23.5x15.6mm 24.0-megapixel sensor, 3.0x zoom (27-82.5mm equivalent), 544g
We were bowled over by Sony's mid-price compact system camera, the Sony NEX-5N, so we couldn't wait to get our hands on the flagship NEX-7.
It's a seriously handsome camera, with bold, business-like contours constructed from magnesium alloy. The handgrip has a rubber texture both front and back, and it feels extremely satisfying and comfortable to hold. It's a little taller than the 5N, which gives space for an electronic viewfinder, a hotshoe, an integrated pop-up flash and a pair of command dials. Inside, there's the 24-megapixel sensor that we've seen before in the Sony Alpha A77. Whereas that camera's translucent mirror limits the amount of light reaching the sensor, the mirrorless NEX-7 has no such issues.
The viewfinder is taken from the A77 too. At 2.4 megapixels it's bigger and sharper than any other electronic viewfinder we've seen – and bigger than similarly priced SLRs' optical viewfinders too. The hotshoe is not the standard design but it's the same type that's used on Sony Alpha SLRs. That means there are plenty of flashguns available, as well as adapters to convert it into a standard hotshoe or a PC terminal.
Having a total of three rotary controls – two on top and a third on the back – gives simultaneous, direct access to the three exposure settings. The ISO speed is set via the rear wheel, with the two top-mounted controls assigned to program shift, exposure compensation, shutter speed or aperture, depending on the selected mode. There's a button for manual/auto focus or exposure lock, depending on the position of an accompanying switch. Another button, located beside the shutter release, cycles through autofocus, white balance, dynamic range, HDR and Creative Style options, with adjustments made via the three dials. These options can be customised to include JPEG and raw settings, metering mode and creative effects. The function of various buttons on the back of the camera can be customised, too.
These extensive customisation options mean barely any controls are labelled, so it took us longer than usual to get used to these controls. After a few days' use it started to become very quick, though. Still, the NEX-7 really should have a proper mode dial. Pressing a button assigns the rear wheel to this task but it isn't as quick or as intuitive as a dedicated, labelled dial. We're also surprised to find that the 3in articulated screen isn't touch-sensitive. Touchscreen operation on the NEX-5N could be better implemented but it's extremely useful for moving the autofocus point.
The remaining controls and menu system are taken wholesale from the NEX-5N. The menu system is a little cumbersome, but once we'd configured the various customisable options to our liking we didn't have much cause to visit it. Sony's usual range of sophisticated shooting modes are included, with 3D panoramas, automatic HDR capture and some attractive creative effects.