Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sony NEX-5 preview

In every geek's life, the time must come when he or he steps away from the pocket-friendly compact point-and-shooter and straps up with a hefty DSLR to do actual photography with. Or such was the received wisdom until not long ago. It is still the case that lenses, bound by the laws of physics, will protrude over most of us need them to, but mirrorless Micro Three Thirds shooters from Olympus and Panasonic, along with Samsung's NX series, have shown that presume camera bodies don't always must be that bulky. This is the stage on which the NEX-5 enters, with Sony predictably aiming to outdo everyone using an ultra slim magnesium alloy body that delivers 1080p video and 14 mega pixel stills. Join us after the break to see what they thought of the Japanese giant's latest product.

Alright, let's get our uncensored gushing out of the way first. The NEX-5's body is beautifully built. That magnesium alloy construction makes the camera feel like it can withstand a high velocity encounter with a brick wall. Not that Sony's reps would let us confirm that hypothesis, the spoilsports. Seriously, if all you are after is one of the slickest and seemingly hardest wearing compact shooters around, buy the NEX-5 and move on to figuring out what smart phone camp you want to belong to.

But ought to you look after how this little camera actually handles and performs, read on. Although the back of the NEX-5 is mostly devoid of buttonry, the large and vibrant 3-inch LCD doesn't offer any touch functionality, which might surprise and disappoint users. The screen does ameliorate the situation by offering some degree of articulation. You cannot swivel it left or right, but you can turn it vertically in order to make use of it to compose shots directly above or below your point of view . They didn't find it anywhere near as liquid or simple to maneuver as the screen on our D5000, but it is going to do the job well for the more patient among you.

The circular control pad to the right of the display handles the bulk of the controls, and although Sony impresses with how lots of control variations it can fit in to the limited space, we are on the whole displeased with the inputs on offer. Not the hardware itself, as the keys are simple to reach and navigate, but there's basically far lots of options for far few buttons. That leads to the various parts of the control pad constantly changing what they do according to the menu or mode you are in, leading to an inconsistent and frustrating experience. That is not exactly aided by a screen overlay menu that fails to convey important information in a useful or succinct manner. Aperture and shutter speed settings are shown in an unnecessarily stylized view at the bottom, and the user is usually left feeling like he is working against, than with, the NEX-5 when trying to accomplish his desired result.

They should not, however, overstate the UI critique -- they had only a limited time with the NEX-5, and they can say from experience that most cameras that offer such an advanced range of controls and adjustments tend to take some time to alter to. These are complex pieces of equipment with a learning curve that is higher than the one you'd expect from things like rings, pocket camcorders, or mainstream point-and-shoot cams.

Where the NEX-5 shines, however, is in exactly the latter section of work: when you abandon (or finish, depending on your persistence) all of your fiddling, and start taking some pics. Time between shots was excellently quick for us, video processing also offered little in the way of delay, and the auto focus was similarly quick in resolving what it needed to capture. It is an effortless camera to make use of that never makes you feel like you are hanging around for the hardware to meet up together with your creativity. In the event you need to view (and use) it as a regular point-and-shooter with some premier hardware inside it, the NEX-5 will reward you by fulfilling your expectations in full. Start-up times weren't stellar, mind you, so in the event you want to catch moments the instant they happen, you might prefer to keep the NEX-5 on or discover a faster-booting shooter.

And now to the all-important picture quality. They must first reiterate our proviso that our time with the NEX-5 was limited, and add to it the fact that they were in a poorly lit surroundings which will not very represent the best feasible results with this camera. On the other hand, it ought to definitely provide a representative actual world usage scenario for you to judge from. Taking a look at our leads to the gallery below, you'll see some lucid, well exposed, and richly saturated images. And if 800 pixels was a sufficient width for all photographs ever taken, this camera would walk away with our golden unicorn prize and never have another worry in the world.

But they are not, and they must document with a heavy heart that full-sized 14 megapixel pics suffered from heavy noise-reducing blurring and a little sprinkling of additional noise that post-processing could not overcome. That is not to say that it is a dreadful algorithm -- they were in fact happily surprised by how well the noise reduction avoids blotchiness and the entire obliteration of fine detail (it obliterates, but not entirely, you see), but the fact remains that when pushed to its maximum resolution in challenging conditions, the NEX-5 doesn't produce pretty pics. Anyhow, see what you think for yourself in the gallery below -- we have tried to include a few comparison shots to show the effect of using the flash as well.

In summary then, Sony has put together a stunning camera body, stuffed it with impressive hardware, allied it to a set of equally alluring lenses, and then handicapped the whole thing with a UI that desires to do DSLR duties with a pocket cam's control system. That is our largest bone to pick with the NEX-5, though its steep cost and apparent failure to perform to true pro shooter standards are also high up there. All the same, they do like the NEX-5 and we are enjoying where this whole trend of "hybridizing" the DSLR and pocket camera market is going. Now bring on more lenses, lower prices, and a saner control system, and you'll have yourself a winner, Sony. Get 'er done.


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