Sony NEX-5: Review

I’ve had my nice new Sony NEX-5 camera for about three months now. I’ve been wanting to write a review of it for ages, but I just haven’t had the time! Anyway I thought this would be as good a time as ever to jot down a few thoughts about it.

Before I start I should note: there are plenty of other reviews which go into the NEX-5 in much more detail than this! Really what I want to do is give the perspective of someone like me: someone who enjoys taking photos but is never going to be a professional, and someone who has just moved up from a compact digital camera.

Obviously this isn’t going to be a comprehensive review, but it might be helpful if you’re considering upgrading from a compact and (like me) you’re just an amateur! Also, my friend Alex bought a Canon EOS 400D Digital at about the same time, so if I refer to his camera that’s what I’m talking about.

Firstly then, the pros:

  • Picture quality is fantastic. Well, judge for yourself: take a look at my Flickr stream, and see what you think of the photos I’ve taken on the new camera. The first photos in my Project 365 set are taken with the old camera, the newer photos are all taken with the new camera. There’s simply a huge difference in quality – the colours, the sharpness, there’s just generally more nuance in the pictures. Of course you’d expect that with an SLR camera, but it’s worth making the point nonetheless.
  • The camera software is easy to use, when you get used to it. I’ve not had any problems with mine, especially when coming up from a compact – you have different settings for different scenes (such as landscapes, sunsets etc), but you can also go fully manual or basically let the camera take as much or as little of the strain as you want.
  • The screen is nice and big, which I find really helpful. It’s also adjustable in that you can make it face down or up, which is very handy when you want to take a photo of something low down or high up. I’ve used this feature several times, it’s much more handy than you might think at first.
  • It has a help menu there to guide you through most of the settings on the camera. Again, if you’re coming up from a compact this is useful – just for learning your way around the camera and finding out what different settings do.
  • I bought the kit that came with two lenses – a zoom lens and a fixed focal length pancake lens. The pancake lens I don’t use that much (I need to be more creative with this – there are a number of situations where a wide angle lens is more useful), but the zoom lens is handy. One thing which I found after coming up from a compact is that I use the zoom much more: on our old compact, it didn’t have stabilisation which meant that if you zoomed in, the picture would *always* look blurry. On the new camera, I think it has optical stabilisation in the lens which means you can zoom in to the maximum zoom and still get the same quality pictures. So although the lens is only 3x zoom, I use it a lot more than I would use the zoom on our old camera.
  • This is more of a personal one, but – despite feeling solid and well-built, the camera is small and you can carry it round easily. This is particularly noticeable when compared with Alex’s camera – although he has an extension pack and a variety of accessories he often carries around so it’s not completely a fair comparison. But in general I can carry the camera with both lenses in a small carry case, which I think is perfect for taking project 365 photos (I can take it round and about with me without it getting in the way).
  • Battery life is pretty good – I was told in the shop it lasted for around 300 shots, although I think that might be an underestimate – I only have to charge the battery once every couple of weeks (not that I take loads of pictures).

That all said, the camera is not perfect! Here are the cons, as I see them:

  • It does take about a second to turn on. Now, that’s that’s not at all a big problem, but at the same time it might be an issue if you’re the kind of person who likes to take lots of quick shots.
  • The settings menu isn’t the quickest thing in the world. On Alex’s camera, all the settings are pretty much there and ready to access. On the NEX-5 they’re all buried within a menu system. Now it’s not like it takes much longer to change, for example, the ISO setting – but it’s just something to bear in mind. You can set up shortcuts to an extent, but if you like to constantly be fiddling with settings this may not be the camera for you.
  • This point is really not so much a problem with the camera in and of itself, but a problem when compared with cameras from other manufacturers: the mount for the NEX-5 is new, so there aren’t many lenses Contrast that to a Canon camera, where you can buy a lens and have it fit pretty much any camera they manufacture. That’s a real advantage. It means when you upgrade your camera, you don’t have to throw away all your old lenses. Apart from all this, I think Alex’s camera has a whole lot more accessories for it than the NEX-5 does, little things such as an expansion pack which can hold an additional battery and so on. My impression is really that the Canon is more of a “photographer’s camera” than the NEX-5.

My overall verdict? It’s a great camera, no doubt about it. I don’t regret buying it, and I think it doesn’t restrict my “creative freedom” in any way (if anything, it helps it). But – all that said, I think if I was going to buy another camera I probably wouldn’t go with something like this. If you’re looking into upgrading a compact camera at the moment, it’s definitely worth investigating this camera – but at the same time, do be aware that it’s not perfect and if you want to get more seriously into photography than me you might want something a little more heavy duty!

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