I’m sure a lot of other photographers will relate to this, but the last thing you want to do when you’re on holiday or ‘off the clock’ is to lug your DSLR around with you. At the same time, being a photographer is something you can’t switch off so it’s always best to have a capable camera to hand. I’ve never really bonded with traditional point and shoot cameras before, I’ve just never used one where the quality was good enough for me. Back in 2010, Sony released the first of their mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras – the NEX-3 & NEX-5. At the time, this was exactly what I was looking for – a small capable camera with the potential for expansion down the line. It’s taken me nearly three years to write this review, but it’s only looking back that I’ve come to appreciate just how important the NEX-5 has become in my arsenal of equipment.
Although it has no doubt been replaced several times over by newer and fancier versions, I’ve never really felt the urge to update this compact. It’s magnesium alloy construction has ensured that it has stood the test of time. Even looking at it now on the desk beside me, it still looks like a new camera. Its 14.2 megapixels has always been more than I’ve ever needed and its dynamic range still blows me away. It can get a little bit noisy higher up in the ISO range but I still find it more than usable at ISO800.
I originally purchased this camera with the ‘pancake’ 16mm f2.8 and the more versatile 18-55 f/3.5-f/5.6 OSS kit lenses. When equipped with the 16mm (25.6mm equivalent on 35mm) lens, the camera is very compact and can be discreetly carried on your person. Quality wise, it’s an okay lens. It’s soft wide open but fine for random snaps and holiday pictures. The 18-55 is quite a bit sharper and with the benefit of OSS became the default lens choice when size wasn’t an issue. Since its release, there have been many third party products released for the NEX series of cameras, including an EF lens adapter. This adapter allows the use of modern Canon EF lenses on the NEX, albeit without the benefit of autofocus or aperture control. Still if you have an 85 f/1.2 L floating around, you have no excuse but to bask in all of its wide open glory. Sony also released a wide-angle and fisheye adapter. Both of these adapters lock onto the front of the 16mm pancake and offer a much wider field of view with little compromise in image quality. More recently, several companies have entered the fray with their own e-mount lenses, most notably Sigma with a 19mm f/2.8 & 30mm f/2.8. I’ve just received the latter of these in the post, but haven’t spent enough time with it yet to give a review. First impressions are quite positive.
The controls on the NEX-5 itself are quite okay. A recent firmware update which allows the user to re-program some of the buttons on the back of the camera has improved the functionality of the camera, but I still find myself digging through menus to find settings that should be at the fore of its GUI. The camera can be used in a range of automatic, semi-automatic and full manual controls along with a couple of clever modes which include a sweep panorama and anti motion blur setting. The latter of these settings fires off a burst of photographs before automatically stitching them together to deliver one sharp photograph. This is particularly useful if you want to capture a scene in low light but don’t want the hassle of bringing a tripod with you. Mind you, it’s certainly no replacement for a stabilised camera but can be enough to get you out of a bind.
One of my only real complaints with the NEX-5 is how it defaults to quite low shutter speeds in aperture priority mode, sometimes as low as 1/15th of a second. This can be counteracted by manually bumping the ISO, but this can be a little bit of a nuisance if you’re trying to capture a fleeting moment.
All things considered, I don’t think I’ve given the NEX-5 the credit it deserves over the last few years of ownership. It has been a reliable piece of kit which has never left me down and still often surprises me. Here’s hoping to many more years to come…