Sony NEX-5 review

Can Sony's compact DSLR create a shift in high-end consumer photography?

TODO alt text

Sony nex 5

The NEX-5 is a small camera, but you'll still need both hands to use it. It may not weigh you down too badly, but its 229g weight, as well as the fact that the chunky metal lens is mounted well to the left-hand side, means you'll need to support it well to get a level shot.

Still, the grip on the right is well-sized, and lightly coated with textured plastic to make it harder to drop.

As the EVIL acronym suggests, there's no optical viewfinder, which means you do everything via the beautiful 3-inch TruBlack monitor on the back.

Sony nex 5

With 921,600 pixels it's extremely fine-grained. This makes checking focus – generally harder on non-optical viewfinders – a simpler task.

Usefully, it's also articulated, allowing you to angle it up or down: handy if you're shooting over a crowd, or want to get a snail's-eye shot without lying on the ground. The screen is also extremely bright and has an excellent contrast range.

Sony nex 5

A single complaint is that, by default, it adapts automatically to ambient light, getting lighter in sunlight and darker indoors. While this is a handy usability feature, it can make checking the exposure of your images a little hit and miss unless you turn on the handy live histogram.

That the NEX-5 is a well-built, good-looking camera isn't exactly surprising, but its performance really threw us.

Sony nex 5

Sony claims an unlikely-sounding 7fps in its fastest continuous mode, but, measured against a stopwatch, the NEX-5 went more than a full frame per second faster, at 8.4fps – in RAW mode. Admittedly, it only actually took seven frames, but that's still a spectacular turn of speed.

Switching to JPEG got us a similar speed – just over 7fps – but the camera ran for 1.78 seconds, capturing 13 frames.

Just about the only problem with the NEX-5's performance is its contrast-detection autofocus system – for many of our test shots, its performance was similar to that of a cheaper compact camera, as it hunted for a crisp image.

It's a shame, because a decent phase detection system (as Sony uses in Live View mode on its A330) would match the NEX-5's autofocus performance with its excellent continuous mode.

The lens is a well-made but mid-range, unstabilised specification. The focal length – 18mm to 55mm – is the same as you'll find on most entry-level DSLRs, although the metal construction makes it feel a cut above.

You're in for a shock the first time you take it off, though. Where a DSLR's sensor is hidden behind the shutter curtain and SLR mirror, twist the NEX-5's lens off and you'll find yourself staring straight at the exposed, sensitive and highly fragile APS-C sensor.

Sony nex 5

Changing lenses can be a risky business at the best of times, but with the NEX-5 you'll have to be extremely careful not to change in even a moderately dusty environment.

We certainly found that our review sample – which may have done the rounds before reaching us – needed a few puffs of air from a blower before we were taking dust-free images. There's no mechanical anti-dust system.

Tech Specs

Product TypeMirrorless Camera with Lens
Battery Size SupportedProprietary Battery Size
Maximum Video Resolution1920 x 1080
Effective Camera Resolution14.2 Megapixel
Wide AngleYes
Product Familyalpha NEX
HD Movie ModeYes
3D Type3D
Memory Card SupportedMemory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Card, Secure Digital (SD) Card, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, Memory Stick PRO High Speed Duo
Image StabilizationOptical
Brand NameSony
FeaturesFace Detection, Smile Detection, Aperture Priority, Manual White Balance, Live View
Screen Size7.6 cm (3")
Video FormatsMPEG-4
Viewfinder TypeNo
Weight (Approximate)229 g
Image Sensor Size23.40 mm x 15.60 mm
Maximum Image Resolution4592 x 3056
Display Screen TypeLCD
Height58.8 mm
Width110.8 mm
Depth38.2 mm
Product SeriesNEX
Image FormatsRAW, JPEG
Focus ModesAuto
ManufacturerSony Corporation
Product ModelNEX-5
Product Namealpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Camera
Product Linealpha
Exposure Control
  • Auto
  • Program Auto
  • Shutter Priority
  • Aperture Priority
  • Manual
Aspect Ratio16:9
Manufacturer Part NumberNEX5AS.CEH
Manufacturer Website Address
Marketing Information

Capture stunning images with DSLR-like picture quality, plus the convenience of interchangeable lenses all without the size and weight of a DSLR. Compact, beautifully styled and brilliantly easy to use, with amazing features like 3D Sweep Panorama and 1080i HD video shooting.

Package Contents
  • alpha NEX-5 Mirrorless Camera
  • NP-FW50 Battery
  • SEL-16F28 Lens
  • Quick Reference Guide
  • Battery Charger
  • Instruction Manual
  • European Warranty Card
  • USB Cable
  • CD-ROM
  • Shoulder Strap
  • Case for Flash
  • Product Registration CD
  • Flash
Limited Warranty1 Year