DCRP

Sony Alpha NEX-7 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

The NEX-7 is one of the most responsive interchangeable lens cameras on the market. About the only time you'll wait is when the camera is processing an HDR or other multi-exposure image. Otherwise, hold onto your hat! The table below summarizes the camera's performance:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 0.6 sec Above average
Autofocus *
(Normal light)
0.1 - 0.4 secs Above average
Autofocus *
(Low light)
0.8 - 1.0 secs Average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
~ 1.5 sec Average
Shot-to-shot
(With flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
* With 18 - 55 mm kit lens, wide-angle

Pretty good, eh? I did notice that autofocus is a bit closer to "average" when you're at the telephoto end of the kit lens.

After all of the multi-shot features that I've covered in this review, you can probably guess that it's pretty quick when you put it in burst mode, as well. There are two speeds to choose from in burst mode: continuous and speed priority. The difference between the two is that regular continuous meters and focuses each shot, while speed priority locks both of those with the first photo. Here's what kind of performance you'll get in both of those modes:

Image quality Continuous Speed priority
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 14 shots @ 3.3 fps 13 shots @ 10.0 fps
RAW 17 shots @ 3.2 fps 14 shots @ 10.0 fps
Large/Fine JPEG 28 shots @ 3.3 fps 16 shots @ 10.0 fps
Tested with a SanDisk UHS-1 (45MB/sec) SDHC card

Can't complain about those speeds, especially when you consider that a single RAW+JPEG combo is over 37 MB! When you reach the limits shown in the table, the camera won't stop shooting -- it'll just slow down considerably. If RAW files are involved, it'll take anywhere from 5 - 15 seconds for the camera to flush the buffer and get things back up to normal speed again.

I think that's the last table of the review! Let's talk about photo quality instead. With the exception of the night shot, all of these photos were taken with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens.

The NEX-7 did everything right in our macro test. Our subject is sharp, colors are accurate, and plenty of detail is captured. There's no noise or other artifacting, nor I wouldn't expect any.

The minimum distance to your subject depends on the lens you're using. For the kit lens, that distance is 25 cm. If you're interested in a dedicated macro lens, Sony has an F3.5, 30 mm lens available, which has a minimum distance of just 9.5 cm.

I took our night test photos with the new F4.5-6.3, 55 - 210 mm Sony lens. Two of them, actually -- the first was really soft in the lower-left corner, so I got a replacement, which fared much better. Here you can see that there's not much highlight clipping, or any funny color casts, aside from the glow being cast by those red lights on the Ferry Building. While there is some purple fringing here, it's relatively minor. If you squint really hard you might be able to spot some noise here, but it's barely noticeable. You can take photos like this using Intelligent Auto mode (which will detect if you're using a tripod), manual controls, and even the handheld twilight feature (though I don't know how well that'll turn out).

Now let's use this same night scene to see how the NEX-7 performed at higher sensitivities:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 16000

Everything looks good through ISO 400. At ISO 800 we start to see some detail loss, though it's fairly minor, and shouldn't keep you from making a midsize or large print at this sensitivity. At ISO 1600 you're going to need to downsize your prints, or start thinking about shooting RAW, as things are starting to get blotchy. ISO 3200 is still usable if you're really desperate (and again, use RAW if you can), and I'd avoid everything above that sensitivity.

Want to see if shooting RAW improves photos taken at high sensitivities? Let's use that ISO 1600 shot and find out:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.6)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

As you can see, you get back quite a bit of detail by shooting RAW and doing some easy post-processing. It's not going to be as helpful at ISO 6400 and above, but in the 800 - 3200 range, it's well worth using RAW instead of JPEG. We'll do this test again in a minute in better lighting!

Night test photos replaced on 11/16/11
RAW comparison added on 12/19/11

I had a feeling that the onboard flash, with its close proximity to the lens, would be a magnet for redeye. Sure enough, there's plenty of red in our flash test photo (and this is with redeye reduction turned on). Unfortunately, there's no digital redeye removal tool on the NEX-7, so you'll have to fix this annoyance on your Mac or PC.

Distortion correction off (default) Distortion correction on

The NEX-7 has a lens distortion correction feature, and strangely enough, it's off by default. That leads to quite a bit of barrel distortion with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, as you can see in the test chart above, and in this real world photo. Turning on the distortion correction flattens things out nicely, so you'll probably want to use this (unless, of course, you like barrel distortion). I took hundreds of photos with the kit lens, and did not have any problems with vignetting or corner blurring.

Now it's time to see how the NEX-7 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. So, now may be a good time to open up the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and Olympus E-P3 reviews (or whatever else you're considering) for a little comparison. Keep in mind that since the photos are so large, only a small portion of the scene is visible below -- so be sure to look at the full size images too. And with that, let's travel from ISO 100 to 16000!


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 16000

Everything looks great through ISO 1600, with noise just barely visible at that sensitivity. There's some minor blotchiness at ISO 3200, but still, very usable for large prints. Things start to go downhill at ISO 6400, but even at that sensitivity (on a 24 Megapixel camera no less), you can still make a small or midsize print at that setting. While there's quite a bit of detail loss at ISO 12800, you could still use it if you're really desperate (though I'd shoot RAW, personally). While not as bad as one would expect, the ISO 16000 setting is probably worth avoiding.

Can we save that ISO 12800 shot with a little help from the RAW image format? Let's take a look!

ISO 12800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

Wow, that's a LOT better. Colors are more vibrant, the mushy details are gone, and the photo is much sharper. This illustrates that the NEX-7 could certainly produce better-looking JPEGs than it does straight out of the box. My advice? If you're shooting at very high ISOs of the NEX-7, then RAW is a must!

RAW comparison added on 12/19/11

I have to admit that I was very skeptical about how the images would look on a 24 Megapixel APS-C sensor. I figured that things would turn noisy very quickly -- and boy did Sony prove me wrong. As the tests above show, you can get away with using high ISOs on the NEX-7 without a problem. The two "layering" modes (anti motion blur and handheld twilight) let you get away with photos that just wouldn't be possible on other cameras. Even if things do get noisy, keep in mind that these are 24 Megapixel photos, and when you print or downsize them, whatever noise is visible will blend away. The NEX-7 performs well in other areas, as well. Exposures were accurate, highlight clipping was not a major problem, and colors were pleasing. Photos may be a little too soft for some folks, but you can address that by playing with the Creative Styles and turning up the sharpness. Purple fringing is mostly related to the lens you're using, and I did not find it to be a problem with the ones I used. The only real issue I had with my photos were dust spots, so keep that dust blower handy.

As always, don't just take my word for it. I have three photo galleries available for the NEX-7, taken at Disneyland, in New York City, and here at home. Have a look at the photos, print or resize a few if you'd like, and then decide if the NEX's image quality works for you!

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