Aug 8, 2012
Canon’s new EOS-M interchangeable lens camera has been out for a couple of weeks now so I figure this would be a great time to post my impressions about another ILC (Interchangeable lens camera), the Sony Nex7.
Confused? Don’t be.
I’ve been shooting on Sony’s flagship ILC, the Nex7, for a few months now and I must say- it is impressive.
I picked this camera up after a lot of research into the different devices in this new class of sans-mirror cameras to see how well it could handle being the go-to camera for a professional photographer. It’s done quite well, even with the few drawbacks I came across. But let’s not spoil the end so early. Let’s talk about the camera.
After hauling a pro dSLR body around for some time, the Nex7 feels tiny in the hand. That doesn’t mean it feels like a toy, however. The magnesium-alloy build, lathe-turned knobs, and rubber grip at the right hand all do tremendously well at pushing you past the size factor and getting into the seriousness of the camera.
One thing many professionals scream foul on about the new ILC form is its lack of an optical viewfinder (OVF). Most IL cameras are being designed without a viewfinder at all, leaving just the large screen across the back to compose your shot, read your settings, and access the menu.
Sony is one of the few designers that included an alternative to satisfy those insisting on having an OVF, an E VF (electronic viewfinder). The EVF, in the upper left corner, harks back to the earlier days of the viewfinder camera that Leica made so popular in the first half of the 20th century, but in a clearly 21st century approach. So far I barely use it, because of the benefits that the large pivoting viewing screen provides.
For photographers who’ve spent any time on a large format camera, or especially a waist-held medium format camera, using the viewing screen to compose the shot should come quite naturally; with the added benefit of a properly oriented view rather than the inverted composition on the old glass plate.
The viewing screen on the back is not fixed, like some manufactures have opted to do. The screen pivots up 90 degrees, allowing you to literally compose and shoot from the waist.
Street photographers who loose the shot every time they hoist that big dSLR to their eye to frame a shot will greatly appreciate the lack of anyone’s attention when they are standing on a sidewalk looking down at the Nex7, barely noticeable to begin with, composing a shot from the waist. You don’t even need to crouch for that ‘alternative point of view’ with this camera. Of course that takes away the ‘cool factor’ for some shooters who like the look of contorting into odd positions for alternative angles, but then you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
The screen also folds down roughly 30 degrees, making that hail-mary shot not so much a prayer anymore.
One setback to the screen’s flexibility is that it only pivots up and down. It cannot swing out to the side or flip over as with some of the other Nex models. If the next Nex7 viewing screen is built to swing out horizontally the same as it pivots up, the design would be perfect.
The viewing screen, while very useful, isn’t going to satisfy everyone all of the time, and that brings us to the EVF.
Having the EVF is a great added feature for when the scene is extremely bright, making the screen hard to view. It has to be really extremely bright, however, because the viewing screen handles outdoor sunlit conditions very well.
One adjustment I had to make right away when using the viewfinder was switching to my right eye. I’m a lefty and maybe for that reason, I used my left eye when photographing with a dSLR.
On the Nex7, using your left eye in the viewfinder leaves a nasty cheek and nose relief on the viewing screen. That issue was quickly solved by simply switching to use my right eye in the EVF.
Another learning curve that caught me off-guard was the proximity sensor at the edge of the EVF that shuts off the screen, transferring the information to it, when it senses something close. I say something because it isn’t so intelligent to recognize what is close. Occasionally, I would accidentally trigger the sensor with a finger, part of my hand, or even a loose piece of clothing, which shut off the viewing screen, sending me into frantic troubleshooting mode checking the on/off switch, removing and reinserting the battery, and smashing every button on the back trying to reactivate the screen. Once I became enlightened, the issue went away. Now when the screen goes blank, the first check is whether something is near the viewfinder.
Trouble aside, the EVF does a fantastic job of refreshing in real time allowing you to frame and photograph your shot quickly. And since it has a 100% viewing angle, you don’t get any of the crop-in-later issues that can creep up using the OVF on some dSLR cameras.
The last thing to point out about the EVF is all of the information that is projected onto the screen. Everything that is available on the viewing screen: the exposure settings, capture settings, storage space, battery life, focus points, metering points, even an electronic leveling tool to orient the frame, and more, are available on the EVF.
Having all of those settings visible is only as good as having the ability to adjust them, and Sony didn’t miss a step there.
Rather than have to drill down into the menu and options settings via touch screen or a navigational pad that require taking your eye away from the scene to read menu options, the Nex 7 is built with three physical dials they’re calling their Tri-Nav system. These dials can adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO as simply as has been the function of the best professional dSLR cameras on the market for years.
Having the physical dials sets the Nex 7 apart from every other ILC on the market, and places it squarely beside its big older brother, the dSLR, to contend for the professionals attention. Aside from the three dials, there is an array of buttons both soft and hard (configurable and dedicated) which access all of the various functions and settings of the camera, and there are plenty of functions and settings built into this innocent beast. At first, the buttons, and what and how they access the menu settings is a bit daunting, but with a little attention and use, they become second nature.
Taking the time to get familiar with the different recording styles, capture size options, setting the color space, and those generally once-set-left-alone settings before you go out to shoot is a good idea so when you arrive where you’re photographing for the first time, you’re not fidgeting with all of the new controls or capturing Internet friendly JPEG’s in sRGB color space when you thought you were capturing RAW image files in Adobe RGB. Oh yeah, this camera can capture RAW images and it captures in Adobe RGB color space.
In the interest of brevity and knowing you probably want to look at some photos and read a little bit of other news during your break, I will leave still and video picture capturing until the next post.
Now I would like to direct your attention to the product shots of this wicked little device.