Sony NEX-5 - The Next Generation of Digital Compact Cameras

Launch SRP: S$1199

Design & Handling

Design & Handling

The NEX-5 boasts a magnesium alloy body which gives it a solid and dense feel. The grip gives you a firm hold of the camera, although its heft feels off-kilter with such a large lens and small body, even with the 16mm pancake lens. The two kit lenses are striking in metallic silver and when clasped to the NEX-5 body, the camera definitely looks and feels like a high-quality product.

The NEX-5 18-55mm lens in comparison with the 16mm pancake, seen together in this composite photo.

Because the camera is so small, the E-mount 18-55mm dwarfs it, taking up more than half of the camera's length. While you can shoot single-handed, the NEX-5 is really more comfortable being used with two hands. The NEX-5 and 3 don't have built-in flash, but there's a flash attachment that screws on top of the camera body. While the bundled flash unit is unobtrusive enough that you can leave it on all the time, it's easier to manipulate the lens without it in the way.

The flash attachment secures through the back.

The flash attachment is unobtrusive enough that you can leave it on, but it does obstruct your hand from twisting the lens all the way round.

A thing about the lenses: the 18-55mm is a standard zoom lens that should cover you for pretty much most situations. The other kit lens is a pancake 16mm F2.8, which converts to a 24mm. While the pancake's slimmer profile is attractive, we'd advise you to steer clear of it unless you know what you want a wide 24mm lens for. While it covers you for shots of landscape, architecture and enclosed spaces, it doesn't play as nice as a general purpose lens, and definitely not for photographing people, unless you want distorted-looking portraits. It's a curious choice for a kit lens and we wonder why Sony didn't opt for a more general 50mm equivalent instead.

Alpha lenses can be used via an A-mount adapter, but you lose auto-focus, and add size and weight. Note that the adapter has to be purchased separately and is not part of the package.

Now the fact that Sony could pack an APS-C sized sensor into such a tiny body is nothing short of an engineering marvel, especially when you look at Micro Four Thirds cameras, which led the mirror-less camera revolution but have smaller sensors and larger bodies. Just by looking at the NEX-5, you can see the little ways Sony shaved off excess space, one of which is by reducing the number of buttons on the camera. There are only three dedicated single-function buttons on the NEX-5, the last three buttons on the back change functions depending on which part of the software interface you're on.

A size comparison between the NEX-5 and a Nikon D40x, both cameras with an APS-C sized sensor.

It's a series of trade-offs for a specific result, the question is if Sony has succeed at making the bare minimal necessary to enjoy using the NEX-5, or if it's done too little. The short answer is that if you’re content with turning the NEX-5 on to iAuto mode and leaving it that way, it functions beautifully.

If you prefer to shoot in other modes, it gets a little trickier. The NEX-5's interface is at once useful and bewildering at the same time. For example, in Aperture or Shutter mode, the scroll wheel conveniently becomes the controller and the central button lets you access the mode dial. Besides aperture or shutter however, the only other thing you can change straightaway is exposure compensation – ISO control is tucked away 4 clicks deep into the menu. While the central button lets you switch modes easily, in iAuto mode it becomes a 'background defocusing control,' and to change modes now requires 2 clicks into the menu.

The three silver buttons on the back change their functions depending on context. In iA mode (left) the main silver button now controls 'background defocus', while in shutter/aperture/manual modes it takes you back to the shooting mode control.

Instead of a physical mode dial, Sony has opted to create it in the interface. It saves space on the camera body, but also means you have to make more trips into the menus.

A close-up of the shooting screen in Aperture mode. The two meters on the bottom helpfully show you your settings at a glance, and the physical scroll wheel now becomes a control for aperture settings.

The main menu screen. Get familiar with it if you want to do more than just shoot at auto, because nothing gets changed without going through it first.

9.0
Overall rating 9/10
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Performance
9
Design
8.5
Features
9
User-Friendliness
8
Value
9
The Good
Excellent image quality.
Very compact camera body.
Wide photographic features.
The Bad
Hard to change settings manually.
Large lens makes heft feel unbalanced.
Low battery life.