Quick Sony Alpha NEX-5 hands-on review

Sony recently gave me a Sony Alpha NEX-5 to shoot a short film that is currently in preproduction. I had approached them in the hope that they might loan me one of the new Alpha A55’s but they were keen to see what I could do with the NEX-5.

A week later an NEX-5 kit (with 18-55mm lens) arrived on my desk along with a 16mm f/2.8.

There are currently only 3 E-series lenses available for the NEX-5. The other lens is the 18-200mm. You also have the option of buying the Alpha A mount adapter that lets you connect various Sony Alpha lens. There is another 3rd party option from Lensbaby but I’ll cover that in another review.

Over the last month I’ve been getting my head around what it can and can’t do. Overall I’ve been pretty impressed. I’m not a fan of the ergonomics but then I’m used to shooting with my Nikon D700 which is much bigger and much heavier so the NEX-5 feels to small in my hand.

Shortly after it arrived I upgraded the firmware which included the ability to customize the soft buttons on the rear making it much easier to use in full manual mode as you can now access various settings much faster.

Image quality is great as you would expect from a DX size sensor. The sweep pano mode is also really nice tho it does have it’s limitations.

I’ve found the auto focus struggles in low light.

As a stills camera it can stand it’s ground against the entry and mid range DSLR’s but the real reason I had been given it was to shoot video... so time to do some tests.

It shoots in AVHD mode (H.264) at full HD (1920x1080) at 25 FPS. (The US version shoots at 60i) and the image quality is surprisingly good. The biggest downfall is that, while in Stills mode you have full manual control over the exposure, in Video mode it switches to Auto Gain and will often over or under expose a shot. This is most noticeable if you have a high contrast scene and your brightest area is on the edges of the frame.

As an example we used the camera to shoot some video for the Sony Photo Challenge which we shot in a black sound studio (See Vimeo clip below). We were going for a film noir look and wanted high contrast images. In one scene the presenter enters frame by stepping out of the darkness into the light. We set-up the focus and exposure for the when the presenter was in the light but as soon as he stepped out of the light the camera increased the gain (and noise) to try and expose the dark area. Not what we wanted. In the end we had to resort to fixing it in post. This should be easy to fix in a firmware update. Lets see if Sony is listening to it’s users.

Look what landed on my desk today - Sony NEX-5

So I got back from lunch today to find this waiting for me on my desk:

The new Sony Alpha NEX-5 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and 16mm f/2.8. A little delivery from Sony that will be used to shoot a short film I'm working on. More details in the coming weeks.