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Sony NEX-5 review

Verdict

A beautifully made camera with great image and video quality, and the price is tempting too

Review Date: 14 Jul 2010

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £420 (£494 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £334
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Image Quality
5 stars out of 6

Instead of employing the existing Alpha mount from its range of SLRs, however, Sony has chosen to introduce a new E-mount with the NEX range. Adapters are available for Alpha lenses, but autofocus doesn’t work – a missed opportunity to capitalise on the existing Alpha user base. The only other lenses available right now, aside from the kit lens that came with our review sample, are a 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens (£219 inc VAT) and a rather expensive 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 (£699 inc VAT).

And while the NEX-5 is an excellent choice for novices, with pop-up tips and easy-to-understand on-screen explanations of what the various features do, enthusiasts will find the controls and menu system a cumbersome compromise. The rotating five-way control lets you navigate options quickly, but with buttons elsewhere relatively thin on the ground, adjusting ISO, metering or focus modes can be done only by diving into the menus. Worse, the features you’re looking for are more often than not two clicks or more deep, and with context menus changing from one mode to the next, it can all get rather confusing.

So there are niggles, but luckily none surrounding performance or image quality. Power-on time isn’t anything special – it takes just over four seconds from cold to first shot – but once you’re there, the contrast autofocus system is snappy and shot-to-shot times are good. In standard continuous mode the NEX-5 fired off ten frames in 7.6 seconds, and in its Speed Priority mode it managed a highly impressive seven in a fraction over two seconds before hitting the buffers.

Sony NEX-5 rear

Image quality is excellent, with good dynamic range and plenty of detail capture, but it’s the low-light performance of the NEX-5 that really impresses. Noise becomes noticeable at ISO 3200 and above, but shots are reliably printable at both ISO 1600 and 3200 and even 6400 at a pinch. A detachable flash is included with the NEX-5, and it’s a very good one at that, but as the low-light performance is so good you’ll find yourself leaving it in its plastic case most of the time.

Video capture isn’t quite as impressive, but still ranks as the best movie mode we’ve seen on a camera in this price bracket. Autofocus is continuous and almost silent (you can just about hear it if you listen through headphones), and the SteadyShot stabilisation is effective. It isn’t for video enthusiasts, though, lacking advanced features such as subject tracking, 5.1 audio and a 3.5mm microphone input (Sony offers a proprietary external mic).

Manual controls are limited and the internal mic isn’t very directional, picking up a little too much background noise for our liking. But the NEX-5 shoots in AVCHD format at 1080/50i and all the films we shot on it looked crisp, smooth and well balanced, with realistic colours, even in low light.

That makes the NEX-5 the most accomplished SLD camera we’ve yet seen. Its stills are on a par with good mid-range DSLRs and better than the Micro Four Thirds cameras we’ve tested at high ISO, build quality is sumptuous and the HD video capture is far better than that of its main rivals. And with a price of fractionally under £500, it’s a bargain. If you’re in the market for a do-it-all camera with interchangeable lenses, this is our current pick of the crop.

Author: Jonathan Bray

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User comments

More samples please...

...as suggested in the PCPRO podcast!

BTW, who wrote this article? There's no credit. That's not very web 2.0

By ricksters on 16 Jul 2010

Interlace? Really? Why?

Does this really record interlaced footage or is it progressive (i.e. 25p) wrapped into an interlaced file?

I still don't quite fathom the logic of recording anything interlaced any more given that no LCD display is capable of displaying it properly - it is an outdated dinosaur belonging to CRT technology that should be buried as far as I am concerned.

By ricksters on 16 Jul 2010

Interlaced...

The camera records 1080i footage at a rate of 50 fields per second. Effectively this gives you Full HD footage at 25fps once it's been deinterlaced by either your TV, PC, video player or video editing software.

The resolution and the final framerate, then, is no different to 1080/25p. However there is arguably a disadvantage with interlaced recording. As each deinterlaced frame is made up of two sequential fields, in situations where fast motion is being recorded the position of elements in each field can be slightly different, leading to a slight blurring of the subject matter.

Just to confuse the issue, according to some schools of thought, this blurring can actually help with fast motion, as it helps smooth the transition from one frame to the next. Sky Sports is transmitted in 1080i.

Obviously 1080/50p would be better, but there aren't many camcorders at this price that offer that mode, nor much video editing software that can take advantage of it the format.

Jonathan Bray,
Reviews editor,
PC Pro.

By JonBray on 16 Jul 2010

"the contrast autofocus system is snappy"

I'd hoped for a closer look at this, as the use of contrast detect over the much faster phase detect autofocus is (or was) an issue.

can it keep up with fast moving things - wildlife, kids (arguably the same thing) and sports? Can it focus-track people or objects as they move towards or away from the camera (i.e. does it have an ai-servo function)?

One other more mundane question; I note the flash is very close to the lens. Does it pop up when used or is there a large shadow on the subject when they're close to the camera?

By Mark_Thompson on 16 Jul 2010

Rollocks, another question about focus - how does its contrast detection autofocus perform in poor light? (another challenge for this method of focus, and exacerbated by the smaller depth of field resulting from the larger sensor).

By Mark_Thompson on 16 Jul 2010

Interlaced....

Jon,

Different temporal resolution with interlace...but anyway.

My point is why record in a format that is not supported by any display device? - As you correctly point out the signal is deinterlaced (by a very cheap!) DSP chip in the TV resulting in an inferior picture quality compared to what you would get if it simply recorded 25p natively. By way of an example at work we have a £10K professional piece of kit just to remove interlace properly. I suspect therefore that a 10 quid scaler/deinterlacing chip in a domestic TV is not going to cut the mustard. :)

Most digital video cameras implement 1080p25 for the nice filmic look and 720p50 (or 60) when you want to capture high speed motion - both of these formats being supported natively by LCD TVs.

1080p50 will of course look lovely, but it will be "video" lovely rather than "film" lovely. Higher frame rates do not necessarily lead to more pleasing images.

By ricksters on 19 Jul 2010

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By laptopbattery on 21 Jul 2010

Ralph Ireland

Nice camera. Pity about the weight you report:
Weight 508.000kg

By RalphEIreland on 22 Jul 2010

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