Following a series of heavy leaks, the NEX-5 and NEX-3 launch didn't exactly come as a surprise. Specs surrounding the Exmor APS sensor and E-mount lens mount have been batted around the internet for the past week. With the cat officially out of the bag, we're able to share our first impressions and sample photos from the NEX-5.
The NEX-5 feels very solid in the hand. The magnesium-alloy construction gives it a pleasant weight and balances out a likewise heavy lens. I took it out for a spin with the 16mm (24mm equivalent) lens, and the whole unit felt well-balanced. It's plenty heavy for its size, but the generous handgrip and even weight distribution made it easy to handle.
The camera size has been reduced so much that the lens mount extends past the front of the camera body. Looking at it head-on, the slender camera body appears to be dominated by the lens. Side-by-side with the E-P1, the NEX-5 is visibly smaller in both height and depth.
On the back panel is a very sharp 3.0-inch 921,600-dot LCD. It employs a Sony feature called TruBlack, designed to make photos appear more vibrant. The display will also tilt vertically for help composing tricky shots. The tilting LCD came in handy more than once. A couple of ridges on the top of the screen made it easy to pull the screen out at an angle conducive to shooting above my head.
In my first sample images colors are vibrant and the 16mm captures some very nice detail at the center of the frame. Enlarging the image of the black shirt below shows some sharp detail in the texture of the fabric and the black stitches in the ruffles.
Sony promises fast auto focus performance in its new NEX cameras, and so far, the NEX-5 seems to be up to speed. In good light, shot-to-shot times were very fast. I was able to snap two successive photos in about a second and the camera didn't show any sign of slowing down as I continued shooting. Coupled to the 16mm prime, auto focus is very quiet.
Shooting under a mix of clouds and bright sunlight, I saw some tendency to overexpose highlights. Tinkering with different white balance settings and exposure compensations might help out, but the beginning user might be slowed down by the dense menu system.
Controls for settings like white balance, ISO and metering are not available from the main shooting screen as there is no function or quick menu button. Instead, they're located under the "Brightness/Color" sub-menu from the main menu screen. You'll have to put in a little more work to get to those settings than if you would use a camera with a quick menu button. In the brief time I spent shooting, it was somewhat of an annoyance. Using the camera over a longer period of time might help me to warm up a bit more to the control layout. We'll take a closer look at these issues when we put the NEX-5 to the test in a full review.
Testing out the camera's maximum ISO setting of 12800 produced some very grainy images, but that's expected. Compare the ISO 12800 image below to the image taken under the same conditions in Anti-Motion Blur mode.
I also gave the small flash accessory a try in a dim room. Though the unit is very small, it did a fairly good job illuminating the space. The flash will come standard with the NEX camera kits, adding one more option for low-light shooting.
We loved the Sweep Panorama feature in Sony's point-and-shoots, and it didn't let me down when I tested it in the NEX-5. It fired off a series of shots as I panned across the scene below and stitched them together in-camera.
Come July, a firmware update will be available to convert this panorama function to 3D Sweep Panorama. Panoramic images recorded in a special 3D mode can be viewed on a 3D capable HDTV with the use of 3D glasses.
I gave the new HDR Auto mode a try while photographing a curved stone wall. The NEX-5 produced an image with a more even exposure with HDR Auto on. The gray of the stone is a tad warmer in the image using HDR. With HDR turned off, the contrast is noticeably greater between dark spots and bright spots in the scene.
We were promised a small camera, and that's what Sony gave us. It's hard to imagine that anyone could make a smaller camera with an APS sensor. Auto focus seems speedy, and functions like Sweep Panorama put easy creative options in the users hands. There's plenty more testing to do with the NEX-5. For now, take a look at a gallery of sample images on the next page.