The Alpha NEX-5R is Sony's seventh NEX camera and the third in its '5' series that aims to appeal to a more demanding customer than the point-and-shoot-upgrader-friendly '3' cameras. The 5R is a subtle upgrade over the existing 5N but the changes wrought suggests Sony has a clearer idea of who each camera is aimed at.

The NEX-5R isn't a NEX-7 by any means, but it's finally added a couple of features that make it more attractive to keen photographers - namely a dedicated function button and control dial. These may essentially be an extension of the level of control that the 5N already offered, but devoting more space to external controls shows that Sony expects the users to actually use these functions.

The biggest technology advance on the NEX-5R is the addition of a modified sensor with pixels devoted to performing phase-detection to provide a hybrid autofocus system. The phase-detection pixels are used to determine depth information about the focus target, which means the camera has to perform less hunting. Sony is the fourth manufacturer (following Fujifilm, Nikon and Canon) to go down this route, with the potential of faster focus, improved continuous focus performance and better autofocus in movie shooting. How well these advantages might be realised in practice, though, is unclear from the pre-production example we've used for this preview.

The other big advance on the 5R is the addition of DNLA-compliant Wi-Fi and on-camera apps. Unlike Nikon's recently-announced Coolpix 800c, the NEX can only run Sony-made apps, but the couple included on the camera do increase its capabilities. The Wi-Fi and apps combine to mean that the 5R can push images to an iOS or Android smartphone, push images straight to Facebook or Sony's own PlayMemories site across a Wi-Fi network, or allow the use of a smartphone as a remote viewfinder/trigger.

Sony NEX-5R specification highlights

  • 16.1MP CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-25600
  • Top-plate control dial
  • Dedicated Fn button
  • Wi-Fi for connection via Wi-Fi networks or to smartphones
  • Proprietary in-camera apps
  • Touch-screen display
  • Electronic First Curtain shutter
  • 1080p 60p HD movies in AVCHD (50p on PAL region models)

Compared to the NEX-5N

The NEX-5R's design shares a constancy with its predecessors that's becoming something of a tradition for the mid-range NEXs. Which is to say it looks essentially the same as the 5N and the 5 before it. The space taken up by the dial and the Fn button on the top plate mean the power switch now encircles the shutter button, NEX-7 style, but that's about all you get in terms of external clues.

Compared to NEX-5N

The NEX-5R is visually almost identical to its predecessor, the NEX-5N. There's no difference from the front...
...and on the back of the camera only the color of the buttons has changed from silver to black. The displays shown here also hint at another difference - the addition of proprietary camera apps.
However, when viewing the cameras from the top you can see that a new control dial has been added to the NEX-5R. The NEX-5N's on/off switch had to make space for it and has now been placed as a ring around the shutter button. The play and movie buttons had to be moved around a little as well to adapt to the new layout.