NEX is a sub-brand of Sony's Alpha range of dSLRs. The APS-C sensor in NEX cameras is bigger than the sensor in Olympus and Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras, and the same size as that found in Samsung NX cameras. Like those cameras, the system is based on the traditional dSLR method of swapping lenses on to a camera body. No nutso Ricoh GXR-style reinventing the wheel here.
The NEX-5 is the 14.2-megapixel top-end model. The NEX-3 is a junior version of the NEX-5, which shoots MPEG-4 720p video instead of 1080i, but has the same sensor. The only physical difference is that the NEX-3 is made of polycarbonate plastic instead of metal, but it doesn't feel at all plasticky. It comes in silver, red or black. As you can see from our photo, it's near-impossible to tell the NEX-5, pictured left, from the NEX-3, on the right.
Neither has image stabilisation in-body, as assorted features are sacrificed in the name of slimness. There are plenty of other features, however. Both cameras go up to ISO 12,800 for low-light shooting.
They have a couple of functions which take multiple images at different settings, known as bracketing, and combine them automatically to make a perfect shot. A dynamic range bracketing feature captures three images: underexposed, overexposed, and a normally exposed shot. The camera saves a picture combining the three -- and the averagely exposed snap just in case. We found this worked pretty well, retaining detail in areas of high-contrast photos such as washed-out skies against dark land.
Anti-motion blur captures six images and merges them all into one, keeping the sharpest bits.
NEX boasts sweep panorama, a feature found in Sony's Cyber-shot compacts. This lets you capture a landscape by sweeping the camera round in one smooth motion, making one extra-wide picture. The panorama feature on Sony's Cyber-shot compacts actually records a video as you sweep the camera round, and grabs frames to create your panorama.
NEX, by contrast, captures lots of pictures in its sweep, so it's at much higher resolution and is able to cope with a greater dynamic range. The standard setting sweeps up to 149 degrees and creates a 15.2-megapixel final image. Wide setting turns up to 226 degrees for a 23-megapixel image.
3D sweep panorama records two slightly different versions of the wide image as you move the camera across a landscape. These can then be displayed in 3D on a Sony Bravia 3D telly or via a PS3 -- in theory any 3D TV will work, but of course Sony says results will vary. This will be enabled in July when a firmware update turns the 3D feature on.
The biggest departure is the controls. At the back of the camera, the controls have been stripped down to a scroll wheel and two soft keys. The bottom soft key gives you access to 80 screens of shooting tips. The top soft key is a menu button, and the options vary depending on what mode you're in.
The click and scroll wheel corresponds with an onscreen wheel to cycle through options. In most modes, pressing the centre of the wheel calls up the background defocus function. This previews the way your picture will look when you alter the depth of field, for that lovely SLR-style blurred background.
It's a simple control system -- almost too simple at first. It's easy to use for everyday snapping, but any more advanced functions require some delving into menus.
But enough gabbing -- let's see NEX in action. Click 'Continue' for our photos of the NEX-3 and NEX-5's features, lenses, and of course the all-important price.