Sony Alpha NEX-7 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: November 14, 2011

Last Updated: January 23, 2012

The Alpha NEX-7 (from $1199) is Sony's top-of-the-line mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Featuring a 24 Megapixel sensor (yes, you read that right), great build quality, an articulating 3-inch LCD, beautiful OLED electronic viewfinder, blazing performance, a customizable interface, and true 1080/60p video recording, the NEX-7 will win any spec competition with ease. Other features include an electronic level, cool sweep panorama, anti motion blur, and HDR modes, a built-in flash (plus hot shoe), the powerful (but overly complex) Tri-Navi interface, and strong battery life.

The NEX-7 has a lot in common with the full-size Alpha SLT-A65 and A77 translucent mirror cameras (same sensor, processor, and features), except that it comes in a much more portable package. There are just a few real competitors on the market, which include the Nikon 1 V1, Olympus E-P3 (whose EVF is optional), Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2, and perhaps the Samsung NX200 (no EVF is available).

Is the NEX-7 the ultimate interchangeable lens camera? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The NEX-7 comes in two kits: body only for $1199, and with the pictured 18 - 55 mm OSS (IS) lens for $1349. The NEX-7's box is something buyers will have to experience for themselves, but you'll definitely feel like you bought something expensive (and you did) when you open it. Here's what you'll find inside it:

  • The 24.3 effective Megapixel Alpha NEX-7 camera body
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm Sony zoom OSS lens [lens kit only]
  • NP-FW50 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • Cleaning cloth
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Picture Motion Browser and Image Data Converter
  • 58 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM

Sony's E-mount lens collection (including two conversion lenses)
Photo courtesy of Sony Electronics

Should you choose the lens kit, then you'll be greeted with a black version of the F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm OSS lens that came with the original NEX models. This lens offers solid build quality, good sharpness, and minimal purple fringing. The E-mount lens family has grown a bit since I last reviewed a NEX camera -- there are now six additional lenses available, including a 16mm pancake, fast 24 and 50 mm primes, a 30 mm macro, and a couple of telephoto zooms. One unique thing about the 16mm pancake lens is that you can attach fisheye and wide-angle converters to it. Whichever lens you choose, there will be a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio to keep in mind.

NEX-7 with LA-EA2 adapter and giant A-mount Zeiss lens
Image courtesy of Sony Electronics

If you want to use old Alpha (A-mount) lenses, you have two options. You can pick up the original LA-EA1 adapter (priced from $199), which offers sluggish autofocus on select Sony lenses. Perhaps a better solution is to use the new LA-EA2 adapter (priced from $317), which has the same translucent mirror technology as Sony's D-SLRs and allows for super-fast AF with any A-mount lens. If you want to use lenses from other manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, etc.), there are adapters for that, as well.

Interchangeable lens cameras (which includes D-SLRs) never come with memory cards. So, if you don't have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The NEX-7 is still a Sony camera, so it supports Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, but that slot can also accept SD, SDHC, and SDXC media. I would suggest a 4 or 8 GB card if you're mostly taking stills, and a 16 or 32 GB card if you'll be recording movies, as well.

The NEX-7 uses the same NP-FW50 lithium-ion battery as many other Sony cameras. This battery can hold 7.7 Wh of energy, which is on the upper end of the spectrum for interchangeable lens cameras. Here's how that translates into battery life, with a look at the competition:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Nikon 1 V1 400 shots EN-EL15
Olympus E-P3 300 shots BLS-1 / BLS-5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 330 shots * DMW-BLC12
Samsung NX200 330 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha NEX-7 430 shots NP-FW50

* With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

As you can see, the NEX-7 has the best battery life in the group -- and by quite a wide margin in most cases. Do note that if you're using the electronic viewfinder, you'll get 350 shots per charge -- it's quite a power sucker! If you do want to pick a spare battery, it'll set you back about $50 (though generics are available for less, if you're feeling brave).

Sony didn't skimp on the battery charger that's included with the NEX-7. Just slide the NP-FW50 into the charger, plug it right into the wall, and 90 minutes later, you'll be all set.

There's a decent set of accessories available for the NEX-7. Here's a list of the most interesting:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies Choose from any E-mount lens, or use old A-mount lenses with one of the adapters below.
A-mount adapters LA-EA1
From $129
From $340
Both of these let you use A-mount lenses on the NEX-7. The first one only supports autofocus with SSM and SAM lenses, and even then, will be slow. The second one offers super-fast AF with all lenses.
External flash HVL-F20AM
From $149
From $349
From $484
The basic flash can tilt up to 75 degrees, and folds down flat when not in use. The larger flashes are more powerful, can tilt and rotate, and support high speed flash sync. They can also be used wirelessly.
Hot shoe adapter FA-HS1AM From $93 Turns the NEX's proprietary hot shoe into a standard one.
Sync terminal adapter FA-ST1AM From $135 Turns the proprietary hot shoe and gives you a standard PC sync port instead.
Stereo microphone ECM-ALST1 From $109 Attaches to the proprietary shoe on the top of the camera and gets power from the camera.
Wireless remote control RMT-DSLR1 From $28 Control the camera in record and playback mode wirelessly.
AC adapter AC-PW20 From $77 Power the camera without using your battery.
Body case and lens jacket LCS-ELC7/B From $166 Old-school leather body case attaches via the tripod mount, and can stay on when shooting. Lens jacket can cover the NEX-7 and smaller E-mount lenses.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Moving onto the bundled software now, Sony includes two products with the NEX-7: Picture Motion Browser (Windows only) and Image Data Converter (Mac/Windows). Picture Motion Browser is a pretty standard photo organizing/sharing suite. In addition to importing photos from the camera, it can also share them via e-mail, prints, and public or private sharing websites. Editing tools include redeye reduction, brightness/saturation/tone curve, and sharpness. There's also an AutoCorrect function which attempts to fix things with a single click. While PMB can view RAW files, it cannot edit them. For that, you'll need to use the next product.

That product is Image Data Converter, which can edit a number of RAW properties, including white balance, Creative Style, D-Range Optimizer, noise reduction, and exposure. IDC has a "version stack" that lets jump back in time to older iterations of the photo you're working on. My only real complaint is that it's a bit slow to process adjustments. If you'd rather use Photoshop for editing RAW files, you'll have to wait, as their Camera Raw plug-in is yet to support the NEX-7.

The videos produced by the NEX-7 come in two "flavors": AVCHD and MPEG-4. Picture Motion Browser can be used to view all videos produced by the camera, and it can remove unwanted footage from your clip, or save a frame as a still image. While it can convert videos to WMV format, they'll be VGA quality. PMB can also burn videos to Blu-ray or DVD discs. If you want to use a commercial product to edit your videos and plan on using the AVCHD Progressive (1080/60p) mode, check with your software manufacturer to make sure you can actually edit the video. Mac users can edit MPEG-4 and most AVCHD videos with ease, using iMovie or Final Cut Pro X. You will not be able to open the AVCHD Progressive videos however, unless you run them through Media Converter first (be sure to download the AVCHD rewrap plug-in, as well).

Despite its hefty price tag, Sony still puts the majority of the camera's documentation in digital format. Inside the box is a basic guide to give you an overview of the camera. For more information, you'll need to load up the Handbook, which is included on a CD-ROM disc. Neither manual will win any awards for user-friendliness, organization, or depth. Instructions for using the bundled software is installed onto your computer.