As the worlds of stills and HD video continue to merge, we’ve seen a number of interesting mirrorless cameras, aka DSLMs (digital single-lens mirrorless), released in the past year. The cameras are so new that a consensus acronym has yet to be set. For motion-picture shooting, a DSLM system offers many advantages over traditional DSLRs, including a smaller form factor due to fewer parts, faster autofocus on moving subjects and the ability to monitor video capture through an electronic viewfinder rather than in Live View on an LCD screen.
Sony has been leading the DSLM pack with its Alpha and NEX cameras and has recently released a new flagship NEX camera, the NEX-7. The pocket-sized DSLM offers Sony’s proprietary E-mount, 24.3-megapixel resolution and support for the new AVCHD (Ver. 2.0) codec for 60p motion capture. A feature that really stands out is the NEX-7’s APS-C sensor (23.5×15.6mm), which dwarfs the size of the competitors’ Micro Four Thirds systems (18×13.5mm) and delivers more shallow depth of field and a lens crop of 1.5x instead of 2x.
Another great feature of the NEX-7 is its continuous autofocus capability. I recently got a chance to play with the camera at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and was able to shoot a cheetah running 100 meters at full speed. While shooting in continuous autofocus, I could track the cheetah running at 70 mph from start to finish, which would be a pretty difficult task for a professional focus puller and near impossible on your typical DSLR in autofocus mode.
For pro video shooters, the ability to shoot video in full manual mode is a must-have feature. The NEX-7 has two dials at the top of the body where you can control both shutter speed and exposure at the same time, which puts the camera on a different level than other NEX models. (Quick tip: For shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, you’ll need a good ND filter to maintain a 1⁄50 sec. shutter speed at an exposure of less than ƒ/8.) Another great feature is the high-resolution XGA OLED EVF, which is one of the best electronic viewfinders I’ve seen on a low-budget camera. Even though the camera has a great three-inch, tiltable LCD viewer, the EVF really comes in handy when shooting in bright, sunny locations.
The lens mount of the NEX-7 is the Sony E-mount, which is used for all of the NEX cameras, including the newly released VG20 camcorder and the more professional FS100U. At the present time, there aren’t that many E-mount lenses available, although Sony just announced three new E-mount lenses: a 24mm Zeiss ƒ/1.8 prime, a 55-210mm ƒ/4.5-6.3 and a 50mm ƒ/1.8 with OSS. The best accessory you can own with the NEX-7 is the new LA-EA2 mount adapter (sold separately), which enables you to use A-mount lenses. What’s special about the adapter is that it contains Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology, which enables faster phase-detection AF instead of contrast-detect AF. You’ll lose a 1⁄3-stop with the adapter, but this will be negated since now you can use a wider variety of faster lenses, including Zeiss ƒ/2.8 zoom lenses.
For indie film productions, I can really envision the NEX-7 as a great B-camera to the FS100U—sort of a shoestring version of an F3 being used on F35 productions for difficult shots. Because of the NEX-7’s small form factor, you’ll be able to shoot completely unnoticed in any environment while still capturing professional-looking shots. The retail price of the NEX-7 with the 18-55mm kit lens is $1,349, and the body goes for $1,199. The pricing is a little steep, especially when you add the adapter, but the NEX-7 can be a powerful and valuable tool for difficult shots, especially in regards to follow focus.
Contact: Sony, (877) 865-SONY, www.sony.com.