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Sony NEX-5 review - It’s all in your hands

Ketaki Bhojnagarwala | Updated on August 17, 2011 Published on January 24, 2011

The Sony NEX – 5 Camera. Photo: S. S. Kumar   -  THE HINDU

CHENNAI, 21/01/2011: A view of the Sony NEX – 5 Camera. Photo: S_S_Kumar   -  THE HINDU

HDR before   -  BUSINESS LINE

HDR after: More details in shadow areas and colours are softer   -  BUSINESS LINE

Macro shot shows detail and subject is in focus   -  BUSINESS LINE

Sony NEX 5 test shots   -  BUSINESS LINE

Panorama shot is clean with minimal distortion in stitching   -  BUSINESS LINE

We’ve just talked about how Micro Four Thirds cameras are changing the norms for DSLR design. Shutterbugs have been eagerly waiting to find out if major players like Nikon, Canon and Sony will make an entry into the category, but Sony made quite a splash when it introduced the NEX series of interchangeable lens cameras. The two cameras in the category are NEX-3 and NEX-5. We put the more high-end NEX-5 to test see if Sony makes the cut with mirrorless design cameras.

Body and Build

The first thing you notice when you hold the NEX-5 is how small and light it is. The body is constructed out of magnesium-alloy, compared to the NEX-3’s polycarbonate body. That, and the fact that the NEX-5 offers full HD/AVCHD recording is what puts it ahead of the NEX-3 – in all other respects the cameras are the same. What makes this camera really special is that while it has a mirrorless design, this has the same sensor size as a normal DSLR (unlike a Micro Four Thirds camera).

For a camera that claims to offer a full host of DSLR-type features, the NEX-5 has very few physical controls. The selector wheel which lets you switch between scenes and modes on most DSLRs is missing on the NEX-5. The camera has an HDMI port which lets you connect and playback high-def videos on your HD TV.

The camera comes with a tilt-able LCD screen, but you instinctively look for an optical viewfinder with this camera – that’s how much it feels like a DSLR.

The camera has no inbuilt flash, instead it has an accessory port on the top, to which you can attach the compact flash that comes with it.

The NEX-5 ships with a standard 18-55mm lens, which is an E mount lens, different from the A mount lenses that come with most Sony DSLRs. The lens has a metallic finish, and feels much more sturdy than the conventional black ‘plasticky’ DSLR lenses. The only downside about E-mount lenses is of course their limited range. As of now, apart from the 18-55mm lens, you can opt for a 16mm pancake lens or an 18-200mm telephoto lens. Sony also supplies an A-mount adapter, but we suspect that using one of the bulky A-mount lenses on the NEX-5’s compact frame will not only make it look monstrous but also make it difficult to shoot.

Usage

What you get in the form of controls are the bare minimum. There is a Menu button, but mostly you have to navigate using the scroll wheel. There are dedicated buttons for flash, exposure compensation, drive mode and display – but apart from that everything else depends upon which mode you choose.

The shoot mode brings up your standard M,S,A,P options, as well as a Intelligent Auto, Anti-Motion Blur, Panorama and 3D Panorama.

The panorama shot worked pretty well, with the camera successfully being able to stitch together a bunch of shots as you pan the area. The 3D panorama looks pretty much the same on the LCD display, but is supposed to have a 3D effect when played back on a 3D TV.

The Intelligent Auto mode takes care of everything, but you can control the Background Defocus by turning the scroll wheel. This works especially well for those professional looking portrait shots.

Unlike most pocket digicams out there, there are only a few scenes to choose from in the NEX-5. It’s actually much less confusing, and you really won’t miss a ‘Snow’ or ‘Fireworks’ scene with this camera. There is an interesting Hand-held Twilight mode, which automatically combines six shots for dynamic range in low light.

Apart from that there is an HDR mode, which Sony DSLR fans will love. The Auto-HDR function overlaps three shots different exposures, and brings out detail in the shadow areas, while reducing colour saturation. This works especially well for landscapes and portraits.

You can program the LCD to be pretty informative, with details about mode, scene, White Balance, ISO, etc displayed. The battery indicator displays battery charge as a percentage – very useful if you want to know exactly how much juice you have left.

While the camera is a delight to use in Auto mode, if you’re a DSLR user, you might find it difficult to use manual functions. For one, there’s no direct way to get to P,S,A, and M modes. Autofocus and Metering are in different menus, so it takes a while to get all your settings right. The camera allows exposure compensation only up to two shots, which is quite a disappointment. One convenient feature for those who are new to manual functions is that when you make changes to exposure or shutter speed, you can see the difference it makes to the picture on the LCD, before you take the shot. Of course, the results aren’t always accurate, but it still helps. It works even better when using some of the Creative Styles like Vivid or Black & White.

Results

The camera picks up ambient light really well, and we were able to take exceptional low light shots. We tried some shots in extremely dim lighting without the flash, and although the result was slightly blurred, using a tripod would have easily made a big difference.

We had some problems when it came to focussing. The camera has Face and Smile detection, although it refused to detect some faces if there was a group shot. Some of the photos which looked really crisp on the LCD were blurred when we transferred them to the computer.

Colour reproduction was spot on in artificial light, however sometimes in bright daylight reds and yellows tended to look a bit washed out. Apart from that, colours were pretty natural and not over-saturated, especially when it came to capturing skin tone correctly.

You can crank the ISO up to 12800, and until ISO 800 the pictures were completely clean. It’s only after ISO 3200 that you start noticing noise.

The videos played back beautifully in HD, and colour reproduction and detail was excellent. The microphone does a good job of picking up voices while keeping background noise to a minimum.

Our Verdict

The NEX-5 is a winner from Sony. It’s the perfect balance between a complicated DSLR and a limited point and shoot, and results can be really professional – if you know how to extract the full potential out of a camera. It’s incredibly easy to carry around, even smaller in size than the Olympus E-PL1, the Micro Four Thirds camera. We do hope that Sony considers revising the price tag – it’s even more expensive than the semi-professional Nikon D5000 – and comes out with a few more E-mount lenses.

Love: Easy to carry around, great results

Hate: Very few lenses, menu difficult to navigate

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Published on January 24, 2011
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