Sony was gracious enough to send me the NEX-7 camera for my photo trip to Cuba. Now that I am back in the states and have internet access once more, I wanted to take a moment and share with you my impressions of Sony’s new “wunderkind.” I brought both my Canon 5D Mk II as well as the Sony NEX-7. While I have a bevy of lenses for the Canon, I was only able to obtain the kit 18-55 and the 55-210 lenses for the Sony.
So, how did the NEX-7 fare? In a word, “Amazing!”
Viva la Habana
1/1000 sec., f/10, ISO, 400, 55-210mm @ 80mm
I have been a professional photographer for some time. These days, I work almost exclusively with Canon gear, and I am quite comfortable with it. I know its “ins and outs” and have everything configured just the way I like it. I only had a few days prior to the trip to become familiar with the Sony, so, I am not professing to be an expert in the system. That being said, the system is quite easy to get around, and it took almost nothing to become comfortable with it.
Now, this is not going to be a review in any sense. This camera has been so poked and prodded that if you want to know any detail you can easily find it out online. I am also not going to provide images for the “pixel-peeper”set. There are also tons of these images available, and they are of no interest to me. I shoot photographs, not pixels.
I had the opportunity to shoot with the camera in a unique setting, for real work, for a week. This write-up is going to be strictly about my experience with the camera and my feelings about it.
1/100 sec., f/5.6, ISO 250, 18-55mm @ 55mm
Day One –
We arrived the day before. This was my first day roaming the streets of Havana. I packed both the Canon and the Sony and headed out. Given the size of the Sony, I packed both the kit lens and the 55-210. Given its size, I bolted the 24-105 on the 5D MkII and packed the 50mm. Wandering the streets you quickly are confronted with almost too much too shoot. The decay is everywhere and the people are so friendly and unique. Almost everyone wants you to take their picture. This was the problem.
I did not want to take “posed” shots. Every time I picked up the Canon, someone turned on their smile, gave me “thumbs-up” and posed for the camera. Not the shots I wanted. However, I found with the Sony I could simply flip up the screen, hold the camera at waist level, grumble as if I was secretly having problems with the camera, and get the shot. This was perfect.
We spent the entire day wandering through the vast network of streets photographing everything that we came in contact with. We were feeling our way through an entirely different culture – one very much suffering from arrested development.
When I got back to my hotel I was anxious to see how the images came out; to see how the Sony compared to its Canon brethren. To my surprise, there was very little difference. Ok, so the Sony lenses are not quite as sharp as the Canon’s. Ok, so I made a few more errors getting to know the Sony (hit a few buttons I shouldn’t have). However, the images on the Sony looked great.
One hitch though, I was shooting RAW+Jpeg. The Jpeg engine in the Sony is not very good. There is no way to turn off the noise suppression; you can only set it to LOW. The Jpegs come out quite “smeary” and overly compressed. However, once you load the images into Lightroom (ver. 3.6 is in testing), you really begin to get what this camera is capable of.
1/60 sec., f/1.4, ISO 1600, 50mm (soft focus)
Day Two –
More wandering the neighborhoods. Havana is a LARGE city; housing over two million people. There is a lot to see. This time I bolted the 70-200 f/2.8 IS II on the Canon and headed out. Without a question, the Canon lens is sharper than the 55-210 on the Sony. That is to be expected. One costs over $2,000 and the other, just over $300. However, if you stay away from the extremes on either end of the 55-210, it is an excellent performer, and quite sharp.
Today I got a little frustrated with the Sony. You see, I kept hitting the RECORD button and the camera went into Movie Mode. Once you are in Movie Mode, you are kind of stuck. I couldn’t find an easy way to get back out. When reviewing images, you are either looking at stills or movies. Once I deleted my accidental movie, my display showed that there was nothing else to review – when I knew I had more than 300 still images on the card. I panicked! I eventually got back to still image mode and found all my images, but I can’t remember how I did it. I need to check the manual, but this should be easier.
Also, I found that the Menu and Focus buttons are reversed in where they should be, and I found no way to change them in the Menu. You see the Menu button is naturally under your thumb when shooting, while the Focus button is at the bottom of the camera’s back, a little awkward. I hope this one is easily fixed in FW as they are not labeled on the camera and are just soft-buttons.
Got some great shots today, but due to the nature of using the camera, I found that I used the Sony about 75% of the time and the Canon only about 25% of the time.
1/250 sec., f/6.3, ISO 500, 55-210mm @ 161mm
Day Three –
Went to a Tai Kwon Do tournament and a Boxing tournament today; fast action in low light. Put the 50mm on the Canon, and put a Canon FD 50mm on the Sony with an adapter from Fotodiox. Both lenses are f/1.4.
Got great shots with both cameras. Using the Focus Peaking feature on the Sony I was easily able to focus, even in really low light. Used the Auto ISO on the Sony. I really wish they let you set the possible ISO range (another future FW update I hope). ISO 800 is great, with 1600 just beginning to get a bit too noisy (though I found Noise Ninja cleans it up nicely). Auto ISO will only go up to ISO 1600, though I would have restricted it to 800.
At the end of the day, I retired to the hotel’s rooftop bar. Took out the Sony and took some great sunset panoramas. Then I discovered the vertical panorama function. This is very difficult to do with a standard camera/tripod setup and a breeze with the Sony. Loved it.
Today, about 50%-50% with images from the camera.
Blood Red on the Tracks
1/160 sec., F/5.0, ISO 400, 55-210mm @ 86mm
Day Four –
Took a ferry across the bay to some of the small towns across from Havana taking as little gear as possible. Once again I am carrying the entire Sony kit, as well as the Canon with the 24-105. Trying to shoot with the Canon as much as the Sony, but the Sony is just so much better suited to street photography. Decided to try out some of the “Creative Functions” on the Sony. Turns out I dislike them just as much as I do any camera. Great for the novice, and not really worthwhile for anything but vacation pics.
Also, the bracketing on the camera is basically useless as the range is not enough, only .3 EV. This definitely needs to be addressed in FW. Others have mentioned this, and I really want to be sure I add my voice to theirs.
Once again, most all of my images are from the Sony.
Tai Kwon Do
1/60 sec., f/1.4, ISO 1600, 50mm
Day Five –
Hired a guide and driver and headed out to Hershey, Cuba. Yes, you read that right, the Communist version of Hershey, PA. Also founded by the Hershey Company in the 1920’s to process sugar for the purpose of creating chocolate.
The place is falling apart these days, but there are still the remains of the factory, some parts of which are still in operation, though not making sugar for Hershey or anyone else. There are also the remains of the planned town (think Levittown) and the electric train which Hershey built to move people to and from the major city centers.
I have decided that, since we will be walking quite a lot today to leave my Canon at home. This is going to be a 100% Sony day. I know I am taking a risk here, but so far, the camera has proven to be a real winner.
Since I was using the camera exclusively today, I ran out of battery and had to swap with the spare. When I did that, I noticed that the camera lost some of its settings (most noticeably the settings for the EVF – in which I had a histogram display). No problem to reset, but I am hoping that this is corrected in the final FW. I shot over 1,000 images today and went through two batteries.
Also, found that the electronic switch for the eye-control on the EVF prevents the camera from going to sleep. You see when the camera is hanging on your neck, the switch is constantly activated, thus the camera never goes to sleep. Another simple FW change to only use a button push to wake the camera, would solve this problem.
However, all in all, a good day.
1/500 sec., f/10, ISO 400, 55-210mm @ 55mm
Day Six –
Today was spent in Casablanca, Cuba. Just to be fair, I took the Canon and its complement of lenses with me this morning. What can I say, heavy and cumbersome. I got some great shots, but I also think there are shots I didn’t get because of the size of the system. No “sneaky shooting” here. I screamed “PHOTOGRAPHER” wherever I went. I tried to get into the shipyards, but was waived off.
I couldn’t help but wonder what I would have gotten had I had my little Sony with me.
In the afternoon, I put the Canon aside and once again set out into the city with the Sony. It is the last day in Havana and I want to get the most out of it. I need something light and fast in order to get what I am after. I head into Chinatown (yes, Havana has a Chinatown) and start shooting. I wetn into stealth mode and no one knew what I was up to.
In the end, I am very pleased with what I am able to capture, and I am already planning my return trip.
1/160 sec., f/9.0, ISO 640, 55-210mm @ 82mm
First, let me mention some items which I overlooked in my overview.
Once you use the EVF in the Sony you will miss it on every camera you own. While it is not quite as clear as a true optical viewfinder, it is extremely close. The ability to immediately see the changes to your images as you make them is invaluable, as is the ability to view the histogram in the bottom right of the display. Shooting dark complexions against bright, colorful backgrounds was only possible with this feature.
The shutter responsiveness is truly lightning-quick. This is not to say the autofocus is fast; it isn’t. It is serviceable, though like most contrast detection autofocus systems, it hunts in low light. However, when you press the shutter, the response is instant. There are a few photos I could not have gotten without this feature.
The fact that the viewfinder is on the far-left edge of the camera is also a major plus and a definite advantage over those who add an EVF to the hot-shoe. This way you can place the camera up to your right eye and leave you left eye open to see the scene and what is about to come into frame. Photographing the old cars of Cuba was much easier when I left both eyes open.
The big Achilles heel of the NEX-7 is the availability of quality lenses at reasonable prices. While the kit lens and the 55-210 are competent, they are nothing to write home about. Given the capabilities of the system, it cries out for new and better lenses to go with it. While the APS-C sensor in the NEX is clearly superior to the Micro 4/3rds sensors we have seen to date, Micro 4/3rds has the distinct advantage when it comes to lens quality and selection. Hopefully, that will change with time.
I have briefly covered my experiences with the camera over a week in Cuba. I should note that the FW version of the camera I had available to me was version .06, so I am certain a lot of the FW issues I mentioned will be fixed prior to, or just after the camera’s release.
In the end, I am now totally convinced that the future of digital photography will incorporate high-quality EVF in almost all cameras. This is just the beginning of this technology. Also, the need for the large SLR may also be starting to end. Given the capabilities of the new mirror less cameras, I see no reason for overly large bodies (except that they can currently support much larger batteries).
I am already planning my return trip to Cuba. The country is a photographer’s dream.
My Canon gear will be staying at home.
UPDATE – December 9, 2011
I have just heard from Sony that the NEX-7 (body only) will begin shipping the week of the 12th (next week). These will be limited availability direct from Sony, with the Kit version and sales through third-parties following shortly thereafter. This is great news for all who have been waiting.
At the same time, I should be able to post the PDF version of the manual so that anyone interested can begin to prepare for the arrival of their pre-orders.
Lastly, for those looking for a great, in-depth review of the NEX-7, how it works with third-party lenses, and just about anything else you would like to know, check out Luminous Landscape’s Rolling Review of the NEX-7.