The ergonomics of the NEX-7 are a huge improvement over the NEX-5. The three main controls, the two thumbwheels on top and a four-way rocker/selection control on the back, work very well. Their function changes according to the mode that camera’s in, which is a good thing once you get used to it, and somewhat confusing at first. Sony has made learning the functions easy by providing information about what the control on the back of the camera does to the right of the image in the LCD display on the back of the camera. When you first turn the camera on, the functions controlled by the two thumbwheels are momentarily displayed at the top right of the LCD screen.
The camera handles responsively. Startup is essentially immediate, and there’s no perceptible shutter release lag in any situation I’ve encountered. The shutter is not particularly quiet, but it doesn’t move the camera much at all, which is great for using low shutter speeds. The finder is wonderfully bright in dim light but is marginal at best in bright light. When you bring the camera up to your eye, the OLED display in the finder immediately turns on and the LCD display on the back of the camera turns off. Turning off the LCD display is a nice touch; if it stayed on, not only would it drain the battery unnecessarily, but it would provide a distracting light source in the periphery of your visual field.
There is no diopter correction for the finder, which is a pity. [My mistake. See comments for discussion of the diopter adjustment — thanks, Rich!]
Wanting to see what the sensor could do, I installed the Leica 24 mm f/3 .8 Elmar. That gave me the opportunity to use the new liveview focus modes. There’s a button on the back of the camera at the very bottom. In normal shooting mode, if you press this button, the display gives you an indication of the area that it will enlarge the next time you press the button. Using the rocker/selection control on the back of the camera, you could move this rectangle anywhere in the image. Pressing the focus button again zooms you in by a factor of six, and you can focus. If that’s not enough magnification for you, hit the focus button again, and now you’re zoomed in by a factor of 12. When you’re ready to take a picture, press the shutter button gently, and now you can see the whole field.
It’s a very nice scheme. The only drawback for me is that the focus button is not easy to find with your thumb while camera’s pressed against your eye. It would be nice if it stuck out a little bit, but then it would be more likely to be pressed by accident. If you really care about focus accuracy, you won’t just leave the focus rectangle in the middle of the image, swing the camera over so that what you want to focus on is in the center, focus and then recompose. No, you’ll compose the scene, leave the camera where it is, and move the focus rectangle to the spot upon which you want to focus. That way, no matter what focusing distance deviations are present in your lens – and no lens except specialized industrial models offer a truly flat field – your focus will be accurate.
The combination of the Leica glass and the very accurate focusing that is not only possible, but easy, with the NEX-7 produces exquisite images. I tried the 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH and got spectacular results with that as well. It appears that these lenses can take advantage of essentially all of the resolution available in the camera. Since the sensor in the NEX-7 has the pixel pitch of a 50 megapixel full frame sensor, this bodes well for future higher resolution full frame camera bodies. However, close examination of images taken with Leica lenses and the NEX-7 shows that field flatness can be a big problem at wide apertures, and the rangefinder focusing of the M8 and M9 will be completely inadequate at pixel pitches similar to those in the new Sony camera.
The Sony 16mm lens can’t deliver all the resolution of which the NEX-5 is capable, so I wouldn’t expect much better pictures with that lens on the NEX-7 than on the NEX-5. Nevertheless, I gave it a try, and I discovered a really clever bit of a ergonomics: when you twist the focusing ring on the 16mm (or on the Sony 18-55 mm zoom) the display switches immediately into focusing mode, saving you a button press. It remembers the magnification you used the last time you used focusing mode, and goes immediately to that magnification.
Looking at the lenses available for the NEX-7, I see five Sony lenses with quite low prices, and one Zeiss 24 mm lens priced at a thousand bucks. With the possible exception of the Zeiss lens, it’s clear to me that the only way to take full advantage of the sensor in the NEX-7 is to use third-party lenses.
All in all, the NEX-7 is quite a camera. It’s much easier to use than its predecessor. The picture quality is good at low ISO speeds (if you want good performance at high ISO, get a full frame camera with only a moderate number of pixels like the Nikon D3s). The flange distance is so low that you can adapt just about any 35mm lens to it. Maybe someday Sony will come up with a line of lenses with quality commensurate with the camera.