When we first encountered the Sony Alpha NEX-7, DCR editor Allison Johnson was putting a pre-production model through its paces under the auspices of Sony San Diego this past September. Allison gave the camera high grades and was particularly impressed with the performance of the viewfinder. Sony announced the NEX-7 in August 2011, with first deliveries to the USA slated for November.
Since then, floods in Thailand that caused Nikon to delay the announcement of what was expected to be the new D800 DSLR camera have claimed a second victim with the NEX-7 not reaching us this month. As I write this in late November 2011, the big New York vendors Adorama and B&H Photo show the camera on their websites, but with no arrival date listed. You can track down information on the NEX-7 on Sony's website, but "notify me" and "coming soon" are the closest you can get to an arrival date. Sony has reportedly now resumed production of the NEX-7 at another plant in Thailand.
While the cameras will not show up in your local store as planned, an NEX-7 has fallen into our hands for a more extensive field test than was possible during Allison's press junket. For those who don't know, the NEX-7 is the second generation of Sony's mirrorless interchangeable lens digital cameras, following in the footsteps of the NEX-3 and NEX-5. Sony has also rolled out new versions of those cameras with slight increases in resolution, but the NEX-7 is the model generating a lot of interest among the enthusiast photographer crowd.
The NEX-7's new Exmor APS-C HD CMOS sensor is the same physical size as that in the earlier cameras, but receives a healthy boost in resolution to 24.3 megapixels from just over 14 (the new NEX-3C and NEX-5N are up to 16 megapixels). That sensor produces a 1.5x crop factor in 35mm equivalents and is paired with Sony's latest generation BIONZ image processing engine. The native ISO range is from 100 to 16000. In addition to the new built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) that so impressed Allison, Sony is also claiming a 20 millisecond (ms) shutter lag time. The 3.0-inch LCD monitor articulates through a range of 125 degrees. A built-in flash supersedes the clip-on version of the earlier cameras and an auto-lock accessory shoe permits advanced shooting applications: the shoe supports the full range of Alpha flashes and monitors, as well as adapters to accommodate studio lighting.
The camera can capture full HD video via a dedicated one-touch video button and users can now manually focus during video capture and employ program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority or manual exposure methods as well. Stereo audio performance is said to be improved, "...with revised circuitry that lowers noise levels, especially when shooting quiet scenes."
The camera also features a new user control interface that offers "...extensive, direct control over creative settings via an intuitive new TRINAVI control interface, important for enthusiast and professional photographers." Automatic, scene, and manual exposure options are complemented by sweep panorama and 3D sweep panorama modes. Still image files may be captured in JPEG, RAW or RAW/JPEG combinations; video formats are AVCHD / MP4 (MPEG-4 AVC (H.264). Memory media compatibility includes Memory Stick PRO Duo/Pro-HG Duo/PRO-HG HX Duo as well as SD/SDHC/SDXC - there is no internal memory. The camera will be offered from Sony in kit form with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens or as a body only. When I began work on this review about 10 days ago the body-only price was listed on Sony's website as $1200 with the 18-55mm kit priced at $1350. Just today the website has updated those figures, and while the body only remains at $1200, the kit price has jumped to $1400. Here is a look at both ends of that kit lens focal range...
The camera can utilize any of 7 Sony E-mount lenses (along with fisheye and wide-angle converters for the 16mm lens) and there are manual and AF adapters for Sony A-mount lenses as well. Third-party manufacturers are producing adapters for Canon, Nikon, Leica, and Olympus lenses. Sony has also disclosed the E mount specification to Carl Zeiss, Cosina, Sigma and Tamron. Sony provides a shoulder strap, rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger, body cap, cleaning cloth, USB cable and CD-ROM software with each camera.
The inclusion of any number of high-performance features such as the built-in viewfinder, new user control interface, rapid shutter response, built-in flash and accessory shoe as well as the DSLR class price tag are pushing the NEX-7 well toward the enthusiast end of the user spectrum. Let's get the NEX-7 into the field and see how enthusiastic we are about its performance.
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