At CES 2011, I was introduced to a fantastic digital camera made by Sony. It’s the NEX-5 and while it is not exactly a Digital SLR camera (I did mistakenly call it that in my video below), it is perhaps the smallest digital camera that has a detachable and interchangeable lens. I have used a few small digital cameras in my time, but nothing to the level of the NEX-5. It’s feature packed, is a 14.2 megapixel camera that also films 1080/60i HD video. But it isn’t just the multi-function and the small form factor that made me really like the NEX-5. It’s the fact that it is very full-featured and extremely easy to use.
At CES, I got an overview of the NEX-5 which walks through a lot of its plusses. Possibly the most amazing thing was being able to put on a HUGE lens onto the tiny body of the NEX-5.
You can see some of the photographs that I took at CES 2011 on my Flickr stream.
Highlights of the NEX-5’s Features
The NEX-5 is feature-rich and will keep any casual or semi-professional photographer happy with the levels of the controls and functionality that it provides. Just to name a few items that I personally think stand out:
- Small form factor – I was pretty amazed at how small the NEX-5 actually is. And when I first saw it, I was a bit concerned that it would feel awkward in my hands. It is, actually, quite well balanced. The bulky battery area serves as a grip which works just fine. I also found myself carrying it around by holding the lens as well. But over all, its lightweight and compact form factor makes it easy to pick up and carry in a bag or even your pocket.
- 14.2 Megapixel sensor – sure, there are lots of big megapixel cameras out there, but the NEX-5 is more than just a large megapixel camera. The APS-C sensor is much larger than a typical sensor, at least according to Sony. But what I do know is that this sensor allows you to take a wider range of better pictures. For example, for my entire CES trip, I never once hooked up the mini flash that comes with it. I tried various low light shots that normally would have required flash on most other cameras, but the NEX-5 was able to take a great picture, with proper lighting balance, extremely well. The engineers at Sony managed to get a really large sensor into the camera body without having to use mirrors like many DSLRs do:
- Helpful & Easy User Interface – unfortunately, in the past, I found some of Sony’s interfaces to be a bit confusing (others seem to be ok though). The NEX-5 is actually delightful to use because it is not only intuitive but also helpful. Each and every section within the menu has in-line text pop up that explains quickly what the feature does. The screen itself is not touchscreen, but there is a click dial that lets you quickly navigate the menu to the section you need. There are even shooting tips that pop up that can help you compose and shoot your picture differently and potentially better.
- Shooting settings galore – I really loved the fact that the NEX-5 is extremely flexible yet has high performance. For example, in Speed Priority Continuous mode, you can shoot 7 frames per second (of course the focus and exposure are locked to the first frame in order to get those speeds). If you want fully reconfigured speedy shots, you will get about 2.3 fps in the Continuous Advance mode. Sony uses this fast shutter for other types of shooting environments as well. When shooting at twilight, your pictures frequently suffer due to a lack of adequate lighting. The NEX-5 actually shoots 6 pictures and then combines them all together to give you a less grainy and better exposed photo.
- Not just Photos, High Definition Video as well – the picture-taking functionality alone would make this camera great, but Sony was also able to get HD video recording into the small form factor as well. For starters, and this is a great design choice, there is a button dedicated to taking video. This is particularly nice in that you can quickly start shooting video instead of having to hunt through settings to change it. And to top it off, the video is in 1080/60i resolution which can be even played back to an HD screen via an HDMI cable (there is a mini-HDMI port on the camera).
There are many more feature packed into this camera which I touch upon in the video below as well as a bit further on in this article.
A Quick Video Walkthrough
It’s hard to get all of the features explained in one video. Be sure to watch the CES video above as well. In the video below, I show some of the features that I really like, including the manual micro focus ability that I haven’t seen in cameras. This may be commonplace now but I haven’t played with many digital cameras in the past few years. I really liked this ability to either let the camera focus the camera or you to do it manually, and then let the camera to digitally zoom in on the scene to let you fine tune the focus even more. See the video for an example:
I hope that the video conveys the truly small size of this camera. It is easy to carry and even put in a jacket pocket or purse. It’s not bulky by any means. The form factor got mixed reactions from the people that I showed it to, although I must say that most of the reactions were very positive. Those traditional photographers might find the holding of the NEX-5 to be a bit odd compared to traditional DSLR cameras. But Sony is not marketing it that way, but rather it has many if not all of the features of a larger DSLR but in one of the smallest sizes in the market. Being not big, bulky or heavy makes it a real winner in my mind.
A Laundry List of Other Features
Above I wrote the big items that I felt deserved extra mention, but there are a few other things that should be quickly highlighted:
- Lens swapping – you can get other lenses and even adapters to put on larger lenses from 3rd parties.
- Sweep panorama – by just pressing the shutter button in this setting and panning the camera in one direction (vertically or horizontally), the camera takes panoramas and stitches the photos together automatically.
- 3D Sweep panorama – unfortunately I couldn’t test this out but with a 3D compatible TV, you can take a 3D panorama shot and see it in 3D glory on your TV.
- Auto focus – not only can the camera focus in just 0.3 seconds, when filming video, the focus is continuous; and it is a 25 point auto-focus.
- Smile shutter & face detection – want to capture that perfect picture of a person? The NEX-5 can detect faces and when that person is smiling too!
- Multiple formats – you can shoot in RAW or a variety of other formats and sizes. Movies are either MP4 or AVCHD.
- Strong battery life – you can shoot about 330 pictures on a single charge.
- Dual memory card support – you can use either a MemoryStick Pro DUO or SD formats.
- Tilt LCD – this is an extremely handy feature to have. You can get down low or above and still see what you are shooting.
There are a lot of other functions that I encourage you to read about in greater detail on the NEX-5 product page.
It’s important to realize that this is not just a point and shoot compact camera, it is much more powerful and more in line with more expensive DSLRs on the market. The MSRP for the NEX-5 is $699.99 (and the NEX-3 retails for $599). Just as a side note, the NEX-3 support 720/30 HD recording, slightly lower ISO, and a few other things, compared to the NEX-5. Amazon currently retails the NEX-5 for $699 as well but I would expect that price to drop as the newness of the camera wears off. The NEX-3 on Amazon is $599.
I have nothing but good things to say about the NEX-5. While I have only been using it on and off for a couple of weeks now, I haven’t found anything major to complain about. I did have a little bit of trouble getting some of the focus when filming video to work as I wanted it to, but I’m sure with some playing around, I will figure it out. Sony has definitely spent a lot of time refactoring the usability of this camera as it is very intuitive to use. The built-in tips and help are extremely useful. I have yet to open the manual that came with it. It would be a great family camera – my 6 year old was able to use it no problem, especially in fully automatic mode. I highly recommend this camera for those people who don’t want to pay the price of a larger DSLR but who want the results of a DSLR and want something that is much better than a simply digital point and shot camera.
Disclosure Text : I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.
HTD says: The Sony NEX-5 has now become my default picture taking and video recording camera for my family and trade show coverage with its full assortment of features and functionality that is packaged in a small, easy to use format.