Eagerly anticipated ever since Sony floated its wood-block concept designs at the PMA show in February, Sony's Alpha NEX-5 and NEX-3 have finally arrived. Its debut models are the smallest entrants to date, and are pretty aggressively priced given their features.
The cameras are nearly identical, differing only in two ways. They have slightly different body designs, with the higher-end NEX-5 composed of magnesium alloy, and the NEX-5 offers full HD AVCHD video recording. For those perks you pay about $100 more. Both cameras come in kits with either an 18-55mm ($299.99 standalone) or 16mm pancake prime lens ($249.99 standalone). We received a production-level NEX-5 just before launch, which gave us time to test it and get some shooting done before the announcement--you'll be able to get yours in July. The full review with more testing experience and ratings for that model should follow relatively soon. (Read about the NEX-3.)
Overall, the photo quality is really good, and the camera has a very nice noise profile and dynamic range for its price class. But there are caveats. For one, it has the same unfortunate issues with Sony's Creative Styles that all the company's dSLRs do: the default renders inaccurate colors, which isn't helped by the overly cool automatic white balance, and there's no natural Creative Style option. Not even in the bundled raw software. Also, though the 18-55 kit lens is pretty sharp, it has some of the worst distortion I've seen on a non-point-and-shoot camera of late. That includes barrel distortion at the 18mm end and pincushion at the 55mm end. As a result, not only are lines curved, but there's some fringing around the edges of the scene.
Video is sharp and the lenses are really quiet, both for zooming and focusing, but you have practically no controls beyond a background defocus scroll. For instance, it wouldn't let me spot meter a backlit subject; instead, I had to crank the exposure compensation all the way up, guessing based on a hard-to-gauge display. While it has built-in stereo mics that are reasonably separated physically, the audio sounds a bit tinny. And the camera really needs a wind filter. … Read more