Sony rewrite the rules with an extremely capable interchangeable lens compact
Camera makers customarily follow a set sequence during product introduction sessions: The big gun comes out first, followed by cameras lower in the line, followed by lenses, then accessories, usually ending with branded cases and the like.
But there was something about the Cheshire Cat grin worn by Mark Weir, Sony’s senior manager of technology, that told us that this time the last piece out of the sack would be more than a new neckstrap.
It was the Sony NEX-7. We knew right away that this was something special just from the looks of it—from the solid, metal-clad body, to the substantial, ergonomic grip, to the numerous control dials and buttons. And a rectangle on the back that looked suspiciously like a rangefinder eyepiece.
Then came the specs: A 24.3MP CMOS APS-C sensor, the same type used in the Alpha 77. A tilting, 3-inch 921,600-dot LCD screen. 1920x1080p60 HD video capture. Plus the usual Sony bag of tricks, like Sweep Panorama and Handheld Twilight modes.
But the true game-changer was that viewfinder. It turns out that the eyepiece houses the same OLED electronic viewfinder used in the A77, making the NEX-7 the first rangefinder-style ILC with an integral, through-the-lens EVF. And, as you may recall from our test reports on both this camera and the A77, it’s a doozy of a finder—fine-grained, crystal clear, with very fast redraw.
One of the biggest issues has been the viewfinder. For ILCs to have comparable utility to DSLRs, they need eye-level viewing in addition to the LCD screen. But rangefinder-style ILCs up until now have not been designed with integral viewfinders; for eye-level viewing, you need to slap on an accessory optical or electronic finder. True, the DSLR-style ILCs—the type pioneered by Panasonic—have integral EVFs, but these are bulkier than rangefinder-style models, and their EVFs have been of average quality. In particular, they are poor for following action or panning.
That’s where Sony stepped in with a piece of new EVF technology, the organic light-emitting diode (OLED). These devices provide better color and contrast than LCDs, as well as wider viewing angles. Plus, they use less battery power. With the NEX-7 and A77, Sony becomes the first manufacturer to use this type of screen in a viewfinder rather than for the back monitor.
It helps that the Sony EVF has lots of dots—more than 2.4 million. And in an OLED, each dot provides red, green, and blue information, as opposed to LCDs, in which each dot produces only a single color. It makes for clarity and smoothness in the viewfinder image, which can be mistaken for a good optical viewfinder. The illusion continues when you pan the camera; the image slides across the frame smoothly.
To be named Camera of the Year, a model has to refine or redefine photography—and the NEX-7 does both, plus a lot more. It proved a top performer in the Popular Photography Test Lab and in the field.
With Excellent resolution (2740 lines), impressive noise suppression (Low or better noise through ISO 1600), and Excellent color accuracy, the NEX-7 aced our lab tests for an Excellent overall image quality rating.