After months of speculation, Sony has unveiled its take on interchangeable lens cameras, with the NEX-5 and NEX-3.
Now there are four competing formats in the not-quite-digital SLR space: the Micro Four Thirds format, developed jointly by Panasonic and Olympus; the NEX cameras from Sony; Samsung's NX system; and Ricoh's GXR system.
The NEX-5 will be available from early July and the NEX-3 from late June. Each will come in single or twin lens kits; the NEX-3 with the 18-55mm lens for AU$849, or the 18-55mm and 16mm f/2.8 pancake for AU$999. The NEX-5 will cost AU$1049 with an 18-55mm, AU$1199 with the pancake and 18-55mm, or AU$1699 for the body and the 18-200mm lens, which will be available in late August.
Pictured above is the NEX-5 with the 18-55mm lens attached. Equipped with a 14.2-megapixel APS-C-sized CMOS sensor, the NEX-5 can record HD videos in 1080i AVCHD. It's targeted towards a more stylish photographer, clad in silver or black, and weighs 229 grams as the body only without battery or memory card, and 354 grams with the 16mm lens, battery and MemoryStick.
But what's this? Enter the NEX-3 (right) sitting right next to the NEX-5 (left). Confused? Don't worry, they are supposed to look similar. The NEX-3 is targeted towards casual, everyday users, and comes in black, silver, red and white. Apart from these slight external differences, and the fact that the NEX-3 records in 720p HD rather than full HD, the two cameras are identical.
The NEX cameras use Sony's E-mount lenses. At the time of launch there are just two in the range, an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and a 16mm f/2.8 pancake. They also are compatible with Sony's MemoryStick cards or the more standard SD format (SD, SDHC or SDXC).
At the back, the 3-inch LCD screen tilts out from the camera body up to 80 degrees and down to 45. It comes filled with 920,000 dots and in use is a pleasure to look at.
At the top is a flap that lifts up to reveal a small accessory port that allows things like an external microphone and optical viewfinder to fit onto the camera.
In August, Sony will release another lens, an 18-200mm equipped with image stabilisation. Here it is attached to the NEX-3, dwarfing it just a little bit.
While we never suggest pulling apart your gadgets unless they're broken, out of warranty or you're just bored, Sony has taken care of it for us with a model of the NEX camera.
The NEX cameras are backwards-compatible with all the Sony Alpha lenses (via an adapter) plus older Konica Minolta glass.
Here's an example of the playback options available. For night photography, the NEX cameras can hit up to ISO 12,800 and come with high-ISO noise reduction.
A range of accessories available for the system include this conversion lens (far right), which clips onto the 16mm pancake lens. This one is a fish-eye converter, but a wide-angle option is also available.
More accessories to match the NEX cameras; these ones come in the colours of the NEX-3. What happens if you mix one coloured case with a different coloured camera? The world might explode. Or not.
Also unveiled alongside the NEX cameras was this concept of an interchangeable lens camcorder. While still in the prototype stage, the camcorder will record in AVCHD and be compatible with Alpha lenses via an adapter, and the E-mount lenses used on the NEX system.
Here's the biggie: 3D photography. This feature will be available via firmware update in August, to coincide with the release of the company's 3D televisions. 3D pictures are only available in Sweep Panorama mode, which takes a burst of images along a fixed axis, and stitches them together.
Obviously the NEX cameras can't take a true 3D image as there's only one lens, so instead the camera pulls a fragment from the left and the right side of each frame taken for the panorama, and constructs the 3D image from those segments.
A shot taken on our camera through the fish-eye conversion lens.
The controls on the NEX-5 and NEX-3 are very straightforward, and there are just a few buttons to become acquainted with.