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Sony NEX-7: Unstable Controls

I previously detailed how the NEX-7 can undermine one’s work.

In NYC, the Sony NEX-7 repeatedly found itself on Auto ISO. Again and again.

Today over the course of a 30-minute sunflower shoot on a tripod, the NEX-7 managed to change itself to Auto ISO three times, degrading several series of images by using ISO 500 to 1000. Well, actually they were quite good for those high ISO values. But I didn’t want ISO 1000, I wanted ISO 100.

Along with all its other design problems (buttons and dials, insane menu system, exposure bugs, etc), this camera confirms my judgment of 16 months ago which I had subsequently second-guessed. Now I am certain that my initial impression was spot-on: it’s a design for a toy mated to a sensor and lens, designed by engineers who have no inkling of the core set of features actually necessary for a reliable tool. That’s fine for a $200 point and shoot, but it is not fine for a ~$1000 offering. Design by checklist is not a design; it is anti-design.

The sensor is superb and one can make very high quality images with it, but being surprised by the controls gets old. As in “if I throw it 50 feet up, will it provide a satisfying burst of little plastic parts when it hits?”. When I compare the errors I see on the NEX-7 to those on the Sigma DP Merrill cameras, it’s night and day: the DP Merrills have their own limitations, but they always do exactly what I expect them to do.

All of which leads me to the general problem with today’s camera designs: kitchen-sink checklist design, ill-considered menu insanity, no ability to really customize the experience (e.g., hide all video JPEG settings), lousy controls and haptics, visual impediments (e.g., no EVF), confounding lens compromises (focus shift and field curvature), focusing systems that often miss, etc. Sadly, it’s a question of fewest issues, not of excellence.

Moving on...

This sunflower image proved extremely challenging to deal with: sunflowers deliver a nearly black recording in the blue channel and are very “hot” in the red channel.

Furthermore, most camera histograms show the bright yellow petals as blown-out when in fact another entire stop of exposure is appropriate (an unfortunate and fairly common reality proven by examining the NEX-7 raw file with RawDigger).

The camera did reasonably well here, but the black centers in these particular sunflowers are quite dark, adding to the contrast difficulties (even to the naked eye!). The way the camera sees these sunflowers is apparently rather different from the non-linear way human eyes see them, particularly the bright yellow. The NEX-7 sensor has done a very good job here, a testament to its quality, with the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 Planar delivering a very pleasing rendition at f/2.8.

A larger version of this image is found on the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 examples page.

Presented in the ProPhotoRGB color space, cannot be properly displayed in the sRGB or AdobeRGB color spaces. Use a calibrated wide-gamut display to view properly.

Sony NEX-7 + Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8
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