Sony NEX-5 Hands-On Review

The Sony NEX-5 is a 14.2MP interchangeable lens camera with a mirrorless design.  What makes the NEX-5 so special is that image sensor is the same physical size of those found in DSLRs like the Nikon D300s or Canon 7D.  This sensor format is often referred to as APS-C format, which results from the sensor being roughly the same size and aspect ratio as the old (as in “1996 old”) Advanced Photo System type-C film.

Compact King

What’s so striking when you first pick up the NEX-5 is the size – it’s tiny!  It actually feels like you are holding a point and shoot camera – particularly so when the 16mm f/2.8 lens is attached.  The overall size and shape of the NEX-5’s body actually reminded me of my very first digital camera – a 3.2MP Sony Cyber-shot DCS-P8.

What do you think?

I remember talking up that P8 when if first came out to my uncle who had an older 2MP Sony camera.  The P8 made that 2MP digicam look like a toy.  The P8 itself cost $400 back in the day. Then, I shelled out $70 or so to move up to a whopping 256MB Memory Stick.  We’ve come a long way, eh?

Controls and Handling

The sound of the shutter clicking in the NEX-5 seems a little odd coming from such a small camera.  It’s definitely not as quiet as capturing images with a point and shoot camera.

The one thing that DSLR users will notice right away is the lack of controls on the camera itself.  The “mode dial” is actually in the graphical menu, as opposed to something you can turn from the outside of the camera.  I’ve found it a little frustrating having to dig for settings that I’m accustomed to getting quick access to.  However, I’ll reserve final judgment on the control scheme after I’ve had an opportunity to use the camera for a longer period of time.

Autofocus seems to be very fast and accurate.  It “feels” like a fast point and shoot, given the form factor and graphical representation of the AF confirmation on the LCD.  Full time AF in video capture looks pretty nice as well.  At first blush, I’m very pleased with how responsive the autofocus is.

Lens Selection

The 16mm lens is really nice and quite low profile, considering that it is made to work with a DSLR-sized sensor.  As a result of the crop-factor, the 16mm lens offers the equivalent field of view to a 24mm lens on a full frame camera.  Initially, this seems a little wide for my walkaround kit; however, I imagine that it would be a great travel lens.  An 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is also available in a kit with the NEX-5, but you’ll suffer from the slower aperture and greater bulk of that lens.

I’m looking forward to seeing a broader range of E-mount lenses for Sony’s NEX lineup.  I think a 30mm or 35mm prime at f/1.8 or so would make an ideal walkaround kit for the NEX-5 and its siblings.

Sample Images

I snapped a few images and a couple of video clips with the NEX-5 today.  Of course, in the full review of the NEX-5, I’ll take a closer look at the camera’s image quality.  However, for now, these images should allow you to take a look at what kind of quality you can expect from the NEX-5.

First up, here’s a few short video clips.

You can get the 1920 x 1080 file here (right-click and choose “Save link as…”), which I exported to a Quicktime H.264 file for upload to YouTube and SmugMug.

Feel free to download any of these sample images for your personal inspection (not for republication).  You can get the original files by right-clicking on any of the images and choosing “Save link as…”

ISO 1600 – f/2.8 – 1/25s

ISO 1600 – f/2.8 – 1/30s

ISO 1000 – f/2.8 – 1/30s

Auto HDR Mode (blends 3 separate exposures to produce 1 image) – ISO 1600 – f/2.8

ISO 1000 – f/2.8 – 1/30s

ISO 1000 – f/2.8 – 1/30s

ISO 1250 – f/2.8 – 1/30s

First Impressions

The NEX-5 (and its cheaper sibling, the NEX-3) stand to deliver a more compact “full package” than any other camera has yet.  While I’ve got a few quibbles already (e.g., menu/controls), I’m liking where Sony is headed with this NEX series of cameras and camcorders.

Of course, we are in the early stages of the development of this new format, and you can expect lots of other improvements and features in coming models.  For now, the NEX-5 looks like a solid alternative to point and shoot cameras and DSLRs.

The Sony NEX-5 is available from Photography Bay’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following link:

Sony NEX-5 at B&H Photo

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  1. NickHD says

    Another month, more new cameras – all smaller than this time last year, with more features & megapixels than you can shake a stick at.
    But how many of these new objects of desire have optical viewfinders???
    For now, I’ll carry on with my Canon Ixus 60 (dedicated to diving use in its’ housing), with an AA-battery powered A1100-IS for quick response snapping.
    Please Messrs. Canon, Fuji, Leica, Nikon, Olympus & Panasonic et al – whu not make all your rear LCD screens disappear like that on the Canon G11 that I used to have (too big to carry everywhere – but that had a Proper viewfinder too), then put a bigger Optical Viewfinder back where it belongs – on the back of every image-recording device…!
    If published, this would make a marvellous basis for a petition to all the major manufacturers – and with sufficient support, some of them would at least have to ponder on the possibilities…and potential profits?
    Have a happy, snappy day with your own image-recording device.
    Nick HD.