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Sony Alpha NEX-7 Digital Camera Review$1,349.99
We were very impressed by the Sony NEX-7's ability to return accurate colors for images that were passed through its JPEG processing engine. The most accurate color mode we found was its neutral creative style, which returned a color error of just 2.45, with saturation levels right around 91%. The other color modes, as expected, boost saturation (and thus color error), but still kept color error under 4 (anything under 3 is quite good). More on how we test color.
The Sony NEX-7 offers RAW shooting (letting you make your own color adjustments later) as well as several color modes, including landscape, portrait, standard, vivid, neutral, deep, clear, night scene, autumn, light, and sunset. This lets you continue to shoot in JPEG (if yo uwish) while also enhancing the natural color tones of a particular scene. We found that the clear, deep, night scene, neutral, and standard modes kept color error under 3, while the others tended to push saturation in key areas (landscape in greens, for example) that resulted in more pleasing images and higher mean error.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
The NEX-7's ability to return color errors in the sub-2.5 range put it among the best cameras that we have tested, giving users the ability to select whether they want truly accurate colors or enhanced images right out of the camera. We found this was a better compromise than the NEX-5N, which eschewed the neutral mode, only allowing users to produce images with a color error of around 3 out of the camera. RAW shooting is of course always an option, but that requires great effort in post-production to tune colors after the fact.
Sony calls their color modes on the NEX-7 "creative styles" and they offer adjustments not only to color values but also to contrast, sharpness, and saturation. Each of these categories can be adjusted on a +/- 3-stop scale by pressing the bottom soft key on the back of the camera (indicated by the OPTION text on the rear LCD) when in the creative style menu.
White balance on the NEX-7 was quite good, able to accurately diagnose common lighting conditions both with and without the use of a custom white card. While we did notice some performance hitches in the usual areas, we found a custom white balance easy to set, countering these issues.
Automatic White Balance ()
The automatic white balance on the Sony Alpha NEX-7 was mostly quite good, especially in daylight and shady lighting conditions. We did see the usual hitch under our tungsten lighting setup, as the automatic white balance couldn't cope with color temperatures as low as 2800K and instead returned a very orange image. We were dismayed to see the camera's compact white fluorescent performance, as the camera handled it well when initially adapting exposure, but gradually shifted to a white balance setting that was around 1200 kelvin too warm. This happened repeatedly as we were able to cover the lens, force it to re-meter a fluorescent-lit scene, and watch it gradually shift from an acceptable image to an overly warm shot over three seconds as the white balance meter failed.
Custom White Balance ()
Luckily the custom white balance settings performed much better than the automatic, with no large performance hitches to speak of. The worst color error we saw when taking a custom white balance with a white card was in incandescent, but even then the camera was only off by a couple of hundred kelvin.
We found that the Sony NEX-7 performed adequately in white balance tests, with the usual issue with automatic white balance's handling of tungsten lighting. The compact white fluorescent issue is troublesome, but it's nothing that can't be corrected by taking a custom white balance. If the custom white balance measurement process were more cumbersome (as it is on a Canon DSLR, for example) then we might be more irked by it, but ultimately it's a limited-use case problem that is rather easily overcome.
White Balance Options
White balance on the NEX-7 is set through the white balance menu in the "brightness/color" menu. The camera allows users to select from automatic or one of seven presets, while also setting a custom white balance, inputting the kelvin temperature directly, or using pre-determined color casts. A custom white balance is captured through this white balance menu, but can easily be accessed by putting white balance in the center soft key custom menu.