Why I’m not buying the Sony NEX-7 – Revisited

Sony NEX-7 Screen shot

Sony NEX-7 (courtesy of the Sony website)

A little over a month ago I wrote a blog post Why I’m not buying the Sony NEX-7 where I discussed my personal reasons for not being excited about Sony’s high end EVIL Camera. Since then there have been some new reviews and I got to hold and use the camera for a short period. Therefore, I wanted to revisit some of my assumptions that I wrote down in my original post.

Precision Camera, the local Austin full service camera store, recently had a camera expo where I had a chance to play with the Sony NEX-7. As I expected and other people have mentioned, the NEX-7 is a beautifully crafted camera. Incredibly solid and oozes quality. I’ve always been a fan of the NEX-5 design and its fit and finish. Its bigger brother, the NEX-7 ups the game considerably. The camera is a bit larger and heavier than the NEX-5 but not to the detriment of making it too large. It is still about the size of the relatively compact Fujifilm X100, for example. The larger size gives it more real estate for better controls and the added weight adds to the feeling of quality. Also, because of its larger body, the NEX-7 seems a bit more in proportion with the lenses. The NEX-5 looks very lens heavy and its design seems more unconventional, though I like it personally. The NEX-7 still retains the modern and unique styling but seems more balanced. While some companies such as Fujifilm and Olympus are designing cameras that appeal to a retro aesthetic, Sony is boldly designing a camera for the 21st century. I applaud Sony for not trying to evoke a nostalgia for times past. We are 40 years past the range finder era with new technologies and functions, why put on a façade of nostalgia for a different kind of device? I’ve only used the camera for 10 – 15 minutes however, the tri-navi interface seems very usable and flexible. I believe there are enough physical controls and interface flexibility to address most of my NEX-5 interface concerns.

In terms of image quality, specifically noise levels, a new review at Luminous Landscape has some interesting details. Michael Reichmann has posted a series of rolling reviews on the NEX-7 which is well worth a read. Regarding high ISO noise, the review does confirm at the pixel level, the NEX-7 is indeed nosier than the NEX-5n. No surprises here, it is consistent with other results. However, the NEX-7 is a higher resolution camera than the 5n. If you scale the NEX-7’s image size down to the NEX-5n’s size, the noise levels seem about the same. So in real world terms, if you make prints at a certain size, both the NEX-7 and NEX-5n should show about the same level of noise. This should also work for on-screen viewing, as long as you don’t view the images at 100% magnification. Encouraging and positive results especially for people creating high resolutions prints. If you shoot at low ISO’s the increased resolution of the 7 should give you more detail over the 5, assuming the optics are able to resolve additional details.

Speaking of lenses, Michel Reichmann also has a review of the Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens that has been designed specifically for the NEX line. This lens will work best on the NEX-7 with its high-resolution sensor but it will should also work on all NEX cameras including the NEX-3, NEX-5 and NEX-5n. In his review, He compares this Zeiss lens against a $6,500 Leica 24mm f1.4 Summilux. The Zeiss lens does quite well and appears to almost match in sharpness, an impressive feat considering the Zeiss costs $1,000. There are other image quality factors that need to be considered and Michael talks about them in the review. Therefore, while $1,000 is still an expensive lens it does seem to perform well in the Luminous Landscape tests.

So do the new reviews and my personal handling of the NEX-7 change my opinion? Am I more exited about buying the Sony NEX-7? Well, maybe ever so slightly but ultimately no, not yet anyway. I like Sony products and I’m encouraged by what Sony is doing with its cameras. With the NEX-7, they are certainly creating a premium compact camera and it should appeal to the hobbyist what wants the “best” or the fanciest. However, for me, I have always considered price performance as the most important factor. Sure, I like expensive, premium products but only if there is a corresponding performance increase or something else, maybe less tangible, that makes me “lust” after a product for purely emotional reasons. The NEX-7 while being a beautiful camera just does not appeal to me on a performance or emotional level. Why is this? Well first, for all its resolution and features, I’m not very excited by the images it creates. This is true of the photos I shot as well as the images I see on the web. This camera, like the NEX-5 exposes on the darker side. The colors, while hopefully better than the NEX-5, still appear dull. There doesn’t seem to be that liveliness that I see in the Olympus images, for example. Second, while beautifully constructed, the camera is very expensive. Maybe, if I didn’t already own 3 cameras I’ll be more willing to shell out the bucks, but at this point, such an expensive camera must be able to do something tangibly better than what my other cameras are already doing. The NEX-7 may do some things better, but at this point I can’t think of what this might be. Third, the $1,000 Zeiss lens does appear to be very nice but it lacks image stabilization. For the type of things I like to shoot, at low light, this is a deal killer.

Ironically, while Michael Reichmann’s review of the Sony NEX-7 is very positive and he clearly likes it, he made this comment about the Zeiss lens at the end of the lens review.

Having said that, I currently do most of my shooting on the NEX-5n and NEX-7 with Sony’s other lenses, because of their light weight, autofocus and stabilization. For me convenience often trumps absolute image quality.

I agree wholeheartedly. I already have my Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens it’s called the Lumix 20mm f1.7 lens that works on my Olympus E-PL1. This Olympus and Lumix combo can be had for about $550. Yes, there are certainly big differences. This Lumix is a fantastic lens but I’m not sure how it stack up against the Zeiss. Any of the NEX cameras are faster and have higher resolution than the old Olympus E-PL1. But here is the thing. I personally like the Olympus color and exposure better than my NEX-5. High ISO quality is definitely not as good but the Lumix 20mm with image stabilization more than compensates for the high ISO deficiency for the type of shooting that I do. As street cameras, both setups have a similar angle of view. When considering crop factors, the Sony with the 24mm is equivalent to 34.5mm and the Olympus with the 20mm lens is equivalent to 40mm. The key thing is, for my type of photography, the Olympus combo works well. Your photography requirements might be entirely different. Having image stabilization, for example, will do nothing if you need to capture fast action. So for now, I will save the $2,000+ and continue to use my Olympus as my carry around street camera and my Canon 7D for fast action and wide-angle landscapes. And, once in a while, especially when I want to do video, I will still use my Sony NEX-5, but without the expensive Zeiss lens.

13 thoughts on “Why I’m not buying the Sony NEX-7 – Revisited

    1. Kirk, thank you. It means a lot. Kind of ironic after reading your latest post on Online Photographer. However, while I think about and talk about equipment, I also believe that I do go out to shoot often.

  1. Something to consider in all this is that Sony lenses aren’t really Zeiss, it is a bit hard to explain but in Zeiss’ website there’s a faq stating they don’t manufacture the lenses for Sony cameras (nor DSLR nor EVIL) in any of their plants, or with any of the people hired by Zeiss, instead the lenses are “made under Zeiss specifications ” -meaning those lenses probably are rebadged Cosina lenses-. The whole appeal of owning a Legacy lens with Zeiss stamp looses its flavour when you know about this…

    Then there are other annoyances like Sony’s different hot shoe (meaning you have to buy a whole set of different accessories for it or buy the ridiculously expensive adapter they make).

    And as you said there’s one thing that’s true: their performance doesn’t seem to be game changer, these are APS-C sensors which make dull contrast, color, etc. (something to do with the image engine because it has been always Sony’s problem, Nikon uses the same sensor and their image engine is much more efficient and better at rendering the images).

    While I respect Mr Reichmann and his website,a whole lot, there’s a problem: he’s really biased sometimes in his reviews about camera gear (like his expectations that a 5D MKII should be prepared for north pole weather… come on…) Specially when it is Sony gear, we all have a brand of gear that we love, but some of us know that even if we like an specific brand it won’t be perfect and I for one I am really open on the defects of the brand of my choice when people ask me about them and Mr. Reichmann isn’t, his conclusions are a bit over enthusiastic when it is about Sony gear (with all the respect he deserves of course), I got a Sony A900 from what I read in his review only to find out my own conclusions about the camera are REALLY different than his, again he’s too enthusiastic about Sony (which isn’t bad normally but it is bad when you write reviews).

    So while I think Sony digital SLR cameras are pushing the envelope in a really nice direction (would love to see an SLT camera with a lower resolution sensor), their EVIL cameras aren’t doing anything innovative or special, heck they aren’t doing anything that you may say “WOW” (like the EP1 -and I don’t own or plan to own an Olympus Pen but they were innovative nonetheless).

    Thanks for the reading mate, really interesting indeed.

    1. Maurice, thank you for you visit and the lengthy comment. Regarding the Zeiss, it seems like the relationship is similar to the Leica / Panasonic relationship. Sony and Panasonic may use some of the Zeiss and Leica lens coatings and processes but they are not true Zeiss or Leica lenses.

      Regarding Mr. Reichmann, this is interesting to hear. I imagine we are all biased in some ways, I’m sure I am too. While I am trying to keep an open mind, I’m sure some readers might detect some kind of bias. Now that you mention it, Michael Reichmann does seem happy with the Sonys, though he did give a pretty negative review of the NEX-5. I remember him being very pleased with the Panasonic Micro 4/3 system too.

      It is certainly a great time for photography gear and hopefully it will make us all better photographers too.

    1. Hi Tony. As you can tell, I am really pleased with the Olympus and Lumix 20mm combo. Not perfect, certainly, but the price/performance really works for me.

    1. Frank, I am certainly tempted with new gear like other people. I’m also cheap/fugal so hopefully that will somewhat balance out my desire for new toys. Thanks for your visit and comment.

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