While the 5R isn't equipped with some of the features found on more expensive NEX cameras, like a viewfinder or dual command dials, the most important feature has been carried over. No, we're not talking about the 5R's new installable apps, but rather image quality.

The Sony Alpha NEX-5R is available in black, silver, or white, and sold body-only for $650, or bundled with the 18-55mm kit lens for $750.

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Box Photo

• Sony Alpha NEX-5R digital camera

• USB / AC adapter

• power cord

• neck strap

• USB cord

• HVL-F7S external flash

• flash case

• rechargeable battery pack NP-FW50 (not pictured)

• software CD-ROM

• lens hood

We tested the NEX-5R using Sony's 18-55mm kit lens, which offers an unexciting aperture range of F3.5 - 5.6 maximum and F22 - 32 minimum. The barrel's exterior is sturdy and metallic, however the action of the zoom ring feels a tiny bit cheap and plasticky. The focus ring is much smoother, however this is a "by-wire" focus system, so manual focus doesn't have that perfect 1:1 responsiveness. Minimum focus distance with this lens is just shy of 10 inches, which can be limiting in certain situations, but will be sufficient for general photography.

The diameter of Sony's E-mount is actually longer than the height of the main camera body, creating the NEX series' distinctive "oversized" look. According to the company's plan, this lens family could have a bright future, but for now the E-mount isn't in the best shape. The most desirable lenses are prohibitively expensive (such as the $1100 Zeiss 24mm F1.8), and most of them are rather bulky too, save for the 16mm F2.8 which isn't regarded as a very sharp lens anyway.

Lens Mount Photo

Classic Pentax lenses can be mounted with readily available adapters.

Behind the E-mount is a giant APS-C image sensor, or "APS HD" if you prefer Sony's branding. This is a new design that weighs in at 16.1 effective megapixels, and features 99 phase detection autofocus points on the sensor, a capability that is largely unheard of in cameras of this class. The sensor also features a vibration-based dust cleaning mechanism, as well as a charge protection coating to prevent static attraction of dust.

Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared

The omission of a viewfinder will probably be regarded as one of the camera's major disadvantages, however we're happy to report the 5R's rear LCD will be fully capable of supporting any of your photographic needs.

Initially we were very concerned about the panel's usability in bright sunlight, however a little menu exploration revealed a "Sunny Weather" setting for the LCD, which sets illumination to maximum and cranks up the contrast. The onscreen display is very responsive, so there's not much lag associated with framing action shots. We also liked the tilting capabilities of the screen, which can be rotated up to face the front of the camera (useful for self-portraits), or tilted about 45 degrees down (useful for framing overhead shots).

This is also a touch-sensitive panel, which might've been useful for features like tracking focus or one-touch capture, but instead it mainly serves to annoy the user after they accidentally thumb over the screen. Thankfully, touch operation can be turned off completely.

Without spending more time with the camera, it's hard to speak to the LCD's durability, however our test model arrived with a large scratch on it. Not a good sign.

While the NEX-5R has no built-in flash, the camera ships with an external flash emitter, model number HVL-F7S, with a guide number of 7. Flash exposure compensation is available out to +/- 2 full stops, and be aware that the rear LCD's tilt functionality will be limited while the flash (or any other accessory) is connected to the "Smart Accessory Terminal 2" on the top of the camera.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

In addition to the so-called "Smart Accessory Terminal," you'll find two connectivity ports underneath a plastic door on the left side of the camera: a miniHDMI terminal and a Micro-B USB terminal, which is also used for charging the battery.

The included NP-FW50 battery pack is rated to only 330 consecutive shots on a single charge, a bit low for this segment of the market. Recharging is accomplished exclusively in-camera, by connecting both the USB cable and the AC power cord to an adapter. The battery may also be charged from a computer's USB port directly.

Battery Photo

While we imagine most people will opt for SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards, the 5R is also dual-compatible with certain forms of Memory Stick media. Those are "Memory Stick PRO Duo" and "Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo" varieties. The card slot isn't as difficult to use as some dual-function slots Sony has offered in the past.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

This section contains the most surprises, as Sony's new sensor design not only outperforms the preceding NEX-5N by a decent margin, but actually gives the NEX-7 a run for its money too. While color accuracy is mediocre, we were impressed by strong noise, resolution, and especially dynamic range scores.

For a kit lens, sharpness performance of the NEX-5R in concert with the 18-55mm was quite strong. Under the best conditions (medium focal length, medium aperture) overall resolution averaged above 1800 MTF50s. We began to notice dips to around 1600 or 1500 MTF50s after decreasing focal length to 18mm, increasing focal length to 55mm, or widening the aperture. But 1600 MTF50s is still acceptable, so sharpness should remain adequate for the majority of use cases. In fact, the only way to drop sharpness down to an ugly 1300 or 1200 MTF50s is to shrink your aperture to F22, which introduces diffraction and therefore softness. More on how we test sharpness.

The new sensor's color accuracy will not be a distraction from your photography. The smallest uncorrected error value we detected in our test was 2.74. When errors did occur, they did so predominantly in the warm colors like reds and yellows, however dark blues were affected as well. We were a little worried about those off-color yellows and how they would impact portrait photography, but despite our tests, human subjects still looked natural and realistic in the field. More on how we test color.

The most accurate color mode is Standard, and we should also mention color saturation, which was over by about 13%.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Although we found the 5R's color accuracy satisfactory, we've been a little spoiled by recent cameras. In fact, the 5R does improve upon its predecessor, the NEX-5N, but not much else on the market. Both the Pentax K-01 and the Panasonic GX1 offer superior color accuracy, as does Sony's own aging NEX-7.

Aside from the most accurate color mode, Standard, the 5R offers five additional color modes or "Creative Styles" in the main menu. Portrait is almost as accurate as Standard, but the rest of the modes don't behave quite like we expected. Sunset, for example, doesn't seem to emphasize oranges any more than Landscape does, or Vivid. Our advice, stick with Standard.

We hardly ever noticed outright white balance mistakes during our time with the NEX-5R, however our lab tests found both automatic and custom white balance features to be of only average accuracy. This camera's white balance algorithm should therefore be considered consistent and reliable, though not necessarily precise.

Automatic White Balance ()

As is always the case, this camera's automatic white balance has the most trouble with incandescent light, and under such conditions we measured white balance too warm by about 1400 Kelvin. That's not great, though we've seen upwards of 3000 K errors in the past. Under fluorescent light, color temperature is still too warm, but this time by only 400 K on average. Finally, under daylight, the camera earns its best white balance score—for both automatic and custom—by coming within around 60 K of ideal.

Custom White Balance ()

For incandescent and fluorescent light, your best option will be a custom white balance. Again, it's not perfect, but white balance errors will drop to approximately 200 K under both light sources. Under daylight, our tests claims you're actually better off sticking with automatic white balance, and based on our time shooting with the camera, we'd have to agree.

The NEX-5R picks up most of its points thanks to impressive automatic white balance performance under daylight, but other than that the results are mediocre. Clearly Sony has made few improvements to their white balance system, since the 5R scores only slightly better than the NEX-7, and still lags behind the NEX-5N.

Other than custom and automatic, nine white balance presets are available in-camera, including no less than four fluorescent variations, plus one setting for use with flash. Direct entry in degrees Kelvin is available if you already know the color temperature of your light source and, conveniently, the custom set option reads out your new color temperature onscreen. So if you didn't know the temperature of your source before, now you do.

You've got two options for how the NEX-5R handles noise, either leave noise reduction on the default "Auto" setting, or step it down to "Low" and force the camera to use less destructive smoothing at the expensive of more severe noise. According to our lab tests, these two settings are actually pretty similar. More on how we test noise.

The 5R sensitivity range is wide, extending from ISO 100 to 25,600 all in full resolution. Frustratingly, the camera will not automatically use sensitivities above 3200, so you'll need to be proactive about your ISO level in low light.

The NEX-5R has phenomenal dynamic range. Our lab tests recorded up to 8.26 stops of usable data, which is extremely wide. What's more, the camera held onto more than 7 stops until all the way up to ISO 800, and after that, only dropped down to around 6 stops at ISO 1600, then 5.3 at ISO 3200, before fading off from there.

Now, when we say "usable" data, we're talking about zones in which the signal-to-noise ratio is at or above 10:1. In other words, we mean the shadowed areas from which details can easily be rescued. Therefore, the results you see here may be different from similar tests elsewhere. More on how we test dynamic range.

At any rate, according to our test the NEX-5R actually surpasses the NEX-7, a camera with famously wide dynamic range, and one that was already ahead of most of the competition. Aside from phase detection autofocus, dynamic range seems to be the key improvement of the NEX-5R's newly designed sensor.

As long as we obeyed minimum focus distance, we had no trouble getting the 5R to lock focus in low light, though the process was often noticeably slower. Phase detection, one of this camera's most exciting new features, is sometimes (not always) considered less effective in low light, but this is not the case for the NEX-5R. The autofocus system did not tend to miss or return false locks.

You've got two options for how the NEX-5R handles noise, either leave noise reduction on the default "Auto" setting, or step it down to "Low" and force the camera to use less destructive smoothing at the expensive of more severe noise. According to our lab tests, these two settings are actually pretty similar. More on how we test noise.

The 5R sensitivity range is wide, extending from ISO 100 to 25,600 all in full resolution. Frustratingly, the camera will not automatically use sensitivities above 3200, so you'll need to be proactive about your ISO level in low light.

The NEX-5R requires only 12 lux of ambient illumination to gather 50 IRE of image data, an impressive figure for any camera. The NEX series is known for low light performance, so we have to imagine this number would've been better if the kit lens could open wider than F3.5.

Fringing is most prevalent in situations where the glass is stressed to its limit. For the kit lens' design, this means close focal lengths combined with narrow apertures, as well as medium focal lengths combined with wide apertures. In such cases chromatic aberration can average more than 1.5 pixels on a given edge. Otherwise, fringing generally hovers around 1 pixel.

While shooting with the kit lens, there are some ways to reduce chromatic aberration if it's a concern. Most obvious is chromatic aberration correction, which is available in-camera. But that's a software enhancement, to actually prevent the lens from fringing, keep important subjects centered and use telephoto focal lengths, both of which seem to reduce the effect.

Again, a menu option exists in-camera that will eliminate almost all radial distortion, so take our results with a grain of salt. That being said, we recorded severe distortion from the kit lens without corrective software. At the closest focal length, the lens produces a whopping 3.48% barrel distortion, before dropping off to pincushion distortion of 2.86% and 1.40% percent at 35mm and 55mm respectively.

Like many Sony cameras, the NEX-5R captures gorgeous video. We awarded maximum points for overall smoothness, and could not detect any object trailing in our test footage at all. A little bit of compression artifacting, along with an even smaller amount of frequency interference could be noticeable, though only by the most discerning of viewers. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Under full studio illumination, and while using the kit lens, the 5R's sensor was able to resolve 600 lw/ph horizontally and 650 vertically for video content. Sony is usually fairly dominant in this test, however the 5R does lag behind older models like the NEX-5N and the NEX-7. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Video sharpness dropped ever so slightly when we dropped ambient illumination down to 60 lux. Here the sensor picks up 575 lw/ph horizontally and 625 vertically.

The NEX-5R requires only 12 lux of ambient illumination to gather 50 IRE of image data, an impressive figure for any camera. The NEX series is known for low light performance, so we have to imagine this number would've been better if the kit lens could open wider than F3.5.

Like most NEX cameras, this one will also take some getting used to. Handling the NEX-5R can be a cramped, off-balance experience, while the scattered menu system is in need of a complete overhaul. Expect to spend a few days just getting to know your new 5R.

Like many Sony cameras, the NEX-5R is equipped with two fully automatic modes: Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto. Both are scene-detecting auto modes, so they'll react to shooting conditions like macro photography or low light. Superior Auto is distinguished by a tendency to use faster shutter speeds to reduce motion blur, along with some extra noise reduction.

While the 5R lacks the dual control dials found on the older NEX-7, the overall control scheme is spiritually similar. The single control dial is used for important settings like program shift or shutter / aperture control, while the rear rotating dial is used almost exclusively for menu navigation (though it does take over shutter speed control in manual mode).

Above and below the rotating dial are two contextual buttons, which should be familiar to current NEX owners. These do take some getting used to, but once we wrapped our heads around them, we found these buttons to be a decent way of handling flexible control without extra keys on the panel.

A variety of scene modes are included in-camera, and these are mainly old favorites like Sunset, Macro, Landscape, Portrait, and all the rest. But for a real treat, you'll want to check out the 5R's in-camera effects, which include the very convincing Illustration and Watercolor modes, as well as other popular choices like Miniature and Toy Camera. Sadly, these features have been relocated to one of the 5R's pre-installed apps called "Picture Effect+." From what we can tell, the "+" is referring to the extra steps necessary to open up the app, wait a second or two for it to load, and then use the effects, since the functionality seems otherwise identical to previous iterations.

NEX menu systems have never been very intuitive, and they still aren't. Opening up the main menu reveals an array of sub-menus with names like Shoot Mode, Camera, Brightness/Color, and Setup. Shooting variables of different degrees of importance are scattered haphazardly around each of these sub-menus, and it will require memorization to learn where each of the disparate settings you need are located. The Camera menu, for example, contains autofocus settings, but the Brightness/Color menu contains white balance settings. It's a mess.

The Function button opens up a quick menu overlay, but again, this button is hard to physically reach for, and the menu itself is only capable of displaying six options total. Mercifully, they're all fully customizable.

NEX cameras, with their strange, thin bodies and oversized hand grips, aren't typically regarded as comfortable or easy to handle. The NEX-5R's handling isn't perfect either. On the front of the body you'll find the hand grip is covered with a dimpled, rubberized surface. However the material isn't actually very grippy. We do appreciate the small protruding lip underneath the shutter release, which gives the middle finger some leverage on which to balance the rest of the camera.

Handling Photo 1

On the rear panel there's a small rubberized thumb rest, but once again the material just isn't all that grippy. Worse, not only does the neck strap get in the way if you're using one (and you should be), but the rotating dial / directional pad is so high up on the panel that you'll constantly be striking it accidentally. The Function key, which opens up a handy quick menu, is frustratingly far away up on top of the body beside the shutter release. We also found ourselves regularly tapping the touchscreen LCD by accident, before finally switching this feature off entirely.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

While the 5R lacks the dual control dials found on the older NEX-7, the overall control scheme is spiritually similar. The single control dial is used for important settings like program shift or shutter / aperture control, while the rear rotating dial is used almost exclusively for menu navigation (though it does take over shutter speed control in manual mode).

Above and below the rotating dial are two contextual buttons, which should be familiar to current NEX owners. These do take some getting used to, but once we wrapped our heads around them, we found these buttons to be a decent way of handling flexible control without extra keys on the panel.

Buttons Photo 1

On top of the camera lies the shutter release, which has a nice long stroke and good tactile feedback. Unfortunately you'll also find the Function button here, which means it's way out of reach for such an important key.

Buttons Photo 2

The omission of a viewfinder will probably be regarded as one of the camera's major disadvantages, however we're happy to report the 5R's rear LCD will be fully capable of supporting any of your photographic needs.

Initially we were very concerned about the panel's usability in bright sunlight, however a little menu exploration revealed a "Sunny Weather" setting for the LCD, which sets illumination to maximum and cranks up the contrast. The onscreen display is very responsive, so there's not much lag associated with framing action shots. We also liked the tilting capabilities of the screen, which can be rotated up to face the front of the camera (useful for self-portraits), or tilted about 45 degrees down (useful for framing overhead shots).

This is also a touch-sensitive panel, which might've been useful for features like tracking focus or one-touch capture, but instead it mainly serves to annoy the user after they accidentally thumb over the screen. Thankfully, touch operation can be turned off completely.

Without spending more time with the camera, it's hard to speak to the LCD's durability, however our test model arrived with a large scratch on it. Not a good sign.

Sadly the NEX-5R's tiny body has no room for a physical mode dial. This has been a common complaint of the series, and one that was finally ameliorated with the NEX-6, but didn't quite make it to this model. Instead, the button in the center of the rear rotating dial accesses mode selection, and here you'll find all the PASM modes, a couple auto modes, and dedicated stops for scene and panorama.

Six total shooting resolutions are available, three of varying size for both 3:2 and 16:9 aspect ratios. JPEG compression quality may be set to either Standard or Fine, and RAW shooting is also available, including a simultaneous RAW+JPEG option.

All drive mode options are available from a single menu, which may be accessed by pressing left on the directional pad. Here you'll find options for the self-timer, bracketing modes, remote commander mode, and two varieties of continuous shooting.

The two continuous shooting modes are referred to as Continuous, appropriately, and Speed Priority Continuous. Speed Priority is what most users will go with, and it offers a maximum shooting rate of just over 10 frames per second. After about 12 shots, shooting speed becomes slower while the memory buffer tries to catch up. The vanilla Continuous mode is a bit slower, but more consistent since it doesn't incur a speed penalty after the initial burst.

The self-timer is not fully customizable, however the countdown may be set to either 10 seconds or 2 seconds, and it's also possible to trigger a burst of 3 shots or 5 shots following a 10 second countdown.

It's a good thing the core performance of the NEX-5R—for both stills and videos—impressed us, because new features like Wi-Fi and installable apps...didn't. At this early stage, the borderline-exploitative "PlayMemories" apps seem to be repackaged for-pay versions of previously-free features. Wi-Fi, meanwhile, is mainly a vessel for this ridiculous "feature."

A variety of scene modes are included in-camera, and these are mainly old favorites like Sunset, Macro, Landscape, Portrait, and all the rest. But for a real treat, you'll want to check out the 5R's in-camera effects, which include the very convincing Illustration and Watercolor modes, as well as other popular choices like Miniature and Toy Camera. Sadly, these features have been relocated to one of the 5R's pre-installed apps called "Picture Effect+." From what we can tell, the "+" is referring to the extra steps necessary to open up the app, wait a second or two for it to load, and then use the effects, since the functionality seems otherwise identical to previous iterations.

"PlayMemories" Camera Apps

The appearance of Sony's insulting "PlayMemories" feature on the NEX-5R is the extension of an older company brand that's been used on equally useless initiatives, such as a video and photo sharing application on Playstation 3. In its current form, the feature cannibalizes existing in-camera features, and relocates them into a separate, slower section of the interface. In theory this will let the 5R grow and improve as appealing new apps are released. In reality, at least for now, the only advantage is Sony's alone, it gets to charge $4.99 for features like Multi-shot Noise Reduction, which used to be in-camera for free.

Wi-Fi

If you've seen the new TV spot for the NEX-5R, the one with Taylor Swift, then you know that Sony's tagline for this product is "DSLR quality. Wi-Fi convenience." This camera certainly produces shots of DSLR quality, but make no mistake, Wi-Fi is not convenient. Not for a camera anyway.

Of course there's nothing wrong with Taylor Swift, she seems nice, but could somebody please Tell Me Why the industry keeps pursuing such irrelevant tech?

Wi-Fi offers few advantages over simply transferring your files with a memory card, unless you absolutely need to get your photos onto Facebook within the next five minutes. If that's the case, may we suggest a reorganization of your priorities.

Sony's latest cameras tend to be highly video-oriented, and the NEX-5R is no different. Sensor output can go as high as 60p, in Full HD of course, and both AVCHD and h.264 compression methods are available. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

The NEX-5R supports all of the video shooting flexibility we've come to expect from the best DSLRs.

Auto Controls

There is no dedicated video shooting mode, but if you're using Intelligent or Superior Auto at the time, these settings will be applied to videography as well. Scene modes cannot be used in conjunction with video, and neither can effects since they've been moved to the Picture Effect+ app.

Focus

Focus may be set to automatic or manual, and further defined to either single or continuous autofocus during a recording. Pressing the shutter release halfway down while a recording is in progress will command the camera to acquire an updated autofocus point, however the focus system was responsive enough that we barely ever used this feature.

Exposure Controls

Shutter, aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation may all be adjusted manually while a recording is in progress, as long as the appropriate priority mode is in use. Program Auto will lock shutter and aperture.

A two-handed grip will place the 5R's left microphone directly underneath your finger, so remember to use caution or simply shoot videos one-handed. A wind cut option is available in the menus, which can be useful for outdoor videography.

Mic Photo
Box Photo

• Sony Alpha NEX-5R digital camera

• USB / AC adapter

• power cord

• neck strap

• USB cord

• HVL-F7S external flash

• flash case

• rechargeable battery pack NP-FW50 (not pictured)

• software CD-ROM

• lens hood

Meet the testers

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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