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NEX camera quick review

 

Below is a running review of the new Sony NEX 3-5 cameras.  I'm not going to bore you with a normal review, (which is similar to writing an owner's manual), and would rather pontificate on the actual image quality, handling, performance and value.  Below the photo is a general thoughts section which I'll be updating from time to time, so check back often for new insights. 

 

The photo shows the important items that come with each camera kit, although both have the CD and manual etc.  Use this photo as a guide when I talk about something in the quick thoughts section below.

 

July2010/nexboxb.jpg

 

 

 

NEX quick thoughts

 

Over the past couple of weeks I've been working up the full reviews of both NEX lenses, along with some general observations about the camera system so far.  Listed below in no particular order are some things I've noticed as I use the cameras.  Both the NEX-5 and NEX-3 have the same image quality, so I'll only differentiate between them if it's appropriate.
 
Both cameras come with a flash unit in a nice carrying case, which can be attached to the neck strap; a thoughtful idea by Sony.  When the 18-55mm is at a wide setting, the flash will be blocked partially by the hood, so take the hood off for flash use.
 
The 18-55mm comes with a hood, which can be attached in the reverse position for storage.  The 16mm doesn't come with a hood, but the 18-55mm hood fits, (and doesn't cause light fall-off), although it will not reverse as it does on the 18-55mm because the 16mm is too short.  Oddly, neither camera kit comes with a rear lens cap!  The build quality for both lenses is very good, and the focusing system is far superior to SAM, although see the caveat below.
 
The wireless remote (RMT-DSLR1) that comes with some Sony cameras like the A700-900 works properly with the NEX-5; which is surprising as Sony usually makes stuff like this incompatible with their other systems and models, remember the KM 5/7D and A100 non-memory batteries that won't work with the newer memory enabled cameras?  The NEX-3 has no provision for the wireless remote.
 
When using the NEX-5 on a tripod, you need to tighten it down hard to prevent slippage as a result of the weird base plate.
 
Battery longevity is poor, I'm getting about 150 shots per charge without flash usage.  This may improve as the battery is cycled over time, that's what has happened to my other DSLR batteries.
 
Start-up varies between 1-5 seconds, not very good in my opinion.  Also, after sitting for a couple of days, I notice when I power up the camera it sometimes makes an odd noise, and if you shut it off immediately, the shutter fires, that's odd.
 
Manual focusing is difficult, but is precise in my opinion if you have some level of appropriate detail (and light) to gauge focus.  The screen is sharp enough to allow this.
 
Both models have an excellent fit and finish, and the buttons and switches are smooth, although the control wheel seems too easy to move for me.
 
High ISO noise reduction is much better than on the A700, probably about a full stop better in the area of 3200-6400.
 
File sizes averge around 4.4mb in large/fine mode.
 
Full HD movies in AVCHD are a pain to try and watch, because they're only viewable when you use the included software and download from the camera.
 
When using the "street sweeper panorama" mode, the camera will only count one shutter actuation, not all that were used to stitch the photo, which will be approximately 40 shots in 9 seconds.  One can imagine a person that uses this feature on a regular basis will cause premature wear on the shutter mechanism.
 
Focusing hit rate is below par when used in multi-area mode.  I'm experiencing a rate of approximately ten percent of missed focused shots.  These were not front/back focus issues, they were totally blown shots.  I mostly have been using multi-area with the 18-55mm lens, so I'm not sure if the other lenses and focusing modes have the same problems.  I suspect it's only in the camera, and maybe a firmware update might be able to fix it.
 
Exposures are dead-on in program mode, in which I've been using the cameras.  Highlight blow-out is very low, and is as good as the A700/900, at least in program mode.  Some reviewers are reporting over-exposures in auto mode, but I haven't been using that mode much, and when I do, I'm not seeing that problem with my pictures. 
 
 
ISO comparisons between A700 and NEX-5 using the kit lenses for each
 

Sony A 700

NEX-5

July2010/a700iso200.jpg
ISO 200
July2010/nexiso200.jpg
ISO 200
July2010/a700iso400.jpg
ISO 400
July2010/nexiso400.jpg
ISO 400
July2010/a700iso800.jpg
ISO 800
July2010/nexiso800.jpg
ISO 800
July2010/a700iso1600.jpg
ISO 1600
July2010/nexiso1600.jpg
ISO 1600
July2010/a700iso3200.jpg
ISO 3200
July2010/nexiso3200.jpg
ISO 3200
July2010/a700iso6400.jpg
ISO 6400
July2010/nexiso6400.jpg
ISO 6400

 

Here I've compared the A700 and NEX-5 in noise reduction capabilities.  The comps are straight-up, meaning I didn't try to adjust for the lesser resolution on the A700, that's why the crops are smaller.  Everything looks about equal up to ISO 1600, at that point the Sony A700 starts to fall apart, and shows it at ISO 3200, where as the NEX looks pretty good yet.  ISO 6400 is rough with the A700, but not too bad with the NEX.  If you're having trouble seeing the differences between the two, look at the texture in the camera strap, (lower band with Sony logo), which gets wiped out with aggressive noise reduction.

 

 

Next up are some crops from the NEX-5 with 18-55mm lens and the A700 with 18-55mm lens.

 

Center crops from each lens at 18mm.

 

July2010/nex18mmcp.jpg
NEX-5 with 18-55mm lens @18mm, F/8, center
July2010/a70018mmcp.jpg
A700 with 18-55mm lens @18mm, F/8, center

 

Both centers are pretty sharp, but the NEX seems just a bit sharper, even when allowing for the higher resolution of the NEX.  The gravel area across the middle shows more detail in the NEX crop.

 

Left side crops at F/8, 18mm.

 

July2010/nex18mmcp2.jpg
NEX-5 with 18-55mm lens @18mm, F/8, left side
July2010/a70018mmcp2.jpg
A700 with 18-55mm lens @18mm, F/8, left side

 

The crops above where taken from the far left side of the image, about half way to the top, not the extreme corners.  The Sony SAM 18-55mm kit lens is much sharper along the sides, even at F/8, that's surprising!  Also rather surprising is the color fringing on the NEX lens.  The crops look a little different because the light was changing as a result of fast moving clouds this day, but that doesn't invalidate the results here.

 

Now let's check out the 55mm crops from each lens.

 

Below are crops from the centers at 55mm, F/8.

 

July2010/nex55mmcp.jpg
NEX-5 with 18-55mm lens @55mm, F/8, center
July2010/a70055mmcp.jpg
A700 with 18-55mm lens @55mm, F/8, center

 

The center crop differences appear to be about the same at 55mm as they do at 18mm.

 

Left side crops at F/8, 55mm.

 

July2010/nex55mmcp2.jpg
NEX-5 with 18-55mm lens @55mm, F/8, left side
July2010/a70055mmcp2.jpg
A700 with 18-55mm lens @55mm, F/8, left side

 

The area along the sides is much sharper with the NEX lens at 55mm, just the opposite as we saw at 18mm.

 

In a nut-shell, the two kit lenses are about the same in optical quality, it all depends on what area of the image you're looking at, and the focal length and aperture you're using.  I used F/8 for this comparison because that's the aperture in which everything should be about as sharp as it gets.

 

 

Conclusion.

 

The NEX 3 and 5 cameras perform wonderfully right out of the box.  Exposure levels are dead-on, the colors are rich, but not too punchy, and the high ISO noise reduction looks very good to 3200.  I used program mode for almost all my shots.  Program mode allows you to set exposure compensation if needed, (usually when indoors or low light situations), but will automatically control the aperture and shutter speed, so you don't have to worry about that.  iAuto mode works fine too, but you're not able to access exposure compensation.  The screen is very bright and sharp, and easy to see outdoors.

 

People looking for a small camera that takes great pictures, and aren't interested in fussing with manual controls will love the NEX 3 and 5.  Based on my use, there's no reason to mess with any manual controls except for some occasional positive exposure compensation, so feel free to leave the camera in "iAuto" or more preferably, "Program" mode.   I also think the street sweeper panorama feature works very well, and does a great job of stitching the images together.  Movie mode is also excellent, but the full HD setting requires you to download the movie file from the camera, and be content using Sony's supplied software, then viewing the movies on your computer screen.  You can also view the movies with AVCHD devices, or use the lesser 1440x1080 size which is saved as an MP4 file; a much more popular format.

 

A couple of problem areas are; when in manual or priority mode like "A" or "S" it's real easy to bump the control wheel by simple sliding the camera in a pouch or pocket, and that will throw off the settings, so you may find yourself shooting images using an aperture of F/32!  I found that focusing in multi-area mode results in a blown shot rate of about 10 percent, that's pretty high, so you'll need to check your shots on a regular basis, which is easy to do with the sharp screen.  Additionally, the menu system is quirky to say the least, and probably could use an update immediately, but we'll more than likely have to wait for the second generation of NEX cameras to see any changes.

 

Even though the cameras suffer from a few minor flaws, It should be clear by now that I really like the NEX cameras as a whole.  I appreciate the fact that you can just point and shoot and get excellent image quality, without worrying about aperture, shutter speed and all that baloney that confuses people and could cause you to miss a shot.  However, the NEX system will not replace a DSLR, although some photography snobs---and reviewers (including on-line experts) expect it to, and will not tolerate the "made for beginners" menu system, lack of phase detection AF, and dedicated buttons for essential settings, like ISO, eV etc.

 

That's it for this quick review, stay tuned for the next NEX cameras!