Sony NEX 7 First Impressions Review

Sony aimed high in creating the NEX 7 – it is clear that their main objective was to create a compact, mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera with features and performance parameters equal to those of an enthusiast or prosumer DSLR. For starters, the NEX 7 incorporates the same 24.3 MP APS-C-format Exmor CMOS sensor, BIONZ Image Processor, and hi-res 2359k-dot OLED EVF used in the Sony Alpha SLT-A77 and A65. And, like its impressive DSLR stable-mates, it can shoot bursts at up to 10 fps at full resolution, albeit with exposure and focus fixed at the first frame, and capture Full HD 1920 × 1080 resolution movies at 60p, 60i, or cinematic 24p in AVCHD format. On the upside, the NEX 7 can come close to delivering 100% of the information captured by the sensor without an intervening Translucent Mirror, which can give it a slight edge in resolution and contrast under some shooting conditions. On the downside, the absence of the Translucent Mirror means that the NEX 7 uses contrast AF for focusing and tracking, which is commendably precise but not quite as fast as contrast AF when shooting bursts at 2.5 fps with AF, or shooting video.

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The new Sony NEX 7 is undoubtedly the flagship of Sony’s engaging NEX line and an impressive demonstration of the company’s technological prowess, but what really defines the NEX 7 as a landmark camera and transforms it into an instant cult classic is that this full complement of cutting-edge tech is built into a gorgeous machine with the small, slim, sleek, ergonomic form factor of a classic rangefinder camera along with full DSLR functionality. It even has its excellent hi-res viewfinder positioned at the upper left-hand corner of the body, just like a Leica M9, and despite the differences in its body contours it feels quite similar to a 35mm rangefinder when it’s nestled in your hands. It’s also a camera that has clearly been designed by people who actually take pictures, and for seasoned shooters who want to control the image on the fly. Its ergonomically right-hand grip is just the right size to provide a secure perch for your fingers and enhances shooting stability, and its ingenious Tri-Navi Manual Control system with three conveniently placed dials can be programmed to set aperture, exposure compensation, and ISO or any combination of variables that suits your shooting style.

The NEX 7’s 23.5 × 15.6mm, 24.3 MP image sensor is the highest resolution sensor in its class, surpassing those in any other compact camera as wall as those found many of the latest high-end enthusiast DSLRs. It’s integrated with a state-of-the-art BIONZ image processor that delivers outstanding speed and performance – a shutter-release lag time of a mere 0.02 sec (claimed to be the world’s fastest), and also enhances the speed and accuracy of the camera’s contrast-detection AF system and its imaging performance at high ISOs. On the back of the NEX 7 is a brilliant 3.0-inch hi-res (921k-dot) TruBlack LCD screen that tilts down 45 degrees and up 80 degrees to frame high- and low-angle subjects, and an ingeniously hinged built-in auto-flash on top that nests to preserve the body’s classic contours and pops up manually at the touch of a button.

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The impressive feature list continues with full manual control plus available auto modes when shooting Full HD movies; 3D Sweep Panorama and Sweep Panorama modes for automatically capturing 16:9 shots in 3D (viewable on a 3D TV) or 2D; 6-image layering, Auto HDR, Object Tracking AF, Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO), 11 Picture Effect Modes, and an Ultrasonic Anti-Dust System. Amidst this profusion of cutting-edge tech there are two signature features that debuted in the NEX 7 and set it apart from all other current compact system cameras, including its NEX stable-mates.

The first is a built-in direct eye-level OLED (organic LED) electronic viewfinder that provides an amazingly clear, saturated, 100% view of the subject at a larger-than-life-size 1.09X and, of course, displays the effects of any manual or automatic exposure adjustments, changes in white balance, or effects you select. This ultra-hi-res 2.4 MP viewfinder provides a truly lifelike viewing experience that comes quite close to that of the traditional optical viewfinders in high-end DSLRs, an amazing achievement. And of course like all EVFs, it displays a brighter-than-actual viewing image in dim light.

As mentioned, the eyepiece is conveniently positioned on the left-hand side of the back, like a rangefinder camera, so the shooting experience is an uncanny combination of rangefinder “feel” with SLR-like visual feedback. Outstanding! One small problem: The little -4.0 to +1.0 diopter adjustment wheel at the right of the eyepiece falls under the eyeglass-protecting rubber bezel once it’s installed, and adjusting the camera to suit your individual eyesight then becomes a real pain in the finger. Since adjusting this diopter control precisely is especially important with a high-magnification EVF we hope Sony will reconfigure that pesky rubber bezel so it’s easier to remove. In the interim, there’s a simple workaround – display a sharp captured image, bring the camera to eye level, and adjust the viewfinder until the image in the finder attains maximum sharpness.

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The other defining feature that debuted on the NEX 7 is the well executed and very useful Tri-Navi control system that consists of three separate programmable control dials that provide direct hands-on access to any three settings you frequently use. Press the Navigation button next to the smooth, predictable shutter release to toggle through the available setting modes, and set the ones you wish to assign to the right-hand® and left-hand (L) dials overhanging the rear deck, and the Control wheel on the back of the camera. For example, the L dial can be set to control Focus Area, shutter speed/aperture shift, etc.; the R dial can control exposure compensation, the position of the flexible spot meter setting, etc.; and the Control wheel can be set to control ISO, color temperature, etc. Once you get the hang of it, this system is far quicker than going through the (logically arrayed, very comprehensive) menus and provides a professional level of convenient image control options while in the heat of battle.

I won’t provide a detailed evaluation of every single one of the NEX 7’s myriad features in detail here, but I did put the camera through its paces for an extended period, shooting a wide variety of subjects with two excellent E-mount lenses, the Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS standard zoom kit lens and the Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III VC long-range zoom that recently debuted in E-mount. Based on my still picture shooting experience in all modes I found the camera to be extremely responsive, firing virtually instantaneously when I pressed the smooth, predictable shutter release. It also focuses very quickly and precisely using spot or multi-zone AF, the latter providing a “green boxes” viewfinder readout to indicate the camera-selected focus point(s). On occasion, especially with close-up and low-contrast subjects in dim light, the NEX 7 focuses somewhat slower than a DSLR using phase-detection AF, but I was still impressed with its accuracy, decisiveness, and freedom from “hunting.” Amazingly, you can actually add phase-detection AF capability to this camera by using an ingenious accessory, the Sony A-mount-to-E-mount LA-EA2 adapter (street price $318) that lets you mount Sony Alpha-mount DSLR lenses. This device should definitely give you an edge in sheer AF speed when shooting high-speed action and HD video.

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With the Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) enabled, the NEX 7 delivers very accurate exposures with a full tonal range. Even with backlit subjects the metering system accurately identifies and exposes for the subject in the overwhelming majority of cases. Auto HDR, which works only in JPEG capture mode, and not in RAW or RAW+JPEG modes, combines 3 exposures to deliver a noticeably wider shadow-to-highlight range – a great feature, but is not quite equal to other systems that capture a greater number of frames to create and HDR image. The high magnification OLED electronic viewfinder is a delight to use and must be experienced to be believed. It presents a brilliant, highly saturated view that’s so convincing it may even convert some diehard anti-EVF shooters. I judged the SteadyShot image stabilization (as well as Tamron’s VC system) to be very effective in minimizing the effects of camera shake, allowing me to shoot at relatively slow shutter speeds (1/30 sec and even slower) even at medium telephoto focal lengths, a commendable performance.

In terms of overall image quality (I shot mostly in RAW + JPEG capture mode) this camera’s performance is simply spectacular, justifying Sony’s “DSLR quality in your pocket”slogan. Though that would literally be possible only if you mounted a flat lens like the Sony 16mm f/2.8. Performance at ISO 1600 is amazing, with surprisingly good definition, color saturation, and remarkably little noise. At lower ISOs in the ISO 100-400 range the detail and color captured by this camera, in still and HD video, is astonishing, exceeding any other compact interchangeable-lens camera I’ve previously used, and giving pro-level DSLRs a run for the money. This is clearly a camera for serious enthusiasts and pros that want to shoot with something fetchingly compact and esthetic and far less obtrusive than their trusty high-end DSLRs, but refuse to compromise either on the feature set or in terms of outright imaging performance.

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In fact, there is only thing about the NEX 7 that drove me nuts – the all-too-convenient HD video movie button! It’s perfectly placed to the right of the comfy thumb-rest that complements the comfortably contoured mini-grip on the front of the camera, but that doesn’t prevent stray fingers from accidentally hitting it and instantly starting an HD movie recording at precisely the wrong moment. Yes, you eventually learn to hold the camera the right way. But that clever little red movie button ought to be recessed a bit more, or perhaps an off switch provided, physically or in software, to eliminate this problem. The upside: In viewing my accidental and on-purpose HD movie clips shot at 1080p, I can confirm that this camera’s HD video capability is prodigious – on a 52-inch flat-screen TV they looked as good as my buddy’s Canon 5D Mark III movies that we viewed as a seat-of-the pants comparison. I also liked the Sweep Panorama setting, which captured breathtaking panoramas of professional quality without a tripod. I was less thrilled with the limited auto-bracketing for RAW images, which should cover a more extended exposure range (at least up to +2 to -2 stops).

To sum up our findings, the NEX 7 is a superlative machine that’s a joy to hold in your hands, to shoot with, or simply to admire as a beautiful high-tech object. It’s an elegant, versatile picture taker that is destined to become an instant classic. And while its price of $1,349.95 with 18-55mm will definitely get you a very nice middle-tier DSLR outfit, you do get what you paid for in terms of exclusivity, performance, and pride of ownership. In the compact system camera category it’s unquestionably in a class by itself.

Where to Buy

sony_nex-7. From the Sony website: Want a camera that fits in your pocket or purse, yet offers the quality and performance of one nearly twice its size? The NEX-7 is it.

Complete with a massive 24.3MP APS-C sensor and a through-the-lens OLED electronic viewfinder. With Full HD video and up to 10 fps, the NEX-7 delivers the professional performance of a DSLR in a gorgeous, easy-to-carry package you can take anywhere.

Images

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HDR Off: Shadow detail is lacking even though overall exposure is on the money.

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HDR On: Combining 3 shots automatically in Auto HDR mode yields much better shadow detail and a much more natural looking tonal range.

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Historical Plaque: Close-up of brass plaque surrounded by leaves shows excellent definition of details and textures and a broad depth of field. Exposure data: Sony 16mm f/2.8 lens at f/8, ISO 400.

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Man in orange shirt: Grab shot demonstrates NEX 7’s fast, accurate autofocus. Exposure data: Tamron 18-200mm lens at 200mm, f/6.3, ISO 125.

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Senior Citizen: Nice character portrait of an elderly gentleman displays excellent definition in eyes and skin textures and commendable skin tone accuracy. Exposure data: Sony 18-55mm lens at f/4.5 and 36mm, ISO 640.

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    • The single most discouraging issue with the high end NEX cameras is the lack of quality lenses that are "affordable" and compact in size.  I thus wish that this or future review can comment on the lens selection more.  The 16/2.8 pancake is not a stellar lens, but is it good enough as a walk around lens?  How about the 24/1.8, 30/3.5, and 50/1.8 from Sony, and the Sigma 30/2.8? 

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    • I have a NEX-7 with kit lens (18-55).  I agree Sony is lacking affordable emount lens selections, but I must say all the in-camera supports (high res OLED EVF, focus peaking, control buttons/dials) for manual lenses with aperture priority mode is the best among all digital cameras including all DSLR's especially with that bright/large high res EVF.

      I really enjoy using my manual lens for now, but I do hope to see more sony lens selections.  

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    • That viewfinder location might be ideal for most photographers, but about two seconds after holding one up to my left eye I concluded that a NEX-5n with the add-on viewfinder was better for me.

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    • In saying "In the compact system camera category it’s unquestionably in a class by itself.", I assume that Jason has never heard of the Olympus E-M5 which many reviewers put equal to the Sony in IQ and superior in features --and of course with far more native lenses to choose from

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    • I am considering the NEX7 so I'm happy to see all its good points but, this "review" reads more like a marketing piece than an assessment.  I don't disagree with anything that was said, but there are plenty of issues with the UI (besides the video button). The lens availability issue as raised by others' comments above, could have been addressed.  Most reviewers have at least provided some context by mentioning some features in comparison to its competition.  My point is, a useful review would have included the reviewer's take on the significance of these for users.

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    • I agree, this is not a useful or unbiased 'review'. It reads like an advert. 

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    • The captions for the HDR photos are reversed (i.e. the no-HDR caption is next to the HDR photo).

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    • I picked up a NEX-5N to play around with recently, sold it after a couple of months.

      AFA I can see, the only advantage to the "mirrorless" cameras ( clever marketing term ) is the weight. Unless you look closer where you'll find that the difference is a few ounces at best. The new Canon Rebel 650 is less than a half ounce more than the Sony NEX-7. One can debate IQ between the two, but I doubt it would amount to much.

      Bottom line with these things is, they're not any better than the equivalent DSLR and they're not as good in many areas because of the lack of a mirror. Also, they're not cheap. Upon examination, the weight savings are small at best, and I'd guess that when they start making 24-70 2.8 zooms and 200 or 300mm 2.8/f4 it will negate even that.

      Now, personally, I've never been one that thinks smaller is always better. My preference for a camera is to have something substantial to hold onto. YMMV , but I'll pass

      Good Luck, Steve

      YMMV but I'll pass.

       

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    • I wanted one of these but am so happy I opted for a pentax k5 instead, especially since the price of the k5 fell.  None of the  above sample images blow me away as my pentax has with just the crappy 18-55 kit lens on.  My pentax is probably the smallest dslr body on the market albeit not the size of the nex. I`ll wait and watch.

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    • Hello.


      I have a comment about lenses for Nex 7.

      I bought a Nex 7 to travel light to Brazil in march 2012.

      I wanted to rebuilt a "light weight" kit, similar to my usual travel kit, both in focal coverage -and in quality, if possible. My "normal" travel kit is Canon 1DII + 24-105 4LIS + 200 IIL + 85mm 1.8 + 16-35 2.8L + 1.4X.  Sum is 12kg!

      I then built a "kit" with the 18-55mm kit lens, a Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 (I love ultra wides!), an old (and beloved) Canon FD 85mm 1.8 with Novoflex adapter and my Canon 200mm 2.8LII with a cheap adapter. I added an even older Canon FD 50mm 1.4 SSC to the set.

      I was very happy shooting with the Nex 7 (you can see some results here).

      Now I have my camera with me everyday with, in a very small Tamrac bag, the Sony E 24mm 1.8 (a true jewel !), a Canon FD 85mm 1.2L and a Canon FD 80-200mm 4L. Those lenses are just perfect ! From time to time, I also add the Sony E 50mm 1.8 or the Voigtlander 12mm 5.6, which are also excellent lenses.

      The standard zoom is back in the box and I don't use it anymore.
      I just miss a good 15-16mm (24mm equivalent) opening at 2.8 or larger. (Quality wise, I don't think the Sony pancake would do it for me.)

      When I shoot rock concert, I use the 24mm, the 50mm (with the OSS!) and the 85mm 1.2L. (Exemples in this folder)

      When I travel for a week-end, I add the Voigtlander and my excellent Canon EF 16-35 2.8L.
      This last one is big, of course, but not much bigger than the Sony A 16-50mm with EA2 adapter that some use with the Nex.

      I also shoot static birds or wildlife with a Canon EF 400mm 5.6L + 1.4x (on a very stable Gitzo tripod). I even do birds in flight with the 400mm alone (when I don't have the 1DII with me, of course). The crop factor + the 24Mpixels allow incredible magnification !

      Oh yes, I also do macro with a Novoflex bellow and Canon FD 50mm 3.5 macro lens.


      So good quality lenses (and cheap lenses), there are !

      Well, of course, there are some drawbacks

      First, and minor, you don't have Exif data with adapted lenses.

      With the Voigtlander, you have to be aware you'll have to remove the color cast on the Voigtlander pictures with Cornerfix.

      With the Canon EF 16-35mm 2.8L lense, I usually set the aperture to 5.6 on the 1DII before leaving, because you cannot set the aperture on the Nex 7. That's annoying. It's the same for any Canon EF lens on the Nex (you may try to find a metabones Nex/Canon adapter, but I never was able to get one so far).

      Is manual focusing an issue ? Yes, it may be. You're not as fast with manual focusing on the Nex 7 than autofocusing with the 1DII, of course. And there are situations where it doesn't work : when you shoot close moving people or animals. Like concerts -the singers move too fast, most of the time- or moving pets or kids that are too close.

      Surprisingly, the Canon FD 85mm 1.2L is very easy to focus : focus peaking is very efficient on this one.

      OK, except the Voigtlander, the Canon lenses are not small, even less with the adapter.

      The Canon FD New 85mm 1.8 is the same size than the Sony E's, but the other are larger. Much smaller than any Canon EF or Sony A lens for full frame, but larger anyway.

      But the camera itself is so small that I don't consider it to be a problem anyway. And remember my other camera is 1DII (next one will be 1DX!).

      I'll go on posting some other examples here when I'll have some time.


      Oh ! Now, when I shoot with the Canon, I try to zoom in the viewfinder... Doesn't work well though. ;-)

      Enjoy !!!

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    • more about lenses for the NEX-7

       I agree that this review reads like an advert.  It also ignores what I suspect is a large percentage of N7 users:  those who have legacy glass that they want to use with a decent sensor.  I bought mine last week - body only.  I have a stack of Leica lenses that all seem to work fine on the Novoflex N7 adapter and I'll be able to do macro with them when the Leica helicoid adapter arrives next week.  I have an Exakta adapter on the way so I can use my beautiful CZJ glass.  I have no interest in the native lenses.  Most of the images on the FM forum from this camera are from 3rd party lenses and it's likely those users that are driving the sales of this body.

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    • I don't think the review reads like an advert. It IS a great camera. I'd add on the minus side that the TRINAVI button on the right is easily jogged giving you exposure compensation you didn't want. You have to really watch it. 

       

      I love my NEX-7. It's so exciting to have an APS-C sized sensor that I can put nearly any lens available by anyone on the camera. There may be few E lenses out there, but I don't much care with adapters for Sony A mount, Leica M mount, Leica screwmount, Contax rangefinder lenses, Kyocera Contax lenses, etc etc etc. I've been having a great time using all my lenses from other systems. If I want AF, the Sony/Zeiss 16-80 and the translucent mirror adapter gives me fast, accurate autofocus and great image quality. But what I REALLY do most with this camera is use my Leica M lenses. For me the camera is the equivalent of the old Leica CL (mk II) that I can afford and which work superbly as a manual focus camera.

       

      With 10x mag and focus peaking, it's actually easier to use as a Leica body than my M8 is. I got some incredible performance out of even my old Summitar 50/2 on this camera and the late model Summicron is even better. I couldn't have asked for a better camera for my own purposes. Now if they can just fix that movie button and the TRINAVI exposure compensation button in firmware.

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    • re: <Movie button: Glue a fitting sealing ring or the like over the movie button, so that it is recessed in the opening.. et voilà

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    • Not a review, again.

      This has become quite a bad habit for Jason. These are cut and paste type crap from magazine "reviews" and re-typed product literature provided to sales people. Lets take two lines that say to me, shill and someone that doesn't really care about photography:

      "In terms of overall image quality (I shot mostly in RAW + JPEG capture mode) this cameras performance is simply spectacular, justifying Sonys DSLR quality in your pocket slogan."

      16 badly exposed and fuzzy images. Based off the images, oh yeah I'll drop $1300.00 that. Nope!

      "In fact, there is only thing about the NEX 7 that drove me nuts the all-too-convenient HD video movie button!"

      Wow, that is the ONLY thing that drove you nuts? Sounds like someone only spent an hour or two using the camera. When I got my EOS 3 I found a butt load of things that drove me nuts, just in the fist day. BTW, it is my favorite camera, I love it and will use it till it dies a hard death.

      Enough of this garbage. Are there no editors or mods that police this crap?

       

      Bill

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    • Not a review, again.

      This has become quite a bad habit for Jason. These are cut and paste type crap from magazine "reviews" and re-typed product literature provided to sales people. Lets take two lines that say to me, shill and someone that doesn't really care about photography:


      "In terms of overall image quality (I shot mostly in RAW + JPEG capture mode) this cameras performance is simply spectacular, justifying Sonys DSLR quality in your pocket slogan."

      16 badly exposed and fuzzy images. Based off the images, oh yeah I'll drop $1300.00 that. Nope!


      "In fact, there is only thing about the NEX 7 that drove me nuts  the all-too-convenient HD video movie button!"

      Wow, that is the ONLY thing that drove you nuts? Sounds like someone only spent an hour or two using the camera. When I got my EOS 3 I found a butt load of things that drove me nuts, just in the fist day. BTW, it is my favorite camera,I love it and will use it till it dies a hard death.

      Enough of this garbage. Are there no editors or mods that police this crap?

      Bill

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    • This is not a review for photographers.

      Perhaps it serves purpose as being good review for camera sale and advertising people.

      Being user of NEX5N, and NEX7, I can see that many claims here are exaggerated, and plainly short of reality.  There is only one wishy side of the story told, that departs from what and how it really works.

       

      Especially fast picture rate creates a new category of pictuure faults.  Nex7 produces pictures that are not fully developed electronically - if you are not cautious and in a hurry.  What it means, even shooting at F13, S 1/2000, you will not get any sharp plane in the picture, yet you can save to memory such a half-cooked picture.  For the sake of speed, I suspect the camera just spits out unfinished pictures.  I have no better explanation for this, since there is no motion blur, no camera shake, no a single plane of sharpness, yet pictures in a rush are just bad.

       

       The EVF is too slow to develop pictures for sport photography, and the delay to fully develop a picture rules out the NEX7 from sport camera competition.  I wonder if the new NEX5R will bring some relief for fast and good photos.  LCD is useless in bright sunny light.

      Swiching between EVF and the LCD screen will drive you mad, as so many other unnecessary features that possibly humper the pictures.  E.g.  ability to modify some parameters, or parts of SCENE  parameters,  in PARM modes adds incredible possibility, but wil require much more photographer attention, if not - could lead to less than perfect pictures. 

      As I say all cameras have limitations, and can make good and bad pictures, so is the NEX7, even more so than any good DSLR.  More complicated cameras require more experience.

       

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    • BOYCOTT Sony. Their optics/electronics are in the war-crime missiles guidance systems murdering the young and old in Gaza. Did they not learn from the war crimes of Nagasaki and Hiroshima?

       

      http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/08/11/374934/sony-helps-israel-in-gaza-offensive/

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