The Sony Alpha NEX-7 is clearly aimed at serious enthusiasts and professional photographers who demand a small, stealthy little camera that can deliver superior image quality and minimal lag time. The Sony Alpha NEX-7 is the third model to be introduced into the Sony interchangeable-lens compact camera lineup, and offers easier-to-access manual controls and a high degree of customization. You can assign functions to various dials and buttons and put the features you use most at your fingertips.
Sony Alpha NEX-7 has a solid look and feel, and the placement of the eye-level viewfinder on the upper left corner of the camera back is right where you'd expect to find the finder on a traditional rangefinder camera. For right-eyed shooters, this lets you compose in the super-sharp 2.4 million dot resolution EVF while watching the scene with your left eye, which is helpful for documentary and street photographers. The EVF has Minolta DNA: A proximity sensor automatically switches the camera from the LCD finder to EVF as you move the camera up to your eye. The problem? It will activate the EVF if the finder is close to anything-your shirt, other items in your camera bag, etc. So when not in use, turn the camera off to prevent battery drainage.
There is also a large flip-out, 3-inch, 921k-dot resolution LCD monitor, and the information it displays is not necessarily the same as what you see in the electronic viewfinder. In fact, the LCD display includes considerably more information, including tiny prompts that indicate what the camera's unmarked buttons and dials control in whatever mode you're in at the moment.
Then there were the dials, knobs and buttons. The NEX-7's features are controlled via a trio of generous-sized, easy-to-turn thumb dials at the upper left corner of the camera's back and a thumbwheel control switch, something Sony calls "triple dial control". By default, they control aperture and shutter in manual mode, although they have no labels.
The camera's minimalist top plate includes a flash hot shoe (using the proprietary design that precludes the use of generic shoe-mounted flash and accessories), a pop-up flash, two of the three control dials, the on/off switch surrounding the shutter release and a small, unmarked mystery button, the first of several to be found on the NEX-7. This button cycles through the camera'skey functions. Press it once, white balance controls appear in the LCD. Press again to control color intensity, yet again to adjust color balance, and so on. Don't like the choices of which features you can control from this button? Not to worry, you can change that.
The back of the camera has a mix of labeled and unlabeled controls. There's the aforementioned EVF, with a diopter dial for the hard-of-seeing, a flash-pop-up button, a preview button, a control that toggles between AF and manual focus (if you have the camera default set for AF, you can press the button to switch to quickly adjust manual exposure) as well as autoexposure, a "soft button" (read: unmarked) that accesses the menu, thumbwheel dial whose purpose varies depending on mode, and another soft button that functions as a delete key when in preview mode but otherwise is up for grabs.
Manual focus (when the camera is set to manual) is controlled via the focus ring on the lens, and an enlarged detail can be displayed on the EVF or LCD monitor. I found the LCD monitor to be fairly bright, although as is typical with most LCD monitors, theimage is hard to see in direct sunlight. That's when I recommend using the electronic viewfinder exclusively. I found the front gripto be comfortable and was able to easily handhold the camera for a while without tiring.
The menu interface is divided into six areas: Shoot Mode, Camera, Image Size, Brightness/Color, Playback, and Setup.
Shoot Mode covers the settings you'd find on a traditional physical camera top dial-PASM, as well as Intelligent Auto,scene modes, anti-motion blur, sweep panorama (rotate the camera and it will shoot and stitch together a panoramic image, and 3D sweep panorama (captures 3D images viewable on a 3D compatible TV monitor).
The Camera menu goes deeper, accessing things like Auto/Manual focus switching (I wish that particular feature didn't requireso many button presses to get to). Drive, flash mode, various autofocus modes (including object tracking and autofocus field) are controlled and adjusted here, as are Face recognition, smile shutter and numerous other features.
Image Size adjusts image size (24, 12, or 6MP), aspect ratio (the choices are 16:9 or 3:2; surprisingly, 4:3 is not available), and image quality including RAW, RAW+JPEG, JPEG in Fine and Standard. You can also change panorama, 3D panorama and movie image size and quality settings in this menu.
Brightness/Color controls some key features-Exposure compensation (including the ability to change the amount of increments of compenastion), ISO and White Balance. Metering mode, flash output, picture effects and other features are also adjustable here, although you can also get to most of them via the soft button atop the camera to the right of the shutter release.
The Sony Alpha NEX-7's resolution is among the highest of any APS sensor camera, while our field tests showed that autofocus is fastand responsive, and in manual focus mode the camera displayed no perceptible lag time.
The Sony Alpha NEX-7, by virtue of its nimble performance on the street and its stunning image quality, rises to the top of the heapof mirrorless interchangeable-lens compact cameras. Yes, you pay a premium for it, and yes, its interface is at first bewildering, and requires some quality time with the 200-plus page owner's manual to really get a deep understanding, but it's worth that steep learning curve to tap into this camera's flexibility, extensive range of features, and power. This is a camera that is well-suited for photojournalism, street photography, wedding candids, and other events that require a quick, stealthy camera that will deliver top-notch results in lower light. If you are OK with a electronic viewfinder, and have the requisite deep pockets, this camera is well worth considering.