The newest NEX is spec-for-spec identical to the earlier Alpha NEX-5R, with three exceptions: NFC connectivity, a new 16-50mm Power Zoom kit lens, and a new white color option. Really, that's all that's new.
If the NEX-5R had been a bad camera, we might be upset by this development, but it's one of our favorite mirrorless cameras in recent memory. Offering an attractive combination of raw performance, fun features, and affordability, it left us with just a few complaints over ergonomics and downloadable apps. We've gone hands-on with the NEX-5T to see if any of our few gripes have been addressed.
Now available in white!
Like previous NEX-5 models, the 5T has a chunky, dimpled grip that gives plenty of purchase without being particularly comfortable. While large, it isn't contoured to fit your hand, and it's slightly unbalanced against the razor thin body itself. On the plus side, the new E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, which makes the 5T's handling slightly less unwieldy by default than the 5R's.
The control scheme is quite streamlined. There's a standard four-way directional pad that doubles as a control wheel. The four cardinal directions also correspond to four vital shooting settings—display info, self-timer/drive mode, exposure compensation, and ISO. Above and below are two context-sensitive buttons whose current functions are displayed at all times on the rear LCD. There's also a dedicated movie recording button and a customizable function button, the latter located near the shutter release.
Speaking of the LCD, the 3-inch panel is touch-sensitive and can tilt up 180 degrees for high-quality selfies. We're fans of Sony's touchscreen implementation. While it's not the smartphone-esque masterpiece that we saw from Samsung's NX300, it's a good deal better than some other efforts we've encountered. The version in use here is identical to the NEX-5R's, which we oh-so-effusively called "pretty useful," particularly for pinpoint focusing.
Surprise, surprise... we have all the same ergonomic complaints about the 5T as we had with the 5R: the strap lugs get in the way of your hand, the touchscreen is easy to touch inadvertently, and the directional pad control dial is also a likely target for accidental adjustment. Still, the NEX-5T is more comfortable than nearly any point-and-shoot, only a little bigger, and will take better photos.
Now with NFC!
The NEX-5T's hardware specifications are exactly what you'd expect from a 5R clone. You get the same 16.1-megapixel EXMOR APS-C sensor (offering sensitivities from ISO 100-25600), the same BIONZ processor, and the same 99-point hybrid autofocus system. The phase-detect pixels baked into the sensor mean the 5T is better than many mirrorless cameras for capturing fast-moving action, a claim bolstered by its 10fps Speed Priority Continuous Mode.
Amateur videographers will be pleased to note that you can can still record 1080/60p video at 28Mbps (along with 60i and 24p) in AVCHD, or switch to MP4/h.264 for 1440x1080 super-widescreen recording at 12Mbps. The optically stabilized kit lens should help keep videos (and stills, of course) smooth, and the power zoom toggle on the side of the lens body allows smooth, silent zooming during movie recording.
You still have WiFi connectivity, too, but the big add is NFC. While there's no change in what you can do with the two devices once you've actually connected your camera to a smartphone or tablet, the NFC should (in theory, at least) make it easier to get them connected. We've had some iffy experiences with NFC in other cameras, but if anyone can pull it off, it's probably Sony. Do note, however, that only Android phones can take advantage of the NFC tech.
We ragged on the NEX-5R pretty hard for taking some features other manufacturers include for free and turning them into optional purchases on the Sony PlayMemories app store. In essence, Sony gave users WiFi connectivity just so it could sell them things. That strategy is unchanged with the NEX-5T, though at least there are a few more apps to try out. So while you can pay $10 for a time-lapse application or $5 for bracketing options, you can also get some extra picture effects for free or play with an app that lets you control the 5T with your smartphone.
Like most NEX cameras, the 5T's interface is mostly menu-driven. The two buttons flanking the d-pad and the one at its center (collectively referred to as Soft Keys A-C) change context depending on what you're doing, but two of them can be customized for the PASM shooting modes. The customizable function button up top gives you some added flexibility, as well.
There are plenty of fun "alternative" capture modes included with the NEX-5T. From the 15 creative effects modes to panorama stitching, there's lots of stuff to mess around with. And hey, if you don't see the mode you're looking for, chances are you can download it for a fiver.
Now $50 cheaper!
Okay, so the NEX-5T doesn't really bring anything new to the table. That's fine: We really liked the NEX-5R, and consider it to be one of the best bargains available in its class. With an MSRP $50 lower, the 5T is an even better value.
The new camera also doesn't address any of the complaints we had about the NEX-5R, but truth be told, they were pretty minor. Regardless of its minor irritations, the 5R was a remarkably good performer at a surprisingly low price, and the NEX-5T looks to carry on that tradition. We should have it in our labs soon to confirm, but for now you can assume that (barring any unexpected software tweaks) its performance profile should match the 5R's step for step.
The only fly in the ointment is that the 5R has been selling for $599.99 with the 18-55mm OSS kit lens (directly from Sony Style) for some time now. But the company's PR reps made it pretty clear that this model is replacing the 5R, slotting in between the entry-level NEX-3N and the upper-tier NEX-6, so if you want the NEX-5T but don't care about NFC, you should really pick up a 5R while they're still around.
Meet the tester
Ben is an experienced industry journalist who formerly served as Senior Editor of News and Features at Reviewed. He now contributes as a freelance writer and editor. Most recently hailing from the vast wilds of the American southwest, he is an avid photographer who is deeply disturbed by the lack of wide open landscapes in Boston.
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