The Lightweight Photographer: Sony NEX-5 Real World Camera Review

by Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen on August 25, 2010

Thanks to the DSLR-sized APS-C sensor built into the Sony Alpha NEX-5, Sony boasts, “The NEX-5 has all the picture quality of a DSLR, yet it’s about half the size, half the weight and far less complex.” Lets see how those claims hold up in the hands of a real travel photographer.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Always on the lookout for the next best thing in compact cameras for serious travel photographers, I’ve spent some time with Sony’s top-of-the-line mirrorless compact digital camera, the Sony Alpha NEX-5. As with all of my “Real World” reviews, I’ve used it in the field to get a feel for how the NEX-5 handles and performs on the job.

I’ve used the NEX-5 side-by-side with two other cameras I’ll be reviewing soon, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 and the Olympus E-PL1 as well as my own Olympus E-P1. So you don’t miss these upcoming reviews, subscribe to PhotoCitizen now. It’s free.

The Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Camera

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Sony Alpha NEX-5

The camera I’m reviewing is the silver NEX-5 with 18-55mm lens (model number NEX-5K/S) and updated firmware version 2. This kit is also available in boring black. Or, you can get either color and a 16mm f/2.8 lens instead of the zoom.

Current prices (July, 2011) from Adorama:

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Requirements

My basic requirements for a compact camera include:

  1. Captures raw images
  2. Image quality good enough for publication
  3. Good performance in low light

For more about my compact camera preferences, read my article, The Lightweight Photographer: Four Compact Cameras for the Pro or Serious Amateur. To read all of the reviews in this series, click here.

Since I rarely shoot in jpeg mode, all opinions in this article are based on raw captures viewed in Adobe Lightroom version 3.2RC except as noted. Most of the stills shown here were captured in my preferred shooting mode: Aperture-Priority.

First Impressions

The first thing that hit me about the NEX-5 is that the lens is huge in relation to the camera body. The lens barrel is roughly 3-3/8″ in diameter and it’s a little over 2-1/2″ long. The camera body is only about 4-1/4″ across, 2-1/4″ tall and an inch thick. That is a lot of lens.

The Sony NEX-5 is a thing of beauty. The matte-finished magnesium body and the shinier aluminum lens look great together. And it has a durable, easy-to-hold feel. Ready to shoot, it weighs about 19 ounces. Beauty and brawn in one package! Add the diminutive, but stylish flash, and the black lens hood (both included) and you’ve got a serious looking photographic machine.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Sony NEX-5 Controls

The second most striking feature of the NEX-5 is its simplicity. Besides the lens-release button, there’s an on/off switch, six buttons and one dial. That’s it. This dearth of controls adds to the camera’s sleek look. But, is the beauty of the Sony NEX-5 more than skin deep?

Finally, as I dug through the box looking for the instruction manual, I found a sparsely worded, pocket-sized, pamphlet. It’s 82 pages long but only 46 of those pages actually deal with photography.  Must be the Quick Start guide. Nope. This IS the manual. Ay, caramba!

[NOTE: The first thing you should do after buying this camera is to install the full NEX Series Handbook from the included disc. Just click the "Handbook" button on the menu. Or, download NEX_series_Handbook.pdf from Sony's website. This 159-page PDF actually contains useful information as well as color photos and graphics.]

Would You Like To See a Menu?

The Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Digital Camera relies on menus and soft keys.

Shooting Mode Menu (animated)

Let’s start by talking about Sony’s claim that the NEX-5 is “far less complex” than a DSLR. True or false? It depends on how you like to use your camera.

The key to the NEX-5′s simplicity is its menu-driven interface. While a few of the controls have full-time jobs, most of the settings of interest to serious photographers are buried in  simple, yet difficult to navigate menus that rely on some buttons doing multiple duties. Sony calls these “soft keys.”

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Digital Camera - Camera Menu

Camera Menu (animated)

If you enjoy using Program or Intelligent Auto modes where you cede control to the camera, the menu is something you won’t use much. If, however, you want to control the camera, the menus will take some serious getting-used-to time.

There are six menus, each with it’s own full-color icon (I do have to say that all of the menus are as beautiful as they are confounding). The menus include Shoot Mode, Camera, Image Size, Brightness/Color, Playback and Setup.

Don’t Push My Buttons

Between the soft keys and the lengthy menus, the Sony Alpha NEX-5 will give you finger a workout. Consider the following scenario.

Let’s say you’ve been walking around outside in the bright sun and now want to set up the camera for a few action photos of some performers in a poorly lit courtyard. That’s going to take 12 or more button pushes.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Compact=First, choose Continuous Advance – for rapid-fire shooting – from the dedicated left-side of the control wheel (four button pushes).

Then, choose ISO 800 from the Brightness/Color menu (8 button pushes if it had been previously to ISO 200). Want tungsten white balance instead of auto? Push the buttons 11 more times.

The camera remembers the last menu you were in, but not which menu item – it always takes you back to the top. So, if you last used the Brightness/Color menu, it’s 11 pushes to set your white balance. If you you were most recently in the Image Size menu, it would be three more for a total of 14.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Digital Camera - Setup Menu

Setup Menu (animated)

Do you like to format your media card after downloading images to your computer? That’s anywhere from 32 to 35 pushes since it’s near the end of the long Setup menu. Instead of formatting, you can delete all the photos in about 8 button pushes. But that introduces another problem I’ll talk about in a bit.

You get my point, right? The Sony NEX-5 relies on menus, not those pesky little dedicated buttons that we photographers like. Hope you got set up for that action shot before the performance ended.

Raw vs. Jpeg

The Sony NEX-5 captures raw images, but I don’t know why. Everything else on the NEX-5 is geared to beginners – and they aren’t likely to understand the benefits of raw capture nor have the the software skills to take advantage of it. For many of us, though, raw capture is a must. Without it, I wouldn’t even be considering the NEX-5.

Raw files are captured in Sony’s .arw format. Current releases of Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3 do not recognize this format. Fortunately, new versions are already in the works and available from the Adobe Labs website. For more on this, see my article, Sony NEX-5 Raw (.arw) Files Don’t Open in Photoshop CS5 or Lightroom 3. Or Do They?

To set the NEX-5 to capture raw files, go to Quality in the Image Size menu and choose RAW. Your other choices are RAW & JPEG, Fine or Standard. RAW & JPEG captures a fine-quality jpeg in addition to the raw file. The last two are jpeg only. In the same Image Size menu, you can choose an aspect ratio of 3:2 or 16:9 which works for both jpegs and raw images.

Image Quality and Low Light Performance

Today’s DSLR’s provide excellent image quality at high ISO settings. With an image sensor the same size as most DSLR’s, you might expect the same kind of performance from the NEX-5.

The NEX-5 does well in the ISO department. ISO 200 is nearly noise-free. ISO 400 needs just a tweak of noise reduction. And, with some careful noise-reduction work, you can get usable images at ISO 800 too.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Digital Camera - ISO 1600 panorama

ISO 1600 Panorama

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Digital Camera - ISO 1600 detail

ISO 1600 Detail

Even ISO 1600 images can sometimes work – especially JPEGs. The camera does a pretty good job of noise reduction on these high ISO images. Anything above ISO 1600 is useful for snapshots only.

Be careful using ISO AUTO: it will go as high as 1600 and there is no way to set the upper limit to something lower. With ISO AUTO, the camera will often choose ISO settings that are not available manually such as 250 or 640. As long as it chooses something 800 or below, you’ll be OK.

Lens  Compatibility

Because most mirrorless cameras on the market today use a micro-four-thirds sensor that is smaller than the Sony sensor, only Sony lenses fit the NEX cameras.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 camera body and Sony 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens

Black NEX-5 with 16mm lens

But not just any Sony lens. Sony has developed a new lens mount system for its NEX series cameras called the E-mount. Limited compatibility with Alpha (A-mount) lenses is available by using an optional $200 adapter, the Sony LA-EA1.

So, NEX owners are limited to four lenses, the previously mentioned 18-55mm f/3.5 to f/5.6, the 16mm f/2.8 the 18-200mm, f/3.5 to f/6.3 and the brand new (as of 7/19/11)  30mm f/3.5.

The NEX-5 camera body is too small for in-camera image stabilization, so Sony is relying on in-lens stabilization which they call Optical SteadyShot or OSS which is built into the two zoom lenses, but not the primes.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Digital Camera cannot use micro-four-thirds lenses

Sony has eliminated compatibility with a wide range of micro-four-thirds lenses made by Olympus and Panasonic in exchange for better image quality from their larger sensor. That was a bad decision, in my opinion. Image quality is not noticeably better than the Olympus and Panasonic cameras with their wider array of lenses.

Lens Quality and Performance

I have no interest in scientifically measuring lens quality like some of the other camera review sites. I believe in what I see in the image: all the fancy charts and test patterns mean little to me.

With that in mind, the only flaws I see in the Sony 18-55mm lens are plenty of barrel distortion at the wide end and some pincushion at the long end. Distortion is common in lenses from all manufacturers but it’s a bit more severe in this Sony lens. In many images, you’ll never even notice the difference, but in images containing straight lines – such as buildings – distortion can be distracting.

Image created with a Sony Alpha NEX-5 Digital Camera with 18-55mm lens at 18mm.

Lens Distortion. Click image for animation.

Fortunately, correction is easily accomplished using Lightroom 3′s Image Correction feature. To work with NEX-5 images, make sure you download version 3.2RC which will soon be officially released, but is now available as a work-in-progress “release candidate.” Read what I’ve written about the new Lightroom version here.

Lightroom 3.2RC not only recognizes the Sony .arw raw files, but the Image Correction panel includes a profile for the Sony 18-55mm lens. So, all you need to do is put a check mark next to “Enable Profile Corrections” and the correct lens profile will automatically be applied. Lines in your photo that were a bit bowed will instantly be straightened.

There is no noticeable vignetting (darkening at the edges of the frame) on images taken with the 18-55mm lens. In high-contrast scenes, there is occasionally some color aberration in the form of magenta fringing, but this is not common. The NEX-5 does a good job here. Fringing is easy to correct in Lightroom using the Color Aberration slider.

Sony 18-55mm lens

Sony 18-55mm Lens

Because of it’s large size, the 18-55mm lens is easy to handle. A nicely knurled zoom ring turns smoothly. The lens grows by about 7/8″ when fully zoomed out and stays in position even when the camera is pointed up or down. For videos, the large size of the ring makes it easy to create smooth zooms.

There is a similar, but narrower, focusing ring for use in manual focus mode that also operates smoothly.

Because of the larger sensor, the “crop factor” is 1.5x instead of the 2x common to micro-four-thirds cameras. That’s good for wide-angle shooters, but not so good for telephoto lovers. The 18-55mm lens has the field-of-view equivalent to a 27-82mm lens on a full-frame camera. (If it could be attached to a micro-four-thirds camera, it would be the equivalent of 36-110mm).

The lens is threaded for a 49mm filter so you can use a polarizer or other filter. And, to make this even more enticing, the front lens element does not rotate while focusing. So, unlike my Olympus E-P1 – which does rotate the front of the lens during focusing – there is no need to reposition the filter after focusing. Nice!

Handling

Sony Alpha NEX-5 camera with 18-55mm lens

NEX-5 and 18-55mm lens

Aside from its good looks, the Sony NEX-5 has a few things going for it. Both the body and lens are mostly metal. The bulge on the side of the body which houses the battery is beautifully designed, balanced and textured to create a solid gripping surface.

The coolest thing about the NEX-5 – and something no other compact digital camera in its class has – is the flip-up/flip-down LCD. Flip it up for low-angle photos and flip it down for overhead shots. Very handy in those situations. There’s no such assist for vertically oriented photos though since it doesn’t swing that way.

The tripod mounting hole on the bottom of the camera is conveniently located away from the battery cover so you can change the battery or SD card without removing the camera from the tripod or, in my case, without removing the quick-release plate.

Flash

The Sony NEX-5 does not have a built-in flash, but it does come with a tiny external flash that attaches to the top of the camera. It plugs into the proprietary Smart Accessory Port and is held in place by a thumbscrew.

The flash is so small and attaches so firmly that, unless you plan to use some other accessory that needs the smart port, you may as well leave it attached all the time.

The flash is not powerful, but it is useful as a fill if you’re not too far from your subject. I’ve also used it to trigger several slave flashes in my studio. Flash compensation can be set in a range of plus-or-minus 2 stops.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 camera - flash compensation

Flash Compensation

The flash is not tall enough to prevent the 18-55mm lens from casting a shadow, so you’ll want to be careful how you compose your images when using the flash with that lens. Sony says the flash coverage is wide enough for the 16mm lens. That lens is so small, there’s no way it would cause a shadow.

I’d recommend leaving the Flash Mode always set to “Fill-flash” and flash compensation to minus 1 or so. That way, you can use the flash simply by flipping it up without having to push any buttons. The flash is off when it is flipped down and on when flipped up.

The NEX-5 has no hot shoe and, currently, no other flash unit is available for the NEX cameras.

Sweep Panorama Mode

The one feature of the NEX-5 that I had the most fun with was the Sweep Panorama mode. In this mode, the camera takes a series of images while you pan the camera, stitches them together and creates a large jpeg file. (Even if you have the camera set to raw capture, you won’t get a raw pano).

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Sweep Panorama mode.

Sweep Panorama

The number of images captured depends on the speed at which you pan. The slower you pan, the more images are captured. Careful, though: if you pan too quickly or slowly, the camera will stop and give you an error message warning you to speed up or slow down.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Sweep Panorama instructions

Sweep Panorama Direction

You can set the pan direction to left, right, up, or down. You’ll have to move the camera in the appropriate direction to avoid getting an error message telling you’re panning the wrong way. There’s a graphical display on the LCD with an arrow showing the correct direction and a rectangular area called the “Guidance Bar” showing your progress as you pan.

When capturing a panorama, you can choose between standard and wide sizes. For a horizontal panorama, use either the left of right setting to hold the camera horizontally for a wide and short image, or use the up or down setting to hold it vertically for one that is tall and narrow. You can also create vertical panoramas.

Most of the camera controls are set to automatic when using Sweep Panorama mode, but you are able to set exposure compensation, white balance, and auto or manual focus. The camera clicks like a machine gun as the shutter repeatedly opens and closes. So, don’t expect to make any stealth panoramas.

As you create the panorama, you’ll spin through various degrees of a full circle. There is some leeway here: you can pan a bit faster or slower to get more or less of an arc without triggering an error message. You’ll get a wider arc when photographing distant subjects. I was able to pan approximately 220-degrees in a wide-open area with the camera set to Wide and held horizontally.

I tried a couple of times to do a “dolly” shot where I held the camera to my side and walked straight ahead with it rather than spinning in an arc. I couldn’t walk fast enough to avoid the “move faster” error message – and I’m a fast walker. Maybe it would work if I tried it on a bike.

These panoramas are high-resolution. Shoot a wide panorama with the camera held horizontally and you’ll get a 23-megapixel image. My favorite is the Wide setting with the camera held vertically. You get a narrower picture, but more height. It’s great for capturing a scene with boats and their masts. And, it’s 12-megapixels of data: enough for most uses.

Sweep Panorama Mode Details
Width Setting Camera Orientation Pixel Dimensions Megapixels Aspect Ratio
Standard Horizontal 1856 tall x 8192 wide 15.2 4.4:1
Standard Vertical 2160 tall x 3872 wide 8.3 1.8:1
Wide Horizontal 1856 tall x 12416 wide 23.0 6.7:1
Wide Vertical 2160 tall x 5536 wide 12.0 2.6:1

The camera does a pretty good job of stitching the images together as long as there isn’t much motion in the scene and you don’t pan too quickly. Creating a panorama this way is an art form that you’ll have to practice. I have several panoramas where a person turned their head during the exposure so the panorama shows them with two heads. Spooky.

Sony recommends not using Sweep Panorama mode when photographing subjects that are moving or very close to the camera. They also recommend avoiding repeating patterns such as floor tiles, low-contrast subjects such as empty sky, high-contrast scenes including bright lights or the sun in the frame, and waterfalls or other constantly moving subjects.

If you like crazy, abstract images, I’d try shooting panoramas in all of those situations. Some may not work at all, but others can result in stitching errors imitating a Dali painting. Photography’s supposed to be fun, right?

With the latest version 2 camera firmware – which you can download for free from Sony’s website – a new mode is added to the Shoot Mode menu called 3D Sweep Panorama.

I played with this a bit, but since you can only see the 3D results on a 3D-ready Sony TV, it’s of little interest to me. In 3D mode your options are limited to moving the camera left or right (no up or down) and a third width setting of 16:9 is available.

Movies

The Sony Alpha NEX-5 records video in either AVCHD or MP4 format. MP4 movies can be recorded at 30fps in either 1080i high-definition or low-resolution VGA format.

AVCHD videos have just one quality mode which results in a 1920×1080 at 60fps (interlaced).

Visually, the two formats look identical to me. I viewed both on my new Sony Bravia LED TV and they both look great. Unless you’re a pro videographer, I’d recommend using the more universal MP4 format. AVCHD is much more difficult to view and work with.

The NEX-5 captures the best video of any compact digital camera that I’ve seen so far. I’d be perfectly happy – from a picture quality standpoint, anyway – using the NEX-5 to film promotional or educational videos. But I’m no video expert, so I’d appreciate any feedback you have on this subject. You can leave a comment below.

Focusing a video is hit-or-miss. When using multi-point auto-focus in a scene with lots of depth-of-field, the camera would sometimes focus on the near subject and sometimes on the background. In most scenes, though, I found it would refocus pretty well as I pointed the camera toward subjects at different distances. It does this pretty quickly with less than one second of blur before it recaptures focus. And it refocuses silently.

As far as audio is concerned, the built-in stereo microphones do tend to add a bit of hiss, but sound quality is excellent. A definite pop is recorded at the end of every video as you push the red button to stop recording. The hiss is not too noticeable, but the pop will need to be edited out. Bye the way, there are no video editing tools at all in the camera, not even simple trimming.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Digital Camera - stereo mic

Stereo Microphones

An external stereo mic is available which plugs into the top accessory port and you’ll have to remove the flash to access it. Audio recording can be disabled prior to recording.

A movie can be no longer than 29 minutes and have a file size no larger than 2GB. So, an MP4 video at 1080i can be a maximum of about 9 minutes long while, at VGA resolution, you’ll get 29 minutes. I didn’t time the AVCHD movies, but according to Sony, you’ll get about 5-1/2 minutes per clip.

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Digital Camera - movie button

Movie Button

It’s easy to switch instantly from shooting stills to shooting movies without accessing a menu or changing the Shooting Mode. There is a dedicated red “Movie” button on the top of the camera.This is becoming a common feature these days: both the Olympus E-PL1 and Panasonic GF1 have a similar button.

On the NEX-5, with your hand held in normal shooting position, your finger will rest on the shutter button (for stills) and you can comfortably operate the Movie button with your thumb. Push it once to start recording and again to stop.

While recording a movie, the basic LCD displays “REC” in red, the recording time in minutes and seconds (for example, 2:14) and the amount of exposure compensation applied. There is no record light on the front of the camera, so your subject will have no way of knowing when you’re recording.

In addition to the basic display, you can press the dedicated Display (DISP) button to cycle through two other screens of information which can show the amount of recording time left on your card (a 4GB card can record up to 43 minutes of 1080i hi-def MP4 video or 30 minutes of AVCHD video), image stabilization setting (on or off), resolution setting (such as “1080i”),  white balance and Creative Style setting for color (“Vivid,” “Black and White,” and the like).

The camera automatically adjusts the aperture during a movie shoot in response to changing light levels. The only control the photographer has over exposure is via the exposure compensation adjustment which can be changed on-the-fly during recording. I found the NEX-5 consistently over-exposed movies, so I kept exposure compensation at -1. The available compensation range is from -2 to +2.

Other Features: The Good, Bad and Useless

Good Stuff

    • Adobe RGB or sRGB: You choose the color space for your still images. Use Adobe RGB if you intend to work on them later in the computer or sRGB if you don’t. Most raw shooters should choose the larger Adobe RGB space.
    • Self Timer: Does not turn itself off between exposures. You can use it as a substitute for a remote shutter release without having to reset it between shots. Choice of 2-second or 10-second delay. Unless you are very patient, choose 2-seconds.
    • Bulb Exposure: Seems to allow unlimited exposure time. I tested this up to 31 minutes. It may go longer, but my finger got tired. Better get the optional Remote Commander RTM-DSLR1 if you plan to use bulb. (NOTE: On page 39 of the NEX Series Handbook, Sony specifically states that the RTM-DSLR1 does work with the NEX-5 even though some web merchants have not updated their catalogs to show this.)
    • Auto Bracketing: You get 3 images exposed at your choice of .3 or .7 EV apart. Not very flexible, but it does work with raw.
Sony Alpha NEX-5 in manual exposure mode

Manual Exposure

  • Manual Exposure: Simulated match-needle LCD display to match camera’s auto exposure recommendation or dial in any settings you want for aperture and shutter speed.
  • Manual Focus: Choose Direct Manual Focus (DMF) to have the camera auto focus first and then touch up the focus manually by turning the focus ring. Or go full manual. As you turn the focus ring, the viewfinder enlarges to your choice of 7x or 14x so you can see how well you’re doing. But don’t dawdle: a second or so after you stop turning the ring, the LCD returns to it’s 1X view.
  • Continuous Shooting: Using a 4GB SanDisk Extreme SDHC card, I was able to capture 7 raw images in 3 seconds before the camera bogged down writing to the card. It took another 11 seconds to finish writing.
  • Aspect Ratio: Choose 3:2 or 16:9. Wish it also had 4:3 since my Olympus E-P1 has me accustomed to using it.
  • Custom White Balance: Set white balance to match the scene. Great for the studio or on location when the light is not changing much. Saves a lot of post-processing time.

Could Be Better Stuff

    • Anti-Motion Blur: Sometimes it’s better to get a sharp, noisy photo than none at all. Jpeg only.
Sony Alpha NEX-5 histogram

Histogram

  • Histogram: On most cameras, I use histograms all the time to verify exposure, but on the NEX-5 the histogram is too small to be very useful: about 3/8″ wide by 1/4″ tall. On playback, you can also choose to show red, green and blue histograms separately, though each one is equally small.
  • Battery Life: With Power Save set to 1 minute, I was able to walk around town and shoot for about 3-1/2 hours. Unfortunately, it takes nearly four hours to recharge a fully depleted battery. Make sure you bring a spare.

Bad Stuff

  • Access Light hidden in battery compartment: All digital cameras have a small light indicating when the camera is writing data from its buffer to the media card. Sometimes this takes a long time and it may appear the camera has frozen. The NEX-5 is the first camera I’ve seen where you have to open the battery compartment door to see this red light. Odd choice.
  • Lens shadow: Even with the lens hood removed, the 18-55mm gets in the way of the flash and casts a large shadow. Be careful with your compositions when using this lens and the flash.
  • Sony Tech Support: If it’s not on their script, don’t expect much help.
  • No Customization: The NEX-5 offers no way for the photographer to save a group of commonly used settings. Other cameras offer things like custom menus or a custom setting on the shooting mode dial. Not Sony.
  • Still / Movie Select: Here’s a real boo-boo on Sony’s part. On playback, you can only view files of the same type as the last one you captured. So, if your card contains movies and stills and you last used the camera to capture a still, you can flip through the recorded images all day on the LCD and never even know the movies exist. It works the other way around too. And, even worse, if you choose to delete all files in a folder, it won’t really delete them all. It will only delete the file type you last used. It took me a long time to figure out why, after deleting everything, I still had movies on my card. There is a menu item to choose still or movie playback, but why treat them differently? Makes a good case for formatting instead of deleting – even if it does take 30-something button pushes.

Useless Stuff

  • Auto HDR: Useless. Combines three image captures into one rather flat looking jpeg image. Not available when shooting raw or raw+jpeg. You’d be better off losing some detail in either the shadows or highlights. Or use a tripod, bracket three raw images and combine them in post-processing where you have more control.
  • Smile Shutter: Releases the shutter only when the subject smiles wide enough. Choice of Slight Smile, Normal Smile or Wide Smile. Weird.
  • Other Useless Stuff: Typical amateur stuff you find on compact cameras such as Scene Modes, Face Detection and the like.

Technical Details

Here are a few important specs for the Sony Alpha NEX-5K/S kit:

Sony Alpha NEX-5 Camera

  • Sensor: Exmor APS HD CMOS (23.4 x 15.6mm)
  • Sensor Resolution: 14.2 megapixels (effective)
  • LCD: 3″, 920,000 pixels, tilts 80-degrees up or 45-degrees down.
  • Lens Compatibility: Sony E-mount lenses, Sony A-mount lenses (only with optional adapter LA-EA1)
  • Focal Length Conversion Factor: 1.5x
  • Anti-Dust: Electromagnetic vibration and anti-dust coating
  • Focus System: Contrast detection AF
  • Focusing: Multi AF (25 points), Center-weighted AF, Flexible Spot AF, Manual focus with magnified focus assist display
  • ISO: 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800, AUTO
  • Shutter Speed: 30 seconds to 1/4000 plus BULB
  • Flash: GN7, Recycling Time approx. 4 sec., FOV coverage up to 16mm focal length
  • Media Type: SD, SDHC, SDXC, Sony Memory Stick (Pro Duo, Pro-HG Duo, Pro-HG HX Duo)
  • Color Space: sRGB or Adobe RGB
  • Image Format: JPEG (Standard or Fine), RAW, RAW+JPEG (Fine)
  • Image Size (3:2): L (14M): 4592 X 3056 M (7.4M): 3344 X 2224 S (3.5M): 2288 X 1520
  • Image Size (16:9): L (12M): 4592 X 2576 M (6.3M): 3344 X 1872 S (2.9M): 2288 X 1280
  • Video Format: AVCHD / MP4 (MPEG-4 AVC H.264)
  • Video Resolution (AVCHD): 1920 x 1080/ 60i
  • Video Resolution (MP4): 1440 x 1080/ 30p (1080i HD) or  640 x 480/ 30p (VGA)
  • Audio Format: Dolby Digital (AC-3) / MPEG-4 AAC-LC
  • Weight: 10.1 ounces (with battery and card)
  • Size: 4-3/8″ x 2-3/8″ x 1-9/16″

18-55mm Lens

  • Lens Type: E-mount 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS
  • Aperture: f/3.5-f/5.6 (max.) to f/22-f/32 (min.)
  • Filter Diameter: 49mm
  • Lens Groups-Elements: 9 groups, 11 elements (4 aspheric surfaces)
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 9.8″
  • Aperture Blade: 7 blades
  • Focal Length (35mm equivalent): 27-82.5mm
  • Weight: 8.1 ounces.

Accessories

Sony 16mm f/2.8 lens for Sony Alpha NEX-5 digital compact= Sony 16mm f/2.8 lens for Sony NEX cameras
Sony 18-55mm lens for Sony NEX cameras Sony 18-55mm lens with OSS for Sony NEX camera
Sony 18-200mm Lens for Sony NEX Cameras Sony 18-200mm lens with OSS for NEX
Sony 30mm lens for NEX cameras - from Adorama NEW! Sony 30mm f/3.5 for NEX
Fisheye Converter for Sony NEX Camera Fisheye Converter for Sony 16mm f/2.8 lens
Sony Ultra Wide Converter for Sony NEX camera Ultrawide Converter for Sony 16mm f/2.8 lens
Sony Optical Viewfinder for NEX camera with 16mm lens Optical Viewfinder for Sony NEX-5 with 16mm f/2.8 lens
Sony A-Mount to NEX E-Mount Lens Adapter Sony A-mount lens adapter for Sony NEX cameras
Sony Stereo Microphone for NEX-5 Camera Sony Compact Stereo Microphone for Sony NEX-5 camera
Sony Remote Commander for NEX-5 Camera Sony Remote Commander for Sony NEX-5 camera
Sony NEX AC Adapter Power Suppy Sony AC Adapter for Sony NEX-5 camera
Sony NEX camera battery Genuine Sony rechargeable battery for NEX-5 camera

Final Thoughts

On the plus side, the Sony Alpha NEX-5 is a beautiful and well-constructed camera. Picture quality for both still images and video is excellent.

The tilting LCD is wonderful, especially when shooting video. The Sony Alpha NEX-5 (and it’s little brother, the Sony Alpha NEX-3) are the only cameras in their class with this feature. Let’s hope that more manufacturers jump on this bandwagon. Fast continuous raw shooting is another plus.

On the down side, using menus to control nearly every camera setting may be fine for beginners, but it becomes maddening for an experienced photographer. The layout and organization of the menus is confusing and a big time-waster. Perhaps a future firmware update will improve the user interface.

Other negatives include limited lens compatibility, lack of a flash hot shoe and the complete absence of customization options which makes the NEX-5 difficult to use for serious photography.

In the final analysis, if you are the type of photographer who doesn’t change camera settings often, or if you need high quality video, the Sony Alpha NEX-5 may be a good choice.

For now, I’ll pass. But I’ll be watching for the NEX-6 or whatever the next model is called. Sony is on to something good here. If they pay more attention to the needs of photographers, the NEX line could be right up there with the big boys.

High Def, Not Half Def

Many cameras take HD movies, but not so many offer the same Full HD 1080-line resolution as most broadcast HD networks4. And very few have the same 60i frame rate for fluid, natural motion. In fact, this is the world’s first interchangeable lens digital still camera with 1080/60i HD movies

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{ 10 comments }

1 tony September 29, 2010 at 7:02 am

Wonder whether Sony will consider releasing a hot shoe adaptor. The supplied flash unit is virtually useless.

2 Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen September 29, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Tony,

Technically, I imagine it’s possible for Sony to offer some kind of flash bracket that would hold a larger flash with a cord that would plug into the accessory port in place of the provided flash.

But, judging from Sony’s marketing materials and simple user manuals, I think their target market is amateur photographers who wouldn’t know what to do with an external flash. This simplistic approach carries over even to their hi-def LCD televisions: my Sony Bravia has a lot of sophisticated features, but you won’t find more than a sentence or two about them in the user manual.

It seems to me that corporate policy is to ignore sophisticated users. So, don’t hold your breath for a Sony NEX-compatible external flash. Anyone serious about a good compact camera should consider the Olympus PEN series instead.

Alan

3 Chris October 13, 2010 at 12:37 am

With the new firmware 03 soon to be in effect, would you consider the NEX series as good or better than the Olympus EP-1 or 2? How closely would you rate the image quality between the two? I am looking at getting one or the other as an amateur photographer and have heard good things about the new 03 firmware for the NEX. My favorite is landscape and outdoors photos.

4 Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen October 16, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Chris,

The Sony NEX-5′s new software version 3 is said to improve the menu system. But the problem with the Sony is the lack of real buttons: almost everything is menu controlled. So, no matter how much they improve the firmware, it will always be difficult to control.

The Olympus cameras are in a class by themselves. They give you access to all of the controls an accomplished photographer needs via dedicated buttons. The Olympus will allow you to grow as a photographer while the Sony will keep you at amateur level forever.

I love my E-P1, but my next purchase will be the more up-to-date Olympus E-P2. I’ve learned that you can’t go wrong with the Olympus PEN line. Even the E-PL1 is a better camera than the Sony.

The Sony has good image quality, but it’s frustrating to use. And who wants that?

Alan

5 elai November 7, 2010 at 12:09 am

Why dont you try the panasonic GF1/GF2? Significantly faster autofocus, built in flash, HD video.

6 Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen November 8, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Hi Elai,

I have reviewed the Panasonic GF1 here. I found I still prefer the Olympus E-P1. Looking forward to trying the GF2.

Thanks for your comments,

Alan

7 Ky Kaos November 21, 2010 at 9:32 am

Firmware 03 lets me change custom button settings. I have one set to cycle between, metering, AF mode, dynamic range options. the other custom soft button is ISO…
With Aperture/Shutter setting, (timer/continuous shooting) mode, ev compensation and flash etc. all immediate on the mode dial, I don’t feel hamstrung at all.
The menus now wrap and remember the last setting. I love mine.

8 Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen November 21, 2010 at 10:16 am

Hi Ky,

The Sony NEX line has a lot of potential. I’m glad to hear that they have improved the camera firmware. With the addition of a few more real buttons, the next version (NEX-6?) could be a winner.

Alan

9 fleu July 15, 2011 at 6:46 am

I’m having troubles with my sony nex 5!!! everytime i’m gonna take a shoot, the camera works properly (focus, move zoom) but by the time i press the button to take the photo it won’t work!!!! i tryed changing the camera modes, changing the lenses and nothing works,,, i think it might be the button because i do videos with no problems!! any idea of what’s going on??

10 Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen July 20, 2011 at 10:28 am

Hi Fleu,

Sounds like a job for a camera repairman. Hope your camera is still under warranty. If not, I recommend Kurt’s Camera Repair. They’re in San Diego, but they take shipments from anywhere. They’re good people – and fair.

-Alan

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