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Conclusion - Pros

  • Small, innovative designs that are still comfortable to hold
  • High resolution sensor with excellent High ISO performance (in PASM modes)
  • Good JPEG output quality
  • Great build quality (particularly NEX-5)
  • Metal barrelled lenses feel impressive compared to peers
  • Tiltable high-resolution screen
  • Point-and-shoot interface that provides optional control of aperture
  • Interesting extra features such as in-camera HDR and sweep panorama
  • Good, clear live view magnification (particularly useful for using non e-mount lenses)
  • High quality video mode
  • Built-in user guide (Shooting Tips)

Conclusion - Cons

  • High ISO capability (a major advantage of its large sensor) unavailable in iAuto mode
  • Constant overexposure of images wastes highlight capabilities (and no exposure compensation to correct it in iAuto mode)
  • Consumes battery quickly if you use the screen a lot between shots
  • Poor shot-to-shot times (if you want to see a post-shot review image)
  • 'Bkground Defocus' feature can encourage the use of the wrong settings
  • Screw-on flash awkward to attach
  • Screen can be difficult to see in bright light (particularly because it picks up smears easily)
  • Auto HDR mode only available in PASM modes
  • Live histogram unavailable when making exposure changes
  • Cheapest bundle (which provides only the 16mm lens) is not a good combination for beginners

Overall conclusion

Sony isn't the first manufacturer to talk about making a large-sensor mirrorless camera for compact users but it is the first to actually follow the thinking through with a system designed from ground up for the 'point and shoot' crowd. The first two NEX models are nothing if not innovative and Sony should receive plaudits for showing the rest of the industry just how small it's possible to make a camera toting an APS-C sized sensor.

Image Quality

The NEX's image quality is consistent with previous Sonys - generally rather good though not quite as good as the raw sensor data shows it could be. The JPEGs are bright, detailed and colorful, if a little bit over-enthusiastic when it comes to the color red (again, nothing new for Sonys). The cameras' JPEG engine manages to capture and can include a very good amount of highlight information. However, both cameras are prone to overexposure in an attempt to produce bright photos, meaning there's little practical advantage to the greater dynamic range (and you can't apply exposure compensation in iAuto mode, so you can't prevent this overexposure).

High ISO performance, both in JPEG and raw is impressive, with noise (and noise reduction in the JPEGs), kept well controlled up to ISO 3200, and giving very usable results even at 6400. Unfortunately point-and-shooters don't get the full benefit of this in iAuto, which limits the (Auto) ISO range to 1600. Looking at the raw files, it's clear that the sensor itself is capable of capturing more detail than is conveyed in the JPEGs - slightly more sophisticated sharpening than the camera can perform readily shows just how impressive the sensor is.

The DRO dynamic range enhancing feature makes a good job of pulling detail out of the shadow regions, to make images look more balanced without problematic loss of contrast. The HDR feature (only available in the user-controlled PASM modes), is also interesting - you can take control if you think its Auto setting is over-the-top but even that steers clear of the excesses sometimes indulged in the name of HDR. The results remain natural looking and, in situations where the final image has lost some contrast, a little post-processing can bring back some punch - which you couldn't do if the camera had never captured the highlight detail in the first place.

Handling

In terms of physical handling, both NEX cameras are also pretty good - there's some division in the office as to which model has the more comfortable grip but neither of them is at all bad. Their super slim-line designs prompt you to support the camera by cradling the lens, just as you would with a DSLR, so the shooting position is quite a stable one. The NEX-5, with its magnesium alloy body has a level of build that's pretty much untouchable for the money.

The user interface is pretty good and has been greatly improved over the early implementations. The NEX-3 and 5 make reasonable enough point-and-shoot cameras and tend to take good photos when used as such. They can seem off-puttingly unresponsive if you turn on auto review - a feature that just about every compact camera user would expect. The iAuto interface is certainly simple and unthreatening though, which will itself be a key attraction for many people.

The PASM modes meanwhile are the best way of getting the most out of the camera. A little time spent assigning your most-used features to the central and lower soft keys is repaid with a very pleasant shooting experience, despite the lack of external buttons. A detailed and easily repositionable magnified live view area (that remembers where you positioned it, if you want to take multiple shots), makes it easy to use a large range of old manual focus lenses with what is probably the best sensor in any current mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Only the lack of separate exposure or focus lock is likely to be a major problem for enthusiast photographers and even then, the system for manually positioning AF points is quick and easy to use.

The final word

The NEX cameras are a brave and interesting attempt to redefine the camera. We weren't impressed with the cameras when we first encountered them but an unexpectedly significant firmware update has dramatically improved the shooting experience for enthusiast users.

For users hoping to point-and-shoot, the NEX cameras do pretty well, if not brilliantly. The 'Bkground Defocus' option in iAuto mode gives easy access to one of the main advantages of a large sensor - the ability to control depth-of-field. Disappointingly it doesn't make clear what it's doing (changing aperture) and risks being actively unhelpful in some circumstances (using F22-F32 won't yield the 'crisp' images the interface promises,, for instance). Being restricted to AutoISO, and hence a maximum of ISO 1600, reduces the advantage these cameras should offer over a good compact.

Battery life is closer to that of a compact camera than anything a DSLR user will be used to, so how much of a problem you find it will depend on your expectations.

Where the NEXs really impress is the PASM modes where you can take full advantage of the large, very capable sensor. The feature sets are impressive, as are the NEX's portability and flexibility. They don't render the DSLR obsolete by any means, but they present one of the most compelling options for someone wanting DSLR image quality without the bulk.

Sony Alpha NEX-3
Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Compare to ...
ON
OFF
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
Poor Excellent
Good for
Gadget lovers, Panoramics, Enthusiast photographers wanting APS-C image quality in a tiny package.
Not so good for
Fast action shooting.
Overall score
70%
The NEX-3 is a brave and interesting attempt to make a true cross-over camera for compact camera users wanting access to a larger sensor and interchangeable lenses. And, although it isn't a flawless point-and-shoot camera, it offers a great feature set at a competitive price in a conveniently small body.

Sony Alpha NEX-5
Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Compare to ...
ON
OFF
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
Poor Excellent
Good for
Gadget lovers, Panoramics, Enthusiast photographers wanting APS-C image quality in a tiny package.
Not so good for
Fast action shooting.
Overall score
71%
The NEX-5 is a dramatic and original approach to camera design, offering some of the best image quality its class in a tiny, sleek body. It's not perfect as a camera to just point-and-shoot but in the hands of someone willing to take a little control is capable of superb results.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.

Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

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NEX-5 Samples Galleries

There are 32 images in the samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.

Sony NEX-5 Review Samples Gallery

32 images • Posted 7 June 2010 • View album
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NEX-3 Samples Galleries

There are 24 images in the samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.

Sony NEX-3 Review Samples Gallery

26 images • Posted 7 June 2010 • View album
Sample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photo

16mm F2.8 lens samples gallery

There are 20 images in the samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing, we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.

Sony E 16mm F2.8 review samples

20 images • Posted 3 June 2010 • View album
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Comments

Total comments: 2
prossi
By prossi (2 weeks ago)

Silver award...really?

Comment edited 25 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Rowland Scherman
By Rowland Scherman (3 months ago)

Sony NEX-5TL?

0 upvotes
Total comments: 2