Sunday 13 November 2011

A Year With The Sony NEX 5

Last autumn I wrote a post about choosing a new camera for backpacking (see Cameras for Backpacking Decisions). The camera was the Sony NEX 5 which I’ve now been using for just over a year, taking well over 3,000 images. Most of the ones that have accompanied this blog since last October have been taken with the NEX 5 and images have appeared on other websites (especially my Southern Upland Way and Annandale Way route descriptions for WalkHighlands), in TGO magazine and, in black and white, in the new edition of The Backpacker’s Handbook.

So, after a year, how happy am I with this camera? The answer is very happy. Is it the best designed and ergonomic camera I’ve ever used? No. That is still the Ricoh GR-D. However the NEX 5 produces better quality images than my DSLR. The GR-D images are noticeably inferior. And the handling of the NEX 5 seems much better now I am used to it. Initially I found it a little awkward simply because it was different to my Canon 450D. Now I find the 450D slower to use than the NEX 5 because I don’t use it as much. Is there anything I don’t like? Well, the video button is in an awkward place as I sometimes press it accidentally and start shooting unwanted video. And the battery life could be better. But that’s it.

I also find it more stable flipping up the screen and holding the NEX 5 against my chest than I do holding the 450D to my eye. And I like the 100% view on the screen and the exposure information, especially the histogram, so I can make adjustments before taking a picture. Having set the camera up to suit the way I work I can quickly change the settings I use most – aperture, speed and ISO. The real joy though is in the light weight and compact size. The 450D seems like a monster.

NEX images are good up to 800 ISO and usable at 1600. 3200 is passable. I like being able to crop images and still have good results. I do try to take the perfect composition in camera but lens length and location sometimes make this impossible. Here’s an example, shot for this post.

The only lens I use regularly with the NEX 5 is the 18-55 kit lens, which I find fine. I have a cheap adapter, bought off eBay, so I can use my Canon lens, though without aperture control or auto focusing, and I have played with this but it’s too clumsy to bother with outdoors.

I did think I might miss a viewfinder but this hasn’t happened. Indeed I bought a little folding viewfinder that fits over the screen so you can put it to your eye but I rarely use this. Even in bright sunshine the screen is usable if held against the chest.

Despite all this praise I don’t think the NEX 5 will be my first choice camera for much longer. That’s because of the new Sony NEX 5N and NEX 7 cameras, which both sound even better than the NEX 5. I’d like two NEX bodies anyway as I always carry two cameras on any trip where pictures are important. At present that’s the NEX 5 and the 450D. Either the 5N or the 7 will replace the latter. A decision will be made when I’ve had the chance to handle them both – which could be several months away as NEX 7 availability had been postponed due to the tragic floods in Thailand, which have affected Sony factories.

When I have two NEX bodies I will also swap my Canon 55-250 lens for the Sony 55-210. That will leave me short of a wide angle zoom, which Sony say they will introduce next year.

I’m looking forward to trying the new NEX cameras and lenses and in carrying a lighter load of camera gear whilst still taking the same quality pictures. I think the NEX system is ideal for backpacking if you want DSLR quality images without the bulk and weight of DSLR gear.


  1. Interesting stuff, Chris.

    I find a DSLR with a couple of lenses is more weight than I'm happy to carry; more so since wildlife subjects will often be gone in the time it takes to switch lenses.

    On the other hand my ageing Lumix compact can be frustrating - lacking the zoom capabilities of some modern equivalents, and with no viewfinder.

    Are any of the current generation of bridge cameras worth exploring? For an amateur, I mean, not for someone earning a living from photography.

  2. I've not used any of the bridge cameras but they look to be almost as heavy and bulky as a DSLR. Of course they have the advantage of a huge zoom range so no extra lenses are needed. One would certainly give you more scope than your old Lumix.

  3. Interesting review Chris. I often use a Canon Powershot G12 for similar reasons. It has good, easy to access controls but has a non changeable electronic zoom lens that can be slow to adjust to the desired setting. Is the zooming on the 18-55 lens manual? And how quick is the focus (for moving subjects)?

  4. I finally took the plunge recently and bought the NEX 5N (with the 18- 55mm and the 16mm wide angle), partly based on your previous NEX 5 reviews Chris. Only had a couple of hills days with it, but the results are superb and I think battery life is better than the NEX 5. Not for the hill, but with a fotodiox adapter I can also use my old manual Minolta Rokkor lenses. They work on aperture priority and the focus peaking feature is excellent. The customisation available on the 5N makes it very quick to alter ISO, WB, HDR etc., despite the lack of physical controls. I also find the ergonomics excellent – much better than the Olympus and Panasonic 4/3s models I also considered.

    The 5N manual suggests the min operating temp is 0deg C - how have you found your NEX in sub zero temps Chris?

  5. Felicity, the zooming on the 18-55 lens is manual. It's much the same as the Canon 18-55, though better made. The focus is quite fast, again much like the Canon 450D, though I haven't tried it on anything really quick.

    Hugh, last winter I used the NEX in temperatures well below freezing without any problems. It was never exposed to the outside air for very long as I carry it in a padded bag.

  6. Chris,
    Which software do you use for storing, cataloging your photos on your computer? Picasa? Or anything else windows based?

  7. I use Lightroom. I like it as an all-in-one solution - I can process raw files, file and organise images, compile slide shows and burn CDs with it.

  8. Which case do use to protect your NEX 5?

  9. I use an old Camera Care Systems padded case for the NEX. Unfortunately these are no longer available. LowePro and other companies make similar cases.