Sony NEX-5R Review: Classy, Compact and Connected

by Reads (3,488)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 9
    • Features
    • 8
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 9
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 8.40
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


  • Pros

    • Great image quality up to 6400
    • Fast focusing
    • Compact size
    • Improved battery life
    • Addition of new dials to make access to settings much simpler and quicker
    • WiFi connectivity is very good with the iPad but not so great with Android phones.
    • Overall some of the best ergonomics of any mirrorless camera out there.
  • Cons

    • Our touchscreen wasn't as responsive
    • Old hot shoe
    • Weird placement of the playback button
    • Could have done better with at least an older EVF built in

Quick Take

The Sony NEX-5R offers a winning feature set in a compact, interchangeable lens body -- 16 MP, hybrid AF and Wi-Fi connectivity.

The Sony NEX-5R is the successor to the NEX-5N, which turned lots of heads and drew the attention of many to the NEX camera system. The camera was small enough and shot video footage that was satisfactory for the BBC to use for a web series. The company stated that it was actually a pleasure to work with. Consumers and reviewers all agreed and thought that its high ISO performance and revamped autofocusing was quite brilliant. Sony recently built on the successful model with the release of the 5R–unfortunately though most of the spotlight seems to have been stolen by the NEX-6 instead. With its more affordable price than the NEX-7 (the current flagship of the system), excellent sensor, direct dial controls, and built in electronic viewfinder, how can you turn it down?

The NEX-5R instead is being targeted at a different level of advanced enthusiast. If the NEX 6 is for those with a bit more in their coffers, then the 5R is the budget friendly version for the person that will absolutely never use a flash or any sort of hot shoe accessory. We came to this conclusion after observing the fact that the 5R still retains the older NEX style proprietary hot shoe.

The NEX-5R houses a brand new 16.1 MP sensor developed with Hybrid AF (the ability to use by Phase Detection and Contrast Detection autofocusing) and better high ISO results in mind. The 5R retains the flip-up screen that its predecessor had, but this time it also slides up and down a bit more for a better view in compromising angles. It also still includes HD video recording at 60i, 60p (which looks beautiful when slowed down) and 24p. But perhaps the biggest change has to do with the inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi and upgradable Sony Play Memory apps.

The NEX-5R can wirelessly transfer videos or photos to a mobile device (Android or iOS). Using its own Ad Hoc router, your device will connect to the camera and the units will talk to each other. Sound familiar? This technology was first incorporated into Eye-Fi Pro X2 cards–but Sony’s interface is simpler to use and should provide consumers with a much more seamless workflow.

Build and Design
When looking at the NEX-5R, one doesn’t see a major evolution from the NEX-5 and 5N; though the differences are indeed there on the outside. New to the 5 series are two dials: one is for aperture control while the other is for shutter control. What this means in practice is that you’ll have less buttons to press when it comes to exposure control–and an overall smoother experience.

Since the NEX-5R is one of the smaller NEX series camera bodies, it is also best used with smaller lenses such as the native NEX lenses, Sigma’s 30 and 19mm f2.8 lenses, and some from SLR Magic. If one were to mount a Rokinon Cinema lens (like the 24mm T1.5) they’d have a bit of an ergonomic nightmare in their hands. With that said, it would be best to use a tripod.

Don’t want to use a tripod? There is an alternative. The back LCD screen flips up and slides a bit–so you can comfortably shoot (or film) from the hip in order to record stable footage. As a reminder of the rule of thumb: the closer the camera is to your body, the more stable it is.

In long term practice of over a month, there are still some weird design choices that were made by Sony. For example, the playback button is on top of the camera–traditionally a user can find it on the back. Also, the company opted to stick to their old NEX hot shoe design vs the new multi-shoe interface that they’re seeming to push more (very much so to the joy of the industry.) Perhaps it may have cannibalized the NEX-6 a bit too much for their own liking.

Ergonomics and Controls
Sony’s NEX-5R tries to emphasize simplicity while giving the user the right amount of power that most people would probably use or at least move up to after some time. With that said, the front of the camera is very minimal with not much besides the lens release, AF assist lamp, and an infrared trigger around the grip.

The top of the camera is the home to the major controls. Here you’ll find the shutter release with on/off switch around it, an exposure control dial, video record button, and the playback button. Towards the middle and left you’ll find microphones and the old hot shoe.

From here we move onto the back of the camera. Sony made the smart ergonomic choice of putting all of the hard controls on the right of the camera. Here you’ll find two soft keys, a control dial with direct access to certain controls, and a thumb grip. To the left of all this is where you’ll be greeted by a very large LCD screen. This is a touchscreen, and much can be controlled from this hub. Our version’s screen wasn’t as responsive as I’ve seen others.

On the bottom of the camera you’ll find the tripod port and a door that houses the battery and SD card.

Lastly, the left of the camera hides the ports: HDMI out and USB. And above this is the WiFi branding–signifying that the camera has WiFi connectivity built in.

Menus and Modes
To operate most functions on the NEX-5R, you’ll need to enter their menu system. When the series was first announced, this was a pain for many users–but buttons came and they were a near godsend. With the NEX-5R, the user will have more direct access to every menu after the menu button is pressed. The reason for this is because of the touchscreen interface. Here you’ll find:

  • Shoot mode: to select your specific shooting mode. More on that later.
  • Camera: to control things like focusing, and more.
  • Image size: to control quality.
  • Brightness/color: for even more customization of your interface and images.
  • Playback: a specific menu for playback images and how they are displayed
  • Application: This is new to the NEX line as it works with the camera’s Wi-Fi abilities.
  • Setup: This is the menu that every user will go to to customize the camera to their liking first.

But there are also menus within the Shoot Mode

  • Intelligent auto: Fully automatic mode that uses a scene recognition function to establish camera settings to shoot the image; the camera recognizes night scene, tripod night scene, night portrait, backlight, backlight portrait, portrait, landscape, macro, spotlight, low brightness, or baby scenes.
  • Scene selection: Fully automatic mode that allows the user to select from portrait, landscape, macro, sports action, sunset, night portrait, night scene or handheld twilight shooting options.
  • Anti-motion blur: Automatic mode where the camera combines six shots at high sensitivity ISO into one still image in order to reduce camera shake while preventing noise.
  • Sweep panorama: Automatic mode to capture panoramic vista-type shots as camera stitches together multiple images to form a single image.
  • 3D sweep panorama: Automatic mode similar to sweep panorama but producing 3-D images that can be played back on a 3D TV.
  • Program auto: Automatic mode with camera setting aperture and shutter speed while user retains wide variety of inputs into image capture settings.
  • Aperture priority: User sets aperture, camera sets shutter speed and user has wide variety of inputs.
  • Shutter priority: User sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and user has wide variety of inputs.
  • Manual: User sets shutter speed and aperture and has wide variety of inputs.
  • Movie: Capture full 1920 x 1080 HD video at 60p, 60i or 24p frame rates in AVCHD format; MP4 format permits capture in 1440 x 1080 resolution at 30p or 640 x 480 at 30p.

The Sony NEX-5R has a 3 inch LCD screen with 921,600 dots of resolution. This screen is vibrant, crisp, beautiful, and very well detailed. It comes in handy when recording video footage or using manual lenses–especially when combined with Sony’s focus peaking mode. An electronic viewfinder can be used if the user wishes.

We’ve tested our unit against other NEX-5R units and concluded that our unit had problems with the screen’s sensitivity toward the center. Luckily, Sony’s NEX cameras have an option to calibrate the screens. Unfortunately, this didn’t work. When we received the unit, we called Sony to investigate. After a factory reset, the problem was solved a little bit, but not much. Other NEX-5R cameras were still more responsive than our unit.

In order to do most of the operations, we often opted for the hard keys instead. When it came to focusing performance, we often needed to touch and hold the screen down in order for the camera to focus and snap a photo. With other cameras, this isn’t so.

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