The NEX-5 and its sister camera the NEX-3 represent Sony's debut into the rapidly-growing compact system camera market. Since the launch of the Panasonic Lumx G1 just under two years ago demonstrated that it was possible to have the versatility, performance and picture quality of a digital SLR in a smaller form factor, more and more manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon. Olympus, Samsung and Ricoh (GXR review coming soon) have all launched cameras with compact bodies and interchangeable lenses.
However Sony has trumped them all with the smallest compact system camera yet. The NEX-5 features a full-size APS-C 14.2-megapixel sensor, a large articulated 7.5cm monitor and full 1080p HD video with stereo audio, with a body not much bigger than a standard compact camera.
The NEX cameras are designed as a system, with interchangeable lenses and a range of other accessories including a miniature external flashgun, a clip-on optical viewfinder and an external stereo microphone. The system has only just been launched, so naturally the range of available lenses is a bit limited, with only a 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens, an 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 optically stabilised superzoom lens and the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 optically stabilised standard zoom kit lens shown here. However the 16mm lens has two teleconverters available, and there is also an adaptor that allows the NEX cameras to be used with existing Sony Alpha SLR lenses, as well as with older Minolta Dynax lenses. This potentially gives the NEX system access to a wider range of optics than any of its immediate rivals.
Pricing is obviously a key factor in a competitive market. The slightly lower spec NEX-3 with an 18-55mm kit lens is currently selling for around £450, while the NEX-5 with the same lens is going for £530. By a staggering co-incidence these prices are exactly the same as the recently-launched Panasonic Lumix G10 and G2, against which the Sony models are in direct competition, while the Samsung NX10 isn't much cheaper at £440. I confidently predict that all three manufacturers will start offering substantial discounts in the run up to Christmas 2010, each hoping to beat their arch-rivals in the annual shopping bonanza.