Build and handling
The NEX-7 is bigger than the previous NEX models, which makes the lens feel more in proportion with the body, but it is still considerably more compact than any DSLR model and significantly smaller than the Leica M9, a camera with which it will be compared.
Made from magnesium alloy, the body is solid, and although the grip is quite shallow it is wide and textured with a rubberised leatherette feel, extending around to the back of the camera for thumb placing and enabling a secure hold.
The electronic viewfinder is positioned on the far left of the rear panel, in much the same position as you would expect to find a rangefinder viewing screen, and has presumably been placed there to avoid the light path without adding to the height of the camera. Around the viewfinder is a stiff rubberised and fixed eyepiece to block external light.
A small sensor sits inside the hood to switch the screen on when your eye is put up to the finder. This saves battery life as the rear screen is not left on constantly. There’s a brief, and off-putting, delay before the viewfinder screen comes to life. Battery life is very good overall, and although quoted at around 430 shots, I managed nearly 800 before having to recharge.
The inclusion of a built-in flash has become somewhat of a novelty for compact system cameras, so it was reassuring to see one in the NEX-7. With its central position it springs up high above the lens when the flash button is pressed. The rear screen is mounted on a tilt mechanism, as with previous NEX models, rather than the more advanced tilt-and-angle system used on the Alpha 77. This allows roughly a 135° adjustment and is sufficient for both high- and low-level viewing, including tripod use. The only angles it really lacks are for viewing from the sides or in front of the lens.
Image: Using the tilting screen, it is possible to compose extreme low angle shots such as this.
As many of the buttons on the NEX-7 are customisable, function marking is scarce. The two placed directly next to the LCD screen are easily identified as their functions appear on the screen itself, by default accessing the main menu and focusing options. The control dial, too, is represented on the screen, with both its central button (which controls the shooting mode) and the rotation control (which deals with ISO settings) labelled.
When the camera is first turned on or the mode changed, icons on the screen also show for the two large unmarked dials to the right of the top-plate. These function dials generally operate as shutter, aperture and exposure compensation controls, and although having them placed next to one another in this way is unusual (as opposed to one at thumb and one at finger position), it is no more difficult to use and easily adapted to.
An additional unmarked button sits next to the shutter button, which, by default, offers focus point adjustment, but can be changed for a range of functions, including white balance, creative styles and picture effects. Not having a physical mode dial is not as annoying as I thought it might be, especially as a single press of a button brings a large shooting dial onto the screen. This screen dial can still be turned via the rotating wheel on the rear.
The layout of the functions perhaps takes more getting used to than those on a traditional DSLR, as they are more unusual. It really doesn’t take long, though, before they fall to the fingers, and you’ll soon be able to make adjustments without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.