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First Look: Sony Alpha NEX-5

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First Look: Sony Alpha NEX-5

5:05 /

Sony makes a memorable debut in the interchangeable-lens camera market with its ultracompact and feature-rich model.

[ Music ] ^m00:00:03 >> Hi I'm Lori Grunin, senior editor with CNET, and this is the Sony Alpha NEX-5. Sony isn't pulling any punches with it's entry into the interchangeable lens camera market. It's debut models, the Alpha NEX-3 and the NEX-5, are the smallest entrants to date and are pretty aggressively priced in the 6 to 700 dollar range, given their features. The cameras are nearly identical, differing in only 2 ways. They have slightly different body designs, with the higher end NEX-5 composed of magnesium alloy. And the NEX-5 offers full HD AVC-HD video recording. For those you pay about 100 dollars more. Both cameras come in kits with either an 18 to 55 millimeter, or 16 millimeter pancake prime lens. The new all aluminum Sony E-mount lenses dominate the NEX-5's body, and they feel great with the smooth rotation. The 18 to 55 feels a bit large for the compact body, and I suspect the 18 to 200 millimeter lens will really overwhelm it. You should also keep in mind that unlike the Alpha DSLR's, which have image stabilization built into the camera, the NEX models use optical stabilization in order to achieve the smaller body sizes. The lenses use a new E-mount. Sony will be offering an adapter for using non E-mount Sony lenses with the NEX models, but as with most competitors, the adapters don't support auto focus. The camera itself was pretty well designed and easy to grip and shoot. It doesn't have a built in flash, but does ship with the small add on flash that uses a proprietary connector. Sony will also have an add on microphone. Sony makes the same mistake as Olympus did with the EP-1, and foregoes an electronic viewfinder. Though the company doesn't say it will support one, I'm hoping that the accessory connector can be retrofitted for it. And while the large LCD is certainly nice in high resolution, with a brighter backlight than that on the A550 DSLR, they still have some issues viewing it in bright sunlight. The LCD does tilt, which helps, and of course tilting is a really nice feature but wasn't enough to compensate to allow me to view it properly. The interface has a few fixed buttons, such as drive mode and exposure compensation, while the rest are contextual depending on the camera mode. Overall the scheme works pretty well, but there are some irritating quirks to the menu system. For instance you can't scroll backwards to get from the first entry in a menu to the last. Also, while I generally like the scroll wheels operation, when using it for the virtual mode dial I keep flying past my target. The NEX-5 carries over a lot of the features from Sony's point and shoots. Though it doesn't use the Exmor-R back-illuminated sensor, the new 14 megapixel APSC size sensor is fast enough to support features like sweep panorama, which dynamically stitches together a burst of shots into a 23 megapixel image. Handheld twilight mode, which automatically combines 6 shots to optimize the dynamic range in low light, and a 3 shot auto HDR mode. The handheld twilight does very well with low light images. It's not practical in every situation though, because it still has to process the buffered images, which takes a while to save. And while the sweep panorama still suffers from some unavoidable artifacts such as Picasso-like pieces of people walking through the scene, it does capture enough detail that it doesn't look so bad when you zoom in. In July Sony will be releasing a firmware update that can process the sweep panorama shots into stereoscopic 3D images for playback on supporting TV's. The camera feels fairly fast, though the autofocus system tends to be inconsistent. Most of the time it's quite decisive, but occassionally hunts for no reason that I can figure out. Overall the photo quality is really good, and the camera has a very nice noise profile for it's price class; especially in situations where hand held twilight is practical. But there are caviots. For one it has the same unfortunate issues with Sony's creative styles that all of the company's DSLR's do. The default renders inaccurate colors, and there's no natural creative style option; not even in the bundled raw software. Also though the 18 to 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 included barrel distortion at the 18 millimeter end, and pin cushion at the 55 millimeter end. Video is sharp and the lenses are really quiet, both for zooming and focusing, but you've got practically no controls. 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 NEX-5 seems optimized for the point and shoot upgrader; not necessarily because it's easier to use than any other, or that it's priced particularly low, but because it's full of constraints that will probably bother enthusiasts a lot more than snap shooters. That's a pity because the video quality, photo quality, and performance are really appealing. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Sony Alpha NEX-5.

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