Field Review: Sony NEX 5 (Day 1)

As the biggest current threat to Micro Four Thirds according to reviewers, and with a company like Sony with lots of resources to back the new system, the flagship Sony NEX 5 camera is one that I’ve been finding so far to be more reasonable than intuitive. It has quickly become my companion camera with me leaving my 7D and 5D Mk II at home in favor of its smaller size and terrific image quality. However, it has its flaws that I feel can perhaps cripple the budding system with so much potential. Please note that this will be a duel field review. I, Chris Gampat, will be testing the camera out myself on many occasions as will Copy Editor Julius Motal. Julius is currently a Minolta film shooter and his sister owns a Sony a230. His family has been with that system for years.

Technical Specs

– 14.2 MP CMOS sensor

– Movie shooting modes =

MP4:
1280 x 720p 29.97fps (9 or 6 Mbps)
640×480 29.97fps

• AVCHD:
1920 x 1080i 60/50fps (17Mbps)

• MP4:
1440 x 1080p 30/25fps (12Mbps)

– Full manual control

– Sweep panorama

– 7fps shooting

– RAW and JPEG shooting

– ISO up to 12,800

– HDR modes

– 920,000 pixel back LCD (gorgeous display)

Ergonomics

The Sony NEX-5is a bit of a weird camera when it comes to ergonomics. There aren’t many buttons and it seems almost like a small super-zoom in terms of body shape. Don’t get me wrong, it is very comfortable to hold and shoot either like a DSLR in Live View or as a point and shoot.

To be quite honest though, the camera seems to have been created for users to leave in auto mode and just simply shoot. There is evidence of this in the menu system. More on that later.

Sony has packed quite a bit into this smaller package than the Micro Four Thirds offerings. Button placement is actually quite good as one can go easily from shooting stills to movies with a quick switch of the thumb or index finger. The flip-out LCD actually helps quite a bit with this, but doesn’t always help when trying to shoot video. Part of this can be  blamed on the autofocus.

Autofocus

The autofocus on this camera is quick and accurate. In addition, it almost never has trouble focusing. That should be a good thing. However, it isn’t the smartest focusing system. For example, if there are people’s faces in the composition, but you’re instead trying to focus on a beer bottle or an adorable puppy, the camera will focus on the faces instead. I can’t tell you how many times I wish it had a pet face detection feature.

Now, users can actually choose their focusing point. There is a multi-focus option, a center option, and an area select option. Choosing which one is best for you all has to do with your sense of composition.

Of course, users can always throw the camera into manual function mode.

Menus

With the new menus, Sony has perhaps done the one that thing I truly feel should not have been touched. Their DSLRs had the easiest and most intuitive menus ever. Then the NEX-5 came along. When users have the patience to dig through them all, they realize that the menus actually make sense. Are they intuitive though? No. One might actually think for example that the ISO values may be under “camera” and not “brightness.” The reason for this is because of all of the technical functions being under camera to begin with.

In order to change anything on this camera, the menus need to be accessed. Most users will not want to scroll through the menus are many people will perhaps become totally confused with them.

When you finally do have everything memorized though, the camera will be a pleasure to use.

Image Quality

Here’s another problem: the images on the LCD look wonderful and very sharp with the 16mm F2.8 pancake lens. Sadly, the Sony program provided doesn’t seem to be working on my Macbook at the time of writing this posting. It works on my desktop PC though.

But the latest version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3should be able to accept any raw file, no? No. The NEX 5’s raw files are not supported in Lightroom at the time of writing this posting, which is a terrible shame as some of my best photos shot so far with the camera are in RAW mode. Editor’s note: Lightroom 3.2 does support the NEX 5 files. Users need to update.

Further, the videos (and the standard AVCHD codec) don’t seem to be readable by either computer with my testing so far. Sony reps are being consulted about this and hopefully help will be given. Editor’s note: These issues will be documented throughout the review for total accuracy of what happened as it happened.

The fact that I’m consulting Sony reps about this though isn’t good as “normal folk” would perhaps be totally clueless as to what to do.

It it noteworthy though that the area right under the sensor did heat up quite a bit. This wasn’t even noticed by me, but by someone else playing with the camera.

Battery Life

It is decent. It isn’t the best so far with my testing, but it is much better than most point and shoots. It lasted an entire eight hour BBQ and still had some juice in it.

More tests will be done with it though.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.