The Sony NEX-5 is the smallest interchangeable lens system camera on the market, using a new APS HD CMOS sensor. Is the NEX-5 the new king of 'hybrid' cameras? The What Digital Camera Sony NEX-5 full review takes a look...
Sony NEX-5 review – Performance
The NEX-5 is likely to split opinion in terms of day to day use: it’s a cinch to pick up, point and shoot with great results; however, those hoping for easy-access menus to quickly change settings (as per a DSLR layout) may be disappointed due to the elongated process of changing some options. For example: to change the ISO requires menu access, selecting the correct menu from the six available, scrolling down the ‘Brightness/Color’ listings, selecting the ISO option and then dialing in the value using the rear rotational wheel – this might not be such an issue if the setting would stay ‘in play’ on the rotational wheel for quick adjustment, but it doesn’t, so to continue changing settings requires the repeat lengthy process of menu digging. It’s also not possible to assign options to any sort of function button – a grand omission considering the Help Guide uses up one of the few buttons on the camera’s rear. Yes the Help Guide is useful and yet, once read, digested and understood, any user may then want to re-assign the button for a better use. However, in saying that, should there be the addition of numerous additional buttons and controls the NEX-5 would lose part of its charm – perhaps then a hypothetical ‘NEX-15′ or some such design will fill the gap in the future for those looking to take greater control with more ease.
Another frustration is the start up time which takes over a second to boot the camera up. That may not sound like a long time but, in the order of things, and where many other cameras have ‘immediate’ start up, it feels overly extended. As such leaving the camera ‘on’ but in standby (at the expense of battery power) became preferable to ensure quick shooting was always possible.
On the up side is Sony’s Quick AF Live View system. Employing the same name as the class-leading Alpha DSLR system, the version in the NEX does differ by design, yet it brings the goods. As far as contrast detection systems go, which in general aren’t as nippy as phase detection systems, the NEX’s offering is decent: it feels on par with the current fastest Micro System Camera offering from Panasonic and is far faster than your run-of-the-mill compact camera.
The 3in, 921k-dot LCD on the rear employs Sony’s TruBlack technology and, despite no anti-reflective or fingerprint-resistant coating, handles bright sunlight really well. Fingerprints can become a slight issue though, so carrying a small cleaning cloth may frequently come in handy. The tilt-angle ability is limited to vertical (upward or downward angling), though this can prove considerably useful and the way the screen sits so flush and snugly to the body means there are no unnecessary hinges protruding out.
In-keeping with its small size the NEX series doesn’t provide an electronic viewfinder, instead a fixed-length 16mm optical viewfinder accessory can be purchased separately for around £150. With the overall compact-like feeling, its not surprising that a viewfinder lacks, though for those looking for one this may quickly rule out Sony’s offering from your shopping list in favour of a more equipped competitor model.
One of the other big sells offered by the new APS HD CMOS sensor is the ability to capture Full HD movie. Now, while of the 1920 x 1080 resolution, capture is interlaced (not progressive) and at 60 fields (not, technically, frames) per second. For those in the know about HD display, there are differing opinions about 1080i – some rate the lower resolution 720p as a better quality due to it not suffering from potential interlaced tearing, which can be problematic when shooting fast-moving subjects. Sony’s played a fairly clever hand here by ensuring that its NEX grabs the Full HD headline, yet it doesn’t technically surpass Panasonic’s GH1 in terms of capture (which is the same 1080/60i), bar the added bonus of a larger sensor size and lower price point, which, of course, certainly add to the NEX’s winning strength. And, theory and technicality put to one side, the movie mode is certainly a fine one, captured using AVCHD or, at a slightly lower resolution (1440 x 1080) which is then upscaled, in Motion-JPEG format if preferred. A 720p capture option is also available alongside standard VGA capture. Sound-wise there is a small microphone on the body, or an external Sony stereo microphone can be purchased and attached to the top of the camera – though sadly there is no external mic jack for third party use. As the NEX-5 does not have a standardised hotshoe fitting, its brand-specific replacement will limit the accessories which can be used with the device. The included flash unit, for example, has to be screwed on which proves to be unnecessarily fiddly and time consuming.
An abundance of modes also make an appearance, including the new Background Defocus Control which provides a live on screen depth of field preview. As well as the more proven standard ‘portrait’, ‘landscape’ and similar modes, the is the inclusion of Auto HDR, Hand-held Twilight and Sweep Panorama are the three more attention-grabbing modes:
The Sweep Panorama allows a live rotation through 226 to capture a large 23MP panoramic scene in real time. With previous compacts this was achieved silently, though the NEX, due to its design, needs to snap a significant number of images by repeatedly firing off the shutter. Once this process begins there’s no stopping it, so be prepared for a fair bit of noise that may attract unnecessary attention. It works very well in the right conditions, though varying exposure areas and moving subjects can cause issues with exposure and object duplication or stretching at times. As of July this year there’s also the promise of 3D panoramas though, as per all 3D capture, you will require the necessary 3D HDTV kit to display it and, as it’s not release yet, we’re unable to comment of its success.
Auto HDR quickly snaps two frames to expose for shadows and highlights, then automatically combining them in camera for a wider dynamic range image that can even be used hand held. As per previous incarnations it’s still not perfect, can fall into issues in some situations (namely low light), and still doesn’t provide user-defineable options to tweak the results.
Hand-held Twilight is for low-light shooting, where the camera snaps away six frames and combines the best exposed elements of each for low-noise shots that wouldn’t be possible to shoot conventionally when hand-holding. The three modes described can only be used to shoot JPEG files (there is no Raw compatibility).