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Sony NEX-5 - Performance and Results

By Cliff Smith



Our Score:


The NEX-5's overall performance is very impressive, and is on a par with a good mid-range DSLR. It starts up and is ready to shoot in under a second, and in single-shot mode it can maintain a shot-to-shot time of approximately 0.9 seconds in both JPEG and Raw plus JPEG modes. It has two continuous shooting modes, the first being a standard mode that includes autofocus between shots, which can maintain 2.5 shots per second, shooting until the memory card is full in JPEG mode, or for eight shots in Raw plus JPEG mode. The other is a speed priority mode which only focuses on the first shot, but which can manage an impressive 7fps in both JPEG mode (for approximately 20 shots) and Raw plus JPEG mode (for eight shots).

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As you'll gather from those figures, the autofocus system is extremely fast, focusing in a fraction of a second in good light. It does slow down slightly in poor light, but even in total darkness it can focus in under a second, with a very bright AF assist lamp that has a range of several metres. One minor niggle is that the lamp is positioned in such a way that it is easily obscured by the knuckles when gripping the camera.

The NEX-5 uses an APS-C size sensor, the same as a full-size DSLR, so as you might expect the image quality is comparable to that of any of Sony's Alpha cameras. The lens is also of extremely high quality, with excellent detail and edge-to-edge sharpness with none of the chromatic aberration that bedevils some of Sony's cheaper Alpha system kit lenses. Colour rendition is superb, exposure is extremely accurate and reliable, and the level of fine detail is as good as any 14MP digital SLR on the market. In theory Raw mode should be even better, since it produces uncompressed files of nearly 15MPB, but unfortunately the supplied PMB conversion software appears to be unable to convert Raw files to anything larger than 1920 x 1080 resolution with severe JPEG compression, and the NEX Raw file format is not yet accommodated by Adobe Camera Raw.

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One big advantage of the larger sensor format is reduced noise, and here the NEX-5 scores very highly. It has a minimum ISO setting of 200 ISO, and a maximum of an ultra-fast 12800 ISO. Shots at up to 800 ISO are effectively noise-free, and even 1600 and 3200 ISO produce very acceptable results. 6400 ISO does show some pretty severe noise reduction, with blotchy colour and reduced detail, and the maximum setting is quite noisy, but nevertheless it is a very impressive performance, especially when compared to its rival compact system cameras. The NEX-5 has the sort of image quality that really sets the benchmark for this class of camera.


The Sony NEX-5 is a very impressive debut into the compact system camera class. It is the smallest interchangeable lens camera on the market, but has outstanding build quality, plenty of useful features, excellent performance and the kind of still image and HD video quality you'd be lucky to get from a digital SLR. It really raises the stakes in the compact system camera market.

Jamie Lawrence

August 12, 2010, 8:50 pm

Adobe made a "release candidate" of ACR and Lightroom available which supports the NEX raw files: http://nextended.com/blog/2...

I'd expect a full release isn't too far away.


August 12, 2010, 9:46 pm

If only this was out before i bought my Nikond d3000....darn it.


August 12, 2010, 10:04 pm

This is a very good review. I really liked the camera before I saw this review, but now you have me sold... I have been looking for the best DSLR camera that will offer HD video as well; under £600 and the Canon 500D is the next in line. But the Sony offers more on the plate. One question though does the NEX-5 still offer the Manuel controls I would get on... the Canon 500D or Sony A450/550?


August 12, 2010, 10:40 pm

Very impressive!


August 12, 2010, 10:58 pm

Could you possibly tell me roughly how much space a 10 minute video shot at 720p takes?

Cliff Smith

August 13, 2010, 12:15 am

Zero - I feel there should be a joke about a Spanish waiter in there somewhere, but I can't think of one. The NEX-5 offers aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual exposure, but lacks some of the custom functions you'll get on the 500D.

J4ck1505 - The NEX-5 doesn't shoot at 720p, options are 1080p, VGA or 1440 x 1080.


August 13, 2010, 1:59 am

Great review. Are you likely to be getting a NEX-3 to review as well? I'm having one helluva time trying to choose a compact system, they're all so pretty.


August 13, 2010, 3:57 am

@ Cliff Smith lol thanks for the reply. What kind of PC specification would be needed to edit 1080p AVCHD codec? Surely this must demand quite a bit.

Cliff Smith

August 13, 2010, 3:05 pm

Zero - I was able to edit video from the NEX-5 on my PC, a fairly average 2.4GHz Pentium dual-core with 4GB RAM and Windows XP Pro, using the supplied Sony software to convert to AVI and Abobe Premier Pro CS3 for the actual editing (CS3 doesn't support AVCHD). To be honest video isn't really my area of expertise. The guy you need is James Morris, who does our camcorder reviews.

James Morris

August 13, 2010, 3:16 pm

Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 and above support AVCHD, and most consumer apps do too. A PC of similar power to Cliff's or even a bit less, will edit the footage. But you'll need something faster for smooth editing.


August 13, 2010, 4:34 pm

@Cliff Smith - The NEX-5 does NOT shoot 1920 x 1080p video, only 1920 x 1080i (in addition to VGA and 1440 x 1080). I guess you didn't bother looking at the specs properly...

BTW, any comments on real life battery performance?? Sony has listed 330 shots (CIPA standard). Which isn't too impressive, but pretty much on par with the competition.

Have a good one!


August 13, 2010, 5:57 pm

Hi Cliff, The NEX 5 does not shoot 1080p video please amend the review with the correct facts.In 1080i each frame of video is sent or displayed in alternative fields. The fields in 1080i are composed of 540 rows of pixels or lines of pixels running from the top to the bottom of the screen, with the odd fields displayed first and the even fields displayed second. Together, both fields create a full frame, made up of all 1,080 pixel rows or lines, every 30th of a second.In 1080p, each frame of video is sent or displayed progressively. This means that both the odd and even fields (all 1,080 pixel rows or pixel lines) that make up the full frame are displayed together. This results in a smoother looking image, with less motion artifacts and jagged edges. The NEX-5 is 1080i a deal breaker for some.

Nicholas Pires

August 13, 2010, 6:02 pm

Actually JK it lists it as 1080i but if you delved deeper online you'd find out that the NEX-5 actually shoots it at 1080p and saves it within a 1080i wrapper. When you go to import the footage into After Effects, Premiere etc it will detect it at it's native 1080p it was recorded in. Battery performance is as Sony has listed give or take a few pictures more (shooting without flash).


August 13, 2010, 6:06 pm

Great review, thanks. Looks like a great camera, definitely on my shortlist.

@<A88>: The NEX-3 is pretty much the same camera isn't it? Plastic body and 720p video aside, that is...

@JK: "I guess you didn't bother looking at the specs properly..."

Crikey, harsh much? Feel free to point out discrepancies, but it's not necessary to twist the knife. If you want them to answer your question on battery life, it's really not a good tactic...


August 13, 2010, 9:31 pm

@Chris - It might have sounded a bit harsh. But when I check out at a new product, I always look through the 'Specifications' on the manufacturer's website. And Sony mentions that the NEX-5 records in 1920 x 1080i on several occasions. So it became a bit irritating when Cliff talked about 1080p in the video review, the written review and here in the comments.

I don't know what 'Nicholas Pires' is talking about, I haven't read about that. But it sounds stupid to cover a "piece of gold" with "horse crap", even if you can wash away the "horse crap" with 'After Effets, Premiere etc.' to get your "piece of gold" back. As 'easyrider' says, 1080i might be a dealbreaker for some.

As for the question about battery life, it was just something that seem to have been completely forgotten. Cliff usually mentions it at some point in his reviews.

Have a good one!


August 13, 2010, 10:33 pm

@James Morris -- James, will Final Cut Pro or iMovie recognise and edit the footage as 1080p? I'm tempted. But I'm a Mac user...

Thank you /


August 13, 2010, 11:02 pm

I'm new to digital photography. Why would people need the 18mm-55mm lense when 18mm-200mm lense is available ? What the difference between these two lenses besides longer zoom ? How the NEX 5 compare with Panasonic FZ100 ? Is there any big difference in terms of image quality between these two camera ? To me, NEX 5 is pretty much a perfect camera but FZ100 is even better with more features and a big zoom.

John Price-Thomas

August 14, 2010, 12:01 am

I am so tempted to buy a NEX-5, I think its image quality (particularly at high ISO values)together with its overall design very attractive. I would like Cliff Smiths opinion on its operation particularly when using aperture and shutter priority modes(with compensation). I am not of the 'I phone ' generation and as such I little wary of delving into menus to obtain the shot I want


August 14, 2010, 1:34 am

I've had this camera for about a month now and am really enjoying taking photos with it. I started to find myself getting frustrated with the limitations of P&S cameras, especially if I wanted to take pictures in low-light conditions. After much umm'ing and arr'ing I opted for the NEX-5 and I haven't regretted it. Cliff mentions that this camera encourages creative photography and I have to say that I agree with him.

I think that the much criticized control system is, whilst far from perfect, nowhere as bad as some people would have you believe and I've found it to be perfectly usable. I would have prefered some sort of 'quick menu' option for the more commonly used functions, though.


August 14, 2010, 1:43 am

For another £100, I would be tempted to pick the Canon EOS550D with a bigger selection of lenses and accessories but then it's a personal choice for the prospective buyer.


August 14, 2010, 3:04 am

@JK: It's pretty well known that the NEX-5 shoots 1080p30, saved in an 1080i60 container. The reason, simply put, is that the AVCHD codec specification does not support 1080p30. As a result, the majority of cameras that shoot 1080p30 in AVCHD save it in a 1080i60 container (a few use their own custom, non-standard extensions). Most hardware and software that supports 1080p will recognise the video as native 1080p30 and let you play and / or edit it without deinterlacing.

Here's a thread from dpreview from a couple of weeks ago that explains things:


I think you might owe Cliff an apology.

leonid 82

August 14, 2010, 4:35 am

No matter how good these new EVIL cameras are, it'll always be hard to beat the optical viewfinder and Phase detection autofocus of traditional DSLRs.


August 14, 2010, 2:14 pm

Thank you Cliff, for an excellent review. I have been interested in this camera since it was announced. But I was a bit disappointed by the average reviews it got from many photography sites, mainly attributed to the menu system.

But I guess the point is, that this is not a camera for the professional user, but rather for a compact shooter like me, wanting a bit more quality in my pictures.

I was quite shocked comparing the Sidemouth Seaside shots of the G2 and NX10, there seems to be quite a big difference.

I also have to give the comments section a 10/10 for the debate about video quality. I must admit it is a bit funny that Sony only says this camera will do 1080i, when it actually does 1080p, but I guess it is fine as long as it is to the consumers advantage.

James Morris

August 14, 2010, 3:21 pm

@Timray I'm not generally a Mac user (although I have written for Mac User in the past!), but as the Sony AVCHD footage is stored within a 1080i wrapper it should be fully compatible with either Mac editing app.


August 14, 2010, 4:50 pm

The scores for this camera is higher than Canon 550D in every categories, does this means this camera is better than Canon 550D dSLR camera ??

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