Darin McQuoid Blog Reviews Tutorials River Directory

Sony NEX-5

Sony NEX-5
Weight: 10.1oz

    The idea of the Sony NEX-5 is a bit odd. Take a dSLR APS-C sized sensor and squeeze it into a compact camera body, giving it compact camera controls, with the whole layout geared toward novice photographers. The camera bodies are indeed tiny, but there is no way to get around the amount of glass needed in a lens to cover an APS-C sized sensor. What you end up is disproportionate, a compact body with a hulking near SLR sized lens on it. Even with the smallest 16mm pancake lens, I found that the camera was not "pocket able" in a pair of pants.

For Nikon users an easy way to get an idea of its size, the NEX-5 and 16mm f/2.8 next to the Nikkor 70-300VR.

   dSLR image quality
   Small & light
   Easy to adapt any SLR lens to
   Rear LCD quality

    Physical controls
    No EVF
    No controls while shooting video
    No mirror

Cons in detail:

Physical controls. the lack of which many reviews have bemoaned. On the initial release the controls were simply terrible. Thankfully a firmware upgrade made it possible to customize the three rear buttons. Even with the upgrade the menu driven controls are slow and cumbersome for on the fly shooting. I'm ok with this in the unique environment of kayaking, but would not want to shoot full time with a NEX-5. As a kayaking only camera it can get by though.
No EVF: In bright sunlight, specifically on the river, it can be near impossible to see the rear LCD at times, making it hard to frame a shot well (or at all). The NEX-5 could really use an electronic viewfinder, but alas none is available nor will be due to the lack of contacts attach an EVF to.

No control while shooting video. The NEX-5 takes full 1080HD video at 60i and uses the AVCHD codec. The video coming out of the camera is quite stellar. Unfortunately there is no way to lock exposure while shooting video, and it will only shoot video in full auto mode. This makes it useless for shooting whitewater with any kind camera movement, going from shadows to whitewater it will always over-expose.

No mirror. dSLR's use the mirror for quick phase detect auto focus. Phase detect is not possible without a mirror, so enter contrast AF. It's fairly quick on the NEX-5, but certainly not even on par with the archaic Nikon D50. Plus there is no optical viewfinder, the trademark of an SLR.

Pros in detail:

dSLR image quality. With an APS-C sized sensor the NEX-5 really can output dSLR quality images. I found it a slight step ahead of the Nikon D200 image quality, and a considerable step behind the incredibly more expensive full frame Nikon D700 when it came to noise performance and dynamic range. The true limiting factory of the image quality on the NEX-5 is the lack of quality Sony E lenses.

 Seven frames per second. When taking a sequence of images with a traditional SLR, the camera will focus and check exposure, life the mirror, open/close the shutter, and return the mirror. All that for one shoot. To achieve a high frame rate the camera is forced to do that incredibly quickly. This results in expensive cameras. In the NEX-5 there is no mirror, so the camera achieves a very admirable 7fps.

The small size and weight are simply sublime, it's minimalist to the core. Only 10oz and slightly larger than a compact pocket camera.

 Easy to adapt any SLR lens to: The added benefit of no mirror and a compact body is that the image sensor and rear element of the lens can be closer together than on a SLR. This means slightly smaller lenses, but the true benefit is that a simple $50 adapter (basically an extension tube) will allow you to mount any SLR lens to the camera. This is nice if you are already invested in an SLR setup, you can still use your favorite lenses (granted without Auto-focus). With my collection of old Nikkor AI-S lenses I loved this ability to transform the NEX-5 into a backup emergency camera on an expedition.

The rear LCD screen is beautiful. It's possible to tilt it up and down, but nowhere near adjustable as the Panasonic GH2's LCD, but it's not as thick and bulky either. I wish all dSLRs had this, but for some reason the big two seem to think that it would only be a useful feature for amateurs. They need to pull their head out of the sand, a tilt-able LCD is a blessing for shooting creative angles.

  I loved the NEX-5, but wanted a camera to shoot video on too. A simple firmware update from Sony could have fixed the lack of video controls, but tragically that never happened. Sony did one last, very odd update adding many novice "picture modes" and of all things, focus peaking. Focus peaking is incredible for manual focus work, and generally not seen until pro-level status is reached. So the latest NEX-5 firmware update completes the strangest mix of pro and complete amateur features into one camera. No EVF or future for one was a hindrance I could have lived with, although it kept the camera from being ideal in the bright, contrast rich environments I use it in. The small size and weight are simply sublime, it's minimalist to the core; nearly the perfect expedition oriented whitewater camera with a few fatal flaws, I sold mine with minor regret.

 The NEX-5 really shines with good lenses, gallery below.


Sony NEX-5, Sony 16mm f/2.8 @ 1/800s f/5.6 ISO 400

A quick 100% crop shows decent detail.

The high resolution rear LCD makes it easy to set up tilt/shift shots. As long as it's not too bright out.

Sony NEX-5, Arsat 35mm f/2.8 Tilt/Shift

Sony NEX-5, Tamron 70-210 f/3.5 "19AH"

100% crop of the same. Amazing how you can see his whiskers. Note noise from ISO 400.

On the river, Daniel Brasuell.

Sony NEX-5, Simga 18-200 @ ISO 1600.

100% crop with no noise removal or sharpening.