Creative Styles and Picture Effects
The NEX-7 offers two different ways of changing the 'look' of its JPEG output, known as Creative Styles and Picture Effects. The former modify the colour palette and balance to suit particular subjects, whereas the latter offer a series of more 'arty' filters. This is all pretty standard stuff these days, but where the NEX-7 differs from most is directness of control it offers the user.
Creative Styles are available by default in the camera's 'Triple-dial-control' interface, with the left dial changing the selected Style. The right and rear dials even give fingertip access to contrast, sharpening and saturation using the camera's control dials, if you so desire. The live view feed reflects the currently-set option (so if you like to shoot in black and white, for example, you can see a monochrome preview with potentially-distracting colour information removed).
Picture Effects are another of the preset options on the three dials, although they're not enabled as one of the four default settings. Some of the Effects have a number of variant looks - for example there are multiple colour tints to Toy Camera - which can be set using the control dials. Again, these are all previewed live in the EVF or LCD.
The fact that the NEX-7 offers such directly-accessible control over these settings is potentially a good thing for JPEG shooters - it positively encourages experimentation. However RAW shooters will wonder why they have to take priority over more fundamental camera settings such as flash mode.
The NEX-7 has a large number of pre-baked colour 'looks', including a few unusual options such as 'Sunset' and 'Autumn'. The Contrast, Saturation and Sharpness settings are applied to the various Styles separately; you can't apply sharpness of +1 to all globally, for example.
|Autumn||Black and White||Sepia|
Alongside Creative Styles, the NEX-7 also offers a range of more-arty 'Picture Effects'. Perhaps inspired by Olympus's Art Filters, these include all of the current de rigueur options such as Toy Camera, Pop Colour, and Miniature. The latter is relatively well-implemented, with some control over where the sharp region of the frame will be placed, including an Auto mode that's based on the position of the active AF point.
These effects can only be shot in JPEG mode, and if you have the camera set to record RAW files it will simply refuse to show the Picture Effects Settings screen. If you don't want to assign them as a triple-dial-control option, you can still access them through the Brightness/Color menu.
A couple of the effects utilise Sony's trademark multiple-exposure approach to generate unique looks, but with processing times of around 10 seconds per shot, they're not the most fluid to use for actual photography. In the case of 'Rich-tone Mono', this is a pity as it's capable of attractive output. On the other hand, while they say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, anything that calls itself 'HDR Painting' inevitably has us hiding behind the sofa until the monsters go away.
Most of the modes are previewed live on-screen as you compose. The two multi-shot options are necessarily exceptions, and represented by approximations instead. Meanwhile the camera makes no attempt to preview the Soft Focus and Miniature filters at all.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Sony's Picture Effects is the fact that they can only be shot in JPEG - unlike Olympus's Art Filters you can't record a RAW file alongside. So if you happen to capture that sudden, fleeting shot-of-a-lifetime only to realize your camera was inadvertently set to Posterization: Color, too bad. And if you do decide to experiment with them for a couple of shots, it's also all-too-easy to forget to turn RAW recording on again afterwards.
Most of the Picture Effects are available when recording movies, and using them is as simple as pressing the record button. However four can't be used for video, namely the two multi-shot modes (HDR Painting and Rich Tone Mono) along with Miniature and Soft Focus. If the camera is set to one of these and you start recording, the camera switches to your last-used Creative Style instead, which can be a little disconcerting.