Sony Alpha NEX-5 Review

Once you pick up the Sony NEX-5, you’ll quickly realize you have photography’s future in your hands.
Once you pick up the Sony NEX-5, you’ll quickly realize you have photography’s future in your hands.
Once you pick up the Sony NEX-5, you’ll quickly realize you have photography’s future in your hands.


  • Truly compact and lightweight
  • Rich, accurate colors
  • Very good 1080i videos
  • Superior 3-inch adjustable screen


  • Very noisy at highest ISOs
  • Limited lens selection
  • Would like color-coordinated attachments
  • Even more of a slam-dunk if it were cheaper


Sony hinted at this camera in February and we couldn’t wait to use it. What is “it”? A small, lightweight camera with the large imaging sensors found in DSLRs as well as interchangeable lens capability. Not only that, the new Sony NEX-5 shoots AVCHD 1080i video without the focusing hassles of bulkier DSLRs, has a 7 fps burst mode and will even take 3D-ready Sweep Panorama images. How cool is that? We didn’t really know until we took it out of the box and started shooting…

Features and Design

Due in July, the NEX-5 is the “world’s smallest interchangeable lens camera,” according to Sony. Having recently reviewed the Olympus PEN E-PL1—another small non-DSLR with a large sensor that lets you swap lenses—we have to say the Sony simply blew our minds. It’s not just small but incredibly tiny and lightweight. Think of a digicam, put a small interchangeable lens on the front of it and that’ll give you an idea of what the NEX-5 is all about. The PEN looks and feels practically obese in comparison. We were amazed as were many of the press who got a sneak preview of the camera. One of the key reasons the NEX-5 and similar cameras from Panasonic, Olympus and Samsung are so compact is the fact they do no have bulky mirror box assemblies. Although this reduces size, it impacts focusing speed which we’ll discuss in the Performance section. Note: Sony will also sell the NEX-3 for around $100 less. Most of the specs are the same but it takes 720p videos and has a plastic body, not the magnesium alloy and Full HD of the more expensive model.

sony alpha nex 5 review cameraWe won’t bore you with comparisons to Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the PEN and traditional DSLRs. Just realize the NEX-5 is really, really small, measuring 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 14 ounces with flash and 16mm pancake lens attached, around 18 ounces with the 18-55mm zoom. You gotta check it out to see why almost everyone is so jazzed about this new camera.

Given the ultra compact size you won’t see much on the front other than the lens, grip with a nice textured finish, lens release button, AF Assist lamp and several low-key logos. The NEX-5 and NEX-3 feature new E-mount lenses. Just as we complained about the PEN, there aren’t many options here compared to the 60-plus of true DSLRs from Canon and Nikon. Sony did say a new 18-200mm would be available this fall. And just as with the Olympus, the LA-EA1 adaptor ($200) lets you use glass from the company’s DSLRs but you lose autofocus capability making the entire exercise moot for casual shooters. Since the NEX-5 uses an APS HD sensor, the digital factor is 1.5x, like Canon DSLRs, so multiply that number and you get the true 35mm equivalent i.e. the 16mm pancake lens is actually a nice 24mm wide-angle.

One note on aesthetics: The optional lens rings are brushed aluminum which made it a bit jarring on the black body. The supplied flash is also silver colored but a bit more muted. With everything attached, especially the 18-55mm zoom, the camera looks awkward. This would be less of the case with a silver-bodied version (also available). Perhaps Sony could offer all black lenses as well as a black flash? Just a suggestion…

On the top of the NEX-5 are stereo mics, playback button, a decidedly retro on/off switch and the shutter button on the angled grip. Also here is the Smart Accessory Terminal for the supplied flash. Since the body is so small, there really wasn’t anywhere to place an in-body flash. When screwed into position, it angles up to prevent vignetting. This port can also be used to attach a more accurate optional stereo mic to complement the AVCHD videos. But then you lose the flash so as with every camera there are tradeoffs.

sony alpha nex 5 review cameraThe back of the NEX-5 is dominated by an excellent 3-inch variable-angle LCD screen that moves up 80 degrees and down 45 so you can easily hold the camera overhead or shoot at arms’ length looking downward. It uses Sony’s Xtra Fine LCD with TruBlack technology so there are no issues even in direct sunlight. A light sensor on the monitor keeps things under control. To the right of the screen are two soft keys, a red Movie button and a jog wheel with a center set button. The four points of the dial give access to the flash, exposure compensation, burst/self-timer and display. The functions of the soft keys change, depending on the mode you choose.

Hidden in the left of the body are two compartments for USB and mini HDMI outs. The bottom of the Made In Thailand NEX-5 has a metal tripod mount and battery/card compartment. You can use Memory Stick Pro Duo or SD cards. This model accepts the newest Pro-HG Duo and SDXC media but no matter which type you choose, make sure it’s hefty (4+GB) and high-speed.

What’s In The Box

The camera, the lens of your choice, a lithium ion battery rated a decent 330 shots, plug-in charger, USB cable, attachable flash and CD-ROM. The disk has Picture Motion Browser ver. 4.3.01, Image Data Converter SR 3.1 and Image Data Lightbox software for developing RAW files and handling photos.


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