Over the last year, Sony's NEX cameras have been our favourite of the compact, mirrorless lot. They just handle so well. And on a small camera with big features and DSLR, the way you hold, adjust, and operate it makes a huge difference. Sony's update to its middle-of-the-line NEX series, the NEX-5R, handles beautifully. And with a tweaked body design and a new, faster hybrid autofocus, it's an improvement on its predecessor, the NEX-5N. Should you spring for it?
A Wi-Fi enabled mirrorless camera a 16.1-megapixel APS-C (23.4 x 15.4 mm) sensor. It costs £660 with the 18-55mm kit lens.
Advanced amateurs who want an interchangeable-lens camera with a DSLR image quality, in a compact size.
The NEX-5R, like the 5N before it, has a slim body with a big grip on the right side and a tillable LCD touchscreen. The biggest additions are a function button and dial on the top panel. The included 18-55mm lens is twice as thick as the body.
The new function button and dial make handling the camera in fully-manual and priority modes quicker than ever. In low-light conditions, with the autofocus lamp turned off, then camera focuses nearly a second faster than older NEX cameras.
So much easier to use than other cameras in this price range. The compact body, the touchscreen controls, the image stabilisation, and the well-designed Wi-Fi — everything about it makes getting a great photo less difficult.
To really take advantage of the camera, you have to get additional lenses and the viewfinder accessory. The lenses are expensive, and Sony's limited E-mount style means there aren't many to choose from. At £320, the viewfinder is just plain expensive — it alone is half the cost of the camera.
Having such a compact camera and such a ginormous lens is just an odd scale shift. It's like a pack of cards on top of a can of soda. The newly designed 16-50mm lens that will ship with the forthcoming NEX-6 should have a smaller, more proportional footprint.
- -- We've tested the camera for a couple of weeks around the city. It's light enough that we could hardly notice the difference when we carried it around in a backpack with a MacBook Pro. It fits comfortably in a jacket pocket but not in your pants.
- -- The new hybrid autofocus uses both contrast and phase detection to zero in on subjects faster and more accurately. We tested it against the focus on the NEX-7 and the NEX-F3 and it was noticeably quicker in very dark conditions.
- -- True to its large sensor and the whole NEX line, the camera's image quality is very good. We were very impressed with the image sensor's performance at high-ISO. At ISO 3200 the images, were impressively noise-free. At 6400, they wer still sharp. It kind of falls apart at ISO 25600, though — you don't want to go that high.
- -- Beyond the image processing excellence, the image stabilisation at slow shutter speeds make low-light photography even easier. No more blur.
- -- Using the camera's Wi-Fi radio we were able to directly connect the camera and transfer photos to both an iPhone 4 and an LG Optimus G in under a minute. This is key, because from there you can upload photos to Instagram using the phone's data plan without having to bother with hotspots, routers and the like.
- -- The NEX-5R is the first Sony camera to support PlayMemories camera applications. Using Wi-Fi, you can connect the camera to the Sony Entertainment Network and download free apps like Picture Effect+, which offers you six filters you can add to images, and Photo Retouch, which lets you apply some standard photo editor adjustments directly from the camera.
- -- There are also paid apps, which Sony will be adding from time to time. We tested Bracket Pro, which allows you much more control over the camera's built-in bracketing. (Bracketing means taking multiple identical photos with a slightly different exposure settings so you can choose the best of the lot later.) Bracket Pro is awesome. We hope the additional apps are this good.
It's a very good camera, and the new autofocus is noticeably faster than the AF system on previous NEX cameras. But it's changed the price situation on the whole NEX series — last year's NEX-5N with a lens can be picked up for much less. And, the excellent NEX-F3 is only £480. So are these improvements really worth it? Maybe — if that Wi-Fi jumps out at you as a must-have feature.
The improvement the camera really needs is a viewfinder. But with that costing you £320 as external accessory, you're getting into a different category of camera. If that's what you want, consider waiting for the new NEX-6 — it will have a built-in viewfinder, and it should cost £830 with a lens.
• Price: £660 w/18-55mm lens
• Sensor: 16.1-megapixel, APS-C (23.4 x 15.4 mm)
• Max ISO: 25600
• Image: Up to 4912 x 2760 pixels
• Video: 1920 x 1080 24p/60i/60p
• Screen: 921,600 dot, 3-inch touch LCD
• Weight: 12.2 ounces w/lens and battery
• Gizrank: 3.5