Sony NEX-7 In-Depth Review
Like the A77 and A65 that share the same sensor, the NEX-7 is capable of recording full 1080p video, including the ability to record at 60p. This is specified within the latest AVCHD 2.0 format, which is compatible with the newest Blu-ray players as well as many older players after a firmware update. The newest version of Sony's PMB software allows for lossless editing of your movies, and can write your 60p movies directly to a Blu-ray disc. Note, however, that the NEX-7 records at 60i and 17 Mbps by default.
Unusually the NEX-7 will honour all of your exposure settings in video mode (many cameras default to full auto the moment you press the record button). What's more, everything can be changed while you're recording - shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation, depending on the mode you're in. You can even move the active focus area around the frame and refocus where you please - again, all while the camera is recording. Naturally though any button-pressing or dial-spinning is liable to result in visible camera movement in your movies, unless you're using a solid tripod. In quiet conditions the built-in microphone will pick up operational noises too.
This is all hugely welcome, but in turn it demands more engagement in the process compared to cameras that control exposure for you. So if you're primarily a photographer who shoots the occasional movie too, you can't treat the NEX-7 as a stills camera that also happens to record point-and-shoot video on demand. We've found that it often makes sense to use Auto ISO when recording, as then the camera can adjust the gain to deal with any changes in other exposure settings. However if you prefer to devolve all decisions to the camera, you can simply switch to iAuto mode.
Overall, though, the sheer level of control that the NEX-7 offers over movie recording, coupled with the seamless integration of this control into the stills shooting experience, is unmatched by any similar camera aside from perhaps the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2.
Video quality options
1920 x 1080 60i/50i Avg. 24 Mbps (high quality)
1920 x 1080 60i/50i Avg. 17 Mbps (standard quality)
1920 x 1080 60p Avg. 28Mbps (highest quality)
1920 x1080 24p/25p Avg. 24Mbps (high quality)
1920 x 1080 24p/25p Avg. 17Mbps (standard quality)
1440 x 1080, 1080p (30/25fps), Av. 12Mbps
640 x 480 (30/25fps), Av 3Mbps
|Audio||• Dolby Digital Audio
• Stereo audio capture via built-in or optional external mic.
|Format||AVCHD / MPEG4|
|Max file size per clip||2.0 GB for Motion JPEG, card capacity for AVCHD (new file is created automatically after file size has reached 2.0 GB)|
|Recordable time||Approx 29 minutes|
Movie mode displays
You can access to all of the same displays in movie mode as when shooting stills, and can cycle through them during the course of recording. So if you want to keep the camera level when shooting hand-held, for example, you can simply turn on the electronic level display and keep an eye on it while you're shooting. This may not sound like much, but again, it's not universal - the Olympus PEN E-P3 turns its level display off when you start recording, for example.
If there's one real oddity, it's that by default the NEX-7's movie recording display doesn't take up the whole of the the LCD screen, despite both being 16:9 aspect ratio. Instead it essentially crops-in further to the 3:2 stills preview, resulting in large black borders on three sides. Fortunately, you can tell the camera to behave more sensibly in the menus. (If you shoot using the EVF, its 4:3 aspect ratio means that the record display always occupies the full width of the screen.)
|During movie recording, the NEX-7 shows its 16:9 preview as a sub-area of the 16:9 rear screen, with thick black borders on three sides.|
|If you go into the Setup Menu and change 'Wide Image' to 'Full Screen', then the camera will use the full area of the display.|
Handling in Video mode
The NEX-7's seamless integration of stills and video control means that it handles exceptionally well in movie mode - in essence it's just the same as shooting stills. In fact if we have any criticism it's that the NEX-7 makes movie recording too easy; the red record button is rather exposed on the camera's shoulder, and easily activated by accident. One thing you can't do, though, is press the shutter button to capture a still while the camera is recording video - instead you have to explicitly stop recording first.
You can change between viewfinders - EVF and LCD - completely seamlessly during recording, with the eye-sensor automatically switching the live view feed between the two. The downside of this behaviour is when using the rear screen as a waist-level finder; if you move the camera too close to your body then you'll activate the sensor, and the LCD will unhelpfully switch off.
There's a fairly considerable delay - about one second - between pressing the red button and the camera actually starting to record, and a slightly shorter, but still very noticeable delay at the end. This makes it easy to miss the start of your intended clip, or end all your movies with unintentional camera movement (at least until you get used to how the camera behaves).
Movie mode has a couple of settings limitations compared to stills: the highest available ISO is 3200, and exposure compensation is restricted to +/-2 EV. However while previous NEXs were prone to overheating during movie recording, causing them to cut out and stop recording before the 29min 59sec limit, Sony appears to have solved this on the NEX-7. We've recorded full-length movies at room temperature with no sign of overheating.
As described previously, the NEX-7 has a couple of serious annoyances when playing back movies. Firstly, as far as the camera is concerned, movies are organized entirely separately from still images in their own 'folder' - indeed there are separate folders for each recording format (MP4 and AVCHD). It simply won't show you everything you've shot, stills and movies, in chronological order, like any other camera will; instead you have to navigate between folders to see your movies and stills taken at the same event. This makes no sense to us at all - it just gets in the way of reviewing what you've shot, for no obvious advantage.
Secondly, when once you've started playing back a movie the NEX-7 has a bizarre habit of not stopping at the end, but running through all of your movies sequentially. A lot of the time this isn't a problem, but if you shoot a number of similar videos in a row with a view to selecting the best, it can be less-than-obvious exactly what's going on and where you are in the sequence. The main practical impact is that you have to take real care when deleting movies in-camera, as it's all-to-easy to inadvertently throw away the wrong one. Again, we can't think of any obvious benefit to this behaviour.
Video quality comments
The NEX-7's video quality is very good indeed - it's highly detailed, with little of the colour moire or mushiness in low-contrast detail that can often plague the output from this type of camera. You can start to see noise in low light - especially indoors under incandescent light - but again, the NEX-7 does pretty well compared to its peers.
Audio quality from the built-in stereo microphones is not bad at all either, giving clear audio indoors with minimal contamination from camera operation sounds. Outdoors it can easily be overwhelmed by wind noise (again, not unusually for this type of camera), and under these conditions you'll probably want to enable the wind-cut filter to reduce the effect (Wind Noise Reduct. in the Setup menu), which by default is turned off. The NEX-7 has a standard 3.5mm stereo socket for an external microphone if you want higher quality.
Video from the NEX-7 is highly detailed, with smooth rendition of movement. The small built-in stereo microphone is however rather susceptible to wind noise outdoors, as can be clearly heard here, even with the wind-cut filter enabled. This sample is shot hand-held with the E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS kit zoom.
|1920x1080 60p 28Mbps, MTS, 16 sec, 53.2 MB Click here to download original file|
This video is shot tripod-mounted, again using the kit zoom, and with the wind-cut filter enabled.
|1920x1080 60p 28Mbps, MTS, 16 sec, 51.6 MB Click here to download original file|
You can change all exposure parameters while you're recording. This video is shot with the kit zoom at 55mm, starting at 55mm then progressively stopping down, with ISO set to Auto to compensate; watch how the background is brought into focus. Shot handheld, this also shows how making such changes inevitably results in camera movement; use of a tripod is recommended.
|1920x1080 60i 17Mbps, MTS, 18 sec, 35.1 MB Click here to download original file|
Again using the 18-55mm kit zoom at the telephoto end, here we're refocusing while recording. For maximum control over movie mode autofocus we've found it's best to use Flexible Spot AF with the camera set to MF and the AF/MF button to hold. You can then refocus using the AF/MF button, following which the focus will stay locked. If the camera's left in AF mode, it has a bad habit of ignoring your specified AF point and refocusing of its own accord.
|1920x1080 60i 17Mbps, MTS, 9 sec, 19.4 MB Click here to download original file|
Shot with the 18-55mm kit zoom in the middle of its range, this illustrates how the NEX-7 handles movement and sound. Again, with the wind-cut filter disabled there's audible wind noise on the soundtrack.
|1920x1080 60i 24Mbps, MTS, 31 sec, 83.9 MB Click here to download original file|
Another recording of live music, this time undisturbed by wind noise.
|1920x1080 60i 24Mbps, MTS, 26 sec, 76.1 MB Click here to download original file|
This video shows-off the NEX-7's low light capabilities. The singing was live, but amplified and came from the cruise ship. Wind Noise Reduction was enabled in this case.
|1920x1080 60i 24Mbps, MTS, 33 sec, 95.8 MB Click here to download original file|
This sample video was shot with the 18-55mm kit lens and zoomed from approximately 35-50mm. The singing was live, but amplified from an offshore cruise ship. The camera's wind-cut filter was enabled.
|1920x1080 60i 24Mbps, MTS, 31 sec, 90.2 MB Click here to download original file|
- 16 Noise and Noise Reduction
- 17 Dynamic Range
- 18 Resolution
- 19 Raw
- 20 Creative Styles and Picture Effects
- 21 Photographic Features
- 22 High ISO noise comparisons
- 23 Photographic tests
- 24 Movie mode
- 25 Compared to (JPEG)
- 26 Compared to (Higher ISO)
- 27 Compared to (RAW)
- 28 Conclusion
- 29 Samples gallery
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