We can rave about the Sony NEX-5 and its slim size until the cows come home, but it all counts for naught if the little snapper doesn’t take decent shots. With a DSLR-sized sensor on board, there’s no reason it shouldn’t – we took it out and about to find out, so read on for the verdict, and some HD video sample clips in this part of our Sony NEX-5 review.
The Sony NEX-5 is one of only a handful of hybrid interchangeable lens cameras with a “full size” APS-C sensor (the others are the Sony NEX-3 and the Samsung HX10). Despite the fact that the NEX-5 has the smallest body of any interchangeable lens camera, its sensor is physically a lot bigger than those used in Panasonic and Olympus’s Micro Four Thirds models, which in theory means the Sony NEX-5 should produce shots with less noise: when the shutter speed is the same, larger sensors are exposed to more light than smaller ones, so the ISO can be set lower. Alternatively, when the ISO is the same, the shutter speed can be faster, leading to less blur when shooting a moving subject.
APS-C sensors are used in full-size DSLR cameras, and to put it in simple terms the Sony NEX-5 delivers DSLR-quality shots. Twinned with the BIONZ processor and its noise reduction technology, the camera’s Exmor R HD CMOS sensor produces some excellent results. In fact, at the NEX-5’s lowest ISO setting of 200, its shots show less visible noise than most rivals at ISO 100. You can easily push the ISO up to higher sensitivities and get usable shots too – the noise performance is far better than on older full size Sony DSLRs like the A200 and A350.
Our test model came with just the 18-55mm lens, and test shots showed this to be a capable performer. There might be some softness in the corners of shots when you have the aperture set wide open, but some early online rumblings about the quality of this lens seem misplaced – 90 percent of users will never have cause to complain about it. The lens itself feels great to use, comes with optical image stabilisation, and mounts to the camera reassuringly snugly.
We haven’t had a chance to properly test the 16mm pancake lens or 18-200mm zoom that make up Sony’s current E mount selection, although having spent an afternoon using the former during Sony’s launch event, we reckon it’s a peach. Despite its tiny size and wide angle, the 16mm serves up very sharp wide angle images with only a small amount of distortion.
There are 25 autofocus points on the Sony NEX-5, and you can switch between three types: multipoint, centre and moveable spot. Autofocus uses contrast detection and generally locks on very swiftly – even quicker than the Panasonic GF1, perhaps. There’s also manual focus, of course (you’ll have to use this if you bolt on the A mount adapter for Sony Alpha lenses), and this is aided by the ability to zoom into an area on the screen to check that everything’s sharp.
Manual focus often comes in handy when shooting video (although AF will work), which brings us on to the Sony NEX-5’s movie skills. You can’t control the aperture or lock the exposure when capturing video, which is a shame, but otherwise the camera does a fantastic job: you can capture video in 1920 x 1080 quality at 50fps in the AVCHD format (or lower quality but possibly more accessible MP4 at 1440 x 1080 or 640 x 480, should you wish) and quality is generally excellent. Sound is recorded in stereo. There isn’t the level of control you get from some DSLRs, but Sony may well bring that to a future, more video-focused model. Here are a few sample clips we shot in 1080i MP4, though you’ll have to click through to Vimeo to see them in HD.
There are plenty of special shooting modes as well. Sweep Panorama on the Sony NEX-5 is the best we’ve seen it. Using any lens (although it works best at wide angles), you can sweep the camera in an arc and it’ll automatically take several shots and stitch them together immediately, giving you a single 8192 x 1856 resolution image. The stitches are rarely visible, and the sharpness and detail in the shot is a big improvement on the Sweep Panorama results you get from other Sony cameras such as the HX5V.
You can also shoot at up to 7fps in continuous mode (with focus and exposure fixed from the first shot, mind), take an automatic HDR shot made up of three images shot at different exposure settings (quality varies with these – the effect does work to deliver detail in both bright and dark parts of the picture, but we preferred the added contrast and punch of “normal” shots in most cases), and take very decent, reasonably sharp noise-free shots in low light using the Handheld Twilight mode (again, this take several frames and merges them together to create a single image).
While the lack of a viewfinder may well put off the most serious of snappers, the Sony NEX-5′s shooting skills make it suitable for anyone looking for DSLR-quality results and specialist low light, panoramic or high speed out of a compact camera.