Sony NEX-5 [Review]

Sony NEX-5 [Review]


_images_I_41D3j40ybfL._SL500_AA300_.jpgThe Sony Nex-5 is a great camera that I would consider buying and carrying with me at all times as a very good, compact alternative to my dSLR. I could pretty much just leave it there, but I want to tell you some of the great stuff and, despite what I’ve just said, a couple of the things that annoyed me, too.

Just one thing before we go geeking out on this little camera, this isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a technical review (Read Barrie’s NEX-3 review) it’s more of a “how did this camera make me feel” review. There are many “technical specification reviews” on the web for this little guy… Today we’re all about if it’s actually any good despite its 14.2MP and its 12,800 iso rated sensor.

I had the Sony Nex-5 sent out recently, thank you Viv, to put through its paces, give it the good news and generally see how we got along. The perfect opportunity, I was going to Africa for 9 days, the length of my review time, and thought why not take it with me? and so I did!

Tunisia | Sony nex 5

What you notice right off when you open the box and pull out the NEX-5 is that it’s sort of an odd shape, that’s with the kit 18-55mm F/3.5-6.3 lens that I had. It doesn’t really fit in your pocket, though, I found it sort of too small to slip into a camera bag as mine are all set up to take my battery gripped 5DMKII’s and the sweet little Sony would have disappeared into the depths!… The Sony was just fine in the smaller front pocket of my Retrospective 20, it was also well at home in Michelle’s handbag. You could also purchase the Lens Jacket Case for Sony NEX Series Camera which is pretty plush, but it didn’t come with the review model. So, this isn’t really a gripe, I just found it hard to carry around with the 18-55mm lens attached…

The Sony NEX-5 also has an 16mm f/2.8 lens that’s available… faster, thinner and dead sexy! I didn’t get the 16mm but I did notice that the barrel of the 18-55mm that I did get with the review unit was plastic – it seemed to be sturdy enough, but when you’re paying a decent amount for a camera with a kit lens, you’d maybe expect slightly more than plastic? (Or, what felt like plastic, I didn’t do the bite test) The little NEX-5 can be used with most of the Sony a range of lenses, with the adapter – I’d love to see the NEX-5 with the Sony 300 2.8 on the front! I found the kit lens that was included to be more than sufficient for every day use – nice and sharp.

The viewfinder on the Sony NEX-5 Is a tilting 3″ lcd screen (XtraFine TruBlack) but it doesn’t just tilt up, it tilts down too – so you can hold the camera above your head when you’re in a crowd (who hasn’t done this at a concert, hands up?) or, you can shoot from the hip – which I personally loved doing whilst travelling – it made for great candid photographs. I found the lcd screen very easy to use and easy enough to see even in bright sunlight.

Most of the settings are chosen via the little jog dial and a limited number of buttons – when I first tried to find manual, it was a little tricky (men don’t read instructions until they really need to, right?) but once I’d familiarised myself, I was happily changing between modes and changing my settings on the fly. As with anything, it takes a little getting used to, especially when you’re a dSLR user and most things have a button right there under your fat thumbs! The multiple modes were fun, and some of them even worked quite well – but I was very happy with manual as it happens – I think that having a small, dSLR like (minus the mirror, erm) changeable lens camera and not using it in manual is a waste – it teaches you a lot about your photography (The Sony also shoots in RAW format… or, ARW, the Sony version, which I firmly believe is just a spelling mistake! ha) and how to control various aspects of a camera without having to lug around a big old dSLR. THat said, the camera in its auto-form works very well and is good at discerning a scene and capturing it with gusto!

I tried out Panorama Sweep mode – I looked like some guy with a remote control watching a fast electric boat go by, standing on the water’s edge, spinning from side to side and constantly being told “you’re spinning too fast man!” I got it in the end and sure enough, the camera produced a decent pano, stupidly on my holiday I didn’t take a laptop (holidays are sometimes actual holidays!) and I ran out of space, so I deleted my pano, but it does work after some fine tuning of your spinning around’ness (that really isn’t a word, but let’s pretend!)

I was really very happy with the little camera, until it came to the flash unit – the flash unit on the Sony Nex-5 is a “bolt on” you have to screw it into the top of the camera, which leaves you with no place to stick the optional stereo mic (very cool!) in if you’re recording video. It also means that, if you’re using a camera bag like the one I was using that the little unit can very easily disappear between the cracks and you’ll freak out and think you’ve lost it in the sand! (I didn’t) the flash isn’t all that powerful, with a guide number of 7mtrs at iso100 it’s just fine for the odd portrait and the camera, when in auto mode (I did pop it in iAuto etc, for the sake of this review) actually does its best to balance the ambient and the flash and it doesn’t do half bad. With very bright sunlight outside, you can see my little buddy Sebastian wasn’t too badly exposed when the camera did it all itself.

The battery performance is rated at 330 images – I used the camera on and off each day for nine days and didn’t charge it, but only shot about 151 images when all was said and done (and a couple of videos, too) which brings me on to my next point – video! Yes, you can film stuff, you can make nice little HD (1080i) videos, and, they’re very good quality. I found it easier to snap a quick video with the Sony NEX-5 and its bendy screen than I did / do with my Canon 5DMKII – just because of the screen tilt option, I shot from the hip and found recording very steady. I can’t comment on the sound as I didn’t have the optional mic, but for a quick moment capture, the on-board mic is fine.

So, the sensor, which is a CMOS APS-C sized sensor, is said to handle up to 12,800 iso (That means that like a bat, it can mostly see in the dark… err, a bat uses sonor… um, anyway) I didn’t bump the Sony up over 1000, but this is what happened when I did muck about with the iso – the photograph below (my great aunt, bless!) has had a filter applied in Lightroom, converted to jpg and uploaded here… The flash fired and I was about 3mtrs away – I took this photo as it’s the same as one (almost identical!) I took last time I saw my Gt Aunt over a year ago – same chair, same sitting position – she’s a lovely lady and I think the photo conveys the situation well. …I digress!

iso 200 | 20mm | f/4.0 | 1/60th

So, that was iso 200, how about iso 1000… This was inside the government shop in Tunisia, the shop was closed but we found a guy who let us in and made us tea – it was quite dark, and this is what the little Sony produced…

iso 1000 | 23mm | f/4.0 | 1/40th

And here’s a crop of the image above – you can see noise, you can see a little shake – but in my hands at 1/40th of a second, I think it did very well!

iso 1000 | 23mm | f/4.0 | 1/40th

The Highs?

  • Compact form factor
  • Noise performance is quite good
  • Video is really good
  • Images are great
  • Sexy

The Not so highs!

  • Almost lost the flash
  • Funny shape requires funny shaped pockets
  • Flash takes up the mic slot – though, why would you use both at once? but still…

So in summary… I really like this little camera, I think it’s a great step between compact and a dSLR and I’d recommend you pop to a shop and try it out! –no stars as this isn’t a real, in depth review, it’s my heart talking which I guess is where our love for photography comes from, right?

Get a price on the Sony NEX-5 at Amazon.

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Sime (aka #gtvone) is the customer support manager for dPS, and lead blogger in our Cameras and Gear Blog. He's a Melbourne based photographer, and please feel free to follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Some Older Comments

  • Katrina Latham January 2, 2012 02:36 pm

    I got one for Christmas! I love love love it! Still have lots to learn, but have enjoyed the pics I've gotten so far!!

  • Jane April 9, 2011 12:48 am

    Hi Kathy,

    I have owned the NEX-5 for about 2 months now and must say I'm very impressed. My other cameras are Canons (450D, 50D and G10) and a number of L lenses. I was lucky enough to get the NEX-5 with both kit lenses for a very good price.

    I have since purchased several adaptors to allow me to use other lenses with the NEX-5..... M42 mounts etc.

    I'm really not sure if you can only afford 1 of the 2 kit lenses which one I would suggest. I guess it depends on your style of shooting. Personally I always find myself going for lenses with longer reach. so far I have the 18-55mm on my NEX-5 for the majority of the time. But as I said it's personal preference and what you tend to shoot more of.

    I am not 100% sure about the Nikon D40 kit lenses but I believe you can purchase an adaptor that enables you to use Nikon lenses on the NEX-5. I have one that lets me use my Canon lenses on it but you should be aware that whatever lens you use there will be no electrical connection so focusing etc will all be manual.

    I'm very excited about the news that Sony has released the E-Mount specifications to 3rd party manufacturers. Hopefully this will mean a few more lenses will become available for this great little camera in the near future and that they will be much more reasonably priced than the likes of the Sony 18-200mm that goes for about $1199 AUS at the moment!!

  • Kathy April 2, 2011 03:13 am

    I am thinking about buying the Nex-5 but is the 16mm or the 18-55mm lens better if I could only choose one? Can Nikon D40 lenses also be used on the Nex-5? I'm hoping to upgrade from my pre-historic point and shoot without actually plunging into an SLR-though price wise, it's not too far off. Thanks for your help & advice!

  • Dathan January 27, 2011 01:49 pm

    I have had the NEX 5 for 3 days, and must say that the barrel distortion on the 18-55 kit lens is terrible. I really wanted to love & keep this camera, but for someone who likes straight lines, it's not possible straight from the camera. I see the potential, but not with the current Sony lens. It will be returned tomorrow. Sadly, I don't have a "plan B". Guess I'll wait this out to see if Sony comes up with a decent affordable lens.

  • ved January 8, 2011 07:02 am

    Thanks for sharing ur views. I’m looking forward to buy this camera and was looking for some user reviews. I saw some very nice sample photos posted by Sony India at
    Just wanted to check if the actual images are also this nice and clear. Please advice, as I’m thinking of buying this camera.

  • Steve October 22, 2010 07:06 am

    I have the Sony NEX 3 model with 18-55mm lens kit and its a great little camera. The latest firmware upgrade sorts out some menu related issues on the camera GUI. It also installs 3D functionality for taking 3D stills which can be displayed on a 3D compatiable TV. Looking forward to putting it through its paces

  • shaheen October 9, 2010 05:58 am

    Hi sergey! how did you attach the Leica lens to the NEX-5? what are the specifications of the lens? thanks in advance for the information. :-)

  • Sime October 4, 2010 10:43 pm

    Luis, No, there is no way to command an external flash unit. --Shame! --Sime

  • Luis Garcia October 4, 2010 10:20 pm

    The combination of an APS-C size sensor and a compact body makes this a really intriguing buy, especially for somebody who already has a DSLR and some lenses. Leave your DSLR at home when you go on vacation. Bring this along with your widest lenses, and you're good to go.

    I have to wonder though, is there a way to attach an external flash?

  • sergey October 3, 2010 02:45 am

    I love this camera. I use it mostly with a manual Leica lens and the results are stunning. I think its an easy to use camera, but still not a "pocketable" camera. I wish Sony would put a hot shoe and make the battery last longer.

  • sergey October 3, 2010 02:45 am

    I love this camera. I use it mostly with a manual Leica lens and the results are stunning. I think its an easy to use camera, but still not a "pocketable" camera. I wish Sony would put a hot shoe and make the battery last longer.

  • Richard T October 2, 2010 09:18 am

    I just picked up the NEX-5 with 18-200mm and its a great little device. I havent had the chance to play with it much, but it feels great holding it.
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  • Kevin Y October 2, 2010 04:42 am

    excellent write up. I think what i like most is that the tiltable screen allows for a nice shoot from the hip shots.

  • Sime October 1, 2010 08:01 pm

    NEXtended - Yes, it does, but when - like me - you don't use a strap, that's a little tricky to employ. (Though thank you for mentioning it!)

    Soli - yes, you can (I wouldn't have said it otherwise?)


  • ddR October 1, 2010 09:05 am

    why do all (P&S, NEX) Sony sensors produce images that smudge details?

    If anything, I think they should release firmware that allows this to be turned off. Their noise control algorithm is way too strong.

  • Soli October 1, 2010 08:35 am

    My apology, you can indeed use pano with 18-55mm, just tried it.

  • NEXtended October 1, 2010 08:22 am

    The NEX comes with a small plastic case for the flash which attaches to the camera strap so you'll never lose it again and always have it when you need it!

  • Soli October 1, 2010 08:13 am

    I thought you can only take pano with 16mm lens, which you didn't have?

  • Mike P October 1, 2010 07:23 am

    Thanks for writing this.

    I actually went on my honeymoon last month and I didn't want to lug my 5D and glass around so I decided to pick up and "advanced" compact. I narrowed it down to the NEX-5 and the GF-1. I really liked the NEX-5 but I ended up going with the GF-1 and I couldn't be happier. I recently saw that Sony is releasing updated firmware to fix the menu system which is good but I'll stick with my GF-1 until Sony or Zeiss comes up with some better glass for the NEX system. Personally, I think the GF-1 with the 20mm is a hard setup to beat. It's the perfect walk around/travel setup.