The Sony Alpha NEX-7 delivers impressive image quality -- approaching that of a big digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera -- in a smaller package. But the Sony's lack of lenses, weaker body and video-overheating problems hurt its ratings.
"I was loathe to return to the more conventional DSLR world after using it." Nobody calls the Sony NEX-7 pocketable, but it's certainly sleeker than a chunky DSLR, and testers say that it fits very nicely in one hand. Like the Olympus, the Sony gets an excellent electronic viewfinder, plus a tilting 3-inch LCD screen, though it's not a touch screen. Extraordinarily well-thought-out physical controls make up for it, though. The NEX-7 has a Tri-Nav control system that experts love -- two dials on top that allow you to control your most-used functions one-handed, plus another dial on the rear. You can customize pretty much every control, too, making it "extremely fluid to shoot with," says Andy Westlake at DPReview.com.
Very good photos, but shooting video can overheat the camera. Images from the Sony NEX-7 impress experts, "easily rivalling even the DSLR competition," says Mark Goldstein at PhotographyBlog.com. Color is "very appealing," says Dave Etchells at Imaging-Resource.com, and low-light performance equals "the top tier of APS-C SLRs." Speed-wise, the Sony largely matches the Olympus models. It can shoot up to 10 frames per second, and autofocus is generally fast. Video looks very good at full 1080p HD, but plenty of owners report than the NEX-7 overheats and shuts down after shooting a few minutes of video. Battery life is rated at a respectable 430 shots per charge.
Sturdy, but not weather-sealed. Although it's not weather-sealed like the splashproof, dustproof Olympus OM-D E-M5, experts say the Sony NEX-7 seems sturdy. "The NEX-7's build quality is excellent," says Westlake at DPReview.com. "The metal-shelled body feels solid with no flexing or creaks, and the handgrip is covered with a thick rubberized coating. The three control dials and most of the buttons are crafted from metal, giving a real quality feel."
The NEX-7's built-in flash pops up on a hinged stalk -- "think of a micro version of a scissor lift," one Amazon.com reviewer describes it -- that lets you flip the flash upward to bounce it off the ceiling, giving a more flattering light. A few owners say the stalk seems flimsy, though.
Lenses are lacking. "Optics are really the weakest link" for the Sony NEX-7, experts at Imaging-Resource.com say, and other experts agree. There's a small selection of native E-mount lens, and critics aren't terribly impressed with most of them. You could buy an adapter to use chunky A-mount or SLR lenses, but that defeats the purpose of a compact camera, reviews point out.
Otherwise, "the NEX-7 packs an awful lot of features into its small body," Westlake says. There's the standard special effects to make your photo look like a miniature, monochrome, retro photo, etc., and other features that reviewers say Sony does better than the competition: Sweep Panorama, Handheld Twilight and 3D. Unlike the Olympus models, the Sony NEX-7 has a built-in jack for an external microphone and a pop-up flash.
Outstanding image quality, handling and features earn the Sony NEX-7 a rare Gold Award here. It does have some flaws, though: Few lenses are available, and the firmware feels "cobbled together."
Review: Sony NEX-7 In-Depth Review, Andy Westlake, December 2011
Imaging-Resource.com reviews fewer point-and-shoot cameras than other sources, but its incredibly detailed reviews of advanced cameras like the Sony NEX-7 are unsurpassed. Experts here are thoroughly impressed with the Sony NEX-7's "breakthrough" user interface, best-of-breed electronic viewfinder and "some of the best images we've ever seen from an APS-C camera." In fact, Dave Etchells says, "The Sony NEX-7 is my new favorite camera."
Review: Sony NEX-7 Review, Dave Etchells, Mike Tomkins, Zig Weidelich and Shawn Barnett, Jan. 19, 2012
Few cameras win a 5-star Essential award here, but the Sony NEX-7 manages it. Mark Goldstein notes the dearth of lenses, but superb image quality and usability make it a "stunning camera."
Review: Sony NEX-7 Review, Mark Goldstein, Jan. 4, 2012
Most owners here praise the Sony NEX-7 for its superb images and portable body. However, a good number rate it mediocre or lower. Two common complaints are the lack of lenses and the fact that the camera heats up and shuts down after shooting just a few minutes of video.
Review: Sony NEX-7 24.3 MP Compact Interchangeable Lens Camera with 18-55mm Lens, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of May 2014
With around 70 owner reviews posted, the Sony NEX-7 maintains a very high 4.6-star rating (out of 5). Still, several note the same problems as Amazon.com users do: few lenses and overheating video.
Review: Sony Alpha NEX-7 Digital Camera Limited Edition Bundle with 18-55mm and 20mm Lenses, Contributors to BHPhotoVideo.com, As of May 2014