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Sony NEX-7 Tips and Insights

This article is not a review of the NEX-7, there are plenty of those articles reviewing the camera with sample photos and lots of specifications.  If you own a NEX-7 and want to pick up a few tips for getting better shots with this camera then this article is for you. I’ll cover some new ways to setup your camera as well as some insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the NEX-7.

If you are thinking about buying the NEX-7, now $1098 with kit lens:    Hunt’s Camera   B&H Photo/Video

I have a Nikon D3 with all the wonderful glass. It has been my go-to camera for years. But now the little Sony NEX-7 has found its way convincingly into my camera bag, and the bag is 1/3 the size of the D3 bag. I use my Sony NEX-7 for landscape, travel, casual shooting, and a variety of events. I use my Nikon D3 for pro-sports shooting, low-light shooting, studio work and anything that requires focus tracking.

Keep your NEX-7 firmware updated. To check your version Menu>Setup>Version. To download the latest version: Check here.

5sec. F/11 ISO200 18mm E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6

Sony NEX-7  5sec. F/11 ISO200 18mm, Tripod mounted, Single RAW image, Noise reduction ON.

HDR image taken using the tiltable LCD display.

The tiltable LCD display made this HDR image possible.

Sony has placed a very special button on the camera just for you. Yes, it is special and they are very proud of it. It’s called the Tri-Navi feature and it’s accessed through the Navigation Button, conveniently right next to the shutter release. If you are not completely familiar with this button, it’s time to start. Learn to set it up, learn to use it, take time to practice it.

Simply press the Navigation button. If you see what you want, that’s good, if not press again. Once you see the setting you want then use the left and right knobs and back dial to make the adjustment – the two dials and the center wheel make up the Tri-Navi feature. If you don’t see the settings you need, go to the setup menu Function Settings and choose your recipe for success. Why it’s called “Function Settings” in the menu and not “Navigation Settings” is beyond me.

Sony could have achieved greatness with Tri-Navi but the “menu software committee” decided to limit its usefulness. There are more than 50 settings available throughout the menu but Sony picked 10 that can be assigned to the Tri-Navi feature. I wanted a few of the remaining 40 assigned to Tri-Navi, but guess what, I can’t. Not only that, some are settings are redundant, even with different names, for example, D-Range Settings and DRO/Auto HDR. It’s as if the right hand didn’t know the left hand existed.

In order for photographers to perfectly personalize our cameras Sony needs to allow them to pick THEIR top 10 settings to assign to the Tri-Navi. For me personally, it would be nice to have Format Card, AF/MF select, Beep On/OFF, Live View Display, Peaking Level and Auto Review assigned to Tri-Navi.

Fortunately, Sony added other buttons that are customizable. The customizable buttons are the Right Dial click, the B and C buttons. The best way to remember the buttons on the NEX-7, A = altitude = top button (always MENU), B = bottom for bottom button and C = center for center button. Learn the buttons, this is how they are arranged on the back of the camera and described in the setup menu.

Tip: Hold the NAVIGATION BUTTON down for 3 seconds to lock the top dials and center wheel, repress for 3 seconds to unlock. It keeps those pesky fingers from dialing in settings without you knowing it.

If you are the type to change shooting modes for every shot and constantly menu dive then your NEX-7 experience will be daunting. To minimize frustrations, set your preferences and leave it that way. Give yourself time to learn the workflow of the camera.

Here is my NEX-7 custom set-up:
Navigation Button
1st press: Custom setting: Quality, AutoFocus Mode, Metering Mode
2nd press: Focus Settings
3rd press: White balance setting
4th press: Creative Style Setting

Soft Key B Button – Flash compensation
Soft Key C Button – White Balance, ISO, Autofocus Area, Face Detection, Picture Effect
Right Key Setting – Focus Setting (Important for quick movement of focus spot)
AF/MF button – AF/MF control

When I turn my camera on my default is Spot Focus and AF-S. It

When I turn my camera on my default is Spot Focus and AF-S. It’s a good setup for most situations. 1/60, F/4 ISO320. P-mode, ISOauto.

Strengths compared to DSLR’s
There are not many features in the mirrorless camera that beat DSLR’s. Sure compacts are full of creative styles like “Toy camera” and face detection but I am talking mainstream features, not bells and whistles.

My favorite of the Picture Effects is Toy Camera. It gives a strong vignette.

I rarely use any of the Picture Effects but when I do I like Toy Camera

DSLR cameras are made primarily for viewfinder use and through design will display exactly the light that will be sent to the sensor on shutter release. They are not as good with the Live View feature as compact cameras. The newer DSLR’s have improved Live View but there is a learning curve and you still have to sacrifice some features, like fast focusing.

The NEX-7 with a tiltable Live View screen is excellent and the fact that it shows what the camera is about to shoot is icing on the cake. Live View will help you with awkward shooting angles and stealth shooting which is great for street photography. Also, it’s not unusual for me to compose on the tripod just above eye or way down low on the ground. There is a downside. A small camera with Live View can kill your credibility as a “professional” photographer. In time the thinking will change, Live View will be the norm at any level of professionalism.

Live view is a wonderful asset but in sunny conditions know when to throw in the towel and use the electronic viewfinder (EVF). Get used to using the EVF and the transition will be flawless.

I’m not well-schooled in optics but I think it’s worth pointing out a salient point about mirrorless vs. DSLR when it comes to optics. The DSLR with its internal mirror takes up room and requires the lens to be further from the sensor. This in turn requires lenses to have more glass elements with larger sizes to “reach” the sensor. The mirrorless camera has lenses that can mount much closer to the sensor. The result is a lighter lens with less glass, more compact.

The manual focus on the NEX-7 is awesome. Turn the focus ring in manual focus mode (or DMF, see below) and PRESTO the area of focus becomes magnified for more accuracy. This works in Live View and through the EVF. I quit using manual focus on the D3 because I couldn’t trust my eyesight in low-light but now with the NEX-7 I’m back to using manual focus.

When do I use manual focus? A few that come to mind are low-light shooting, manual HDR, close up work, shooting-through-stuff, and I want to lock-in on something specific. It’s not as quick as auto focus, so for “hurry-up” shooting avoid Manual Focus.

Grabbing quick shots like this with the camera held low it

Grabbing quick shots with little to no compositional control is best done using Manual focus. I moved the camera low to the water surface and quickly shot between waves.

The NEX-7 can shoot 10 fps, that is really impressive and typically a feature of high-end DSLR’s. Taking the clunky mirror out of the design has obviously speeded things up, which brings me to another design benefit: there is less vibration without the mirror reflex. When the NEX-7’s shutter opens it’s barely noticeable and vibration is minimal. The noise you do hear however is the shutter closing.

When I take my D3 to a shoot I’m careful. I gently put my camera bag in a seat belt next to my kids. I strap it to my back diligently, I minimize risk of impact and I never let it out of my sight. Walking around the city is a risk I don’t need to explain. Walk on the beach with sunbathers around – that DSLR with a zoom lens makes you look like a stalker, maybe even a pedophile if you point that camera any place other than the open ocean. Are you comfortable with a DSLR, no, are the people around you comfortable, no, but with a compact, you’re cool, camera’s cool, everyone’s cool, take lots of pictures. The small size of the NEX-7 is a huge motivating factor.

So can camera size make me a better photographer? The answer is YES, and NEX-7 can make me a better photographer because I’ll take it more places and use it more than a big DSLR. The NEX-7 has given me a renewed sense of photography. It goes everywhere without a hitch. It’s an emotional attachment and excitement that I never had with a DSLR. More places = more opportunities = more shooting = more practice = better photography and more fun!

The best way to get some great shots at your friends wedding and not overstep your place, is to carry a compact powerhouse like the NEX-7

The best way to get some great shots at your friends wedding and not overstep your bounds, carry a compact powerhouse like the NEX-7

Weaknesses compared to DSLR’s

There are a few areas that the NEX-7 and other mirrorless cameras don’t come close to what a high-end DSLR can do. Focus tracking in the DSLR is significantly better so sports photographers use DSLR’s almost exclusively. I shoot triathlon’s, duathon’s and motocross and I have no intentions of switching to a mirrorless camera for those jobs.

DSLR’s have both phase detection and contrast detection while the NEX-7 has only contrast detection. Phase detection is technology that nails the focus instantly and contrast detection has to search via trial and error to achieve focus. Other compacts, Sony A7 FF, Olympus (E-M1), Fuji (X100S) and Nikon 1 have responded to the rush to add phase detection so the technological hurdle seems to be achievable.

When mirrorless lacks phase detection, it also loses significantly in locking focus in low-light. The focus illuminator can help but I still cuss the damn thing when focus keeps searching.

The NEX-7 has an APS-C sensor with 24mp files. It could hang with a low end DSLR with similar noise levels but when it goes against a full frame DSLR I’ll bet my money on the DSLR. The Fall 2013 intro of the Sony A7 and A7r does however have FF.

What started out to be a line of mediocre lenses for mirrorless cameras has now grown to an impressive line of lenses, adapters and third party lenses. Primes lenses are available and the list is steadily growing. Adapters have made it possible to mount just about any lens you own. I’m thrilled to be able to take my Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 and mount it on my NEX-7.

The NEX-7 takes an E-mount lens but adaptors are available for A-mount lenses as well as Nikon and Canon Adapters. Check out the full line of Metabones Adapters.

I have the Nikon G-Mount to NEX adapter and with “Release w/o Lens” enabled I can attach my 70-200mm f2.8. The body is so small it’s like walking around with the lens in my hand. It also allows a D-lens to be attached. Remember D-Lens has the f-stop ring and the G-Lens does not. Of course with the adapter and a Nikon lens it becomes manual focus and the readout for f-stop is not available.

If you have the 18-55mm F3.5/5.6 kit lens and don’t have the desire or time to test it, check out Phillip Reeve’s comparison images here. The 18-55mm F3.5/5.6 shows good center sharpness in the range F5.6 – F11 however when you want the best edge sharpness stop down to F11.

Here is a partial list of prime lenses and two zooms sorted by price:
Zeiss 12mm f/2.8 $1250
Sony Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 $1098
Sony 16-70mm f/4 ZOOM $998
Zeiss 32mm f/1/8 $900
Sony 10-18mm f/4 ZOOM $848
Sony 35mm f/1.8 $448
Sony 20mm f/2.8 $348
Sony 50mm f/1.8 $298
Sony 16mm f/2.8 $248

Manual Focusing with Nikkor 85mm F/1.4 with adapter. 1/250sec, F/2.8, ISO200

Do you have some non-sony lenses? Check out the great line of adapters to put that lens to use. Manual Focusing with Nikkor 85mm F/1.4 with adapter. 1/250sec, F/2.8, ISO200


There are 4 focus modes: Auto-focus Single (AF-S), Auto-focus Continuous (AF-C), Manual (M), and Direct Manual Focus (DMF).

Auto-focus (AF-S) – This setting stands for Auto-focus Single Servo – it means pressing the shutter halfway will cause the camera to obtain and lock focus. The location where it locks focus in the viewfinder depends on your choice of: Multi, Center or Flexible Spot focus. I like AF-S along with Flexible Spot, it gets the job done with the most keepers. I prefer not to use Multi and Center focus because my shooting needs change from minute to minute and Flexible Spot gives me the most control. However, if your goal is street photography with a “faces only” objective then I suggest switching to Multi focus and face detection. You can always fall back on Manual focus too.

A fairly complex scene handled nice by AF-S and spot focus. 1/30sec, F/4.0, ISO1600, +0.3exp. 27mm.

A fairly complex scene handled nicely by AF-S and spot focus. 1/30sec, F/4.0, ISO1600, +0.3exp. 27mm.

Toggling the Flexible Spot focus area to another position in the viewfinder is one of the essential needs while shooting. I’m talking about moving that little box that focuses to another spot in the view finder. Sony requires first pressing the B-button to activate it. Here is my favorite work around, go to Custom Key Settings and set the Right Key Setting to Focus Settings. That way it is easier to activate because your thumb is already on the wheel.

TIP: In low light if Spot Focus can’t lock-on, it automatically switches to area auto focus – meaning it picks anything in the viewfinder to focus on. If you turn off AF Illuminator it will stay in Spot Mode.

NOTE TO SONY: When the shutter release is pressed halfway the Focus Locks and Auto Exposure Locks. To state it less technical, when I move the camera to ONLY obtain focus and lock it, I don’t want the exposure to lock too. Let’s say I’m taking a few shots of a friend posing around a statue. I lock focus on their eye then recompose to include some or all of the statue and shoot. I quickly repeat changing the composition, and zoom. Each image is metered where I locked focus, not where I took the shot. Sony needs to add a menu setting in a firmware update: Shutter Button AE-L, ON, OFF
There are two work arounds to avoid locking both focus and exposure:
1. I could toggle the focus area around the viewfinder for each composition.
2. I can lock focus then press the AF/MF button to switch to manual focus, take my finger off the shutter then repress for the new composition and shoot.


It’s my party, I’ll cry if I want to….but so will the photographer if he can’t get a good shot for your mom. Here is a situation where locking the focus spot AND causing Auto Exposure to lock can get you into trouble. Notice the bright window light in the bg.


Auto-Focus Continuous (AF-C) – AF-C refers to Auto-Focus Continuous Servo – it means with a half press of the shutter, focus will continually adjust to keep the moving object in sharp focus. Herein lies the weakness of the NEX-7 camera.

If you’ve never experienced continuous auto focus in a high-end DSLR then you don’t know how good this feature can be. My first preference in shooting a moving subject with the NEX-7 is not to use AF-C but to use AF-S and pre-focus at a point in the scene and time the shot when the subject gets there. It works well but is dependent on YOUR skills as a photographer in timing the shot. The pace of shooting will have to slow down so each shot can be planned for the shutter press. Also you give up a little control on catching the decisive moment.

I use AF-C on the NEX-7 when a few conditions apply:
1. When I can’t anticipate the subjects position, like lacrosse, or there is no time to plan the shot.
2. When the action is fast paced with lots of shooting opportunities and I can accept the fact that I’ll get blurry shots. This is something like a race car event.
3. When the framing of the action is very tight or there is no “spot” for pre-focus i.e. balloon festival.

My advice in this mode is to turn AUTO REVIEW OFF in the setup menu and shoot lots of photos.

Anyone can post an action shot in a forum and say “look how good AF-C is.” For me, the miss-ratio is the basis for analyzing AF-C not a few sharp images. If your primary photography is action with rapid distance changes you need a different camera. There is an alternative with the NEX-7. Buy the LA-EA2 adaptor and mount A-lenses and get Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF).

I pre-focus when I can anticipate where my subject will be in the scene. I focused on the post to her left and waited for her to enter the plane of focus.

I pre-focus when I can anticipate where my subject will be in the scene. I focused on the post to her left and waited for her to enter the plane of focus.

Manual (M) – Manual focus is probably one of the most underused tools in photography. Even when manual focus is the best choice we often stay away from it because we haven’t practiced the art of manual focus. Manual focus is a wonderful tool but it takes practice.

Manual focus is great for product shoots, macro work, manual HDR, night photography, shooting-through foregrounds and maintaining the focus on the same spot for several shots. If I’m waiting for sunrise and taking shots every few minutes I’ll focus once and keep it for the duration.

Learn to manual focus by practicing. Without distance markings and an infinity stop it’s best to learn Clockwise = Closer on the 18-55mm kit lens. That means to focus closer I need to turn the focus ring clockwise. To obtain infinite focus on the kit lens you need to turn it counter-clockwise a generous amount and then move the ring back clockwise about 3/4” for sharp infinity focus. Here is a cool depth of field calculator that has the NEX-7 listed, DOF.

Focus Peaking – The NEX-7 Focus Peaking is a tool that helps you focus where you want the image to be sharp. A red line appears at the edges of the in-focus areas. At first I didn’t realize how helpful this tool could be. The kit lens at wide angle showed lots of areas in focus and I wasn’t impressed. It wasn’t until I dug deeper into experimenting did I realize the full value of this feature. When using manual focus, this feature nails focus with amazing accuracy – much better than my eyes can do on a repetitive basis. Focus Peaking will also speed things up. I strongly suggest learning and using the LOW, MED, HIGH settings but start with the setting on LOW. The LOW setting has the least sensitivity but greatest accuracy, if the red line isn’t appearing go to MED, then HIGH. Remember Focus Peaking doesn’t work unless Focus is set to manual – I set the lever to AF/MF and use “toggle” for the button press.

TIP: Here’s a cool focus mode to try. Switch to manual focus and change the AF/MF button to HOLD and in Custom Key Settings make sure AF/MF button is set to AF/MF control. Now you can press the AF/MF button to perform auto focus and release to return to manual focus.

AstroPhotography – I indulge in star photography when I can. I live in an area that has horrible light pollution so my opportunities are limited.

Focusing with an electronic focus ring can be a little challenging until you learn the tricks. Add a dark night with some stars and it can be frustrating trying to achieve focus. To setup the camera for astrophotography go to Brightness/Color then Creative Style and switch to B&W so color noise is absent. Use manual focus and Peaking Level (High) in either Red or Yellow and always shoot in RAW. To focus the 18-55mm kit lens turn the ring a full turn counterclockwise to guarantee infinity focus and then back it off about 3/4” (19mm). I measured the distance using tape on the focus ring. As you move the ring about 3/4” clockwise from infinite, the Peaking color should show. It shows even better if you zoom in with the highest focus assist option (11.7).

I prefer turning off the LCD viewfinder when doing astrophotography, even on low brightness it’s blinding in starlight darkness. I also keep Long Exposure Noise Reduction ON and turn Steady Shot OFF.

For star photography learn to focus the NEX-7 properly. Use manual focus and focus peaking while in B&W.

For star photography learn to focus the NEX-7 properly. Use manual focus and focus peaking while in B&W.

Direct Manual Focus (DMF) – this is an auto focus feature that allows you to fine tune with manual focus by turning the focus ring (if desired). Set the manual focus assist time to 2 or 5 seconds. This gives you the best of both worlds, you get AF-S and M mode without having to press the AF/MF button. Turn Focus Peaking on, Red color and vary from LOW, MED and HIGH depending on sensitivity.

The Direct Manual Focus (DMF) setting is best used with the Multi-Focus Setting. In Flexible Spot Focus or Center Focus if focus does not lock, i.e. lowlight, the Manual Focus will not activate. Unfortunately this situation is when I would need DMF to actually work.


The on-camera flash is TTL technology and it uses a pre-flash. Mechanically it’s well designed. When the flash button is pushed the flash pops-up and several linkages bring it into position. A brilliant design feature is the ability to pull the flash back and allow it to bounce the light upwards or sideways, depending on camera rotation.

With the 18-55mm kit lens the hood needs to be removed for wide angle flash shooting. The hood will block the flash causing a shadow in the image. The on-camera flash has a Guide Number of 6m/4.4ft which means 1.5m/5ft @ f4.0 ISO100. I tested the equivalent, F4.0 ISO800 20ft. and I got a good exposure. All in all, it’s not a very powerful flash, you can see that from the size, but it gets the job done as long as the ISO is sufficient and the aperture is wide open.

Intelligent Auto and On Camera Flash
For quick grab shots when ambient light and/or subject distance is changing, Intelligent Auto (I-Auto) is a very good choice but probably not the best. In intelligent Auto the TTL system works very well but keep in mind there are no overrides – everything is AUTO.
In low-light the camera will auto advance the ISO to 1600 but not higher. I like this approach because ISO1600 is about the max before significant noise kicks in. Intelligent Auto will not allow a shutter speed below 1/60 second.

In daylight Intelligent Auto may choose not to fire the flash. It’s unfortunate because subjects in bright sunlight look better when flash is used. If you like to select one of the many Creative Styles when shooting, you can kiss that goodbye when in Intelligent Auto, it switches to Standard.

Program Mode and On-Camera Flash
Program Mode (P) is similar to Intelligent Auto except you are given control over more settings. It is undoubtedly the best overall mode for quick grab shots when there is a variation in ambient light or subject distance. If you set ISO and White Balance to AUTO it will simulate Intelligent Auto while still allowing other camera overrides if needed, so you can have your cake and eat it too. Similar to Intelligent Auto, Program Mode raises the ISO to a max of 1600.

In Program Mode, control of the on-camera flash becomes possible, normally it’s 1/60 second, but SLOW SYNC can be used for low light. This is a nice feature if you want some ambient light added to your image but keep in mind you can get yourself in trouble real fast with camera shake. Program Mode with SLOW SYNC can and will allow 1 second or longer shutters. See Shutter Priority below, for a better choice.

One nice feature in Program Mode is the on-camera flash will fire when it is raised. It’s a nice feature in daylight shooting to fill-in shadows and beats Intelligent Auto’s optional flash firing. Flash compensation works well when in Program Mode although I’ve found in other modes like A-Aperture Mode that flash power can tap out pretty quickly with f-stops over 5.6, remember the Flash Guide Number is only 6.

If you sense that adding + flash compensation is a futile adjustment then the flash is already firing at full power. In this situation the best way to increase flash compensation is by increasing the ISO, but keep it between ISO100-1600 for best image quality.

Fill Flash works well in bright light when in Program mode. 1/160sec, F/9, ISO100, 18mm

Fill Flash works well in bright light when in Program mode. 1/160sec, F/9, ISO100, 18mm. I avoid Intelligent Auto.

Let’s say you are walking along a busy street on travel, people move about in shadows and bright sunlight. Suddenly you see a photo you’d like to take. You have to move fast to capture the fleeting moment, not much time to think about shutter speed and ISO. Program Mode will give you the best all around “middle of the road” camera setting and the best chance of walking away with a shot you are happy with.



1/800sec, F/8.0, ISO100, Aperture Mode, 24mm

1/800sec, F/8.0, ISO100, Aperture Mode, 24mm

Shutter Priority and On-Camera Flash
In bright light and fill flash, if there is any moderate action, switch to Shutter priority and dial in 1/160 second (note 160th not 1/60), you will need all the shutter speed you can get. The flash sync speed is 1/160 second and there is no high speed sync so it’s a little restrictive in bright sunlight.

This is on-camera flash in P-Mode. The shutter chosen was 1/60 second, which is not the best choice for action shots with fill flash. I would have gotten this a bit sharper had I switched to S-Mode and set the shutter speed to 1/160 second.

This is on-camera flash in P-Mode. The camera chose 1/60 second, which is not the best choice for action shots with fill flash. Riley would have been sharper had I switched to S-Mode and set the shutter speed to 1/160 second.

Program Mode isn’t the best choice for slow sync hand-held shooting in low light, the shutter is too slow. To allow for SLOW SYNC but keep shutter speeds to hand-held values use Shutter Priority and set the shutter speed to around 1/30 second at the slowest. I get some ambient along with flash and the speed is good enough for a sharp image.

Remember that the often under-used Shutter Priority Mode is good for bright-light fill-flash action (1/160sec.) and low-light hand-held action (1/30sec.).

Off-Camera Flash
The best way I’ve found to work with off-camera flash is to use radio triggers attached to the hotshoe and each flash gets a radio receiver. I use Pocket Wizards. With the NEX-7 you will not have to worry about pre-flash issues. Also the hotshoe mount will require the FA-HS1AM hotshoe adapter to convert to a standard hotshoe.
I set the camera to Manual Mode and underexpose the ambient light and let the flash fill in. Be sure to turn Live View Display OFF so you can see more detail in the LCD and the view finder, Menu > Settings > Live View Display.


Metering Mode – Measuring Light
The NEX-7 has the three common metering modes, Multi, Center and Spot. Multi measures the total area, the center measures the total area as well but emphasizes the center.

The spot metering measures the central area only. It’s worth pointing out that in spot metering the “spot” does not move to your selected spot focus location, it stays fixed in the center. In a practical sense, let’s say I want to meter and focus on someone’s face that is not in the center of the frame. It’s not possible because spot metering and spot focus are not linked. When spot metering keep the spot focus point in the center of the frame, lock focus and exposure with a half press of the shutter then recompose.

High Dynamic Range

Auto HDR (Handheld or Tripod)
Auto HDR is Sony’s in camera processing feature where three images are taken at a bracket spacing of your choosing. It’s important to know that the 3 images are not saved. The output is an HDR image and a single image, both JPG. It’s not as good as the more involved method of downloading three separate images and using a third party software like Photomatix to do the processing.

I’d say this method fits the non-HDR enthusiast that wants the benefits of added dynamic range quickly and easily without all the artistic input. There is an option to set the exposure difference which varies from 1-6EV or Auto. It’s a bit confusing because they don’t follow mainstream bracketing methods, e.g. -2EV, 0EV +2EV. When I use Auto HDR, which is pretty rare, I set the HDR exposure difference to 6EV and shoot handheld. The results are pretty good, ghosting can be an issue but that’s always the case in all HDR work. Menu > Brightness/Color > DRO/AutoHDR.

Single Image (JPG) saved when shooting in camera HDR.

Single Image (JPG) saved when shooting in camera HDR.

In camera HDR with 6EV exposure difference set. The result is added shadow detail but ghosting is common and occasional loss of sharpness. Not the best outcome for pixel peepers.

In camera Auto HDR with 6EV exposure difference set. The result is added shadow detail but ghosting is common and occasional loss of sharpness. Not the best outcome for pixel peepers.

Single image JPG crop.

Single image JPG crop.

HDR crop shows more detail, lacks the same sharpness, also some ghosting at end of rope.

HDR crop shows more detail, however lacks the same sharpness, also some ghosting at end of rope.

Three Images Continuous Shooting (Handheld or Tripod)
This method is by far the most common method for shooting HDR. It produces three images with different exposures taken in continuous shooting mode. Most of my HDR image sets are 2EV brackets but Sony gives you the option of .3EV, .7EV, 1EV, 2EV and 3EV. Accessing HDR mode is really easy, left click the dial and you can dial-in HDR shooting mode. The camera automatically changes to continuous shooting mode and shoots the bracketed images when the shutter is depressed. Remember to use A, P or M mode, don’t use S-shutter Priority and Intelligent Auto won’t work. Also if you use Auto-ISO the bracketing will proceed by varying the ISO and shutter speed. It’s not the optimum setup as different ISO’s can impact noise levels, but it may be the best choice in a handheld situation.

The only problem with three images continuous shooting is the shutter must be held throughout all the shots risking camera movement in low light, even when on a tripod. It would be nice if Sony could add the 2 second timer option to HDR, one press of the shutter would start a 2 second timer followed by three sequential images.

Three images continuous shooting is easily set up and done when there is enough light. With good post processing software like Photomatix this can be done handheld or tripod.

Three images continuous shooting is easily set up and done when there is enough light. With good post processing software like Photomatix this can be done handheld or tripod.

Tripod mounted NEX-7, three images continuous shooting. Processed in Photomatix.

Tripod mounted NEX-7, three images continuous shooting. Processed in Photomatix.

Three image HDR.

Three image HDR.

Image Sets Manually with Timer (Tripod)
Another method that harkens back to old school HDR is to manually dial in the exposure level then take an image. With a tripod and use of the 2 second timer this is the best choice for low light HDR image sets. I use this method unless there is a risk of ghosting, in which case I use Three Images Continuous Shooting.

It is also possible to shoot as many images for the HDR set as you would like as opposed to 3 images using Continuous Shooting. A 5, 7 or 9 image set will guarantee that you’ve caught ample dynamic range. A word of caution though, keep it old school, use A-aperture or M-manual mode, switch to Manual Focus and don’t use AutoISO and AutoWB. I like to add “Histogram” “Level” and “Timer” to the checklist.

If you are anything like me, then you don’t keep your camera set up for HDR. I have to set up the camera for this type of HDR and it can get a little rushed trying catch the moment. My custom camera set up ends up being a pattern I’ve learned. On the back of the NEX-7 I work from the top down. Here is the list as it appears in its position on the camera back.

Focus AF/MF button
Aperture Menu button
Level top click control wheel (optional)
Histogram top click control wheel
Timer Left click control wheel
Wb Center Button – C
ISO Control Wheel spin
MF zoom Bottom Button – B

Once the camera is set it is very easy to change exposure levels with a simple roll of the dial with the thumb. I like to start with the overexposed image so the LCD is bright for composing. Another convenient feature is to display the histogram by top clicking the control wheel. The histogram allows you to dial in exposures that are optimum for capturing highlights and shadow detail. Just roll right until the shadows fall into the “sweet” spot of the histogram, take the shot then roll left for the highlights.

The 2 second timer and manually changing exposure is the best choice for low light HDR image sets.

The 2 second timer and manually changing exposure is the best choice for low light HDR image sets.

This is a 2 image HDR pano stitched in PS CS6.

This is a 2 image HDR pano stitched in PS CS6.

* Fix the dreaded menu system.
* Allow the user to lock focus and NOT lock exposure too, add: Shutter Button AE-L, ON, OFF
* When zoomed in on a recorded image allow the user to scroll to the next image while still zoomed for comparison.
* When using Manual Focus Assist switch to wide open aperture for more accurate focusing. If I use F16 for example, a broad depth is in-focus and accurate focusing isn’t possible (when in Live View Display).
* Flash sync speed 1/160 second must be improved, 1/200 second would be better. Shooting people in bright sunlight and fill flash is very restrictive with a flash sync of only 1/160 second.
* Allow timer to be set followed by a single press of shutter (or remote) for 3 images for HDR. This is necessary to eliminate camera movement on the tripod.
* Allow for more than 30 second exposure times, other than bulb. Very important when doing HDR exposures.
* Allow Auto-ISO range to be selected by user.
* Allow Auto-ISO in Manual Mode. This would be good if, for example you wanted to shoot F5.6 @ 1/200 second, the ISO would change as the light changed.
* Allow spot metering to follow spot focus position in the viewfinder.

NOTE TO SONY: It would be great if Sony would do a firmware update on the organization of the focus features. They are scattered in two different menus and need to be together and condensed. I’d say the menu committee didn’t spend more than an hour on this.

Conversion of ARW files (RAW)
It’s worth knowing that Sony has a RAW image converter for the ARW files called Image Data Converter Windows   MAC. Of course without it you can still convert your RAW files in Lightroom, PS, DXO or PhotoNinja but there is an advantage to using the Sony Image Data Converter (IDC). Using IDC you can choose from the full assortment of Creative Styles that are in-camera and you can turn DRO on/off with additional adjustments.

When RAW files are opened in some RAW converters, like DXO and LR understand they will apply effects like noise reduction even if the enhancement is turned off. You can’t get a true RAW file. However, Sony’s Image Data Converter allows you to turn Noise Reduction OFF, get the true RAW file then export it as a TIFF. Now when you open it in Lightroom (ACR) there is no added noise reduction. The result is a much sharper image to begin your processing – compare the yellow tulle she is holding. This gives you the opportunity to use your favorite Noise Reduction Software and process it the way you want to.

The left image has been opened in Sony

The left image has been opened in Sony’s Image Data Converter and the Noise Reduction has been turned off. The image is much sharper with more detail. The right image is the ARW file in CS6. In Adobe Camera RAW noise reduction and sharpening both set to zero for all.

The NEX-7 is a camera that I am emotionally attached too. It feels like a camera I want to hold and explore with, a camera that excites me to shoot. It’s hard to put down and I find myself seeking shooting opportunities that I once shy’d away from with my big DSLR. I hope that Sony keeps releasing firmware updates and then follows up with a new version of the NEX-7 that astounds: full-frame mirrorless!

I hope that I’ve added a few insights and tips to your photography. I am soliciting further light and knowledge and of course any “gotcha’s” that you’d like to share. Have a wonderful day and thank you for stopping by.

  • tesilab - October 23, 2013 - 2:43 pm

    Beautiful images.

    Sony isn’t Fuji, they won’t update the firmware, unless it is to support a new lens.

    My biggest knock on the NEX-7 is that the dials are not near fast enough to dial in a sudden swing in aperture or shutter speed, since it will only dial in 1/3 stop increments requiring too many turns with the thumb. The RX1 fixes this with respect to aperture with the aperture ring, but the shutter speed is still way too slow to adjust. For this reason alone I am ready to retire my NEX-7.ReplyCancel

  • Ferrell - October 23, 2013 - 9:08 pm

    Hi Tesilab, the NEX-7 has had a few firmware updates, one update added the ability to disable the movie button. But as you say it may have been to support a new lens. What would be your preference for dial increments? I personally don’t mind 1/3 stop increments but on other DSLR’s I’ve set it to 1/2 stop increments for a quicker change of a full stop. -FerrellReplyCancel

  • Jeff - October 27, 2013 - 6:31 pm

    You should try the new 16-70mm f4 lens. It is extremely sharp with good micro contrast/color and compliments the 24mm f1.8 and the 10-18mm f4 lenses very well for street shooting and traveling. My D800E & premium glass now only get used for nature, sports and studio work. I look forward to the day when mirror-less with EVF evolves to finally kill that slapping mirror for all uses! Also, for some fun photography, I have been playing with the Sigma 35mm f1.4 combined with the Metabones Speed Booster on the Nex-7. You get sharp at f1.0! I’m sure that your Nikon 50mm f1.4 would be equally fun for some amazing bokeh shots.ReplyCancel

  • Ferrell - October 28, 2013 - 11:29 am

    Jeff, I am interested in the 16-70mm f4 or the 10-18mm f4. Here is an interesting set of sample images from the 16-70mm and the concept of “decentering.” It’s pretty simple, shoot the same object placed in each of the 4 corners and compare the sharpness. Use that as an indicator of the “centering” of the lens.

    Also this is a worth a look:
    He compares the 16mm/2.8 Pancake, Sony 10-18 and Zeiss 16-70 at 16mm.ReplyCancel

  • Ronnie - March 13, 2014 - 2:22 pm

    These are fantastic images! I have NEX 7 but i’ve been looking for some answers with regards to using a high speed sync on this camera where I would like to overpower the sun to have a nice properly exposed background of the subject and a fill in flash. I would gladly appreciate any reply. – RonnieReplyCancel

  • Nick Williams - April 30, 2014 - 2:20 am

    Clearly written, superbly illustrated and exactly what we need more of on the web!ReplyCancel

  • Joop - May 10, 2014 - 1:52 pm

    Very good reading stuff; thanks! Everything now and then I return to this page and learn a bit more (only have the NEX for 3 months now, so still learning).ReplyCancel

  • Tru - May 14, 2014 - 12:17 am

    Thank you so much for this. Legit as all get out.ReplyCancel

  • Ruth - December 7, 2014 - 5:40 pm

    I own a nex7, i love it a lot but there is this one thing that i hate the most, i find it too noisy everytime i take a shot especially when i’m taking a picture on a live show production where everyone needs to be silent. Am just wondering on how to switch it off to silent? Thank you very much.ReplyCancel

  • Ferrell - December 8, 2014 - 1:34 pm

    Ruth, Regarding silent shutter, you cannot make the shutter entirely silent but it will help if you use electronic “Front Curtain Shutter.” Just go to Menu, Setup, Front Curtain Shutter and choose “On.” If you would like a completely silent shutter, I suggest the Sony A7S – it is perfect for the type of photography you are doing – low light, silent shutter. All the best!ReplyCancel

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