The interweb rumor mill has been busily whipping up a storm about a new mirrorless digital camera from Sony in recent weeks. Happily, the official announcement from Sony hasn't disappointed those of us who have been patiently waiting for something more tangible. That space has now been filled with a brand new model - the NEX-7 - with an impressive list of advanced features that would normally be found in the company's bigger Alpha cameras. Sony has also announced the retirement of its popular NEX-5 model, with its replacement representing quite a marked upgrade on the original.

Sony's NEX mirrorless digital cameras provide photographers with a compact-sized camera that has digital SLR functionality and the ability to swap lenses. With the new NEX-7, Sony has really pulled out all the stops, with a release that brings to mind someone trying to close a holiday suitcase that's jam-packed with far too much for such a small container. Its 24.3 megapixel Exmor APS-C CMOS sensor and the latest generation of Sony's BIONZ image processing engine work together to offer users extremely low noise images and blisteringly fast shooting responses. The ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 16000.

Sony says that the camera's shutter lag is around 20 milliseconds - making this the fastest interchangeable lens digital camera available. It also offers a burst shooting rate of up to 10 frames per second in speed priority continuous mode. As well as a 3-inch, 921,600 dot, Xtra Fine LCD display that users can tilt for easy viewing - which features TruBlack technology for crisp, clear viewing - the company has also squeezed in an integrated high contrast 2,359,296-dot OLED TruFinder electronic viewfinder. It's the same as the one featured on the new a77 and a65 cameras, and offers 100 percent frame coverage - Sony believing that it's so good, it could give pro-grade optical viewfinders a run for their money.

The lightweight magnesium alloy body tips the scales at just 10.3 ounces (291 g), there's an integrated pop-up flash and hot-shoe mount, and advanced users are given more manual control of camera operation than you can shake a stick at, in the shape of two control dials to the top of the camera and a control wheel. Creative types will no doubt appreciate the numerous in-camera effects processing options - including Picture Effects like HDR Painting and Miniature (first seen on the NEX-C3), 3D Sweep Panorama, Soft Skin and Auto HDR.

Sony has made the most of the new AVCHD Progressive (Ver. 2.0) standard to offer 1080p60 HD video and Tracking Focus will help keep moving objects sharp. There's also manual focus during video recording, and internal circuitry revisions are said to result in improved stereo audio.

Although made for Sony's E-mount lenses, there's also an optional phase-detection autofocus adapter (LA-EA2) with built-in Translucent Mirror Technology that gives the NEX-7 compatibility with A-mount lenses, too.

Image files and recorded video are stored to Sony's Memory Stick PRO Duo and Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, or SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards. There's HDMI and USB connectivity, and the battery life is claimed to be around 350 images through the viewfinder or 430 via the LCD display.

The NEX-7 is sure to find a host of new NEX worshipers, but whether it will live up to its DSLR-killer promise, only time will tell. It will be available from November - as part of a black 18-55 mm zoom lens kit for US$1,350 or body-only for US$1,200.

Sony has prepared a demonstration video of the NEX-7, and the other announced NEX release - the NEX-5N:

The NEX-5N is the successor to last year's popular NEX-5 model and benefits from many of the features brought to the NEX-7 - making this update quite a significant one. There's no built-in viewfinder, but there is a 3-inch, 921,600 dot, tilting touchscreen display with TruBlack technology for better contrast during image review and camera settings adjustment. An optional viewfinder (FDA-EV1S or FDA-SV1) can be placed on the camera's hot-shoe mount if desired.

This model has a 16.1 megapixel Exmor APS-C CMOS sensor (up from 14.2 megapixels on the NEX-5) and a specially-optimized version of the BIONZ image processing engine, and its sensitivity gets a boost to ISO25600. Sony says that it benefits from an improved autofocus algorithm that helps make its 25-point tracking autofocus system significantly faster.

The NEX-5N also makes use of the new AVCHD Progressive (Ver. 2.0) standard to deliver 1080p video at 60 frames per second, and benefits from a similar audio-improving circuitry rehash.

An external flash HVL-F7S is supplied and attached via the hot-shoe mount, the battery life is good for about 430 images, and it has a body-only weight of 7.4 ounces (210 g). Of the two new releases, the NEX-5N will be the first to become available - as a standard 18-55 mm kit zoom lens for US$700 or body-only for US$600 from next month.

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