Sony NEX-5 Review

The Sony NEX-5 is a 14.2MP mirrorless camera in an ultra-compact form-factor.  If not for the DSLR-sized kit lens that attaches to the NEX-5, this camera would rival some of the consumer pocket cameras in size.  And with the available 16mm lens (shown above), you could make a good argument that it does.

In addition to the great still images the NEX-5 produces with its large, APS-C format sensor, the camera can also capture 1920 x 1080 Full HD video at 60i.  What’s more is the budget-friendly price tag that slides the kit under the $700 mark.

To get the full rundown on the Sony NEX-5, read on.

Sony NEX-5 Key Features

  • 14.2MP APS-C Format CMOS Sensor
  • 1080i Full HD Video Capture
  • ISO 100-12800
  • Tiltable 3″ 921k-dot Resolution LCD
  • Full Time Live View
  • Sweep Panorama
  • Auto HDR

Sony NEX-5 Handling, Ergonomics and Control

The Sony NEX-5 is about as small as you can reasonably expect to go with an interchangeable lens camera that still has a DSLR-sized sensor.  Having used a number of the new “mirrorless” cameras, the NEX-5 is hands-down the most compact among them.

Somehow though, Sony manages to get the ergonomics just right for a camera that’s capable of switching lenses.

The grip on the NEX-5 gives you a big chunk of a thing to grab onto, yet not so big that it becomes cumbersome.  If you opt for the 16mm lens as a carry-round kit, then the NEX-5 becomes pocketable for cargo shorts, jackets and other larger-than-Levi’s pockets.

The next thing that grabs you about the NEX-5 is the tilting LCD screen, which is a brilliant 3″ 921k-dot resolution display that tilts up and down to aid with high and low shots.  It’s also convenient for getting the “child perspective” when shooting video.  Just flip the LCD up 90-degrees and you can record video at waist level, while remaining somewhat inconspicuous.  While I prefer a tilt/swivel LCD, like you see on the Canon 60D or Panasonic G2, the NEX-5 does well with its display.

It’s a good thing that the NEX-5 has a solid LCD display, because there is no optical or electronic viewfinder.  Other mirrorless cameras like the Panasonic G2 and Samsung NX10 give you the alternative to using the LCD or an electronic viewfinder.

In terms of the controls, the NEX-5 is definitely built for the consumer crowd.  Essentially, it is made to entice the point and shoot camera users to step up to the higher image quality of a DSLR without the intimidating learning curve of a DSLR.  And, that’s where it really delivers.

The control scheme is a menu-based system.  So, when you pull the camera out of the box, it is set to auto-everything.  Just charge the battery up and start shooting.  I suspect that many casual users may never delve into the menu system to fine tune settings to shoot in manual mode.  And, that’s ok, because the NEX-5 will hand you better photos out of the box than the point and shoot camera you are using now.  Treat it like your point and shoot, get better photos.  Sounds pretty good, eh?

More experienced users may become frustrated with menu-diving in order to change common settings like the mode dial or ISO settings. In order make such common adjustments, you are required to jump into the menu system.

An external mode dial is not present, for example.  Instead there is an visual reference to a mode dial two-levels deep into the menu. From there, you can turn the control wheel on the back of the camera to switch between P/A/S/M and other modes.

While I became more comfortable with the control scheme after using it for awhile, it’s just not going to be as quick and efficient as the more accessible dials and buttons found on other cameras.  So, if you are a more advanced user, keep this in mind if you are considering the NEX-5 as a mirrorless option.  It’s not a deal killer for me, but definitely an asterisk.

(Sony NEX-5 next to Samsung TL500 compact camera)

I’m not a big fan of the flash mechanism for the NEX-5.  It appears that Sony chose to forego a built-in flash in order to further reduce the size of the camera.  All is not lost though, as Sony includes a detachable flash that is about the size and power of what you would expect of a pop-up flash on this camera.  The flash screws into a proprietary port atop the NEX-5, which seems a little too cumbersome.  Although, better a cumbersome flash than no flash at all.

The NEX-5 performs quite well when shooting stills. The autofocus is fast and accurate.  Shutter response is instantaneous, with no delay as is common with point and shoot cameras.  As a point and shoot camera replacement, the NEX-5 is quite satisfying.

Movie Making with the NEX-5

In addition to its high-resolution image making, the NEX-5 can capture full HD 1920 x 1080 video at 60i in AVCHD format.  While the form-factor is not ideal for video capture, the tilting LCD helps to grip the camera in a more video-friendly manner.

Because of the large APS-C format image sensor, the NEX-5 is capable of producing a very shallow depth of field, which is not possible on the typical camcorder.

I found the NEX-5 to be perfectly capable of handling the typical family outing with video and still images.  Shooting in AVCHD format can be challenging in post-processing if you don’t have an editing program that is compatible with the NEX-5’s AVCHD codec.  Fortunately for Mac users, you can import NEX-5 video files directly into iMovie ’09.  I also had no problems with Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro when converted to Apple Intermediate Code.

If you have trouble working with the AVCHD files on your Windows PC, you can also capture PC-friendly MP4 files with the NEX-5.  Unfornutately, Sony does not include a competent video editing program with the NEX-5; however, Sony NEX-VG10 buyers get a free license for Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 10 via download.  Since the NEX-5 and NEX-VG10 capture the same AVCHD files, PC users interested in getting the most out of the video capabilities of NEX-5 may want to consider picking up the Vegas software (even though I think Sony should pony up and give it to every NEX-camera buyer).

Sony NEX-5 Image Quality

That big DSLR-sized sensor also helps in the still image quality department.  The NEX-5 delivers DSLR-equivalent image quality, which is really what makes the camera so great.

Again, this is a camera made to attract point and shoot users, and it will “wow” those users from the start.  Aside from making ordinary images better, the NEX-5 also offers a couple of cool image tricks, like at Auto HDR mode and Sony’s signature Sweep Panorama feature.

Auto HDR captures multiple images at different exposure values and then combines them in camera for a single image with a higher dynamic range.

Sweep Panorama mode lets you pan the camera across a wide area as the NEX-5 captures several images and stitches them together in camera.

Below you will find a number of sample images from the NEX-5.  All of the images were captured in RAW format and processed in Lightroom 3.  As you’ll see, I took a more liberal approach with editing some of the photos than others based on my own personal tastes.

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

ISO 12800 – f/8 – 1/160s

ISO 6400 – f/8 – 1/60s

ISO 3200 – f/8 – 1/40s

ISO 3200 – f/6.3 – 1/50s

ISO 200 – f/2.8 – 1/50s

ISO 500 – f/2.8 – 1/30s

ISO 1600 – f/2.8 – 1/10s

ISO 640 – f/2.8 – 1/30s

ISO 320 – f/2.8 – 1/30s

ISO 800 – f/2.8 – 1/30s

Sweep Panorama – ISO 1000 – f/2.8 – 1/500s

Sony NEX-5 Accessories

NPFW50 Battery – The Sony NEX-5 comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.

Memory cards – I’ve used the basic Kingston SD cards in the NEX-5, which worked just fine. Note, however, that Sony specifies that a Class 4 or higher SD card may be required for capturing AVCHD video.  Faster cards may also provide a little better frame-to-frame recovery. The NEX-5 is compatible with all SD, SDHC and SDXC cards.  Additionally, the NEX-5 is compatible with Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Pro Duo and Pro-HG Duo; however, I recommend using SD-format cards as a future-proof and more affordable format.

LA-EA1 Lens Adapter – This lens adapter allows you to use the NEX-5 with Alpha mount lenses.  A future firmware update promises autofocus capabilities with Sony Alpha SAM and SSM lenses.

Memory card reader – If you don’t own a memory card reader, they make transferring images to your computer a world faster. I highly recommend picking one up with the Sony NEX-5. They’re cheap and big time saver. Lexar makes a good card reader for about $15.


In short, I’m a big fan of the Sony NEX-5.  I think it’s a solid option for an interchangeable lens camera.  While it is more appropriately situated as an upgrade from a point and shoot camera due to the menu-based control scheme, it is also suitable as a DSLR-alternative thanks to the still image and video quality.  Aside from a few minor quibbles with regard to its controls and functionality, the Sony NEX-5 is an otherwise great mirrorless camera.

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. Pablo Luis says

    A couple of comments: From firmware update Ver .03, it is possible to assign the bottom button to ISO and by clicking the central OK button for PASM modes (thse buttons can be assigned to these functions by setting them up at menu-set up). It seems that Sony has listened to some of the criticism. I know have access to ISO by pressing just one button.

  2. vid says

    Thanks looking for some user review. This camera was recently launched in India and I want to buy it. I am checking all futures and its uses before I finally buy this. The images here are nice. I saw some good sample images for NEX at Sony India’s group
    All images seems good and nice. But has anyone here used this camera? How good is it?

  3. Scott Tacchi says

    This is a great review!! After reading it i had to go out and buy one!!!
    I have come across a few problems which i would quite like some help with……..

    I bought final cut express as im getting quite in to filming but i cant work out how to get my videos on to it. Ive tried it through imovie by exporting it as XML and ive tried a few other ways but every time it comes up as “un-rendered”. Do you have any advice or know any good tutorials for problems with final cut? Im guessing its because of the MTS. format it runs on. How do you convert to Apple Intermediate Code?

    Thanks again for the great review!
    Hope to hear from you soon!

    • says

      @Scott – You need to import the footage through the FCE Import dialog using Apple Intermediate Codec. If you have unrendered video in your timeline that won’t play, you can get it to play by rendering it. However, further edits may require you to re-render it. This is typically not a problem with shorter clips; however, it can become time consuming when render long clips or large batches of clips.

  4. says

    The best feature of this camera is the ease that leica m and zeiss zm glass works with this camera. Looking forward to the nex-7 and I will be a buyer.