Sony NEX-5 Review

Compact System Cameras

Sony NEX-5 Ease of Use 7
Features 9
Movie Mode 9
Build Quality9
Colours 8
Photo Quality 9
Style 9
Lowlight 9
Macro 9
Value for Money 8
14 Megapixels
3 inch LCD Screen
110 x 58 x 38mm


The Sony Nex-5 is a Compact System Camera. This type of digital camera is a cross between a Digital SLR and a compact digital camera. It has a set of advanced features you would expect to find on a Digital SLR, but with a body size that is closer to a standard compact digital camera.

The Nex-5 has 14 megapixels. Sony have released two different coloured versions: black and silver. The magnesium body helps to keep the weight of the camera down.

Why Buy The Sony NEX-5

This camera offers you very good picture quality. It also has an impressive array of features. The Nex-5 is not a cheap option if you are choosing between this type of camera and an entry level Digital SLR, but this camera offers you better build quality.

Main Features

LCD Screen:

3 inches
110 x 58 x 38mm

HD Movies:
Manual Controls:
Memory Cards:

Lithium-ion Rechargeable
Memory Stick PRO Duo SD/SDHC/SDXC

Key Features

Features are in line with those you might expect to find on an entry level Digital SLR. In addition there are one or two more advanced features available too.

Megapixels and LCD screen

The Nex-5 has 14 megapixels. The LCD screen is 3 inches in size. The screen is made up of 921,600 dots. This helps to increase screen quality over and above that offered by most compact digital cameras.

How a Fast Burst Mode Can Help You

Do you shoot fast moving action? If you do then you are likely to find the 7 frames per second burst mode useful. This speed compares very well with most entry level Digital SLRs.

Focusing Options

Focusing options include a 25 point auto focus system. You also have access to manual focus. Focus lock is available too. To help with focusing in lowlight there is an AF Illuminator. This works to a maximum range of 3m with an 18 - 55mm lens.

If you like the idea of producing photos with the background thrown out of focus to isolate your subject there is a background defocus setting.

Increasing Detail in Your Photos of High Contrast Scenes

Digital cameras have always found it difficult to show perfect detail in darker and lighter areas of a scene. Sony have equipped the Nex-5 with a High Dynamic Range mode. When you use this mode the camera takes 3 consecutive images one standard, one underexposed and one overexposed and then merges them together to bring out extra detail in the lightest and darkest areas of the scene.

Improving the Quality of Your Lowlight Shots

Noise can be problem with shots taken in lowlight for any digital camera. Sony have attempted to combat noise and generally increase the quality of lowlight shots with the inclusion of a Handheld Twilight mode. This takes 6 shots and merges them together to increase the clarity of the shot.

Manual Controls to Increase Your Creativity

The Nex-5 has a full set of manual exposure controls. These include fully manual exposure, aperture priority and shutter priority. These controls give you the ability to add a touch of extra creativity to your photos. For example you can use them to freeze motion or blur a background.

Capture Your Special Moments With High Definition Movies

The quality of movie footage taken by the Nex-5 is extremely impressive. It is capable of shooting movie clips at a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080i. This compares very well against similar cameras. It can also record stereo sound.

3D Panoramic Photos

Sony have upgraded the Nex-5 so that it is able to produce 3D panoramas. All you need to do to capture a panorama is place the camera in Sweep Panorama mode, press down the shutter button and sweep the camera round in an arc.

Increase Your Post Production Options

If you make improvements to the way your photos look after you have taken them through packages such as Adobe Photoshop then you are likely to save your images in RAW mode. This captures greater levels of detail than standard Jpeg format and increases the scope you have for adjustments later on.

Keeping the Sensor Clean

Sony have built in automatic sensor cleaning to keep your camera sensor free from dust spots.

Compatible Lenses

Buying Lenses With the Camera Body

The Nex-5 is available in kit form. This means that you can buy it with one or two lenses included in the box. The build quality of the lenses matches the impressive build quality of the camera itself. You can choose between three kits. The first has an 18 -55mm lens. This is a wide angle lens and is great for photographing wide scenes such as landscapes and groups of people. Next up is a 16mm prime lens. In other words it has a fixed focal length and does not zoom in and out. If you are relatively new to this level of camera and photography you may wish to avoid this option as you might find the short, fixed focal length somewhat limiting. The third kit option comes with both lenses.

Longer Zoom Lens Available

At the time of writing this review there is only one other lens available for the Nex-5. This has a focal length of 18 - 200mm. That gives you roughly 11x zoom and greatly enhances your options for taking photos.

Increasing Your Lens Options

You can drastically increase the number of lenses you can use if you buy a lens adapter. Lenses are connected to the body of a camera through a piece of equipment called a lens mount. The lens mount on the Nex-5 is the Sony E mount. The converter will convert the Sony E lens mount into a Sony A lens mount. By changing the mount the camera becomes compatible with the full range of Sony lenses for their Digital SLR range, as well as a number of older Minolta lenses. Be aware that the lens mount itself adds a fair amount to the cost of owning the Nex-5. It has a price tag of over £100.

Lens Quality

As you will see if you take a look at the test photos the quality of the lens provided with the Nex-5 are of a high standard. Compared with the lenses supplied with entry level Sony Digital SLRs they certainly give you an edge when it comes to sharp looking photos.


General Handling

The ergonomics of the Nex-5 are a lot closer to a digital camera than it is to a Digital SLR. This is because Sony have gone for a minimalist design when it comes to buttons and dials. This means you are likely to find yourself accessing the menu system more often than you would with a Digital SLR when you change settings.

Build Quality

Build quality strikes you immediately as being a cut above most digital cameras and entry level Digital SLRs. The camera has a solid feel in your hand while the aluminium body keeps weight down.

Using the LCD screen

The quality of the screen is good, but it can become smeary quite easily. This can detract from its viewing quality. You can pull the screen out at an angle from the camera body. This can help you avoid sun shining directly onto the screen.

Shutter Delay

The time the Nex-5 took to take a single photo was slower than I was expecting at 0.67 seconds. Once the first photo has been captured it is impressively quick to fire off subsequent shots. Do be aware that if you turn on picture review that can slow response times. With flash turned on results were similar with a single shot being on the slow side.

My tests shutter delay tests were carried out using the 18 - 55mm kit lens.

Top of Camera Controls

On the top of the camera is the shutter button, camera review button and a button to control shooting a movie. There is also a sturdy on / off button. This makes it difficult for you to turn the Nex-5 on and off accidentally.

Also on the top is a hidden connection socket. You use this socket to attach the supplied flash unit. The flash unit needs to be screwed into the socket for it to work. You are likely to find this extremely fiddly. At first it can be difficult to get the flash working and you may feel like the flash unit is faulty. So it may take some perseverance on your part to get the flash unit up and running.

Controls on the Back of the Camera

The Nex-5 is largely controlled by three buttons on the back of the camera, plus a selection wheel. The three buttons take on different roles depending on what shooting mode you have placed the camera in. When you first turn the camera on the top button gives you access to the menu. The bottom button gives you shooting tips while the central button lets you change the shooting mode.

Pressing one of the four compass points on the selection wheel gives you access to the self timer, changing the information displayed on the LCD screen, setting flash or choosing exposure compensation.

Attaching Lenses

I found attaching the supplied lens easy. The lens glides into place without a problem. Attaching A mount lenses to the lens adapter can be a little trickier. You may find it slightly harder to align the lens and the adapter. This is something you can soon overcome with practice.

Battery Life

Compact cameras tend to have batteries that require recharging on a more regular basis than Digital SLR. The battery Sony have used with the Nex-5 is similar to those used with compact digital cameras, so it may pay you to consider picking up a spare battery.

Image Quality - See Sample Images Below

The quality of the photos you take with the Nex-5 will depend to a large degree on the quality of the lenses you use. For these test shots I have used the supplied 18 - 55mm, plus an old 25 - 85mm Minolta lens that I would describe as being of average to good quality.

Outdoor Scenic Shot 1

You can see immediately that the picture quality on offer from the Nex-5 is a clear step up from a typical digital camera. There are a number of points in the first test picture that confirms this. To start with the level of detail showing in the lightest and darkest areas of the shot is so much better than I am used to seeing. The level of definition even with very large prints is very impressive. Sun glare is handled very well too.

The accuracy of the colours is also a step up from those produced by most digital cameras.

Outdoor Scenic Shot 2

Although the quality of the lens plays a significant part the sharpness and clarity in this shot is much better than usual. The larger size of the sensor used by Sony with this camera is the other significant factor when it comes to picture quality.

Outdoor Scenic Shot 3

Looking at this shot there is again a noticeable step up in quality when using the Nex-5 compared to results from a typical digital camera. This may sound like a minor point, but when this photo is blown up in size you can make out the different slates and tiles on the roofs much more clearly than normal. This suggests you should see much greater levels of contrast in your shots with this type of camera.

Outdoor Building

Where the building is out of direct sunlight there is less definition showing in this shot. This is not to a level to give you great concern though. The colours have plenty of punch to them.

Outdoor Portrait

This shot is so light that it looks a little overexposed. This leads to a degree of detail being lost in the lightest areas of the shot. As long as you are not shooting in iAuto mode you can correct this by using exposure compensation. The fact is that you should not really have to do so. There will also be plenty of photo opportunities where you will not get a second chance to make minor adjustments.

Indoor Portrait With Flash

The flash unit gets lighting levels just about right. The light produced is quite gentle. This avoids colour being washed out of the shot. The light is evenly spread across the shot.

Indoor Portrait Without Flash

In many ways this picture summaries the step up in picture quality this type of camera offers. Noise is again well controlled. This helps to bring out extra detail in the picture.


You should find it easier to throw the background out of focus with your macro shots with the Nex-5 than with a typical digital camera. Macro shot quality is again heavily reliant on lens quality, but this shot suggests that a decent macro lens will produce clean, striking close up shots.


Colour reproduction is striking. There is added depth to the colours with this camera. Looking at the specific colour test shot reds can be a touch heavy, but otherwise colours are well balanced.


When it comes to noise this is one of the biggest differences in quality between the Nex-5 and a digital camera. Shady areas and photos taken as light begins to fall will show greater levels of definition with this camera. Even if you decide to manually increase ISO you should still find acceptable quality photos at around ISO 3200.

Picture Quality Summary

Picture quality is a clear step up on that offered by a typical digital camera and falls into line with that offered by a Digital SLR. In fact the quality of the lens supplied with this camera is better than I have seen delivered with some entry level Sony Digital SLRs.

Optional Accessories to Buy

Wireless Remote

To ensure the Nex-5 is rock steady when a picture is taken you can buy a wireless remote. This allows you to take a picture without touching the camera. Other controls can also be activated through the remote control.


If you are planning to shoot a lot of video or would just like to increase the quality of the sound captured there is an external microphone available.


If you prefer the idea of composing your photos through a viewfinder rather than the LCD screen, Sony have made a viewfinder available. Looking at their product information it appears it is only compatible with the 16mm lens. The viewfinder screws into the same connection socket on the top of the camera as the flash unit does.

Shutter Lag Times

Shutter Lag Rating Slow

Single Shot
Five Shots
Single Shot With Flash
Five Shots With Flash
Turn on Time

0.67 seconds
4.99 seconds
1.31 seconds
6.8 seconds
2.68 seconds

Shutter Lag Table link arrow

Ease of Use

Ease of Use - Par With so many features on offer this camera is not easy to use if you are looking to get the most out of it. You can use it as a simple point and shoot, but it has a lot more to offer than that.

Points I Like

Small size - clarity of pictures - build quality

Where it Could Improve

Fiddly flash unit - limited range of compatible lenses with E mount - can overexpose photos


The Sony Nex-5 is a very impressive camera. Picture quality is eye catching and is a clear step up from a standard digital camera. Build quality is also top drawer. It has a set of features that is a step up from the most basic Digital SLRs. All of this is packed into a small, lightweight body.

Sony Nex-5 Comparison with the Sony Nex-3

The Sony Nex-5 and Sony Nex-3 are more or less identical. Almost all the key components are the same and there is no difference in what happens behind the scenes to produce a picture. In fact if you use the same camera settings and the same lens each camera will produce identical results. The Nex-5 is superior to the Nex-3 when it comes to movie resolution and build quality. Which one should you buy? That depends on whether you feel that the improved movie mode and build quality make the Nex-5 worth the extra money.

Further information: Sony Nex 3 Review

Test Shots

outdoors 1 outdoors 2 outdoors 3

building macro colours

portrait-outdoors portrait-indoors indoors

See sample images link arrow

Product Shots

Front View

Front View

Back View

Back View

Top View

Top View

Sample Menus

menu 1 menu 2

menu 3 menu 4

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Related Pages

Sony NEX-5 Review Sony NEX-5 Specification Sony NEX-5 Sample Images Sony Digital Cameras

Review Date

April 2011

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