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Sony NEX Cameras: Small, Light, and Interchangeable Lenses

Not many people would dispute that DSLR cameras offer quite a lot more image controls and options than even top-flight point-and-shoot digital cameras, and the ability to swap out lenses for specialized, high-quality optics is often what sets the pros apart from merely aspiring photographers. However, few would dispute that DSLR’s are bulky, sporting enormous camera bodies and considerably bulk. Now Sony is trying its hand at eliminating the bulk factor while still offering the power of interchangeable lens cameras with its new Alpha NEX-3 and Alph NEX-5 digital cameras—which the company is touting as the smallest and lightest interchangeable lens cameras in the world.

“These new cameras are the game-changers everyone has been waiting for and will revolutionize the consumer experience by offering outstanding picture quality with a totally pocketable size,” said Kristen Elder, director of Sony’s Alpha digital imagine business.

The Alpha NEX cameras feature a mirrorless design, but aren’t based on the Micro Four-Thirds standard that companies like Olympus and Panasonic have used to bring interchangeable lenses to smaller devices: instead, Sony is packing an extra-large sensor in the NEX series, improving image quality with Exmor APS HD CMOS sensors that are about 60 percent larger than the sensors in Micro Four-Thirds cameras. The cameras use E-mount lenses, and will ship with Sony’s SEL16F28, a 16mm ƒ2.8 wide angle prime lens.

The NEX series are also the first interchangeable lens cameras to be able to continuously adjust focus while recording video—the NEX-3 captures 720p video, while the NEX-5 goes all the way up to 1080p. The cameras also feature a Sweep Panorama feature, enabling users to just press the shutter and sweep the camera over a scene or group shot to capture a panorama: the feature can handle 226° horizontal swipes and 115° vertical swipes, no tripod required. Sony says a firmware update will bring 3D Sweep Panorama to both cameras in July.

Sony is still being shy on specs for the cameras: both will apparently sport a 14.2 megapixel sensor, HDMI output, an articulated 3-inch display, and will be able to store video and images to Memory Stick and SDXC media. The main highlighted difference between the cameras so far is the NEX being able to shoot 1080p video.

The Alpha NEX-3 and NEX 5 should ship in June; Sony is accepting pre-orders now via its Web site. Several accessories will also be available, including alternative E-mount lenses, clip-on flashes, and an accessory shoe. The NEX-3 will retail for about $450 with the SEL15F28 lens; the NEX-5 will start at about $650; other kits will be available with different lenses. The NEX-3 will come in silver, black, and red, while the NEX-5 will only be in silver and black.