The Sony NEX-5 has recently been given a new lease of life, with an updated firmware that adds creative filters introduced with the NEX-C3. We review the Sony NEX-5 to see how it performs.
Sony NEX-5 Features
The Sony NEX-5 features a large APS-C CMOS sensor, the same size that you find in nearly all Digital SLRs (unless you go to full frame). This gives it the ability to offer theoretically the same excellent image quality as Digital SLRs, but at a significantly reduced size.
New features introduced with the latest firmware, version: 04 (available here) are: Picture Effects such as Toy Camera, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow highlight, Pop Colour and more, as well as the the ability to set the Peaking level and colour in MF.
14.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
Sony E Mount
3 inch tilting screen, 921k dots (16:9)
Seperate mini flash (included)
7fps continuous shooting
25 focus points
ISO200 - ISO12800
Full HD video, stereo mics
Sony NEX-5 Handling
The Sony NEX-5 (3, and C3) are probably the mirrorless cameras with the least number of buttons and controls, especially considering they do not feature touch screens. Perhaps the Panasonic Lumix GF3 has fewer buttons (yes), but the GF3 tries to make up for this with a touch screen that works well.
The size of the camera is tiny! However, as soon as you add a lens to the camera, you realise that the DSLR sized sensor, also means that the camera needs DSLR sized lenses, and this significantly increases the weight and bulk of the camera. There are a few options to keep the size down, either use the 16mm pancake lens, or use an adapter to use an alternative old lens.
Menus: You can press the middle button on the back to change the shooting mode, and with the scroll wheel this is quite easy. Alternatively press the menu button and you get a choice of 6 options: shooting mode, camera options, image size, brightness / colour options, playback and setup. The brightness / colour options are where you can also find exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, metering, flash compensation, DRO / HDR, and creative style (colour options such as vivid, standard, black and white etc), which is not where I expected the options to be. Image size is where you set the image size for still, 3D, and panoramic shots, as well as video size. Camera options are where you can set the drive mode, flash setting, AF/MF, Face detection etc. Setup is where you can customise the buttons you use, as well as set further shooting options, main settings, and memory card tools. Finding your way around these menus may get easier over time.
Battery Life: Rated at 330 shots, we were able to take 330 photos before the battery was exhausted. The camera uses an Info-lithium ion rechargeable battery these are brilliant as they tell you precisely how many minutes are left before the battery will go flat.
Performance was good with quick focusing, shutter response, and excellent shot to shot time even with flash. Continuous shooting is excellent at 6-7fps, and the using a high speed card it's possible to take 18 shots before slow down.
Sony NEX-5 Performance
Sample photos from the Sony NEX-5 and the E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS (Optical Steady Shot) lens can be seen below, with additional sample photos in the equipment database.
Sony NEX-5 Lens test images
The photos taken outdoors show good levels of detail and colour, with very little purple fringing, although some chromatic abberation is visible it wasn't too high. Images are slightly soft but nothing too concerning, although in shots detail was strongest in the centre, with the edges becoming softer. With the provided lens hood flare was well controlled and ghosting was not noticed. Barrel and pincushion distortion are also low, although slight pincushion distortion is visible at the telephoto end of the lens. The kit lens gives good macro performance with the subject 25cm away from the lens, using the full telephoto zoom.
Sony NEX-5 Sample Photos
Great background blur (Bokeh) is possible with the lens. The camera also deals with highlights well, maintaining detail in the sky. The provided flash performs well with very low red-eye.
Sony NEX-5 White-balance test images
White Balance Performance: The camera struggled under tungsten light but auto white balance was fine under fluorescent lighting, and the camera's presets have helped improve results, particularly under tungsten light.
Sony NEX-5 ISO test images
ISO Noise Performance: At ISO200 all the way to ISO1600 noise is very low. At ISO3200 noise starts to become visible, and images become slightly softer. ISO6400 shows more noise, but detail is still good and the results are very usable. Although at ISO12800 noise is the most prominant, and images may be best used resized on the web or processed further to reduce noise more.
Wide - 1/200 sec | f/10.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200
Standard - 1/200 sec | f/10.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200
The NEX-5 allows both vertical and horizontal panoramics. Options are wide or standard, depending on how much you want to capture.
Sony NEX-5 Digital filters
Digital Filters - the new firmware, v04 introduces Picture Effect - this gives you 11 creative modes that let you alter your photos when you take them. The Red/Yellow/Blue/Green highlight modes seem to only work on quite specific shades of each colour (needing quite bold colours), meaning that there is very little green or blue in the example shots. The Canon and Nikon implementation where you can select the specific colour tends to work better.
The camera features 8 scene modes, including a handheld twilight mode that takes a number of shots in quick succession and combines them for a better shot.
Lenses available: there are four lenses currently available (16mm, 18-55 OSS, 18-200 OSS, and a new 30mm Macro lens) with more on their way including a wide, portrait, and telephoto lens expected shotly. There are also wide-angle and fisheye converter add-on lenses available for the 16mm lens as well. Adapters to use Sony Alpha / Konica Minolta Alpha lenses are also available.
The NEX-5 gives you Full HD video with stereo sound. The new picture effects can be used on videos with very little or no noticeable drop in frame rate. The video options are: AVCHD 1920x1080, MP4 1440x1080 or VGA.
Value for Money
The Sony NEX-5 is available for £480 with the 18-55 kit lens with OIS, or £430 with the 16mm pancake lens (without OIS). Alternatively you can find the Sony NEX-C3 for £430 with 18-55 kit lens.
The Sony NEX-5 seems to have an over-reliance on the menus, and it can be a little time consuming trying to find some of the more advanced options. As the smallest mirrorless camera, it is very appealing, although the current lenses don't make the most of the small body as they are quite large. There are also a limited number of lenses, although new lenses are expected shortly. The improvements added with firmware v03 gave the ability to customise the buttons to provide quicker access to your favourite modes, and v04 adds creative modes bringing the NEX-5 up to date with the new C3 and mirrorless cameras from other manufacturers. The Sony NEX-5 produces DSLR image quality with extremely low noise, and Full HD video, performance is impressive with 7fps shooting, and this really is a camera that might make you think twice about taking your DSLR with you.
The Sony NEX-5 offers DSLR image quality in an ULTRA compact body.
Sony NEX-5 Pros
Very low noise right upto ISO3200+
Accurate battery life information (Infolithium)
Ultra small camera... (but large lenses)
High resolution tilting screen
Large rubberised hand grip
7fps continuous shooting
Great build quality
Sony NEX-5 Cons
Softer images than the competition
Non-standard flash socket
Menu system / controls (no touchscreen to make up for the lack of buttons)
Very few buttons on the camera (more on Cybershots)