Sony’s NEX-5R is a compact-sized camera with a DSLR-sized interchangeable lens – but can it deliver top-of-the-range photos from a small package? We put it through its paces to find out.
Look and feel
The size and shape of this camera is great. Even with the lens attached it still feels compact because of its slim body and the bulging, textured side provides a perfect grip. Through a feat of engineering, this slim device even comes with a rear screen capable of tilting 180 degrees, helping to make self-portraits nice and easy.
A minimalist approach has been taken with the camera’s controls. That’s not to say that the NEX-5R is lacking in manual options, more so that the device makes economic use of many of the available buttons and dials, leaving them blank so that multiple functions can be applied. Unfortunately, this means that something as fundamental as switching shooting modes requires users to press the function button and jump out of the scene framing their shot in order to see the mode options on-screen for selection.
I’m not a fan of the placement of the playback or dedicated movie record button, either. The former is part of the controls on the top of the device, which is an odd position for a function so closely tied to the display, while the latter is awkwardly placed where the top of the camera slopes into the rear, so getting your thumb in place to press record while maintaining a good grip on the camera takes slightly more effort than it should. However, it is easy to access from the front, which may have been Sony’s intention with the selfie-encouraging rear screen and all.
Features and accessories
The NEX-5R doesn’t just come with a detachable lens but a detachable flash, too. There is no built-in flash and the connection isn’t a hot shoe (it’s ‘Smart Accessory Terminal 2’) so you will need a flash specifically made for this device if you want to use anything other than the one supplied. Unfortunately, through a design oversight, the flash supplied will both obscure the articulated display and prevent it from raising completely, so no self-portraits with flash then.
The camera’s 3-inch 921k dot display is vivid and clear, and it’s also a touchscreen and touch shooting can be enabled. The NEX-5R is also lacking an electronic viewfinder, but this is something I didn’t miss thanks to the flexible, bright display.
The lens supplied with the kit I reviewed was an E 18-55mm lens. There’s no manual focus switch so this option has to be enabled through the settings menu. When focusing manually using the outer focus ring, the display zooms in so that you can clearly see the point you are trying to sharpen your focus on, which is a nice, helpful touch. You can also use manual focus in DMF mode, which uses auto focus but allows the user to make final adjustments before the shot is taken.
As well as Wi-Fi capabilities, the NEX-5R is DLNA-certified, a file-sharing technology that Sony is really pushing throughout its product range, including smartphones, tablets and TVs. So, if you are a Sony fan, this could work out well for you.
Images and shooting
- 16.1MP Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor
- 1080p full-HD video recording
- 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 OSS E-mount lens
- ISO range of 100-25,600
- Fast Hybrid AF
- DLNA technology
- Dolby Digital Stereo Creator
- HDMI port
- Micro-USB port
When it comes to creating images, the NEX-5R is no lightweight on specs. Between the 16.1MP Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor and the Bionz image processor (which are used in Sony’s Alpha DSLRs), I was expecting great things.
While the camera demonstrated a good focal range, it sometimes seemed struggle to get the focus just right, even in ideal conditions. A fast continuous shutter will get you lots of images and doesn’t even take that long processing while speed priority continuous shooting is incredibly fast though takes longer to process. Though I was impressed with the speed of the shutter, I was disappointed when viewing photos afterwards as the auto focus didn’t seem capable of keeping up with the shooting.
Self-timer lets you shoot one or three images 10 seconds after the shutter is pressed and a bracket shooting mode is available in P, A, S or M shooting to give users three shots with three different exposure levels. You have to hold the camera for the duration, though, and these shots take longer to process than the normal continuous shooting mode.
As well as the usual P, A, S and M modes, users can choose between scene selection, sweep panorama, Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto, which is meant to reduce blur and noise. In my tests, I saw little difference between Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto modes, and both certainly do a great job of automatically choosing the right settings with no need for user input. One situation where Superior Auto excelled, though, was in dealing with backlighting, as you can see from the examples below.
The image on the left was shot using Intelligent Auto, while the image on the right was shot using Superior Auto
When creating a panoramic image (which you can do in any direction: left, right, up or down), the camera is perhaps too forgiving with the user’s movements and allows the shot to drift up and down slightly. Again, auto focus isn’t at its best in this mode, either.
The NEX-5R is exceptionally good at picking up detail in the dark and I was impressed by its performance in low-light situations. Again, there were auto-focus issues even with the assist lamp, but once you had a shot ready you have an ISO range up to 25,600 available to capture as much light as possible. Granted, if you move beyond 3,200 you are drifting quickly towards a grainy, low-quality territory, so I recommend keeping the ISO within this range.
Images shot at ISO 400, 1,600, 3,200, 6,400, 12,800 and 25,600
A number of shooting effects are available for both a bit of fun and for generating more creative shots. With all of these filters you can fine tune the vividness, colour temperature, brightness and background focus easily to create images to your taste.
There’s no dedicated movie mode on the NEX-5R and when you shoot video your settings from the camera modes apply, providing you with a lot of control over how the final product will look. Processing movies takes quite awhile and, as I expected, I struggled hitting the dedicated button in that awkward position.
If you have touch-shooting enabled while filming, you can use the touchscreen to change focus points as you go, which is really useful and means you don’t have to rely on auto focus to pick things up. Another useful feature is the on-screen electronic level to help with framing your shots just right.
Images shot using various creative filters on the NEX-5R
The NEX-5R has a few of niggling issues that seem small at first but could have a detrimental effect on the user experience in the long run, but the biggest problem is the auto focus. For me, this would need to be improved greatly for me to put my faith in the performance of this camera.
Its usability, slim build and low-light performance I can commend, but other issues with the design and performance, such as stalling in playback mode and slow processing of images, are too often encountered for me to give this camera my full backing.
Image shot using the Sony NEX-5R
The Sony NEX-5R is available now from major electronic retailers nationwide at an RRP of €749