Sony rewrite the rules with an extremely capable interchangeable lens compact
In the field, our testers took home many crisp and colorful images, and raved about the handling and controls of the camera. You know how we’re always grumping about cameras with only one command wheel instead of two? Well, the NEX-7 has three. If this sounds confusing, it isn’t, as Sony assigns control functions according to a logical tree. For example, in aperture-priority autoexposure, the two top dials control f-stop and exposure compensation, while the lower dial sets ISO. As you make these adjustments, all settings can be seen in the viewfinder as well as on the LCD.
The camera is full of nice touches. Enthusiasts will appreciate the Sony/Minolta-type hotshoe, in which you can mount an optional adapter that provides a sync terminal. Photographers and video fans alike will appreciate the tilting LCD screen, which is so slim when folded that at first we thought it was a fixed screen.
As this is Pop Photo, you know we have some gripes. While the autofocus is quite fast for a contrast-detection system, it’s still nowhere near the gotcha! speed of the Alpha models’ phase detection. During very fast panning, the EVF can get a little jittery. And burst shooting with continuous AF and AE is a wimpy 3 fps. You can get 10 fps in Speed Priority mode, but you lose continuous AF and AE, and the camera will run out of gas at 17 JPEGs. In fairness, though, the NEX-7 is more suited to urban, candid, portrait, and travel photography than sports shooting.
Lens selection is also a concern, especially for enthusiasts. Sony needs to add more to the NEX lens line, which now numbers seven. There is a big hole in the ultrawide range, 10mm to 14mm, focal lengths that scale up to 15mm to 21mm in full-frame equivalents. We hope that Sony will make some small primes in this range, as they would be better suited to the NEX-7 body—you have to admit big zooms look a little ridiculous on this petite camera.
But to use this model for any length of time is to adore it. The NEX-7 is pretty much exactly the ideal we envisioned when consumer photography began going digital: a compact camera with interchangeable lenses, viewing by way of direct feed from the sensor to a built-in, high-resolution finder, producing top-notch image quality. It’s here.
Canon has packed just about every feature of midlevel EOS cameras into this Rebel: 18MP sensor, 1920x1080p60 video, wireless control of TTL flash, tilt/swivel LCD screen, and so on. But while the T3i represents a certain refinement of the Rebel line, it doesn’t radically redefine the photography experience, as does the Sony NEX- 7.
The first fixed-lens compact camera to get serious consideration for Camera of the Year honors, the X100 wowed us with its built-in, switchable EVF/optical finder, great imaging, elegant aesthetics, and easy-to-use retro controls. But in the end, not being able to change the lens took it out of contention.
When all is said and done, Sony’s own Alpha 77 was probably the top competition for this award. This speed-shooting fixed-mirror DSLR builds mightily on the groundbreaking A55 with that super OLED finder, Excellent-level imaging, and heavy-duty construction. But the NEX-7 was 2011’s real game-changer.