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Sony NEX 5

One of the most common emails I get is, "What camera do you use?".  If you see the tags on my blog posts, you can see that I use a Panasonic GF1, a camera based on the Micro Four Thirds System. I used to be a Nikon D90 user but after seeing how versatile these tiny cameras were, decided to switch. My cousin recently got the Sony NEX 5 and I decided to see how it stacks up against the GF1. 

 

The Sony NEX 5. It's a mirrorless camera like the GF1 but is based on Sony's E-mount system- which is incompatible with the Micro Four Thirds System. 

 

The box. Reminds me heavily of the GF1 box actually. 

 

Here it is. The first impression is that it's super compact. Notice how the lens extends beyond the body of the camera.

 

It really is crazy small. 


Although it is far from pocketable, you can really see ridiculous Sony's engineering is. 


 The NEX 5 comes with a fairly standard looking battery charger.

 

 But has built in plugs! Super convenient for traveling. This is the first time I've personally seen this feature with a camera.

 

 Unlike the GF1 that has a built-in flash, the NEX 5 has an external one. Sony includes the flash in the box though. 

 

The sensor can be observed here. Physically, it's the same size as a APS-C sensor. This is probably the most exciting part of this camera. If I'm not mistaken, The Sony system has the largest sensor out of the mirrorless cameras. 

 

The build quality is stellar in traditional Sony fashion. I've heard that the casing is magnesium but it totally feels like plastic to me. This is one area that The GF1 just destroys the Sony. The NEX 5 feels a bit fiddly and fragile because of the extreme miniaturization while the GF1 feels solid, in a Leica (?) sort of way.

 

The controls on the NEX 5 are super simple - almost like that of a point-and-shoot. I personally like to have more physical controls on my cameras and is why I love the GF1. Sadly even the GF2 lost many of its buttons so this simplification seems to be a continuing trend. 

 

The attention to detail and level of tolerances is quite a feat though. Everything just fits extremely tightly. 

 

 The back is once again almost free of controls. The majority of it is covered by a 3" TruBlack display, which is absolutely beautiful and belongs on a phone.

 

 The LCD also swivels, something quite useful for macro photography. 

 

 The UI. It's got much more polish than the one on the GF1. However it does feel more "amateur". 

 

 You can clearly tell that Sony is targeting a less advanced user base with the NEX system. There are constant tips and explanations and everything is "automated" as possible. 

 

The main photo UI. The NEX 5 features an artificial "Background Defocus" to get that "professional" look Sony's rather high aperture lenses cannot achieve. It's a pretty clever addition that works well in my short testing. 

 

The swiveling display returns to the body using two magnets on either sides of the display. Also, notice how Sony had to place the tripod mount beyond the main body construction to make it fit. 

 

The display seems to be connected by that one ribbon cable in the middle. It does look extremely fragile but shouldn't be too much of a concern in normal use.

 

USB and HDMI out. The NEX 5 supports both Memory Stick Pro and SD cards by the way. Kind of a humorous way to admit defeat in their obsession with proprietary things. 

 

Sexy. This camera pretty much captures the essence and spirit of what Sony and Japanese electronics are all about. 

 

As you have noticed by now, the 16mm f2.8 lens looks mighty handsome. The metal casing of the lenses for the NEX system are absolutely awesome to look at.

 

After shooting with the NEX 5 for a few days, here are my thoughts. 

- The sensor seems to have huge potential. It's sheer size and ability to swallow more light than Micro Four Thirds camera should be used as an adavantage.

- The included 16mm f2.8 lens isn't up to par with the Panasonic offerings. I've heard that the other zoom lenses are also not too desirable. 

- What does a stellar sensor + mediocre lens provide? Some disappointment, but excitement for the new lenses planned for the summer.

- The camera is almost harder to use because of the easier controls. On the GF1, I just have to turn the mode knob to switch modes. On the NEX 5, I have to dig in the menu.

- White balance on the GF1 beats the NEX 5 every time, especially in low/artificial light. 

- The NEX 5's photos have a more bright and clean(?) appearance. The GF1 has more depth and emotion. 

- The GF1 seems to handle noise better. The fact that mine's paired with the 20mm f1.7 lens could give it an unfair advantage.

- The NEX 5 has beautiful shutter click (right term?). 

- The NEX 5 feels less like a rangefinder camera than the GF1 because of its extremely compact and simplified design. It also "feels" more fragile, although it's probably quite durable. 

- Overall, it seems like a great camera but is hindered by poor lenses and overly simplified controls. 

 

Here are some sample photos. The NEX 5 is using the 16mm, the GF1 is using the 20mm that I use for 99% of my blog photos. 

So, should you get the NEX 5 or GF1 (actually GF2, since that's the newer model)? I vote for the GF1. But if Sony brings out a really bright pancake lens this summer, the NEX system may appear mighty attractive.