Sony NEX-7 - IQ - RX1 review

All images - Sony NEX-7 16-50mm and Voigtlander 90mm

In the third of these posts about the NEX-7, I'll be discussing what I often miss out, the image quality. I write a lot about the handling of the camera and how that works for me, but apart from the occasional comment about how many pixels it has, I rarely mention what kind of files it produces.

WARNING - I put forward some "robust" views in the next section!

Well they are actually very good. On a day when Dpreview publish their review of the RX1 its perhaps a good time to re-assess just what the NEX-7 can do. I'm not going to compare the two, I don't have an RX1 and have no plans to get one but the Dpreview review strikes me as strangely fanboyish for them. Despite noting its faults (and there are many, including -

Autofocus speed not quick enough for fast-moving subjects
Autofocus struggles in low light
Significant vignetting, with any correction baked into Raw files
Lack of included charger makes it harder to keep a spare battery charged
No built-in viewfinder and accessory options rather expensive)

they write this:-

"At the start of this review we asked if the RX1 was a good enough camera to play in the same league as Leica. The answer is yes. The lens is excellent, as is the sensor (something that's not been true of digital Leicas so far ???? .) (My question marks and bold) meaning it'll more than hold its own against the M-series cameras in image quality terms ????? (My question marks and bold again), even if it's not quite as engaging (engaging?) as a true rangefinder. Or, put another way, it's arguably the camera the Leica X-series aspires to be." (The Leicas are of course 1/3 of the price of the RX1)

and this

"And its combination of image quality and size make it one that will allow you to get photos you wouldn't get with any other camera." Assuming of course that photo is taken with the 35mm lens that is the only choice you have. This is quite simply nonsense, misleading and untrue. Whenever did the size of a camera affect what kind of pictures you can take? If people think that it does then they quite simply aren't photographers. 

Mmmmm. Some very disappointing and ill-thought out comments there. Well as I said I won't be doing my own assessment, but I also wonder what they have been looking at. I've seen and processed some raw files from the RX1 and I know what I think. I'm afraid any notion that these are comparable to Leica M9 files is bizarre to say the least. They probably are looking at jpgs. as thats the only reason I can think of to make a statement like that. But hey people, its the cool, groovy, expensive (but seriously ugly) camera of the moment and its "full-frame" so it must be great. All full-frame is great, right. Its what "real photographers" use after all, isn't it? Finally, it's Interesting that ludicrously overpriced didn't appear in Dpreviews "cons" list. Still if you want a camera the size of a matchbox with a fixed lens, have a healthy bank balance and think Sony is a cache brand - go for it!

Gosh - that looks comfortable, and so stylish and inconspicuous too. Note the relaxed grip, the comfortable handling and the way the nose nicely balances on the screen.

Finally on this, it may seem I'm running a hate campaign against the RX1. I'm not, I'm running an awareness campaign about the uncritical fawning nonsense thats written about it. Chris Handley has already proved that in the right hands its capable of excellent pictures, but a camera this expensive surely has to be better than this. I put up with the nonsense on the RX100 of having no battery charger and having to plug the camera in to charge it up. This is just seriously slack and penny pinching of the worst kind. The overpricing of accessories, which of cause shouldn't be accessories at all but included with the camera is just another example of the con this camera is. Its not a Leica, its a Sony for Gods sake and it will cost half as much in about a years time, so I'd forget any notion its an investment. You can't just say you have made a premium upmarket camera and expect people to shell out nearly £4000 for a fixed lens compact, no matter how big the sensor is. You actually have to prove it and show that you've come up with something that walks the walk as well as talking the talk. This strikes me as a "look what I've got" camera for the few people who will realise that its an RX1 and not someone sticking things on their cameraphone. I've been totally underwhelmed by the quality of the samples, basically just your standard CMOS AA filtered bayer sensor quality with a decent lens on the front. As you will realise by the rest of this piece I'm no Sony basher either. The NEX-7 is a gem as far as I'm concerned. The RX1? Just another example of an overhyped, overpriced attempt by a multi-national electronics company to get some gravitas as a camera maker.

Back to the NEX-7. A camera that you can actually change lenses on and doesn't need a second mortgage to buy. I can't compare it with the RX1 but I was able to compare its IQ with the Nikon D600 I had briefly, and I must say at the low ISO settings I use I preferred the NEX-7. Nikon have used a relatively strong AA filter on that camera and the results I got were certainly softer. The D600 is certainly an excellent all-round camera, but for what I need, the somewhat disappointing soft low ISO files meant that it didn't stay very long. 

Squeezing 24MP onto an APS-C sensor with the NEX-7 can't have been easy and there are some compromises, in that even shots at ISO 100 can exhibit some luminance noise (grain) in the shadows and indeed everywhere else. However I like the option to start with something like that and add noise reduction as and when I choose, rather than have this dictated to me by the camera manufacturer and I have some presets that work very nicely. This means of course, that as you might expect, high ISO isn't great, though up to ISO 1600 its better than I thought it would be. However since I don't use anything other than ISO 100 for the most part, none of that is important to me. 

In terms of sharpness, with a good lens the sensor can produce top class results. My Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5 Apo-Lanthar m-mount produces lovely crisp images and in fact I have to tone down my sharpening parameters substantially when I'm processing images taken with that lens. The two Sigma primes, the 19mm and 30mm also give excellent results and somewhat surprisingly the 16-50mm zoom is also pretty sharp. Good quality lenses are of course the issue with the NEX system and it will be interesting to see what the upcoming Zeiss primes are like. They could well be excellent, but they won't be cheap.

The NEX-7 sensor also delivers the goods for me in terms of colour rendition and contrast. The files are punchy and have a nice "commercial" saturated look. They are also relatively easy to work with and require little post-processing work.

So I'm actually pretty happy with the image quality. The 24MP files are superb at the base ISO setting I use and this is reflected in the fact that almost 100% are accepted by my picture libraries and the files certainly sell very well.

So I really have no problems with the NEX-7 image quality and at the settings I use it stands up really well to any other camera of its type. In fact its probably better than most of them. And as to the assertion that I won't be able to take pictures that the RX1 can take, what a load of b******s. Maybe the photographers at Dpreview, because of their seemingly automaton and cliched approach to photography and cameras, can't, but then that probably says it all really doesn't it?

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