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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sony NEX-5 and NEX-3 Hands-on Impressions / Quick Review

My friend "Takeo" (who is a Canonian who owns both a Full Frame 5D MkII and cropped APS-C Canon DSLR bodies) has bought a NEX-5 recently as his "P&S" and "second" camera. I borrowed his new toy for playing and testing for an afternoon. Thanks, brother! :-D

Below are my hands-on impressions:-

1. Body Design and Build Quality:

Despite the thin body design and what the appearance of a larger lens on a small body, the kit zoom NEX combo is still felt balanced in hands and comfortable/easy to hold. Both the NEX-5 and the kit zoom E-mount 18-55 are covered by metal material(s) for most of the outer parts which give a high build quality feel. The kit zoom is with a metal lens mount, too, although the zooming part of the lens barrel is yet plastic. Anyway, if the Pentax DAL kit zoom is to be compared with the NEX's one, it just feels like a piece of plastic toy afterall. And as you can see later (for what I have found out in the field), the image quality of the Sony E kit zoom also blows the DAL kit zoom out of the water and miles away! (Too bad..)

2. Operation and User-Friendliness:

There are not many buttons and dials on the camera body. As an user who used to operate traditional designed DSLRs, I do need some times to learn and see how the new design works. Thanks to Takeo, who kindly gave me a quick briefing on how to operate his camera, after some trials, I quickly adopted to the new user interface! :-)

I found that whilst the NEX-5 has few buttons and lacks a mode dial, the operation is not as difficult as I originally imagined. In fact, it is far more easy to use than my GF1 (of which the user interface really sucks and rather difficult to use anyway) and is yet better than that of the Samsung NX10.

I do like the new design concept of the "soft" dial which can be operated in a cyclic manner for setting various different things. It can act as the mode dial, it can change the ISO, it can change the colour mode, it is used to change Av and Tv and so on. After some practice, you will find that the operation is smooth and quite nice. And I do like the simulation/animation, too, which I would describe as "lovely".

To operation anything non-standard (i.e, not those printed function on the four way controller and the default function of the central button) will begin at the "menu" button at the top near the thumb. After that, the screen for the soft dial will change and show different indication/animation. The operations thereafter are just fairly easy enough and not difficult to understand then.

One thing is that I would rather have is that the "Shooting Tips" button, which is located at the bottom right, could be programmed but unfortunately it cannot. The "Shooting Tips" offers a quick help for novices, though, but which I (and many other more advanced users) do not need anyway.

Last but not least, the camera has a dedicated video recording/"movie" button which is located at the top position and easily to be pressed with the pointing finger of the right hand quickly while holding the grip, which is nice.

3. The Monitor

The articulated design of the monitor is indeed a welcome and useful feature, especially for a ILDC that without the provision of any viewfinder (no matter it is optical or electronic). The articulate joint facilitates low and high angle framing and shooting, but the joint and the monitor is not easy to rotate / change angle with only the left hand during video recording and shooting.

The monitor is very bright and fine / detailed. I encountered no big issue to compose and shoot under direct sunlight outdoor on a bright day in the afternoon. However, the lack of anti-reflection coating on the monitor does cause some inconvenience, or might be an annoyance, I would say.

In addition to a bright and fine monitor that is much usable for framing and playback of images, the most lovely thing of the monitor is its colour accuracy, I would say. It reproduces neutral colours and tones as far as I observed, which Canon 550D's monitor lacks as it is just too blueish in the overall colour rendition (although it has anti-reflection coating on it, on the other hand).

4. The Flash

The clip-on flash is provided as a standard accessory with the NEX. It is small and weak. But with the high ISO and low noise capability of the new generation of Sony sensor and processing, I think it is not a real issue if the user sets the camera at Auto ISO and using the camera at ISO 400 and up indoor. I have tested it for only a few shots with the flash, the exposure and results are fairly good.

5. Shutter Sound/Feel and Lag

The shutter action produces a clunky sound but I do like it very much. The shutter release is really instantaneous and the lag is not much noticeable - The best amongst all ILDC/EVIL I have ever used, i.e, better than the GF-1 and far better than the NX10, which really sucks in this aspect.

6. AF Speed (for Still Picture and Video)

The CDAF speed is very good. If it is not faster than the GF-1, it is at least as good. I found that the continuous AF under video recording mode is very good and no obvious hunting could be seen for the AF. In fact, the CDAF of the NEX surprisingly has the least hunting amongst most current ILDC cameras. I do believe Sony has implemented a very good and advanced CDAF algorithm for the NEX, which is quite fast and very smooth and is the best I have seen/used so far.

7. Image Quality Aspects

- Resolution: The resolution is surprisingly high with the 18-55 kit lens, even at the corners! I found that the AF accuracy to be very good as the high resolution of the recorded images verifies that.

- CA: Some CA can be found at the corners, but it is not that much as originally expected for a APS-C "large" sensor with a back focus distance as short as the NEX (at 18mm only).

- Image Noise: With the default "Auto NR" setting, the noise is really low even at ISO 1600, at the expense of some loss of image details.

- DR and Exposure Accuracy/Tendency: Seems to be worst for this aspect.. The highlights are easily blown out and exposures tend to over. Maybe a constant -ve exposure compensation could cure the problem and maybe lower the contrast of the colour profile could help - I haven't tried how to "rescue" anyway, as the using time is still short.

- Colour Response and WB: Sometimes it looks too cool and sometimes too warm. I like the colour response of my K-x and 5D better (after proper fine-tuning, anyway).

8. Battery Level Indication and Life

The indication is very precise in % but I am not too impressed with the battery life, which drops a bit too fast than I wished. Maybe such a precise indication touches more the nerve of the user, i.e, if you see the battery juice percentage drops every minute, then? ;-)

9. Other Special Features

- 7 Frame Per Second Mode: This is really impressive for the speed and it does feel like a machine gun with the sound and high shooting rate, although the total number of burst you can get is not that high - I used a Toshiba Class 10 card for testing.

- Panorama Mode: The camera will shoot continuous in burst (7 frames a second, I think) and make up a composite Panorama image shortly afterwards in one second or two. The high processing power of the NEX is really impressive. But the user needs to experiment with the panning speed, that is, you cannot pan too slow or too fast for the best results.

- Using Old Manual Lenses: With the shortest ever back focus register distance of 18mm, the NEX is really the best ideal "adaptor" to plug in any old film manual lenses ever made on Earth including the Leica M lenses and the Contax G. To use the feature, enable the "Shoot/Release w/o Lens" in the Setup menu. After that, when the E-lens is detached, the "Shoot. Tips" button will become "MF Assist", then you can press the button to zoom in the preview image in "7X" and then "14X" to do the MF by naked eyes. NICE!

10. Super Value for the Money(!)

With just the price of a K-x standard kit, one can get a dual lens NEX-3 kit with an additional 16mm/2.8 prime lens, what else should one ask for? Indeed, a Pentaxian can even have some saving if he/she buys the Sony NEX-3 or even -5 dual lens kit instead of buying a DA15/4 pancake lens alone! Well, even we are not talking about the big price difference, both are APS-C primes, both are pancakes but the Sony is one stop faster, right? :-o

Today, I have also tried the NEX-3 for a while at a shop. There are not many differences from the NEX-5. The major difference is the grip, which the NEX-3's is smaller/shallower and is more difficult to hold as secure as the NEX-5's (maybe it fits ladies' smaller hands better). The body shell covered materials are different, which NEX-5 is metal whilst the NEX-3 is plastic. I don't care much about this anyway as the lenses are still metallic anyway and for a "P&S", I won't ask for metal anyway, right? ;-) (But last time when I bought my Fujifilm "top model" P&S, I did make up my decision based on a metal body as one of my determining factors~). Other than the above, and that I was told that NEX-5 does support a remote controller (and the NEX-3 doesn't), I have found no other difference between the two models, including that the shutter sound and time lag is just the same.

If you do accept a plastic body, a less deep grip (which you need to hold one in hands to try anyway) and the lack of remote control facility as well as the Full HD video capability (720p is actually just good enough for me), the NEX-3 is the REAL Bargain of the Bargains indeed!

Next Coming../Blog Trailer:-

Shootouts Against the K-x: ISO / Image Quality / Lens Quality differences, etc.! As usual, the shootouts will be for the same scenes and were carried out at nearly the same time and place and at close enough settings/profiles! Stay Tuned! I will post them when I have the time~ :-)

(Upate on 7-16: Done! Here it is!)

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