now have had the chance to make about a thousand exposures with the NEX-7. While I continue to believe that the user interface is a big step up from the NEX-5, I have found many annoyances with the new interface.
As mentioned in the previous post, the focus-assist button is hard to find when the camera is held up close to your eye. I thought that this would get easier to use with time, and to some extent it has, but it’s still a problem. I think both the focus-assist button and the one above it should be raised somewhat so that they’re easier to find, instead of being flush with the camera back. Note that these are actually soft buttons – their function is determined by the mode that the camera is in. There’s a workaround to the hard-to-find focus assist button: assign the function to the much-easier-to-use AF/MF hold button. You can also assign the focus-assist function to the right-hand side of the four-way click joystick and use the center button to change magnification. I recommend one of these changes for everybody who thinks they might use manual focusing.
The detents on the two thumbwheels on the top of the camera are too close together; it would be better if the wheels had to be rotated through a larger angle to change the setting. As it is, it’s too easy to get two clicks when you only want one, or three when you want two. It would also be nice if the knurling on these wheels wasn’t so fine, and the surface was rubberized. The detents are also too light; it would be better if their action were stiffer.
Sony has packed a lot into the central control on the back of the camera: a four-way click-joystick, a rotary control, and a selection button in the middle. Selection buttons in the middle of click joysticks are often problematical; it wasn’t until the D3 that Nikon got theirs to the point where you could reliably press the middle button without inadvertently actuating one of the joystick directions. Sony has improved this one over the NEX-5, but it still not foolproof. I think the solution is to move the menu selection button somewhere else.
The button that sets the camera into video recording mode is too easy to inadvertently activate. You’re going along taking pictures, and suddenly the camera shutter refuses to click. That’s because you’ve accidentally started a video recording. There should be a menu item to disable this button, or better yet, assign it to another function, such as menu selection.
The display in the finder is not bright enough for use in bright sunlight. The eyecup only shields your eye from light on the top and sides; it’s open at the bottom, making the lack of brightness worse. You need a hat with a brim in the sun.
The artificial horizon is a nice touch, but is not very precise.
The design of the NEX-7 appears to be somewhat schizophrenic. It’s a camera with many features aimed at the advanced photographer. Under the right conditions, which include sharp lenses and bright light, it’s capable of producing spectacular images. However, it is burdened with a host of point-and-shoot features that just get in the way of serious photography. These include the pop-up flash that, while being a minor mechanical marvel, doesn’t have manual settings; the all-too-easy-to-turn-on video capability; and the in camera panoramic stitching feature that reduces the resolution of the camera dramatically and only produces JPEG images. Can you imagine a serious photographer wanting the camera to trip the shutter when it detects a smile?
The point-and-shoot photographer would be better served by the omission of the advanced manual features and the photographically-savvy control-oriented photographer would do better with a camera stripped of the point-and-shoot bells, whistles, and foxtails. It’ll probably never happen, but Sony could give both groups what they want by having two firmware images that people could choose between on their website, loading the one they want into the camera just like they do with a firmware upgrade.
The NEX-7 is not a very good point-and-shoot camera. It’s too expensive, and the current lens line can’t take advantage of the resolution. In fact, all that resolution is completely unnecessary for a point-and-shoot. The NEX-7 is too large to be pocketable. With cameras like the D3s available, the NEX-7 is far from the best choice for a low light camera. The pixel pitch is so fine that there’s a lot of noise at ISOs above 400 (see the following post).
What’s it good for, then? For the advanced photographer who prizes portability and/or the ability to achieve precise focusing accuracy, it’s a good fit. It would be a good camera for backpacking. It’s a good camera for travelling light, if photography is not the main objective, but the photographer wants to have the ability to create high-quality pictures should the opportunity arise. With a 35mm or a 50mm lens, it should be a great camera for tripod-less stitching. Note that carrying a bunch of Leica lenses compromises the low travel weight.
The Sony NEX-7 is significant — it points to what the photographic future will look like: smaller, lighter, faster cameras, with no mirrors or pentaprisms. The NEX-7 is a long way from being a complete replacement for 35mm DSLR, and using it makes me look forward to full frame, more highly evolved versions that I expect to arrive in several years.