The 14.2-megapixel Sony NEX-5 is offered in two different kits, one with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 optically stablized lens ($699.99), the other with a fixed-focus 16mm f/2.8 lens, without stabilization ($649.99). We tested the version with the stabilized lens. It was introduced at the same time as the NEX-3, also available in two kit lens configurations, each priced $100 lower than the NEX-5. There are slight differences in body size and a different hand grip configuration, but the main upgrades for NEX-5 buyers are 1080i video mode (the NEX-3 tops out at 720p) and support for an optional wireless remote control.
** Size Comparisons **
** In the Box **
• NEX-5 camera body with body cap
• 18-55mm lens
• NP-FW50 rechargeable Li-ion battery
• Battery charger BC-VW1
• USB cable
• Shoulder strap
• Flash with flash case
**Color Accuracy *** (10.56) *
Color accuracy is a problem for the Sony NEX-5, notably when it comes to saturation. It seems the camera was preset for those who like overblown Kodachrome color, with every color mode oversaturated by at least 10%, and most at about 125%. Fortunately, if you prefer more natural results, you can go in and make adjustments to the color mode settings. Click here for more on how we test color.
Of the five available color modes, standard proved most accurate when it comes to reproducing colors, though the saturation came in at 110%. Skin tones are handled well in this mode, along with sky blue, greens and purple. Reds were considerably off-hue, though, along with cyan and other blue tones.
The chart below includes actual-size crops from our color test shots for the NEX-5 and four comparison cameras.
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.
The Sony NEX-5 scored lower than all but the Samsung NX10 Much of the difference is due to oversaturation problems rather than inaccurate color values.
As with Sony SLRs, the NEX-5 comes with six preset Creative Styles, which control color reproduction along with contrast, saturation and sharpness. Contrast and sharpness can be manually adjusted in a ±3 setting range for all six modes; saturation adjustment is available in all but the black and white mode.
Vivid, landscape and sunset modes all pump up the saturation levels to around 125% for dramatic effect. Portrait comes in at a somewhat gentler 113%, but you're still going to see some unnatural blush in your subject's cheeks if you shoot with this mode at its default setting.
The chart below shows samples of each color mode (except black and white). You'll also find real-world sample shots in all six modes in the Picture Effects section of this review.
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.
Our long exposure testing takes into account both image noise and color accuracy results when shooting at slow shutter speeds. The Sony NEX-5 performed reasonably well in the image noise testing, but its color accuracy problems carried over when the lights were turned down low, producing a middle-of-the-road overall score for this section. Both of the Micro Four Thirds cameras in our comparison group scored lower, based on poor image noise performance. Both of the other APS-C-format cameras scored higher overall. The Samsung had higher color error than the Sony but much lower noise. The two Sony cameras were about even when it comes to color error, while the A550 noise performance falls between the NX10 and the NEX-5. Click here for more on how we test long exposure.
As shown in the following chart, color error was slightly higher when long exposure noise reduction processing was turned on.
In terms of doing its appointed job, though, the long exposure noise reduction had virtually no effect. Best bet: just turn it off.
If you're planning to shoot the creatures of the night, there are better choices than the NEX-5, but performance is acceptable in this area.
Under bright studio lighting the NEX-5 did very well in our image noise testing. As expected, the Micro Four Thirds cameras had problems here when compared to the APS-C models, which hold up well even compared to many pricier SLRs. Click here for more on how we test noise.
Like the Sony A550, the NEX-5 doesn't offer the same level of control we find on most manufacturers' SLRs, which let you turn off high ISO noise reduction processing altogether. The NEX-5 has two settings: weak (the lower level of processing) and auto (the higher level). In our lab testing, there really isn't a lot of difference between the two, even at the highest ISO settings. The potential problem with high ISO noise reduction processing is the loss of fine image detail. In our test photos, though, we found little evidence of this.
The chart above breaks out image noise into its four component parts, red, blue, green, yellow and luminance. If one or more of these component parts is higher than the others, than noise visibility in that channel can be higher than a camera with the same overall score, meaning that those colors may look noisier than the others. As seen here, that's not an issue with the NEX-5.
If we compare the NEX-5 with other cameras with the noise reduction turned off, we see that it has lower noise than most. However, you should remember that this isn't really comparing like with like: other cameras allow you to really turn the noise reduction off, but the NEX-5 does not; there is always some noise reduction going on.
A more useful comparison here is to look at the noise level with the noise reduction cranked all the way up on all of the cameras. Here, the NEX-5 is more in line with the other comparison cameras, with the Olympus E-PL1 and Samsung NX10 having lower noise at all of the ISO levels up to 800.
The NEX-5 offers ISO settings from 200 to 12800. When using Auto ISO, the setting tops out at ISO 1600.
The chart below shows same-size crops taken from our still life photos, which are shot in program mode with automatic white balance, with noise reduction turned off. These images are not used in our actual scoring, which is based on photographing a standardized test chart.
*NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
The NEX-5 did alright in our resolution testing, but sharpness wasn't this camera's strong suit. Interestingly, its brand mate Sony A550 is the only camera in our test group with lower scores here, while the Micro Four Thirds Olympus E-PL1 produced excellent results. Click here for more on how we test resolution.
We shoot our resolution tests using the camera's kit lens; in this case, an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 with built-in stabilization (which is turned off for test shooting). With interchangeable lens cameras, we don't include distortion results in the camera's section score, but we do evaluate the kit lens performance. In this case, distortion levels are significant across the zoom range, with 3.66% barrelling at the widest lens setting, 2.46% pincushioning in the midrange and 1.32% pincushioning at the maximum zoom.
Chromatic Aberration (7.26)
This is color fringing caused by the lens refracting different frequencies of light by differing amounts. The NEX-5 with the 18-55 zoom did exhibit noticeable chromatic aberration, particularly at the widest and midrange zoom settings. At full telephoto, the problem was barely noticable, though.
*Image sharpness wasn't low enough to raise red flags about the camera, but it certainly wasn't impressive. In fact, only the Sony A550 posted lower sharpness results among the comparison cameras.
The following charts include same-size crops from our resolution test images, taken at three different distances and, at each distance, three aperture settings.
Shooting at the widest angle, chromatic aberration is readily visible across all aperture settings. Sharpness holds up better, at least until the lens is fully stopped down.
Color fringing is still an issue at 36mm (halfway through the zoom range), though the center of the image stays relatively clean and sharp except at the smallest aperture settings.
At the maximum zoom setting, the color fringing problem is under control, and sharpness holds up pretty well, especially in the center of the lens. The maximum sharpness readings for the lens come at the 18mm setting in the center of the lens with the aperture wide open, with 2102 lw/ph horizontal and 2288 vertical, but at 55mm we still find readings over 2000 lw/ph smack dab in the middle.
Picture Quality & Size Options*(10.16)*
The NEX-5 has a maximum resolution of 14 megapixels and a minimum of 2.9 megapixels -- if you're thinking about emailing images to friends and family, you'll need to resize using your computer first. There are two aspect ratio choices, 3:2 and widescreen 16:9, each with three size options as listed below.
There are two JPEG compression settings, Fine and Standard. RAW and RAW+JPEG are also supported. When shooting RAW+JPEG, the file size is set to Large, compression to Fine.
The NEX-5 handles high-contrast scenes very nicely, holding on to details in both bright and shadowed areas better than most cameras. In fact, only the Sony A550 offered a hair's breadth superior performance, and none of the other comparison cameras came close. Click here for more on how we test dynamic range.
The NEX-5 starts out with a very respectable range of nearly 8 stops at the lowest ISO 200 setting. The drop as ISOs increase is gradual; even at ISO 3200 we still measured a dynamic range over 5 EV, a very strong result.
As shown below, the NEX-5 has the widest dynamic range at ISO 200 among cameras in our test group.
Sony clearly understands dynamic range optimization. While they use very different hardware, the two Sony models are the clear leaders in this category.
Unlike Sony SLRs, the compact NEX cameras do not have in-camera image stabilization systems, relying instead on stabilized lenses. When we tested the kit 18-55mm zoom, though, we found it was much less effective than the in-camera stabilization we tested in the Sony A550. In fact, when the camera was shaken fairly aggressively, there was only a slight sharpness improvement at two shutter speeds, with no significant difference at all at 1/60 second or slower, where stabilization is most needed. With a lower shake intensity, there were minor improvements when shooting at 1/125 second and again at 1/15 second, but overall this new lens-based stabilization system made very little difference. Click here for more on how we test image stabilization.
The stabilization system in the kit zoom lens proved less effective than any of the other cameras in our comparison group, including the in-camera system used in the Sony A550.
While it's far from the worst we've seen, the NEX-5 did not perform well in our white balance testing, which goes hand in hand with its poor color accuracy results. We test under three different lighting conditions (tungsten, daylight and fluorescent), using the automatic white balance system and then taking a manual white balance. There was no single test that skewed the results here. Instead, results were generally mediocre across the board. Click here for more on how we test white balance.
Automatic White Balance (10.20)
The results when shooting under daylight using auto white balance weren't bad, but the problem with overly warm incandescent shots will be readily apparent.
Custom White Balance (3.90)
Taking a custom white balance reading produced much better images than the auto setting when shooting under incandescent lights -- definitely worth taking the extra few moments for a manual reading. Under daylight and fluorescent lighting, though, we didn't find the level of accuracy we expect when using a custom white balance setting: both were slightly less accurate than the auto setting.
With the Panasonic GF1 scoring exceptionally well here and the Olympus E-PL1 particularly poorly, the Sony NEX-5 results are still south of acceptable.
White Balance Settings*(8.00)*
The NEX-5 has six white balance presets:
The presets can be manually adjusted, with three steps toward redder reproduction and three steps toward blue.
Taking a custom white balance reading is easy; choose the setting option in the menu, point at a white or gray surface and press the shutter button.
There are two more ways to enter a white balance setting; enter a color temperature value in degrees Kelvin, or choose a virtual Color Compensation filter, selecting one of nine values for either green or magenta. With a live on-screen preview as you make these adjustments, you don't need to be a hardcore techie to find them useful.
The sample photos below were all taken at the settings described, and have only been compressed for on-screen viewing. No other processing has been done. To see the origional JPEG image from the camera, click on the image, but remember that they will take some time to load.
Still Life Examples
The following shots of our still life setup were taken under the same shooting conditions -- aperture priority mode at f/10, automatic white balance -- at all official ISO settings for each of our comparison cameras. Clicking on a thumbnail will open the full-size original in a separate window. Note that these images are for illustration only, and aren't used in our testing procedures or camera scoring.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
The following same-size crops were taken from sample photos of our stock still life, taken with automatic white balance in program mode.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
There isn't a lot of variety in the playback screen displays, but the Complete version makes up for any shortcomings. It delivers all key information, including creative style setting and focal length, in an easy-to-read format. The high-res display is a big help here, making small text legible.
Six-image and 12-image thumbail displays are available, but it takes a trip to the menu system to choose between them, and there's no calendar display to sort images by date taken. You can find a movie file by entering a date but, strangely, can't do the same for a phoo.
During playback, files are sorted into separate displays for stills and videos, which is a mixed blessing. If you're interested in seeing all your movies, for example, it's much easier to have them sorted out than manually scrolling through everything on the card. On the other hand, it takes a cumbersome trip through the menu system to switch between the two categories.
During playback, images can be magnified up to 13x by first pressing the middle control button, then turning the control dial. Pressing the middle button again takes you back instantly to full-frame view, a feature missing on too many cameras.
Images can be deleted one at a time by pressing the lower control button, or in groups through the playback menu. Stills can be deleted by the folder-full, and movies can be deleted by date range.
The slide show utility is pretty basic. You set the length of time each image is displayed, whether the show runs continuously or once-through, and whether you want to see stills or movies (the two cannot be combined). That's it, and it isn't much.
Movie playback makes good use of both the spin of the control wheel and the four-way directional controls. Pressing right or left gives you fast-forward or reverse. Pause and turn the wheel for slow forward or reverse. Pressing the top clears away the information overlay, pressing the bottom brings up the volume control. What's missing is the option to jump to the beginning or end of a video, but the fast forward and reverse are very fast.
As with the Sony A550, in-camera editing tools are entirely Missing In Action (unless you consider rotating an image 'editing'). For a camera that's clearly aimed at a consumer market, this lack of interest in letting users handle even basic tasks, like creating a smaller copy of an image to be emailed, is both surprising and disappointing.
The NEX-5 ships with three programs; Image Data Converter SR and Image Data Lightbox SR for both Windows and Mac, and the Windows-only Picture Motion Browser.
Picture Motion Browser
A basic image and video catalogging and editing application that can sort photos by tags, date and shooting info. It can also upload images to several web hosting services (such as Flickr) and convert files into several formats. It can also be used for basic video editing and burning videos out to DVD or to AVCHD discs that can be played in many Blu-ray players.
Image Data Converter SR
This RAW conversion package allows you to take the .ARW raw image files (which contain the raw data rom the image sensor) that the NEX-5 shoots and process them in a number of ways. If you are looking for the maximum quality from images, this is the way to go, as it allows you to apply the image processing features that the camera does internally (such as changing white balance settings, sharpness, DRange enahancement, etc) after the image has been shot.
Image Data Lightbox SR
This utility has one purpose: to allow you to compare up to 4 images side by side, like a photographers liightbox. You can zoom in and out, pan around and otherwise examine the images, but you can't edit the images or convert them to other formats.
Direct Print Options*(1.00)*
The DPOF system, for creating a digital order form to order prints from a service bureau, is very basic -- you can select images one by one, indicating the number of prints for each, period. Even the option to imprint date and/or file information, a fairly standard DPOF feature, isn't supported.
What's surprisingly missing here is PictBridge support, which allows direct printing from a camera to a compatible printer. The Sony A550 had a barebones PictBridge implementation, but it was head and shoulders better than nothing at all, which is the sad status of the NEX-5.
The NEX-5 is the second mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera to arrive with a standard APS-C format sensor (the Samsung NX10 was the first). These designs contrast with the mirrorless Micro Four Thirds system cameras, which use a sensor roughly 30% smaller for the sake of compact design. The problem with this sensor shrinkage is increased noise: both the NEX-5 and the NX10 produced images with far lower image noise than the multiple Micro Four Thirds cameras we've tested (including the Olympus E-PL1 and Panasonic GF1 used for comparison purposes in this review).
If you think the option to shoot with the camera held up to your eye is important, this is not your camera. Not only is there no built-in viewfinder, there's no accessory electronic viewfinder available; your only option is a $200 fixed-focus optical viewfinder accessory, which isn't much better than no options at all. This contrasts with the Samsung NX10, which comes with a built-in electronic viewfinder (though not a very good one), and the OlympusE-PL1 and Panasonic GF1, which have connectors for optional EVFs (though these are $200+ add-ons).
The NEX-5 has one of the most beautiful LCD displays we've ever seen on a digital camera, a 3-inch wide-screen display with 921,600-pixel resolution. The company says it adopted a technology called 'TruBlack,' first employed in its digital picture frames, to increase contrast and make colors pop. Based on what we're seeing here, we hope this type of screen becomes a standard feature in Sony's line.
The options on the left indicate the button function
The widescreen orientation is particularly geared toward high-def movie playback, in 16:9 format. Standard still images don't fill the screen; the left side is used instead to display labels for the three multipurpose control buttons and the control wheel, both in shooting and playback mode.
The tilting screen in action
The LCD is articulated in an unusual way, with a hinge along the top edge that lets you pull the screen away from the camera body, then pivot it down for shooting with the camera held overhead, or up for low-angle shooting. We find it more useful when an LCD is hinged along the edge, so it can be folded out to the side of and flipped forward for self-portraits. Still, the NEX-5 system is much better than nothing, particularly when trying to see over a crowd.
LCD brightness is adjusted automatically by default, but there are also two user overrides. You can adjust the brightness up or down by two steps in each direction, or choose Sunny Weather to max out the brightness for outdoor shooting. We still feel that the lack of an eye-level viewfinder is a substantial negative when considering the NEX-5. We have to give Sony credit, though: even standing outdoors in bright sun at noon, we were still able to line up a shot on the LCD, in situations where lesser screens would be all but worthless.
High-end SLRs often have a second monochrome LCD on top, for reading camera settings from above. The NEX-5 doesn't have this feature.
There's no built-in flash here, but at least Sony includes a small accessory HVL-F7S flash unit with the camera. The flash is only 1 7/16 x 15/16 x 1 11/16 inches (35.9 x 23.8 x 42.7mm) and weighs about 0.8 oz. (20.4g) -- truly pocket-size even if you favor tight jeans, and complete with a protective case. In practice, though, you may decide that the smart move is simply to attach the flash and leave it in place. Rather than a standard hot shoe, the flash is screwed into a proprietary accessory connector located under a protective flap on top of the camera. It doesn't require extraordinary manual dexterity, but at the same time it's not an operation you'll want to undertake on the spur of the moment, when you're about to miss a shot for lack of light. The flash folds down flat on top of the camera, adding only about half an inch to the height of the camera. It won't shoot in the position, though; you have to raise it up, as shown in the photo below. And no, despite the fact that the strobe is on a pivoting bracket, you can't use it as a bounce flash, since it snaps into a single predetermined spot, facing forward,
Not that you'd get much bang for your buck if you could bounce this little flash. Sony gives the flash range as 3.3 to 8.2 feet (1 to 2.5m) with an f/2.8 aperture setting, at ISO 200. In practice, it does a reasonable job in dimly lit indoor environments, with less of a central hot spot than we expected. As an outdoor fill flash, it's not going to provide a lot of help, though.
The flash can be set to auto, fill flash (fires with every shot), slow sync (flashes to catch foreground subject in dark setting, with a slow shutter speed to capture the dark background) and rear sync (fires just as the shutter is closing, creating a trailing light image for moving subjects). Red-eye reduction is also available as a separate setting.
The screw-in flash in place
Flash exposure compensation is available in a ±2 EV range, in 0.3 EV increments.
The NEX cameras welcome another new, proprietary lens mount to the world, which Sony has dubbed the E-Mount. So far, only three lenses have been announced in this format. The 16mmfixed focal length lens and 18-55mm zoom are included in the two kit configurations, and are the only lenses available at launch. An 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 will ship later this year -- so far, that's all she wrote.
There will be a $200 adapter, the LA-EA1, to attach lenses from the Sony Alpha SLR line to the NEX bodies. Unfortunately, autofocus won't work with this adapter.
The NEX-5 has a 1.5x magnification factor; that is, the 18-55mm zoom is equivalent to a 27-82.5mm lens on a 35mm camera. The shots below were taken from the same spot, at the near, far and middle points of the zoom range.
Digital zoom (up to 10x) is only available when using a fixed focal length lens, with the control wheel used to adjust the magnification.
According to Sony, you should get about 330 shots per battery charge, but that seems generous based on our shooting experience. At least you'll have a precise read on the remaining power level as you shoot; the LCD display includes a power percentage readout, in addition to the familiar disappearing icon.
The memory card and battery compartment
Sony estimates it will take about three hours to recharge a fully depleted battery.
The Sony NEX-5 accepts all three flavors of SD card, including the new high-capacity SDXC format, along with the company's proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo and Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo media.
Jacks, Ports & Plugs*(5.50)*
There are two separate compartments on the left side of the camera, one for an industry-standard USB data cable (included), the other for a mini HDMI jack (not included). As with the Sony A550, the camera cannot output standard-def video at all. It's not just that the cable isn't included: it isn't available. Apparently high-def TV manufacturer Sony has decided that pandering to the needs of the lower-res rabble isn't important. We beg to differ, and consider this a significant oversight.
On the other hand, when connected via HDMI to an HDTV that supports Sony Bravia Sync, you can use the TV remote to control photo and movie playback.
The grid overlay of the NEX-5
There aren't a lot of elaborate scene modes: no options for shooting documents, for example, or beach and snow scenes. The basics are covered, though, and the technologically advanced handheld night shot mode is particularly interesting.
Organizationally, Sony categorizes panorama and anti motion blur shooting as shooting modes, high dynamic range shooting as an exposure setting, and handheld night shot as a scene mode. This can be confusing while learning how to use the camera.
There are no special filters or effects here, but you do get six Creative Styles (same as the Sony A550), each of which can be fine-tuned manually. The following samples were shot with indirect sunlight in program mode, after taking a manual white balance reading. The descriptions are verbatim from Sony.
These Creative Styles can be adjusted only several parameters, as shown in the table below. This would be more useful, though, if you could save your tweaked result as a custom user setting.
A key concern when evaluating mirrorless cameras versus SLRs is autofocus speed. A key reason to include a mirror in an SLR is to bounce light to a dedicated autofocus sensor that uses fast phase detect technology. Without a mirror, autofocus is based on data taken directly from the image sensor itself, evaluating different lens positions to figure out which setting offers the highest contrast (which equals the sharpest focus).
We have yet to find a mirrorless model that can match the autofocus performance of even an inexpensive SLR. The Sony NEX cameras come surprisingly close, though, and that's a key competitive advantage, particularly against the Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, which even after a recent firmware upgrade are the slowest of the bunch.
The NEX-5 offers two focus modes:
The camera can be set to autofocus, manual focus or what's called 'direct manual focus,' which uses autofocus and then allows manual adjustment while the shutter button is depressed halfway.
The manual focus assist works beautifully. When you turn the focus ring, the on-screen image is automatically magnified to allow critical focusing precision. Touching the shutter button returns the display to standard view. Of course, if you prefer, you can turn off the manual assist function. Unfortunately, the manual focus assist isn't available for movie recording.
A quick word of praise for the manual focus control on the kit 18-55mm lens is called for here. Unlike so many kit lenses, which have loose, sloppy manual control, the ring here is silky smooth, with just the right amount of tension to allow careful movement.
There are three focus area options:
When shooting in Intelligent Auto mode, apertures can be adjusted without dealing with that messy technical term. The 'background defocus' screen is accessed by pushing the middle control wheel button. Turning the wheel in this mode lets the user adjust background sharpness, on a scale from Crisp to Defocus. There's no information presented to help users learn the aperture control concept, but the on-screen display does offer live depth of field preview, so you can see the effect as you turn the wheel.
The front lamp next to the hand grip functions as a self-timer indicator, and also as a bright, effective autofocus illuminator.
The face detect capability, which recognizes up to eight individuals, is based on the Sony point-and-shoot system. In addition to standard face detect, you get child-priority and adult-priority modes, which are self-explanatory. There's also a Smile Shutter function; after pushing the shutter, the camera waits until it detects a smiling face before taking the picture (if everyone's feeling morose that day, you can just press the shutter a second time to take a shot). And depending on the level of jolly you desire, there are three sensitivity settings for the smile shutter feature; Big Smile, Normal Smile and Slight Smile.
The exposure compensation range is a narrow ±2 EV, in 1/3 EV increments. Three-shot exposure bracketing is supported, with 0.3 EV or 0.7 EV increments.
The DRO (Dynamic Range Optimization) system analyzes areas of the image and attempts to maintain detail in high-contrast shooting situations. The feature can be set to Auto, or one of five levels manually.
There is also an in-camera High Dynamic Range (HDR) option that combines multiple images to create a single balanced exposure. HDR was introduced in the Sony A550 using two frames. The NEX-5 expands this to three rapid-fire frames, providing greater exposure range for the composite image. The exposure difference between images can be left to the camera's automatic system, or set by the user. This is important, since HDR images can have an unpleasant artificial look when the effect is overdone. You can set the difference anywhere from 1 EV for a subtle effect to 6 EV for a dramatic difference.
Speed and Timing
Drive/Burst Mode (6.50)
There are two high-speed shooting modes. The speed-priority continuous setting autofocuses and sets exposure before the first frame, then shoots at up to 7 frames per second at that focus setting. The standard continuous advance setting, which attempts to adjust focus and exposure as needed between shots, maxes out at 2.3 images per second.
Shot to Shot (7.07)
In our testing, the NEX-5 delivered as promised. In our lab shooting full-resolution JPEGs in speed priority mode, we got just over 7 shots per second (7.07, to be precise), with about 20 shots before shooting slowed to clear the buffer.
In the standard continuous advance setting, we again did slightly better than advertised, with 2.6 shots per second.
Depth of Field Preview*(5.00)*
The NEX-5 does not offer a dedicated DoF preview button, but the camera does provide a preview of the depth of field in both aperture priority and manual modes; what you see in the on-screen preview is what you get in the final image. The same is true of the Background Defocus mode in Intelligent Auto mode, where the camera allows you to change the aperture to choose between a sharp and soft background, providing an aperture priority setting, but without the user needing to know what that means.
The NEX-5 breaks the scene into 49 segments for metering purposes. There are three available modes:
Shutter speeds are fairly standard for this class of camera: 1/4000 second to 30 seconds plus a bulb setting for extended exposures.
The self-timer is more flexible than most. You have standard 2-second and 10-second delay options, but there is also a custom self-timer mode that lets you shoot either 3 or 5 images automatically after a 10-second delay.
The NEX-5 will work with Sony's optional RMT-DSLR1 Wireless Remote Commander ($30).
Design & Handling
The NEX-5 is a nicely designed piece of gear that feels good in your hands. The body measures 4 3/8 x 2 3/8 x 1 9/16 inches (35.9 x 23.8 x 42.7mm) and weighs 8.1 ounces (20.4g), which makes it the smallest interchangeable lens camera on the market, by a skinch. Of course, Olympus offers a collapsible zoom lens, which shortens the camera depth considerably, but it's worth remembering that the NEX-5 has a full APS-C sensor, significantly larger than the Micro Four Thirds sensor used by Olympus and company, yet Sony has managed to deliver it in a smaller body. In fact, with the 16mm fixed-focus lens attached, it will fit into a large jacket pocket or handbag.
The right side doesn't provide a lot of clearance between the grip and the lens, but your large-handed reviewer got used to it after a few hours. The back thumb rest is textured and well positioned, which together with the small size makes this a good choice for one-handed shooters. And we like the way Sony positioned the one-touch video record button on its own angled surface; easy to find in a hurry, very unlikely to be pressed accidentally.
The NEX-5 takes a minimalist approach to buttons and dials, relying more heavily on the menu system than most SLRs. This keeps down clutter, and allows for a smaller camera design. It also slows you down dramatically when you want to access several basic shooting controls, a continuing annoyance even after you've learned how the control scheme works.
On top of the camera, there's the shutter button, a separate rotating power switch, and a button to access playback mode.
On the angled plane between the back and the top is the dedicated movie recording button. We like the option to start recording video on the spur of the moment, without having to meddle with mode dials or menu choices. And the button is well placed, easy to find in an instant but not in a spot where you're likely to press it accidentally.
On the back, there's a combination control wheel / four-way controller. The wheel is used to adjust settings, browse images during playback and navigate through the menu system. The four-way controller is also used for navigation, but while shooting the top, bottom, left and right clicks are mapped to access display adjustment, exposure compensation, drive mode/self-timer and flash mode respectively.
For everything else, you have to open the main menu and hunt for your options. Want to change the ISO setting, autofocus mode, white balance, or metering pattern? You'll need to bring up the menu, navigate to the relevant sub-menu, find the setting within the submenu, bring up the list of available settings, navigate to the one you wanted.... ooops, missed the shot. Say you have the camera set to the standard Creative Style and want to switch to vivid. We count thirteen clicks along the way... and that's if you know where you're going.
The other key element in the control scheme are three 'soft' buttons, meaning their function varies depending on where you are in the system. The current action on offer is explained with on-screen labels.
One soft button is located in the center of the control wheel, the others to the top left and bottom left of the wheel. When you're shooting, the top button takes you to the menu system, the middle one accesses your shooting mode options, and the bottom one brings up an on-screen display of shooting tips. We have nothing against providing consumers with info about taking better photos. At the very least, though, we would have made that last button customizable, so you could access key shooting controls more easily. We would gladly have traded quick access to ISO settings or metering patterns for easy navigation to a 100-word essay on freezing subject motion.
The Sony NEX-5 menu system is certainly one of the best looking we've seen, taking full advantage of a beautiful 921,000-dot screen by using photographic icons and page backdrops, along with nice clear text. Unfortunately, pretty took precendence over practical when designing this newly minted scheme.
There are two basic problems: convenience and organization.
There are six submenus in all, as listed below. And when looking for a setting, you need an abstract mental leap or a very good memory to figure out which setting is tucked away where. There's a Brightness/Color submenu with settings for exposure (exposure and flash comp, ISO, dynamic range adjustment) and color (white balance, creative style). The high dynamic range option is tucked away here, rather than included as a shooting mode, like other multi-shot features.
The Camera submenu is a catch-all for focus settings, drive mode, smile shutter, panorama and a few others. Noise reduction, image stabilization and movie audio controls, which we figure are shooting settings, are wedged into the lengthy Setup menu, along with date, time and location, display customization and whether or not you want the camera to beep.
And as the final coup de grace, the menus are several screens long, so you have to scroll down to the bottom to find out whether or not you're in the right submenu. The relatively stodgy Sony SLR menu system will never win a beauty pageant, but at least they let us get from from here to there efficiently.
Manual & Learning*(6.00)*
The NEX-5 comes with two forms of documentation, a printed Instruction Manual and a disc-based Handbook. For most users, the manual will deliver all the information they need, and does it in a clearly written, logically organized way. Unlike some manuals, which require you to jump from here to there to find related information, this manual follows along in the way you're likely to use the camera: set it up, take pictures, play back pictures, transfer them to a computer and use the provided software. The table of contents works well, the index less so (no entry for 'sound' or 'audio,' for example, and nothing for 'image stabilization'); overall, a solid effort.
The handbook goes into more depth on photographic technique and camera features, beginning with a clever color photo gallery section that links a particular shooting situations (colored leaves, fireworks, moving subjects) to functions tailored to them. Much of the information is also included in the instruction manual, but here there's more detail and more extensive illustration. For example, each scene mode is both explained and illustrated witha sample photo. Unfamiliar concepts, like sweep panorama, are clearly explained so you understand not only how to do it, but what the camera is doing to achieve its technical magic. Again, we have reservations about the brief index, but this is a fine example of consumer-friendly documentation.
In addition to the manuals, the NEX cameras have on-screen help guides, explaining menu settings options, plus separate built-in Shooting Tips, a series of short on-screen lessons in six categories: Basic techniques for shooting; Portraits; Landscapes; Night Views; Shooting close-up with Macro; and Shooting a subject in motion. These tips are offered in context based on the current camera shooting mode, or you can page through them all through the menu system. The assortment of basic and advanced information often points out special camera features (the on-screen grid line display when discussing taking level photos, for example), or attaching the lens hood to avoid washed-out photos. All in all, it's a decent feature, given the camera's target audience. Our beef is dedicating one of the three soft buttons to accessing tips, when there's no one-button access to key settings like white balance or ISO setting.
Video Color & Noise
The Sony NEX-5 has a variety of color modes, but we did all of our video testing using the Standard color setting. In this mode, the camera managed a color error of 4.40 and a saturation level of 101.8%. These numbers are decent, although we've seen models with much better color accuracy—particularly on many of the consumer HD camcorders we test from manufacturers like JVC and Panasonic. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests color performance.
Above, you can see on the Color Error Map that the NEX-5 didn't have trouble with one specific group of colors. Instead, the camera had equal problems rendering colors accurately across the spectrum. Below are sample images taken with the NEX-5 and its various color modes (Auto is Standard color). The Portrait setting produced slightly more accurate colors than the Standard mode, but the difference was not hugely significant.
Compared to the other models in this set, the NEX-5 produced the most saturated colors in our video testing. The Panasonic GF1 and Samsung NX10, however, had more accurate colors when we ran sample footage through our image testing software. Overall, we like the vivid, deep colors on the NEX-5 and we don't mind that the color accuracy is slightly worse than what you get from the competition. Take a look at the comparison images below to judge for yourself as to what camera produces the best colors in video mode.
We almost always see very low noise levels on video-capable DSLRs, so the 0.49% noise performance on the NEX-5 isn't anything special (but it is still very good). The camera also did well in our low light noise test, which you can read about in the Video: Low Light section of this review. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests noise performance.
The cropped images above make for good sources when comparing sharpness and detail. None of these video-capable DSLRs did an extremely good job at capturing a sharp image, but the Sony NEX-5 appears to come out on top. It is the only camera in this set that can record a Full HD image, however, so that definitely gives it a big advantage over the video-capable DSLRs we compared it to.
Video Motion & Sharpness
In the Sony NEX-5's Full HD mode the camcorder records video with a 60i frame rate. There's also a 1440 x 1080 recording mode that uses a 30p frame rate (and MP4 compression). This frame rate offers slower, less fluid motion than the 60i setting, but overall the NEX-5 delivered one of the better motion performances of the video-capable DSLRs we compared it to. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests motion.
*Click Here for large HD Version *
Artifacting was definitely noticeable in the NEX-5's motion video, but it wasn't as prominent as what we saw from the other cameras shown below. The NEX-5's Full HD record mode has a 17Mbps bitrate and uses AVCHD compression, which is a system identical to what Sony utilizes on many of its consumer camcorders. While the video captured by the camera was generally low in the artifacting department, it did show lots of blur and trailing—particularly in the two rotating pinwheels in our motion test setup.
We thought the E-PL1's motion video looked smooth, but there was more artifacting than we'd hoped to see. There was also a lot of blur and trailing present in the motion video recorded with the camera. The E-PL1 records all video using a 30p frame rate.
The Panasonic GF1 has two options for recording 720p HD video—one captures video using a 30p frame rate, while the other records at 60p (although the sensor output is still 30p). We had problems working with the 60p footage, as it appeared to play back at double speed on our computer. We think this problem had something to do with compatibility issues between Panasonic's AVCHD Lite codec and our media play back software.
The Samsung NX10 also uses a 30p frame rate to record HD video, and we found the camera produced lots of blur and trailing in our test. The camera also had a very noticeable rolling shutter effect that added a wobble to footage whenever we quickly panned the camera from side-to-side.
The Sony NEX-5 is the only camera in this testing set that can record a 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) video image. The other models all top out with 1280 x 720 recording (still HD, just not 1080p). Needless to say, this gave the Sony NEX-5 a big advantage when it came to our video sharpness testing because the camera literally captures a larger, more resolute image than the competition (there are plenty of other video-capable DSLRs that record 1080p, but most of them are not as compact as the NEX-5). The Sony NEX-5 measured a horizontal sharpness of 700 lw/ph and a vertical sharpness of 650 lw/ph—both of which are significantly better than what we saw from the Olympus E-PL1, Panasonic GF1, and Samsung NX10. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests video sharpness.
Video Low Light Performance
The Sony NEX-5 surprised us with a solid performance on our low light sensitivity test. The camera needed 11 lux of light to hit 50 IRE on our waveform monitor, which is less than half the amount of light required by many video-capable DSLRs to reach the same levels. We have seen some consumer camcorders and high-end video-DSLRs with better low light sensitivity than the NEX-5, but this is still a very good performance from the camera. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests low light sensitivity.
Other than the NEX-5, all of the cameras in this testing set record using 30p frame rates, although the Panasonic GF1 also has a 720/60p option. Since one of the primary assets of a video-capable DSLR is the fact that you can use interchangeable lenses, you should remember that much of what determines low light sensitivity is based on the speed (aperture) of the lens used with the camera. The numbers from all of our testing were obtained using the kit lens with the Sony NEX-5.
Color accuracy on the Sony NEX-5 got quite a bit worse when we dimmed the lights for our low light testing. The camera managed a color error of 7.20, although its saturation level remained a strong 94.65%. We still felt the colors on the NEX-5 looked rather good in our low light test, but they registered as fairly inaccurate according to our imaging software. Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests low light color performance.
All of the camcorders shown below registered better color accuracy than the Sony NEX-5 in low light, with the Samsung NX10 being the strongest (despite its very dark image). As we said in our bright light color testing, however, color performance is always something that has a lot to do with personal preference.
Just as we saw in our bright light testing, the NEX-5 put forth a good showing in our low light noise test. The camera averaged just under 1% noise in its low light footage (0.9575% to be exact). This is a similar amount of noise that we measured on the other models from this set (the Olympus E-PL1 had the lowest noise levels). Click here for more on how CamcorderInfo.com tests low light noise performance.
None of the cameras shown above delivered a perfect image in low light, and we were greatly dismayed by the intense discoloration and splotches produced by the Samsung NX10. Overall, the Sony NEX-5 managed a decent low light performance compared to the competition. There is some noticeable discoloration in the image produced by the Sony, but it definitely captured the most detail of the cameras shown above (thanks to its 1080p Full HD record mode).
The Sony NEX-5 has three quality settings for recording video. It's Full HD 1920 x 1080 option is the only one on the camera that uses the AVCHD compression system (the same compression used on Sony's HD consumer camcorders). The other two options, one of which records HD video at a 1440 x 1080 resolution, utilize the MP4 codec for compressing video. The AVCHD Full HD option records video using a 60i frame rate, while the other two record modes capture video at 30p.
When recording video, the Sony NEX-5 functions with entirely automated controls, albeit with a few exceptions. You can adjust exposure and white balance manually, and you can also set some color modes (called Creative Style in the menu).
The autofocus on the NEX-5 is probably the best we've ever seen from a video-capable DSLR. It works fairly quickly, it functions during recording—without the need to press any kind of button—and it is the quietest system we've seen on a DSLR. Basically, the autofocus works similarly to what you'd see on a consumer camcorder. Since many video-DSLRs don't even have a live autofocus system in video mode, this is a pleasant surprise that definitely gives something to make the NEX-5 stand out amongst the crowd.
Zoom Controls and Zoom Ratio
Optical zoom is controlled on the NEX-5 using the large lens ring on the camera. The amount of zoom available depends on what lens you have mounted, but the kit lens we used in our testing is an 18mm - 55mm lens, which translates to a roughly 3x optical zoom.
As we mentioned before, the NEX-5's autofocus system works very well. You can also adjust focus manually using the lens ring during or prior to recording. This system works well if you're trying to play around with depth of field or do any kind of focus trickery, but for regular shooting the autofocus should handle things adequately.
Exposure, Aperture, and Shutter Speed
Exposure is the only manual control that can be set in video mode on the NEX-5. You can set it during recording or prior to recording, and you do so using the small dial on the back of the camera.
Shutter speed and aperture can be set on the camera, but once you begin recording video the NEX-5 reverts to automatic control. We wish the camera would make this fact more obvious because many users may think they are setting shutter speed or aperture for their videos, but in reality they are doing nothing.
ISO* and Other Controls*
There is no ISO control in video mode on the camera, but there are some color modes (called Creative Style) that can be used for video recording. Examples of these color modes are shown in the Video: Color section of this review. The camera's full range of white balance controls and image stabilization settings can also be applied for video recording.
The built-in microphone on the Sony NEX-5 records stereo audio, which is signified by the two small slits on the top of the camera labeled with an 'L' and an 'R' (for left and right audio channels). As with most DSLRs that record audio, the NEX-5's built-in mic picks up plenty of extraneous operational noise, although the camera is quieter than most DSLRs. The placement of the microphone on the top of the camera is mostly out of the way from wandering fingers, but you may accidentally rub the microphone depending on the way you like to grip the NEX-5.
The camera doesn't have any audio features other than an option to turn sound recording on or off. There's no audio inputs on the NEX-5 either. See the table below for full audio feature details.
Simply put, the Sony NEX-5 is a DSLR camera with a tiny body and a huge E-mount lens. The camera looks rather awkward because of this, but its design should appeal to those who like having an edge when it comes to portability. With its kit lens attached, however, the camera isn't all that much different in size than the Panasonic GF1, Olympus E-PL1, or the Samsung NX10.
The best asset of the NEX-5 in terms of shooting video is the camera's flexible LCD. The screen doesn't tilt out horizontally from the camera (like you see on most consumer camcorders), but it does angle vertically quite a bit. This is great if you're shooting something at a low or high angle, as it means you don't have to crouch or bend in order to frame the image properly. Speaking of framing, the NEX-5 uses a slightly different frame size when recording video compared to shooting photos. If you bring up the grid display prior to recording you can see what the video frame size will be (outlined by four corner markings). This means you can still frame your video image before you start recording, although it is still a bit of a nuisance.
The NEX-5 is quieter than most video-capable DSLRs due to the fact that its control dial is smoother and less ridged than what we've seen on the competition. It's zoom and focus rings do make some noise, however, and you'll definitely want to use a separate audio recording device if you're concerned about getting clean audio with your recorded video. The camera is also fairly light and it can definitely be held in one hand, although it probably wouldn't be too comfortable for an extended period of time. The right side grip isn't too bad and it works well for keeping the camera steady while shooting video.
Olympus EPL1 Comparison
There is not a lot to pick between the two on specs, but the NEX-5 is significantly smaller in the body at least (although there is not that much difference between the two with the large kit lens of the Sony attached). The distinguishing points are the higher resolution of the video and the wider ISO range of the NEX-5.
It is also a close call in our performance tests. The NEX-5 has slightly lower noise (and a wider ISO range to shoot in) and wider dynamic range, but the E-PL1 has better color performance and image sharpness. The Sony scored slightly higher in our tests on video performance, but it was a close thing; both produced decent looking video, but had limitations that made it harder to shoot the video. The NEX-5 took slightly more attractive low light video, presumably because of the larger sensor size.
The Sony has a slightly higher resolution (14.2 megapixels against the 12 of the E-PL1), but the two cameras are quite similar otherwise, offering a decent selection of SLR level features. The Sony has the better screen, though: it is bigger (3 inches, against 2.7 of the Olympus) and much sharper (921k pixel resolution, against the 230k of the Olympus). That can make a significant difference when shooting; it is much easier to check the fine details of an image with the bigger, sharper Sony screen. The Sony screen can also tilt up and down, while the Olympus screen is fixed. However, the clip-in flash of the Sony is more awkward to use
Both cameras are small and compact, but the Sony is the smaller one. However, the 18-55mm zoom kit lens that comes with the Sony is a hefy thing that makes it much bulkier. Although small cameras are often ore awkward to handle (especially for those with bigger hands), we foudn both cameras to be pretty easy to handle, providing a firm grip and placing the controls for easy access. Both cameras also offer a dedicated movie shooting button on the rear within reach of the thumb. The Olympus is much smaller when not in use: the lens folds down to take up much less space, making it more portable when using the zoom lens.
There isn't a huge amount to distinguish between the two cameras in terms of the controls they offer: both provide a wide range of shooting options and features, including the full range of PASM modes and a selection of scene modes. We also found that the layout of the controls on both cameras was pretty easy to use, providing easy access to both still and video shooting.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
Panasonic GF1 Comparison
The Panasonic GF1 was the superior camera in our tests on color, white balance and resolution, taking photos that had more accurate color and whites and were overall sharper. Both cameras had a noisy side, though, with noise becoming extremely visible in images at ISO levels of 400 and above. The Sony had less visible noise, but it is also using more noise reduction, which leads to a slight softness in images. However, the Sony does have the advantage of having a wider ISO range: it goes up to 12800, while the GF1 tops out at 3200. At the same ISO levels, the Sony is the less noisy camera, but don't expect to be able to push the ISO higher without paying a noisy price.
The GF1 feels like the more solid camera, with a metal case and more rigid frame that feels like it would stand up to knocks and drops more. Both cameras also have a similiar sized LCD panel (3 inches), but the Sony is much sharper (with 921k pixel resolution against the 460k of the Panasonic) and can tilt up and down, while the Panasonic screen is fixed on the back of the camera.
Both cameras are small, compact models designed to offer the advantages of an SLR without the weight and bulk. And they both succeed at that, although the Sony is the smaller camera. However, the kit zoom lens of the Sony is much larger than the Panasonic one, so there is no real overall difference in shooting size and weight. Both cameras are also easy to handle, although those with big hands will need to do some adjusting to get used to the small bodies that these cameras offer.
Both cameras offer quick and responsive auto focus, but the GF1 felt a little snappier, especially in low light. The NEX-5 has the advantage of the wider ISO range, though, and a couple of shooting modes that make low light and panoramic shooting easier. Manual shooters will prefer the GF1, because the dual control dials make it easier to adjust shutter speed and aperture at once. On the NEX-5, you have to use the single control dial and switch between the two.
Samsung NX10 Comparison
It was a close competition between these two cameras in terms of performance, with both not scoring that highly in our tests. We found that the Sony NEX-5 had slightly better color, while the Samsung NX10 did slightly better with long exposures and produced slightly sharper images. However, neither camera scored that highly in any of our tests: many other cameras produced images with better color and sharpness.
The screen is the highlight of both cameras, with the NEX-5 offering a 921k LCD and the Samsung offering an 641k AMOLED. The Samsung screen does offer better color and is brighter, but the NEX-5 is noticeably sharper, and has the added flexibility of tilting up and down.
The NEX-5 is the smaller and more convenient camera, although the comparatively large kit zoom lens does make it look a little odd. However, we found that both cameras are easy to handle and use, placing the shutter and zoom controls close to hand on the camera and lens body respectively. The NX10 does not offer a dedicated movie record button, though, which means you might miss a good video sequence while you are switching from still to video mode.
The NEX-5 was the snappier camera when it came to focusing; we found that the Sony AF system was both faster and more flexible. The Samsung does include a nice customization system that offers 3 custom preset positions on the mode dial: very useful if you often move from one lighting situation to the next, as you can switch between the presets with a twist of the dial.
Sony A550 Comparison
These two Sonys are pretty close in terms of still performance: they both take images with decent (but occasionally inaccurate) color and get a little noisy at higher ISO settings. Both can also push the boat out in ISO terms, going up to a maximum ISO of 12800. There are some minor differences, though; the NEX-5 has slightly lower noise (although it is hard to tell if this is because of the smaller sensor or if the camera is just compensating more for noise) and produces very slightly sharper images. One major difference is video: the A550 does not shoot video at all: it only takes still images.
Both cameras boast big, bright LCD screens that show very sharp images. Both screens can also tilt for shooting from above or below. But that's where the similarities end, with the two cameras using different types of lenses, with the NEX-5 introducing yet another lens mount (the E-mount) that is not compatible with lenses designed for the Alpha range of cameras, such as the A550. Sony does say that they are coming out with an adapter, but that won't allow the lenses to auto focus.
The two cameras handle quite differently, with the bigger, bulkier A550 providing a much firmer grip and fitting better in the hand. But the much smaller and lighter NEX-5 is not uncomfortable or propblematic; it just doesn't fit into the hand quiate as snugly, and the heavy lens has a habit of dragging it down somewhat.
There are a similar range of controls on offer from both cameras, including the full manual controls that discerning photographers rely on. The NEX-5 also offers a couple of additional modes: the panoramic modes and the anti-motion blur that produces sharper photos in low light.
Specs & Ratings
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