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Sony NEX-5: Finally, A Giant Leap!
Point and shoot cameras are preferred by most of us because they are cheap and easy to use. Every one of us would like to own a DSLR camera but the learning curve is a deterrent. Companies such as Olympus and Panasonic tried to bring the best of both worlds by introducing micro four third cameras which are somewhere in between a DSLR and a point and shoot.
Sony is now trying to bridge the gap even further by introducing their NEX series of cameras which uses the exact same size sensor as a standard DSLR. We’re looking today at the new Sony NEX-5, a mirrorless 14.2 MP CMOS sensor camera.
The bundled 18-55mm lens should be sufficient for most users
While the NEX-5 looks like a compact point and shoot, it comes with a detachable lens. The camera we received came with an 18-55 mm lens, which fits into Sony’s new E-mount which has been specially designed for these cameras. There aren’t many lens options for the camera yet but the available choice should be sufficient for most casual photographers. One of the other surprising things is that the Sony NEX-5 uses a SD card. Sony has been using its proprietary MemoryStick cards for a long time and a slow shift towards SDHC can be seen across their DSLR cameras as well.
Sony's new camera with an APS-C size CMOS sensor
There is no mode selection dial on the camera, so one you need to browse through the interface for a couple of seconds to be able to change the mode. It will take some time for even experienced users to get used to the new interface. For example, one of the annoyances is the ISO and White Balance setting being placed in the Brightness/Color menu. Other than that, most of the other controls are still present as they are on any other camera and are easy to use.
Design and Build Quality
The camera also has a detachable flash which can be very easily unscrewed from its mount by hand. The flash can be turned on by pushing it upwards. When you remove the flash unit, a thin flexible flap covers the gap in the body. The camera is compact and fits reasonably comfortably in one hand. The camera tends to lean towards the heavy lens at the front though.
The easy-to-remove detach flash unit at the top of the NEX5
The trigger release button is beautifully machined, and so are most of the other menu buttons. The dial at the back is made of good quality plastic. It’s tactile and the menu buttons very precisely positioned next to the tilting 3-inch screen. The build quality of the lenses used on some of the micro four third cameras was appalling, but the lens on the NEX-5 is far studier and so is the mount on the camera body. In fact, some of the early Sony A200 models had somewhat poor quality lens bodies. They were light and felt cheap during operation. The focus and zoom ring have a fluid motion and are very sturdy. Even the battery and memory card door bay are built well. The NEX-5 feels like a much more serious camera.
Browsing through the first few pictures shot on the NEX-5, it’s pretty obvious that there is a big quality improvement over all the other point and shoot camera in the market. There is good detail in the image in the sense that there isn’t as much sensor noise that you would find in a regular point and shoot camera. The large ISO spread means you can get good quality shots with the ISO set to 200 and good low light performance at 12,800.
The most basic of controls on the NEX-5
The overall image quality is way better than a point and shoot and about the same as you would get on an entry-level DSLR. This isn’t a camera that takes on the Canon EOS 550Ds and Nikon D90s. Colours are fairly natural except for outdoors where images are somewhat overexposed. Focusing was also a problem in the aperture, shutter priority and manual modes where the camera continuously tried to focus. It’s also noisy when you press the trigger thanks to the mechanical sliding window style shutter.
An example of the good colour reproduction on the NEX-5
The panorama mode works beautifully – it’s quick and it fires many shots in a matter of seconds picking only thin slices from each frame so there’s little distortion in the final image. The downside is that any moving objects appear cut in pieces. The feature is great for large landscape photography and not for a crowded road junction or a party.
An example of good depth of field using the f/3.5-5.6/18-55 lens
The screen quality is good and so is the video recording capability. A dedicated Movie button makes video recording really easy as there’s no need to switch to the video recording mode first and then start the recording itself.
After seeing so many cameras come out through the years, each with tiny improvements over the last, it hasn’t been the most exciting of times in the point-and-shoot camera segment. We’re happy to report that the NEX-5 is one of the most exciting cameras to come out in a while, and we’re glad that Sony did it. It’s not right to call the NEX-5 a DSLR but it does bring a whole lot more to the table than any other point and shoot could – great features, quality and easy operation. We’d recommend this camera to everyone but the only hurdle we see is its price of Rs. 34,990, which is quite high considering you could buy a decent DSLR for less than that. If you want to get into photography, then a full-fledged DSLR is the better option – they boast all the physical controls and the variety of lens options for your camera. However, if you are a casual photographer and have no budget restrictions for a point and shoot, you should get this.