Sony has finally started shipping its NEX-7 compact system camera. Not being one of the big fish, I got mine the old fashioned way: I got on a waiting list and waited.
Patience paid off and I was graced with a UPS box a week ago containing a Sony NEX-7 body and a spare battery. No lens. I am still waiting for this to arrive. Fortunately, I had planned for this and acquired a couple of lens adapters allowing me to fit legacy glass on my shiny new NEX-7.
So while I wait for the Zeiss lens to appear on my doorstep, I shall write this first impression article based on legacy glass and my observations on how the camera and it’s files behave.
The floods in Thailand caused a lot of devastation for the locals as well as the corporations that housed their factories there. Originally scheduled for shipment on November 11, the cameras did not start showing up until the last week in December. Even then only in rarified numbers.
Unbelievably, this delay did have a positive side. The delay allowed software makers to prepare their raw converters for the day when the camera arrived. So when I opened the UPS box, I had versions of Adobe Lightroom and Phase One Capture One Pro raw conversion software ready to take on whatever this camera could produce.
Not reinventing the wheel…
Other websites have gone on ad-nauseum with the technical features of the camera and have all sorts of glowing reports about the breakthroughs Sony has in the NEX-7. They are all correct. The NEX-7 is all that and much more.
The NEX-7 was designed with features that appeal to both advanced amateurs and professionals alike. The shot above was taken with the in- camera Rich Tone Monochrome picture style. The camera fires three bracketed shots in rapid succession and combines them into one JPG image. Think of it as B&W HDR.
The Tri-Navi interface on the NEX-7 adapts to whatever shooting mode you are in. This allows controls like exposure compensation and others to be assigned based on need. Users can customize this to some degree and I expect more customizability with subsequent firmware updates. In practice I have discovered that this arrangement, coupled with the groundbreaking electronic viewfinder (EVF) introduced with the Sony α77, allows me to view the effects of setting changes like ISO, depth-of-field, and exposure compensation prior to taking the shot. This feature alone make this a must-have camera.
One of the great features of the NEX line of cameras is their ability to use practically any manufacturer’s lens via an adaptor. Micro Four Thirds cameras share this ability. With legacy lenses mounted via an adaptor, the NEX-7 does not have any idea that a lens is even mounted on the camera. A quick setting change in the menu will allow the camera to “fire without a lens.” This misleading entry actually tells the camera that a non-electronically controlled lens will be on the camera. Using adapters, you can mount pretty much any lens you can imagine on the NEX-7 (or any other NEX camera).
- Canon EOS
- Canon FD
- Contax G
- Contax/Yashica (C/Y)
- Leica M
- Leica M39 (screwmount)
- Leica R
- Konica AR (Hexanon)
- Nikon Rangefinder
- Nikon Nikkor (including G-type)
- Olympus OM Zuiko
- Pentax K/PK
You get the idea. Fotodiox also guarantees infinity focussing with all of their adapters. Hold it. Infinity what? All lenses regardless of brand have a certain registration distance that must be maintained in order for the lens’ focussing mechanism to work accurately. When you design an adapter to allow a lens from a different make/format to be mounted on your camera, the adapter must be designed to recreate exactly the registration distance that the lens expects. In this way the lens’ focussing mechanism can accurately continue to work on the new camera body. I encountered this with a cheapie Leica M-to-NEX adapter i bought off of eBay. The adapter is well made and fits snugly, but the registration distance is slightly off and allows me to focus past infinity (no, this does not mean that I can see into the future). All lenses mounted via adapters have to be manually focussed and stopped down and the camera must be set to Manual or Aperture priority. Except Sony Alpha lenses. Sony makes an adapter (two actually) for their line of Alpha mount SLR lenses that not only provides electronic aperture controls, but (in the case of the LA-EA2) also provides phase detection autofocus! That will set you back about $400, though.
One other bit of fun that this generation of NEX cameras include is focus peaking. Long a staple of the pro video circuit, focus peaking is a tool that allows you to see what is in focus by coloring the in-focus bits in the image. Properly set, this means that a astigmatic wombat (such as yours truly) can focus these really fast primes and their paper thin focus planes with a lot more ease than other mechanoptical focussing systems.
The Sony NEX-7 is a strange beast. As a Percy Jackson fan (and general mythology buff), I would call this a chimera rather than a camera. Its image size, image qualities, and file malleability encroach well into the low-end of medium format. Its sensor size, interchangeable lenses and bokeh characteristics plant it squarely in DSLR territory. Its body size and handling is definitely in the compact camera arena. So what is it? Well like the mythical chimera, its all of the above.