Sitting just above the Sony NEX-5N, the Sony NEX-5R has been designed to offer more interactive features than its forerunner. We gave it a thorough work out to find out how useful these new features will prove to be.
Sony NEX-5R review – Features
When Sony announced the Sony NEX-5 back in 2010 it employed a 14.2MP CMOS sensor and since then Sony has developed a 16.1MP sensor for the Sony NEX-5N. If the trend of a new sensor appearing in each new Sony NEX-5 model was to continue you’d half expect the Sony NEX-5R to feature an all-new chip, but it doesn’t. The Sony NEX-5R provides the same 16.1MP resolution and similar APS-C sized sensor to that found within the Sony NEX-5N. Claimed to be newly developed sensor, it shares resemblances to the Sony NEX-5N’s 16.1MP chip in the way it measures 23.5×15.6mm and provides an identical 100-25,600 ISO range.
Teamed with the 16.1MP sensor is Sony’s BIONZ processor. This combination promises flawless, low-noise images at high ISO’s and contributes to the Sony NEX-5R’s 10fps shooting capability in Speed Priority mode. Sensor and processor aside, the Sony NEX-5R is one of Sony’s first interchangeable lens cameras to combine phase detection and contrast detection methods together. We’ll touch on how this focusing functionality works a little later in this review.
The 3in, 921k-dot tilt-angle screen is the touch-type just like that found at the rear of the Sony NEX-5N. It now supports a touch shutter option allowing you to take an image by simply tapping the screen with your finger. Just like most touch screen displays that provide this function, there’s also the option to turn this feature off in the menu if you want to minimise the risk of accidentally firing the shutter. Earlier we mentioned the Sony NEX-5R includes new features to bring it bang up to date with the times. One of these is integrated Wi-Fi connectivity that makes it possible to transfer stills and videos directly from the Sony NEX-5R to any smart phone or tablet that’s downloaded Sony’s PlayMemories mobile app. Available from the iTunes store, more information about the free Play Memories app can be found by clicking here.
Alternatively, the Sony NEX-5R gives you the option to transfer images directly to a networked PC to save the hassle of having to take out the memory card and use a card reader or use USB connecting cables. Furthermore, if you’d like to install new functions to the Sony NEX-5R you can do so from the Play Memories Camera app. Apps such as picture effect+, smart remote control and direct upload can be installed via Wi-Fi or a USB cable and more apps are expected to be made available soon, including one that’ll allow you shoot time-lapse images using th Sonye NEX-5R.
The most noticeable change to the NEX-5R’s design is found on the top plate with the on/off button now surrounding the shutter button. This makes it easier to turn on and operate in a moments notice. As well as being able to record HD video (1920×1080) using the dedicated button on the top plate, there’s an all-new control dial on the corner of the body. Identical to the type of control dials you’d find on Sony’s NEX-7, the new dial can be used to control a variety of functions and offers very precise control when setting shutter speed or aperture values. As we found out when using the camera, the new dial comes into its own when you’d like to cycle through the shooting modes and it makes for a more comfortable and faster way of controlling camera settings than using the d-pad at the rear of the camera.
Playback of images is also controlled from the top plate. Hitting the playback button while in playback mode will take you directly back to shooting mode or alternatively you can half depress the shutter just like you would on a DSLR. Reviewing images has been made faster too, again courtesy of the new corner control dial. The function button to the right of the shutter button is also a new addition. It’s handy for quickly switching between AF/MF, changing autofocus mode, switching autofocus area, adjusting white balance, setting the metering mode or adjusting creative style effects when used in combination with the d-pad.
As for the menu itself, little has changed in terms of its appearance. There are now seven options – Shoot Mode, Camera, Image Size, Brightness/Colour, Playback, Application and Setup. Just like before though it’s not always easy to find the setting you want in a hurry and you can be left searching for a few seconds. The touch screen makes for an alternative way of navigating the menu, however on occasions we found ourselves accidentally returning to the main menu rather than scrolling through the different options available within each sub menu.
While on the topic of the touch screen, some of the on screen icons such as the menu, mode and touch shutter are incredibly small. This makes it difficult to select what you want if you have large fingers. You can alternatively use the buttons alongside the screen at the top and bottom, but we’d prefer to see larger onscreen icons to make using the touch screen a more enjoyable experience. We also noticed in playback mode that it’s not uncommon to accidentally zoom into an image when you’re attempting to swipe left or right to the next image which became frustrating over time.
Without a built-in flash and no standard hotshoe fitting, Sony has once again included the ‘Smart Accessory Terminal’ for attaching an external flash unit to the top plate. A flash is included in the box as standard but this doesn’t get you away from the hassle of having to physically attach and detach a flash each and every time you’d like to illuminate a subject. Just like the NEX-5N, the supplied flash has a guide number of 7 so it’s not a particularly bright offering and takes its power directly from the camera.
One of the features we haven’t already talked about is the NEX-5R’s self-portrait mode. Flipping a screen through 180 degrees isn’t entirely new technology, however Sony has taken this one step further. Flip out the screen, point it towards you and the NEX-5R automatically understands you’re attempting a self-portrait shot and readies itself by setting the camera to a three second self-timer. This saves the hassle of setting the camera up for this type of shot. The camera now takes control of the hard work and leaves you to concentrate on the framing and the final result.
With many CSC competitors such as Olympus and Panasonic concentrating efforts on making their autofocus systems as fast as possible, Sony had to do something if it was to keep up with the competition. The new hybrid AF system the NEX-5R uses combines phase detection and contrast detection methods to suit the demands of most shooting situations. The way it works is the phase-detection detects the distance between the camera and the subject before the contrast-detection is activated to confirm extremely fine, precise focus. While the focusing doesn’t seem to lock onto subjects quite as quickly as Panasonic’s latest CSC’s, it’s fairly quick. We did experience some signs of hunting however from the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens when focusing between near and far subjects at the long end of the zoom.
Enabling the touch shutter function also proved to be a good test of how quickly the camera focuses by touching different areas of the screen. The AF target can’t be moved to the far edges of the frame but saying that the camera did manage to lock on reasonably quickly when attempting to focus on different areas in the frame by touching the display.
As for the speed at which the NEX-5R performs, we tested it loaded with a Lexar Professional 8GB Class 10 SDHC card. Set to speed priority continuous mode the NEX-5R rattled out nine frames at 10fps when set to JPEG+RAW. Shooting with the file format set to fine JPEG only, twelve frames at 10fps were recorded but this number dropped to 10 when the file format was switched over to Raw.
Without any form on in-camera stabilisation, the NEX-5R relies on being attached to an optically stabilised lens to avoid handshake. This isn’t a cause for concern as many other manufacturers opt for optical stabilisation rather than in-camera stabilisation to keep images free of blur. One advantage of optical stabilisation over the sensor-shift type is that it’s known to use less battery power. On the subject of battery power, the NEX-5R uses a NP-FW50 rechargeable battery, which allows you to shoot roughly 330 shots before a recharge is required.
One of our criticisms with the NEX-5N was its start up time and nothing has changed in this respect with the NEX-5R. The camera doesn’t actually take too long to power up but the screen feed won’t appear until three seconds later which could make all the difference in getting a quick shot or not.
Other than the menu system, which we think is due a complete overhaul to make it easier to navigate, the NEX-5R performs reasonably well. It shoots quicker than many DSLRs, making it well suited for anyone interested in photographing high-speed action or sport. The lack of a mode dial won’t please everyone though and as we discovered the touch screen isn’t flawless in every respect of its operation. Lets now move on and study the NEX-5R’s image quality.
With the same resolution and identical ISO range to the NEX-5N we anticipated similar results from our image quality tests. Just like the NEX-5N, the NEX-5R produces very impressive levels of detail from its APS-C sized sensor and there are no signs of noise between ISO 100 and ISO 800 at 100%. Results between ISO 1600 and 3200 are just as impressive and though a fine grain structure of noise is apparent at ISO 6400 it doesn’t affect image sharpness. Push beyond ISO 6400 to ISO 12800 and 25,600 and you begin to ask a lot more of the sensor so you won’t want to push to these high sensitivities unless your low-light situation demands that you have to do so. Noise at ISO 12,800 and 25,600 is obvious, however, colour saturation does remain vibrant throughout the ISO range.
Inspecting a Raw file alongside a JPEG file is always an intriguing test and uncovers how much automated processing is carried out. JPEGs on the NEX-5R appear fractionally lighter and more vibrant than Raws. There’s fractionally more definition in the shadows too. Of course this detail in the shadows can be pulled out from the Raw file by tweaking the Shadows slider and the vibrancy of the NEX-5R’s Raw files can be easily enhanced to match the punchy colours of JPEGs by using either the Saturation or Vibrance slider within Camera Raw.
The 1200-zone evaluative metering system works very well and provides accurate exposures. There’s multi, center and spot modes to choose from and these options are easily accessed from a click of the new function button from the top plate. To capture a more balanced overall exposure, Sony’s D-Range optimizer (DRO) can be switched on from within the Brightness/Color menu and should you wish to take control of exposure compensation, the NEX-5R provides +/- 3EV stops of control from the dpad which is clearly displayed at the right side of the screen without impeding framing or composition.
Sony NEX-5R – Movie mode
With both AVCHD and MP4 movie recording modes available, the NEX-5R has similar recording features to the NEX-5N. One of the main differences is the new movie-record disable function that prevents videos being recorded if you accidentally knock the button by mistake. Full HD video (1920×1080) is recorded at 50fps at a large 28Mbps data rate and the MP4 output is captured at 1440×1080 at 25fps.
Continuous autofocus is available when you’re recording and so is object tracking. Switching off object tracking frees up the option of repositioning the AF point when recording HD video. You do have to use the dpad for this though and we would have preferred the option of using the touch screen instead – a suggestion we first made when we reviewed the NEX-5N back in 2011.
Compare the top plate with the NEX-5N and you’ll notice the movie-record button has moved away from the corner of the body and rests to the left of the new command dial. This makes for slightly trickier operation and though you can use your index finger, we found it more comfortable to use our thumb.
Value & Verdict
Though the NEX-5R is a completely new Sony CSC it must be said that it doesn’t offer a vast amount more than what we’ve seen before in the NEX-5N. It handles very similarly in the hand and other than providing the options to transfer images directly to your smart phone or tablet, the menu system and navigation is much the same. The minor tweaks to the body have improved operation slightly and the new function button beside the shutter is a welcomed addition, however we would have preferred it if the new command dial was designed as a mode dial instead. Left slightly disappointed by the touch screen, there are clearly areas for improvement to make it more intuitive and easier to use.
As for the build, it can’t be faulted. Despite it not having the premium metal finish that premium CSC’s offer it’s no reason to suggest it won’t last a long time if it’s duly cared for. Available for £669 with the 18-55mm kit lens it works out more expensive than some of its closest rivals. To be precise the NEX-5R is £210 more than Nikon’s J2 when you bundle it with the 10-30mm lens and it’s £174 more than Panasonic’s GF5 if you were to choose it with the 14-42mm Power Zoom lens.
Compared with when the NEX-5N was reviewed there’s now a more extensive lineup of E-mount lenses available. At present there are eleven lenses in the range but this number is still less than what Olympus and Panasonic offer for their CSC’s. If you’re looking at buying into a system that’s widely supported by an extensive set of lenses you may want to consider Micro Four Thirds as one of your alternative.
What the NEX-5R remains very good at is capturing excellent images with fantastic levels of detail. For anyone upgrading from a basic compact model there are all the advanced controls you need to take your photography to the next level and the useful help guide display offers a clear description of all the settings in the menu so you can learn as you work. Many will love the way you can pick up the NEX-5R, set it to intelligent auto mode and get great results straight away. As you begin to use it more creatively the little niggles we’ve discovered will become more apparent.
If you’re not concerned about Wi-Fi, touch shutter and the top plate design tweaks, you could save yourself some money by choosing the NEX-5N over the NEX-5R. Currently £280 cheaper, you’ll still achieve excellent results and superb image quality from the APS-C sized sensor. Another good bit of news is that more E-mount lenses than ever before support it.