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Customer Review

55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sports and General Photography with the NEX-7 (Rolling Review Style), March 12, 2012
This review is from: Sony NEX-7 24.3 MP Mirrorless Digital Camera - Body Only (OLD MODEL) (Camera)
Warning: This review is LONG. You may want to set aside time to read it. All pictures mentioned should be under the product pictures for this camera.

Let me start out by saying I'm new to photography. Not new in the sense that I don't know how to generally operate a camera, but concepts such as equalizing the exposure pyramid, composition, and "seeing the focal length" are areas that I have really just delved into. Just for a bit of scope, before getting this camera, I was shooting a Nikon d300 with the glass talked about in detail below, for only 2 months. Before that, point-and-shoots. A very big leap in equipment from basic consumer to enthusiast. So why did I get into this so fast?

Simple--demand.

My college's sports department needed a cheaper alternative for season games to get action shots, as they couldn't afford the resident pro photographer for every game. At the time, I was shooting a borrowed Nikon d40 for our newspaper. I wanted to give it a shot, and very quickly found that it wouldn't cut it for a sports camera, especially for indoor basketball games. After trying a couple different old lenses that my father no longer needed, such as the Tokina 80-200 f/2.8 AT-X, I ended up loaning out his trusty d300. It got the job done, but was limited by my complete lack of large aperture autofocus lenses, as the simple focus confirmation dot paired with the optical viewfinder weren't accurate enough for reliable results.

After what seemed like enough research to write a dissertation, I came to the conclusion that I'd be better off actually investing in a body to use the glass I already had, rather than get better glass for a still great, but 5 year old camera. This fell onto the camera up for review today, and after falling victim to the same shortage many other photographers had to wait through, I have finally had a chance to see what the hype is all about.

First day:

Luckily for me, my Nikon F mount to E mount adapter came in the same day as the camera, and after the very long, 5-hour, initial battery charge...ran out of usable light outside to take any usable photos.

I did, however, have ample time to take a few pictures with the main lenses I use with it, as well as a size comparison between the d300 and a point-and-shoot. You can see these in the product pictures.

Spoiler ahead: the size comparison picture I have attached demonstrates the point that Sony got it right and managed to pack in almost every single feature a DSLR has, remove the reflex mirror, and keep the whole package about the size of a normal compact camera. This is no small feat.

As far as first impressions about the camera itself, it just /feels/ right. Great rubberized grip, great weight, solid all metal build, and everything has a defined edge "cut" that really makes the design of this stand out when in the hand.

Second/Third Day:
So, enter again a couple days later, after I've really gotten a chance to mess around with the camera, and my first impressions about the general feel were backed up by the image quality. Outstanding. Rich. Detailed. Those are the three words that come to mind every time I ask myself how to feel about the NEX-7's RAW files (I strive to only shoot RAW for maximum post processing flexibility) at low ISO's. Seeing as it is March, the flowers are out, so take a quick look at my boring flower shot and get back here. Good? Now check out the one with the robin taken with the 300mm f/2.8. Alright? Awesome, we can move on.

So one thing I really wanted to test with this camera that is a hard quality to quantify is the usability, how it shoots, how it operates, and how it just feels as a quality piece of kit. Well there's good news, and bad news. Good news is, its highly customizable and modular control interface allows me to have complete and total control over my exposures. With the live exposure feedback on both the LCD screen and EVF, I know exactly what the picture will look like /before/ I take it, (constant DoF preview, for instance), something an optical viewfinder can never do. The bad news, however, which is really just niggling here, is that in order to get your preferred settings where you want, you have to play with the camera for a good few hours straight, wading through the honestly awful menu structure. I won't lie, it is disorganized and laid out terribly. That said, with the exception of formatting the memory card, I have assigned all the settings I ever need to on-body (and out of menu) controls, so my trips to the menu will be very few and far in between. If you worry about this point, rest easy, once you fiddle around and get everything assigned to the button of your choice, you'll be good to go.

A quick praise and redux of the EVF/LCD screen with peaking and manual focus assist: for still subjects, the combination of the two leads to extremely precise focusing that is amazingly useful for lenses, such as the two I use, that have a large maximum aperture. When you start focusing, you can actually see a band of color (can choose from Red, Yellow, or White, I use yellow on high intensity) move along so you know when and where the focus will hit. Then, after your area is in "color", you use manual focus assist (I assigned it to the AF/MF-AEL button) to get even more precise focus. Now on moving subjects, just stick to peaking and hope for the best. Again, if you are using a large aperture (f/2.8 or larger), then typically what flashes in your peaking color will be in focus. Of course, if you have any prior experience with manual focusing, you'll be right at home here. In my case, these lenses are easier to use on the NEX-7 than they ever would on the d300. One thing to note about the EVF though, in moderately low to good light, it has very fast response, so much so that it is essentially real time, with no screen tearing like I was expecting. In low light, in order to show a decent image on screen, it has to turn the refresh rate down, so it lags a tad. Just keep that in mind.

Fourth Day:

I really wanted to put this camera through its paces today and went on a photo trip of sorts out to a local covered bridge. I wanted to find out more strengths, and possible new weaknesses. To keep it short and sweet, take a look at the "one-shot HDR" picture from inside the bridge and come back. Looking good, no? Anyways, onto a few quick strengths, with a light prime attached, this camera is just a piece of cake to carry around, angle, and shoot. Held mine for 2 hours straight without a neck strap (one of the weaknesses of this camera is that the included neck strap is truly awful) and simply changing hands when carrying it was the only remedy needed for taking the weight off. The tilting LCD helps you get up and close to focus without having to bend or crouch too much, and is bright enough to see in all but direct mid-day sunlight. One note about the EVF, though, the eyecup isn't quite deep enough to block out ALL outside light, but the chances of outside light creeping in is pretty small, and once you know where it's coming from, you can press the camera up to your eye in whatever angle you need to get it to be a complete seal.

So, fourth day impressions? Getting more and more comfortable with it, but take note, this is a camera that DEMANDS that you take it with you and shoot, as memorizing what your settings and buttons do takes a bit of time. For me, I'm already starting to intrinsically get this process down, and am starting to see what all the hype is about the controls. One side note, all I have with me is a slow class 4 card. When writing RAW files each file takes about 3 seconds, when I do a 3-4 shot burst, that time gets compounded. I have a fast (Sandisk UHS-1 95MB/s) card coming in hopefully tomorrow, and although the camera doesn't support it the UHS-1 class speed, it'll be a good, fast class 10 card to have if I ever get another future NEX that has UHS-1 support, OR a USB 3.0 card reader.

First week round-up:
I have now had the chance to really get to know this camera over the past week. Here's just a quick roundup of pros and cons that I find relevant to shooting, some of which are mentioned above.

Pros:
1. 24MP sensor strikes the perfect balance between high resolution, ISO noise, file size, and dynamic range. Any camera I get from this point on needs to have at least this many megapixels, as the cropping flexibility is tremendous.
2. Body design and function is great. The "L" shape creates a very secure grip, and the fact that it is rubberized just makes it grip that much more. Everything, save for the buttons and screen, is metal. There is nothing like the feeling of picking up a camera after a few hours to be greeted by a cold, hard, magnesium alloy body. Though it's not weather sealed, I'm sure this camera can take some punishment.
3. The EVF has changed the way I shoot, coming from an OVF. Being able to "see what the sensor sees" is a true game changer. I will never go back to an OVF. It's not all peachy though, see cons.
4. The peaking and focus magnification functions, combined with the bright tilt screen, have made getting numerous shots that I couldn't get with a DSLR (with manual lenses), possible. It's just amazing to zoom into 100% to get tack-sharp accurate focus in real time, even with large aperture lenses. It's even more fun to see the "band" of the depth of field get closer and further away as you play with the focus ring. :)
5. Though I haven't done much video yet, the few little clips I have tried out are great. Seeing as I got this camera for PICTURES, the fact that it does any sort of video at all (let alone 1080/60p at 28 Mbps!!!) is like icing on top of red velvet cake. On a similar note, I have not once accidentally pushed the video record button, as many others complain about. Maybe I'm just lucky with the curvature of my thumb?
6. With a fast card (in my case, a SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB, SDHC, UHS-1 Flash Memory Card SDSDXPA-032G-X46,Black), camera operation is great. RAW files write fast, even after a large burst of 6-10 photos, and scrolling through photos and magnifying to check focus is a lot faster than a class 4 or 6 card.

Cons:
1. Though pixel-level detail with 24MP at ISO 100 in RAW is flat out amazing, viewing anything higher than ISO 400 reveals pixel-level noise. Not great if you're a pixel peeper. That said, at an IMAGE level, noise only really shows up at 3200, and is easily removable in post processing. Also, since I try to always use a large aperture prime, I can afford to always stay within ISO 100-400. No big deal here.
2. The EVF struggles in high contrast situations to accurately show highlights and shadows, meaning it clips both of them. However, this doesn't affect the image upon immediate playback, and if you shoot in RAW, you really just need to make sure your subject is generally exposed right and you can mess with all the highlights and shadows quickly and easily in post. Also, though the refresh rate is truly real-time in moderately low to good light, when it gets really low, the screen rate is something like 10-15 fps, which is because the sensor needs to lower the "virtual" shutter rate so it can show a properly exposed viewfinder image. This is the case with ANY mirrorless camera.
3. 24MP RAW files will quickly fill your hard drive. You better bet on getting a large external hard drive on down the road.
4. The only native lens that outresolves the sensor is the Zeiss 24mm f/1.8. However, I have seen many amazing shots already from the Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS, despite it technically not being up to snuff. That said, there are some great lenses in e-mount on Sony's roadmap for this year, and until then, if you are using any good manual full-frame lenses (such as mine, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AI-s E-series which is replacing the 50mm f/2 AI pictured in the product images, and the 300mm f/2.8 AI-s ED) they outresolve the sensor very well.

Last installment of the rolling review, queue paid sports photography:
If you have read this far, kudos to you. This will be the final post regarding the fast action performance of this camera.

First, see the baseball and softball pictures posted in the product images. Now get back here! Can you tell those were caught with a manual focus lens?

I didn't think so. There are 5 big things that this camera has over any other DSLR or mirrorless (in the same price range) in regards to sports photography (granted that you already have some proficiency with manual focus lenses). Let me explain:

1. 10 fps full resolution with a 17 file (in RAW!!!) buffer depth. Though fps can never be high enough (even the D4's 12 fps would miss some of the action in baseball), I have never once locked myself up while shooting, being able to consistently fire off 3-7 shot bursts and go right to shooting another. Cameras like the Samsung NX200, for instance, have a fast burst mode, but a poor buffer depth, locking up often. When paired with a fast card (I was redundant as mentioned before and got the 32gb Sandisk Extreme Pro 95MB/s, maxing out probably at 25MB/s), this camera doesn't disappoint in pure operational speed.
2. 24MP is absolutely huge. I've also said this before, but in this sort of situation what the resolution allows me to do is shoot first, compose later (in PP), and still maintain perfect amounts of detail. Going to around 50% crop? No problem! This sort of advantage gives me more time to get focus, instead of thinking of tightly framing a shot.
3. Peaking and manual focus assist. For people running, and quick acquisition, use peaking. If you look where you should (the ground, not the players), just wait until the band of the depth of field gets to them, and snap away. You may not hit critical focus (especially at f/2.8!), but for a generally good shot, this works very well. When you have time to prefocus, such as on the player at bat, the pitcher, or various bases waiting for someone to steal, THAT'S where the genius of manual focus assist comes in, just zoom straight in with the press of a button and turn the ring until you see the fine sand detail. Using these in combination feels like it gets me to about 75% autofocus performance (not including the stupid fast sonic wave focus lenses), and frankly, that's great.
4. Weight (lack-thereof). Though having a big lens attached to any camera makes a heavy set-up, in cases like this, with a 5.6 pound lens on a monopod, literally all the weight is in the lens, the camera is just an add-on. This has its own advantages. You can get by with a cheaper tripod built to hold less (I'm using a cheapo 14 clam Vivitar monopod, and no worries about it collapsing on me), and when carrying it around the field, the overall weight is negligible (after you take into account what you are carrying!).
5. Price/Performance. This is the biggest point of them all. What all these factors combine to do, for the money, is staggering. To get the same quality of pictures with autofocus, would need a d400 (doesn't exist yet, but will probably have the same sensor as this camera) and the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AF-S VR ED. I would probably have to get a better monopod for the extra weight as well. All in all an outfit like that would cost about $7000-$8000, that's not including any other accessories like a vertical grip, extra batteries, or even a capable memory card. My set-up? NEX-7+Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AI-s ED+Vivitar Monopod+Fotodiox Adapter+32gb SanDisk Extreme Pro? $1800. Is autofocus really worth $5000? For me, even if I had the money, and after seeing what my combination can do, I say no.

So final thoughts? You can already see what my argument would be based on the major points above. There are so many more valid points I could make about the system to back up my claim, but I feel those are all I need.

I'll say it right here and now, if you have any proficiency, or plan to acquire proficiency, with manual focus lenses, the NEX-7 with a capable ED telephoto Nikon or Canon lens is currently the best choice for a rising sports shooter on a limited budget. You'll mis-focus here and there with really fast moving targets, and will need a lot of practice to keep up with sports such as soccer and football (which I firmly believe will be doable), but there is no other camera/lens combination out there that gives a photographer this much performance for this little cost. Let your photos speak for you and get the jobs, not what your camera outfit looks like (I get nothing but stares when walking around with this thing). I showed my employer my pictures before I presented the camera, and got the job BECAUSE OF THE PICTURES.

Now that I've written this, go ahead and get yourself an ED telephoto before the prices skyrocket too much on eBay if you have a NEX. :)

This concludes my rolling review. I may on down the road in a few months update it. We'll see. My initial impression of a 5-star camera still stands extremely well. Comments and ratings are welcome!
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 13, 2012 11:18:32 PM PDT
JayC says:
Great review but where are all those sample photos referenced in your review?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 13, 2012 11:20:29 PM PDT
Matthew Durr says:
The first nine are mine, and thanks! See here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/product-gallery/B005IHAIEI/ref=cm_ciu_pdp_images_0?ie=UTF8&index=0
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