Sony Alpha A5000 Digital Camera Review
Sony's A5000 aims to convince entry-level users to board the mirrorless train.
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By The Numbers
Sony has impressed up so far as it sheds the NEX line and moves forward with the Alpha A series. Everything from the A7 cameras to the A6000 and new A5100 has offered great performance and features in a small package. The A5000 is no different as it replaces the NEX-3/5 cameras–which we also loved. As of now, the A5000 is the best compact interchangeable available for under $400.
Sony has enjoyed great success with its compact system cameras, dating back to the generally excellent NEX series. The NEX line is now simply "Alpha," bringing it in line with Sony's traditional DSLRs. The new crop of Alpha E-mount cameras has already had a strong start with cameras like the mid-range A6000 and more recently the new A5100.
With the A6000 replacing the NEX-6 (Editor's Choice winner) and the A5100 replacing the NEX-5T (Best of Year winner), it is only natural that Sony replace the low-end NEX-3N as well. The camera to do this is the A5000 (MSRP $499.99 with 16-50mm lens)–the new little brother to both the A5100 and A6000.
On the outside, the A5000 features a similar design to the A5100, but with street prices for the kit starting right around $400 it's one of the least expensive interchangeable lens cameras you can buy. Despite this, it still packs the same size APS-C sensors that power basically every DSLR under $1,500. That's an amazing value proposition, and we just had to get it into our labs to see how it compared to the rest of the market.
Design & Handling
The bulk of the weight while handling the A5000 comes from the lenses mounted to it and not the actual body, as the body is merely 10 oz with a battery and memory card. This is incredibly light for an interchangeable lens camera; coupled with a compact lens it will handle more like a point-and-shoot than a bulkier DSLR. The support provided by the grip is sufficient for most scenarios, but not as well textured as the newer A5100 grip or as big as the A6000 grip.
The controls are set up more similarly to a point-and-shoot than to any DSLR you have likely handled–which is why it is such a good transitional camera for new DSLR users. Your top controls include a shutter release, dedicated record button, power zoom lever, and power switch. The powered zoom only works on lenses that have a powered zoom motor built-in, meaning most e-mount lenses will be manually zoomed.
It does have a big APS-C sensor inside, but without a viewfinder, you are stuck using the rear screen to setup shots–again much like a point-and-shoot camera. Luckily the A5000 does have a 180 degree tilt-screen so you have some flexibility while framing overhead or low angles. Without the addition of the flip screen, the A5000 would be a nightmare to shoot with while you have bigger e-mount lenses attached.
For more on design and handling, see the review on the A5100, as they are the same outward design minus the touch-screen.
Color & White Balance
Color on the A5000 is much better than most cameras under $400. While it in't the most accurate color on the market, it is nearly perfect on saturation–with 100.6% saturation–and better than average ∆C00 of 2.30 in the Standard color mode. You can always get more saturated results with modes like Vivid or better skin tones with Portrait.
White balance is obviously a big player in how color performs and on the A5000, white balance is decent. When using auto white balance, we saw both florescent and tungsten struggle a bit–having errors around 300-450 kelvin–but daylight was within 100 kelvin consistently. When we switched over to custom white balance, we got more accurate results–all averaged an error under 100 kelvin.
The features on the A5000 are par for the course for a Sony system. You get built-in WiFi and NFC (near field communication) for sharing and/or transferring photos instantly. WiFi also allows you to use the PlayMemories Camera Apps to share images over your favorite social media sites, transfer images to mobile devices, and even use your mobile device as a remote control for the camera itself.
Another feature that helps keep the A5000 competitive with other small mirrorless DSLR cameras that target "on-the-go" users–like Samsung's NX Mini–is the selfie flip-screen. Just like the A5100, the A5000 has the selfie screen to help people frame that perfect shot–of their self. It also has incorporated the "Smile Shutter" so you don't even have to click the shutter release–just smile and the camera does the rest. This technology is becoming more and more of a "must-have" feature for smaller interchangeable lens cameras, even if we assume most advanced shooters couldn't care less.
There are several scene modes that allow you to get the exact shot you want no matter what. There are nine modes total scenes to choose from, ranging from portrait to sports action and macro to night scene. You can use these in addition to the 10 different effects–posterization, pop color, retro photo, partial color, high contrast monochrome, HDR painting, rich-tone monochrome, miniature, watercolor, and illustration–to enhance or change the photos mood entirely. You can even use the posterization, pop color, retro photo, partial color, high contrast monochrome, toy camera, and soft high-key effects to give your videos a new look as well.
We tested the A5000 with the 16-50mm f/3.5-36 (24-75mm 35mm equivalent) "kit" lens. It did fairly well in tests, however, it does have a bit of both pincush and barrel distortion throughout all focal lengths. The A5000 managed to resolve an average of 1,600 line widths per picture height at a contrast level of MTF50 at the widest focal length. The sharpness goes up to about 1,800 LW/PH at MTF50 at 50mm. It is as sharp as 2,500 LW/PH in the center of images, but falls as low as 1,100 LW/PH on the edges.
The RAW shots tend to be a little softer as the A5000 doesn't apply the sharpening software as it does to the JPEG images. Even when it is applied, it doesn't seem to be too aggressive to the point of ruining quality–as we have seen from some cameras.
The A5000 is not quite on the same footing in the performance department as the A6000 or A5100, but for the price, it's a steal. It has a 20.1MP Exmor APS-C sensor with the Bionz X image processor, which helps with quicker AF and excellent noise reduction that is not overly destructive to fine detail. Performance-wise the A5000 has both a better sensor and a faster processor than the previous NEX-3N, and it's not close. Overall the A5000 produces higher resolution images with better color and more dynamic range than its predecessor.
When we put the A5000 through our color tests, we saw the best results in the "Standard" color mode. The saturation was near perfect–sitting at 100.6%–and the color error was a little better than average. This means that shooting standard will give you close to true coloring in most settings–assuming your white balance is correctly tuned. There are also options like Vivid and Neutral to give you the flexibility of shooting with more saturation–or less in the case of Neutral.
White balance is obviously a big player in how color performs and on the A5000, and the camera copes well in most normal conditions. When using auto white balance, we saw both florescent and tungsten struggle a bit, but daylight was very accurate, as expected. When we switched over to custom white balance, we got more accurate results, but it's an extra step most people won't bother with. If you want to bypass this altogether you can shoot in RAW and figure it out later.
While the color accuracy was not much better than average, high ISO noise was very impressive. Noise from ISO 100-800 is hardly noticeable–even without the NR (noise reduction) active. When we activated the NR, we actually noticed worse results, so we recommend staying away from it as you get more noise from the over sharpening. You can shoot through the entire ISO range (100-12800) without crossing a 2% noise ratio, but we recommend capping it at ISO 1600 if you want to preserve fine details. If you take a look at the chart below you can see how you start to lose the finer details once you float above ISO 1600.
Video on the A5000 is a huge improvement over the NEX-3N. When capturing HD video we achieved around 550 line pairs per picture height horizontally and vertically. In low light the A5000 saw a little drop in sharpness–which is to be expected. Surprisingly, the A5000 got as low as 4.5 lux in our low-light sensitivity test with the kit lens. Though the resulting video is grainy and unusable for most people, so we recommend staying around 8 or more lux to get quality video.
We were quite impressed with the noise results we saw on the A5000. The addition of the Bionz X sensor really made a huge difference in what the camera can do in terms of noise. Although the ISO range isn't the most impressive–100-12,000 with a 16,000 equivalent boost–the quality is astounding.
You can shoot through the entire ISO range (100-12800) without crossing a 2% noise ratio–what we use as a quality threshold–but we recommend capping it at ISO 1600 if you want to preserve fine details. If you take a look at the chart below you can see how you start to lose the finer details once you float above ISO 1600.
The noise reduction is interesting in the sense that we actually got higher noise results with it activated. This is probably from over processing of the images, so we recommend just leaving it off. You will end up getting more detail out of the image with it off–and apparently have less noise too (win/win).
While Sony still isn't the first name most people think of when it comes to digital cameras, it is making waves with its robust camera lineup. While it isn't common knowledge for most consumers, Sony is actually the dominant producer of digital camera sensors. Sony manufactures the magic that powers some of the best cameras on the market, including the sensors found in many iPhones, as well as several Nikon and Pentax DSLRs.
That same quality permeates Sony's entire camera lineup, giving the company a leg up in producing high-quality, low-cost digital cameras. That was true of older Sony NEX cameras, but it's even more true with this new crop of E-mount cameras. The A6000, A5100, and now the A5000 all perform at a very high level, but cost significantly less than many competing DSLRs.
The A5000, for example, goes for right around $400 brand-new on Amazon but performed in our labs like a DSLR that costs at least twice as much. And with a rapidly improving mirrorless lens lineup from Sony, a beginner can get into the A5000 today and reliably grow their lens library as they improve as a photographer. It's a camera perfectly designed for people who are stepping up from a point-and-shoot or a smartphone, giving even novices a simple entry point into the world of interchangeable lens cameras.
Of course, even if you're set on a Sony mirrorless camera you've got a few options. The A6000 is excellent and includes an EVF, but at $800 it's significantly more expensive than the A5000. The Sony A5100 is a slightly closer comparison point, and it makes a compelling case for spending a little extra scratch. It has the same high-resolution sensor as the A6000, thoroughly outperforming the A5000—if you've got $700 to spend.
But if you're shopping in the $500 and under range, it's impossible to beat the A5000 right now. There are better cameras, there are cheaper cameras, but there aren't any better, cheaper cameras on the market right now. If you're definitely set on getting an interchangeable lens camera right now, there's no better bargain than the Sony A5000.
Video on the A5000 is a big improvement over the NEX-3. The NEX-3 only offered 720/30p shooting and the A5000 allows for Full HD 1080/60i recording. When capturing HD video we achieved around 550 line pairs per picture height horizontally and vertically. In low light the A5000 saw a little drop in sharpness, but still managed to get 475 LP/PH vertically and horizontally at 60 lux.
Surprisingly, the A5000 got as low as 4.5 lux in our low-light sensitivity test with the kit lens. Though the resulting video is grainy and unusable for most people, so we recommend staying around 8 or more lux to get quality video.