The mass-market appeal of compact system cameras is essential for the category to work. High sales drive down prices and allow development into improved operations and performance.

As photographers, however, we see compact system cameras from a different perspective. They offer a small creative solution, as a second camera or as a replacement for an old heavy camera bag.

The early CSC models are undoubtedly handy, but the NEX-7 is the model that most of us have been waiting for – a camera with DSLR controls and performance in a smaller form, rather than a just a compact with removable lenses.

Models such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 and Samsung NX11 have come close, but the NEX-7 is the first that feels truly high-end. That is not to say the NEX-7 has got it all right. It is a complicated camera with hundreds of clever functions hidden in the menus. The body and lenses are quite large, so it isn’t quite pocket-friendly, and although the focus is impressive for contrast AF it still has phase-detection systems to compete against.

Overall, though, if you are looking for a CSC, this is the best money can buy.

Sony NEX-7 – Key features

Pop-up flash

Sitting right in the centre, the pop-up flash springs high above the camera to avoid lens shadow and has a guide number of 6m @ ISO 100

Electronic viewfinder

Using the eye sensor just inside the eye cup, this activates when your eye is placed against it and delivers a high-resolution view

Dual electronic level

The on-screen display can be superimposed on the rear screen or the viewfinder, offering both forward and side-to-side levelling in a fighter-jet-style display

3D panorama shooting

The sweep panorama mode is available in 2D and 3D modes, with the 3D allowing a fully 3D image to be viewed on a compatible screen monitor or TV screen High-speed burst shooting. When set in speed priority mode, the NEX-7 is capable of 10fps continuous shooting for fast action, compared with a regular 3fps in other modes

Full HD video

Using the AVCHD format, the NEX-7 can capture video at 1920×1080 pixels at 50fps or 25fps and allows manual-exposure control along with external mic input

Custom buttons

Most of the functionality along the right-hand side of the screen can be customised to your requirements, while the screen displays the current settings

Dual custom dials

These principally control the aperture, shutter speed and exposure- compensation functions, but can be customised

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