Sony Alpha NEX-5 review: Sony Alpha NEX-5

  Sony Alpha NEX-5 Samsung NX10 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Olympus E-P1 Olympus E-P2
Sensor (effective resolution) 14.2- megapixel Exmor CMOS 14.6- megapixel CMOS 12.1- megapixel Live MOS 12.1- megapixel Live MOS 12.3- megapixel Live MOS 12.1- megapixel Live MOS
23.4mm x 15.6mm 23.4mm x 15.5mm (est) 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm
Color depth n/a n/a n/a n/a 12 bits 12 bits
Sensitivity range ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 1.5x 2x 2x 2x 2x
Continuous shooting 2.3 fps
unlimited JPEG/8 raw
3.0 fps
10 JPEG/ 3 raw
3.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.2 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
3.0 fps
n/a JPEG/ 10 raw
3.0 fps
12 JPEG/ 10 raw
Viewfinder None EVF
VGA/921,000 dots
0.86x magnification
Optional EVF EVF
1,440,000 dots
0.7x magnification
None Plug-in articulating EVF
1,440,000 dots
0.58x magnification
Autofocus 25-point contrast AF 15-point contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 11-area contrast AF 11-area contrast AF
Metering 40 segment 247 segment 144 zone 144 zone 324 area 324 area
Shutter 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
LCD 3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
3-inch fixed AMOLED
614,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch articulated touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
230,000 dots
3-inch fixed
230,000 dots
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
Video (max resolution at 30fps) 1080/60i AVCHD 720p H.264 MPEG-4 720p AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG MOV 720p AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG MOV 720p Motion JPEG AVI 720p Motion JPEG AVI
Audio I/O Mic n/a None Mic, headphone None Mic
Battery life (CIPA rating) 330 shots 400 shots 350 shots 370 shots 300 shots 300 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 4.8 x 3.4 x 1.6 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 4.9 x 3.3 x 2.9 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4
Body weight with battery and card (ounces) 10.2 (without flash); 10.9 (with flash) 14 (est) 12.2 13.1 13.9 13.8; 14.9 (with EVF)
Mfr. Price n/a n/a n/a n/a
est. $599.95 (body only)
$699.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens) est. $699.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens) $899.95 (with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$799.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$799.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $1,099.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$649.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens) n/a $899.95 (with 20mm f1.7 lens) n/a $899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens and optical viewfinder)
$1,099.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens)

The camera feels fairly fast, though the autofocus system tends to be inconsistent. Most of the time it's quite decisive, but occasionally it hunts for no reason that I can figure out. And in continuous autofocus mode it pulses annoyingly; it doesn't seem to affect focus speed or accuracy, however. And I'm not sure what I think about a focus shortcut it takes in low light: regardless of AF area setting, when the AF illuminator has to kick in the camera automatically expands the focus area to a wide area of the entire scene.

It does feel like it takes forever to start up. That's borne out by our testing, which puts it at about 1.7 seconds--slower than all but Olympus' models. At 0.4 second, however, it has the least shot lag of its class in good light, though Panasonic bests its 0.8-second time to focus and shoot in dim light by about 0.2 second. We clocked its burst rate with autofocus at 2.6 frames per second; we don't test the rate without AF, which Sony specs at 7fps. But like most cameras without an optical viewfinder, for burst shooting you're stuck with point-and-pray, anyway.

Overall, the photo quality is really good, and the camera has one of the best noise profiles in its price class, dSLRs included. Photos are pretty clean up through ISO 800, and you don't start to see significant softness until ISO 1,600, which you won't notice in a lot of scenes. At higher sensitivities like ISO 3,200 and 6,400, images may look soft, but the "grain" appearance is attractive rather than intrusive in reasonable light and there's only a moderate amount of clipping in the shadows (and some harsher luminance noise patterns) in low light.

But there are caveats. For one, it has the same unfortunate issues with Sony's Creative Styles that all the company's dSLRs do: the default renders relatively inaccurate colors, which isn't helped by the overly cool automatic white balance, and there's no accurate-color Creative Style option. Not even in the bundled raw software. Also, though the 18-55 kit lens is pretty sharp, it has some of the worst distortion I've seen on a non-point-and-shoot camera of late. That includes barrel distortion at the 18mm end and pincushion at the 55mm end. As a result, not only are lines curved, but there's some fringing around the edges of the scene.

Video is sharp, and the lenses are really quiet, both for zooming and focusing, but you have practically no controls beyond a background defocus. For instance, it wouldn't let me spot meter a backlit subject; instead, I had to crank the exposure compensation all the way up, guessing based on a hard-to-gauge display. While it has built-in stereo mics that are reasonably separated physically, the audio sounds a bit tinny. And the camera really needs a wind filter.

More than any other interchangeable-lens camera I've seen, the Sony Alpha NEX-5 seems optimized for the point-and-shoot upgrader; not necessarily because it's easier to use, faster or priced better than any other, but because it's full of constraints and automation that will probably bother enthusiasts a lot more than snapshooters. That's a pity, because the video quality, noise profile, and performance are really appealing. Still, Sony has hit a lot of the right notes for that more mainstream crowd, a lot more than anyone else has, with its compact size and a user interface that's got a relatively high discoverability quotient, albeit one that's not terribly efficient to use. If it had an EVF option, an artifact-free basic zoom lens, better color options and white balance, and a well-thought-out menu system, it would probably be the no-brainer choice we've been waiting for. As it stands, it's just a strong contender.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Sony Alpha NEX-5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Samsung NX10
Olympus E-PL1

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Sony Alpha NEX-5 (with 16mm lens, Silver)

Part Number: CNETSonyAlphaNEX-5silverwith16mmlens Released: Jul 15, 2010

MSRP: $649.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jul 15, 2010
  • Optical Sensor Type Exmor CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 14.2 Megapixel
  • Lens 24mm F/2.8
  • Optical Sensor Size 15.6 x 23.4mm