Sony Alpha NEX-7: Video and Image Quality

by Jim Keenan Reads (1,174)
Editor's Rating
8.60

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 9
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 7
    • Performance
    • 10
    • Expandability
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 8.60
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Video Quality
HD Video quality in the NEX-7 is quite good. The camera has a CMOS sensor, but rolling shutter effect is muted in all but the most exaggerated panning speeds. The dedicated movie capture button is handy and the camera performs auto focus and exposure continuously while recording, but users can now set exposure and focus manually should they desire to do so.

Download Sample Video

Audio recording is on by default but may be disabled; the built-in microphone has some susceptibility to wind noise but a wind cut feature lacking on the first generation cameras has found its way onboard. The camera will record the sounds of image stabilization and zooming in or out during video capture. I shot video clips letting the NEX-7 handle video exposure and focus as well as with manual exposure and auto focus and the camera is simple and easy to use for video work.

Image Quality
Default images out of the NEX-7 were pleasant as to color fidelity and sharpness. Considering its price and enthusiast-level manual control options I would expect most buyers will be more experienced shooters looking for something approaching DSLR image quality, performance and control in a compact and light platform rather than entry-level consumers picking up their first digital. But just in case someone with no intention of moving the mode dial off of intelligent auto grabs an NEX-7, here are some default captures.

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image Sony NEX-7 Sample Image

But where this camera really shines is in offering options for folks who want to push beyond the automatic envelope. The range of adjustments offered shooters in the manual modes rivals that of many DSLRs. Tone mapping images to produce high dynamic range captures is a popular art form right now, and typically this is done by bracketing an image to produce a range of exposures and then combining them via software to produce a single image with detail in shadow, mid-range and highlight areas. The NEX-7 has a fairly modest bracketing option – 3 images at either 0.3 or 0.7 EV. It may not sound like much, but if you shoot a baseline exposure bracket with the 0.7 setting, then additional brackets at plus and minus 2 EV from the base setting, the nine shots now cover an exposure range approaching 6 EV. Here’s an HDR shot of the interior of the 200 year old Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, CA, produced in this fashion. I took the 9 shots and merged them using Nik Software’s HDR Efex PRO program. (I’m not affiliated with Nik but like and use their products – there are other software manufacturers with HDR products as well).

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image

Sony offers a remote commander control as an accessory that allows you to trip the NEX-7 shutter remotely, and any way to make the captures with minimal camera contact is of benefit. The commander would also come in handy if you opt to enable the NEX-7 HDR shooting feature. With HDR enabled, the camera captures three images with a single push of the shutter button; one image underexposed, one overexposed, and the third at what the camera determines to be the proper exposure. Two images are saved, the “proper exposure” and an image composed of the three captures overlaid. When using HDR you have the option for an automatic setting strength or you can manually select levels from 1 to 6, with 6 offering the strongest effect. Here’s a couple captures of the mission interior at level 6; both are made in the default “standard” creative style setting, but “MAX” has had contrast, saturation and sharpness increased manually.

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
HDR +6
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
HDR Max

Suffice it to say with the HDR option capturing three images that a tripod or some other form of camera stabilization will be a necessity in virtually every case. The NEX-7 also offers a dynamic range optimizer (DRO) feature that can be enabled to help optimize the gradations of the recorded image in each area of the picture. There is an automatic setting and manual settings offering 1 to 5 levels with 5 being the strongest. The big advantage of DRO over HDR is that there’s only a single image captured, so this feature lends itself more readily to handheld shooting. Here’s a look at the mission and fountain with DRO disabled and again at the maximum strength level of 5.

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
DRO Off
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
DRO +5

The NEX-7 creative style settings offer standard, vivid, neutral, clear, deep, light, portrait, landscape, sunset, night scene, autumn leaves, and black and white color palette options – here’s a look at the standard, neutral, vivid and sepia settings.

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Standard
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Vivid
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Neutral
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Sepia

As you can probably tell, color palette day took place on the cloudy, overcast, dark and dreary morning. And here’s one reason to shoot in the manual modes, if only to be able to pack a little more punch into images when lighting or weather conditions are conspiring against you. I took another shot of the diner at the standard color setting but then adjusted saturation, sharpness, and contrast to the maximum for the second shot.

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Standard
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Max saturation, sharpness, contrast

Easy and efficient panorama shooting modes have been a Sony trademark for some time now, and nothing changes with the NEX-7. Sony recommends shooting panoramas at the wide-angle end of the zoom lens, and with just an ocean horizon to contend with it took me only one try to capture this beach scene.

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image

Auto white balance was used to capture all the images this review and did a decent job across the range of light including daylight, heavy overcast/cloud, open shade and flash. The NEX-7 shot a little warm under incandescent lighting. In addition to the auto setting the NEX-7 offers daylight, shade, cloudy, incandescent, four varieties of fluorescent, flash, temperature and custom white balance options.

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Multi metering (the default) was used for most of my shooting and did a pretty good job overall, particularly was scenes of average brightness or with roughly equal areas composed of light and dark elements. The NEX-7 was fairly typical in its exposure for primarily lighter scenes in that it wanted to underexposed them a bit too much for my taste – particularly sandy beaches during direct sunlight and also our ISO studio shots. More and more in my personal shooting I’m going with manual exposure for scenes are primarily light or dark in order to produce an exposure level that’s pleasing to my eye, and the NEX-7 lends itself well to this sort of shooting. The NEX-7 also offers center weighted and spot metering options.

While the NEX-7 carries an APS-C sized sensor like the first-generation Sony mirrorless cameras, resolution has increased fairly significantly to 24 megapixels from the 14 of the first cameras and the 16 megapixels of their follow-on models. All else being equal, adding resolution to the same size sensor generally produces worse ISO noise performance. Latest generation DSLRs that I have reviewed (Nikon D7000, Canon 60D) increased resolution on their APS-C sensors but managed to improve noise performance by use of later generation processors and other technologies. Here’s hoping Sony can conjure up a similar performance, because the resolution of the NEX-7 is a good bit higher than the 16 and 18 megapixels, respectively, of the Nikon and Canon.

ISO 100 and 200 appear identical to me in terms of noise performance – in fact the 100 shot appears to suffer from a bit of camera shake as some areas of detail such as the bear’s nose, the AutoZone coin and the red spade on the playing card deck are a bit fuzzy. ISO 200 and 400 are also extremely close to my eye – close enough that for use in print work I don’t believe that there will be any noticeable difference.

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 100
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 200
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 400
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 800
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

ISO 6400
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 6400, 100% crop

ISO 12800
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 12800, 100% crop
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 16000
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
ISO 16000, 100% crop

The jump from 400 to 800 is the first where the additional sensitivity brings with it a clearly elevated noise level. The increase is slight overall, but it is clearly present where the same cannot be said about the earlier jumps. There’s a bit more unevenness in shadow areas and the white background is showing a faintly mottled appearance. ISO 1600 shows a continued increase in background mottling and unevenness in shadow areas. Fine details are beginning to suffer in some areas, notably the inscription inside pen case. ISO 3200 shows another downturn, with fine details across a much wider spectrum of the image becoming compromised, including the AutoZone coin, the candy box and the small image on the Sunpak case. ISO 6400 offers only more of the same, as fine details continue to suffer and modeling in shadow areas increases fairly dramatically. The small image on the Sunpak case is rapidly turning into a smudge and the AutoZone coin is losing detail as well.

ISO 12800 looks to me to be the most dramatic single step deterioration to this point – fine details are becoming smudged across most of the frame and noise in both light and dark areas is clearly on the rise. ISO 16000 is a setting of last resort as its speed is the only thing it has to offer – colors are fading a bit and fine details are just a dim memory in most areas.
I would be very confident shooting the NEX-7 up to and including 400 ISO that noise would not be an issue in large prints, and with noise reduction applied to the images 800 and 1600 should produce good results as well, although not in the 100 to 400 class for overall quality. I’m on the fence over whether 3200 is suitable for small print or internet work only but would probably lean that way unless there was no other option than to produce a large print at 3200. ISO 6400 is a small print/internet setting only, and I’d add 12800 to 16000 as settings that are only suitable when nothing else will work.

Additional Sample Images

Sony NEX-7 Sample Image Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image Sony NEX-7 Sample Image
Sony NEX-7 Sample Image Sony NEX-7 Sample Image


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