Sony NEX-5: A New Angle on Photography

Fallen Leaves

Fallen Leaves – Austin, Texas

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog post called In Search of an EVIL Camera where I put my thoughts down about a new class of cameras. EVIL cameras have an electronic view finder and interchangeable lenses. They are hybrid cameras somewhere in size between an DSLR and point and shoot. The exciting thing is, may of these new cameras have image quality that is very close to or matches DSLR picture quality. Well, I decided to get one after all. If you read the EVIL camera post, you can tell that I was leaning towards the Sony NEX-5 over the Olympus E-PL1. As the title suggests, I did go with the Sony NEX-5 and I wanted to give some quick, initial impressions. This EVIL market is moving quickly, in the two weeks since I wrote my first post on the topic, Panasonic has introduced another camera, the DMC-GF2 that replaces the GF1. The GF2 has been shrunken and is only slightly larger than the Sony NEX-5. After reading some recent NEX-5 reviews at I became increasing convinced that I need to add this camera to my tool set. Steve Huff has several great articles on this little Sony so they are worth checking out.

While I did mention that neither the Sony or Olympus met all of my ideal requirements, an upcoming family vacation was a perfect opportunity to get a smaller and more nimble camera. The prospect of hauling around my 7D all day at Disneyland was not thrilling. While it will take wonderful photographs, I wanted a smaller and lighter package that will take great photographs and nice video clips. My wife asked me, if I brought the NEX-5 with me, am I still going to bring my Canon 7D? To the possible amusement (or disappointment) of my wife, I said, Yes, I’m still bringing my 7D. I’m just not going to be hauling it all day through the theme park. I plan to do some landscape photography on the beautiful California coast. For this, I will still use my primary, big DSLR with my super-wide lens. So yesterday, I took a trip down to Austin’s only remaining full service camera store, Precision Camera and purchased the NEX-5 with the 18-55mm and 16mm pancake lens. There is a special rebate going on right now so I effectively got the extra lens for $100.

I’ve shot a bunch of images last night and today and my first impressions have been very good. High ISO quality is decent, I’m not sure exactly how it compares with the 7D but they are both in the same ball park. It’s definitely way better than my older Canon 20D and Rebel XT DSLRs. The video has been alright but so far it has not blown me away. I believe it does focus better than any current DSLR or EVIL camera but it still does mis-focus from time to time — especially when there is a background with a lot of contrast behind the subject. This is behavior that I was familiar with before I purchased the camera. Time will tell if it affects my video taking in real life situations.

What I’m really enjoying is the small form factor and the ease at which I take photographs from different angles. The small and light camera in combination with the flip-up LCD screen really allows me to easily maneuver the camera. The image above of the fallen leaves is one that would be very cumbersome to capture with my 7D. The photograph was taken just inches off the wet ground and all I had to do was hold it from above and compose with the flip-up LCD. My DSLR will require me to lay down on the wet ground to get this shot. If you think of it, there are very few cameras that can easily (without getting on the ground) capture this image with this quality and shallow DOF. Point and shoots or even the micro four thirds cameras from Olympus don’t have this shallow DOF. Only a hand full of DSLRs currently have flip up LCD screens. Canon has the new 60D, Nikon has the D5000 and several of the Sony DSLRs have these articulated screens. And none of these DSLRs are as light and easy to position. So yes, I am very thrilled with the Sony NEX-5 just from the maneuverability point of view. Image quality wise, I’ve gotten some great sharp images. Our family dog, Lucky is always willing to help out when testing new photography equipment. The image below is another one of those low angle shots similar to the leaves.

Lucky on Dog Bed

Lucky on Dog Bed – Austin, Texas

As I get more time with the Sony NEX-5, I will do more posts about it. So far so good, I’m amazed by its compact size. The images look great and the video seems to be usable. The big test will come when I put it though its paces on my family trip.

My Thought Process

I believe making interesting photos sometimes require a different point of view. With both images, I got down low and up close to the subject. I wanted to get the texture of the leaves and blur out any distractions in the background. With my dog, I made sure to focus on his eyes to get them sharp while the shallow DOF made the rest of his head slightly out of focus. People tend to gravitate towards the eyes so photos of people as well as animals look fine as long as the eyes are in focus.

[Note: Click on the images for a larger version]

Image Details

Both images were taken with the Sony NEX-5 with the 18-55mm kit lens, handheld and in JPEG. I used Aperture 3 to add some color saturation, vignette and sharpness.

Image 1: f5, 1/320 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 200 at 46mm
Image 2: f4.5, 1/25 sec, no exposure compensation, ISO 1600 at 19mm

28 thoughts on “Sony NEX-5: A New Angle on Photography

  1. Nice work Andy! You are so talented so I know you will get the most out of this new camera. I’m saving for new lens and flash for my Canon. I’ll be interested to hear your conclusions after you have owned/used for a few months.

  2. Panasonic provides announced the Lumix DMC-GF2 Mini 4 Thirds camera. Any simplified model with the corporation’s GF1, Panasonic GF2 inherits the same flat-body layout but with revised handle layout and touch-screen manage.
    You got a really useful blog I have been here reading for about an hour. I am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me.

    1. The GF2 looks like a great camera. It was not going to be available before my trip so I didn’t look into as much. I think its great that all these companies are competing to bring out better cameras. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  3. great post! I also bought a nex5 with both lenses… I have a gf1 with the 20mm, and used to have an ep1 with both olympus lenses. I sold my ep1 and got the gf1, and i really loved the pictures the 20mm lens produced. The nex5 is something else though.. i know the sensor is better, larger etc. but I’m really not happy with the image quality. The 16mm is very soft in the corners. it isn’t sharp. The 18-55 i think is a little better, but still CA and sharpness is not good.
    I am hoping that it is the glass and not the camera. I was also wondering if the quality would be better if i adapted a voigtlander or a sony a-mount prime.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I’ve heard really good things about the 20mm Panasonic pancake and I have no doubt that is sharper than the (current) Sony lenses. I have heard about some complaints of softness with the Sony. The site (mentioned in my post) has some info about this and Steve also shoots with Leica lenses on the Sony NEX-5.

      I haven’t shot much with my 16mm yet. I was going to do a post on this, but for me, since I like to maximize shallow DOF and my subject is generally somewhere in the center, corner softness is not as much of an issue. If I were doing landscapes where I want corner to corner sharpness, It might be a bigger deal. I will do some landscapes in the future so we will see if my opinion will change. I think CA might bug me more but I haven’t run in it yet or I haven’t been looking close enough. Please check back. I plan to do different kinds of images with my Sony and give my impressions.

      1. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and sold both Sony lenses…
        Having a few cameras in stock was part of the decision process.
        After shooting for a couple of days with both lenses I decided it was time to sell off. I’ll save up for the Voigtlander 35 1.4, currently selling for $575.
        I am by no means a sharpness/pixel freak, I was just extremely disappointed with the kit.
        btw, I will be checking up for your updates! love the site.

      2. Danny, sorry to hear about your disappointing results. I would really love a report on how the Voigtlander 35 1.4 works out. Sony does have higher quality lenses planned for the NEX including a Zeiss so we will see how this system evolves. I actually have some old lenses including a Leica 50 f2 (I think, If I remember correctly) so I might be getting an adapter in the future.

        Time will tell if I remain happy with the image quality on the Sony. For now, I’m having a blast. Mainly using it to take family photos and videos. It’s so light and nimble, I feel liberated from my 7D.

        Thanks for your kind words regarding the site. I hope I can continue to post content that is worthwhile to you.

  4. Hey Andy,

    Finally got around to checking out your blog. Really enjoyed the articles on the EVIL cameras and the new Sony. I was pretty curious about them. Well written and very informative. Thanks,


    1. Kevin, thanks for your visit. I’m glad you find the posts useful. I never really consider myself a writer so I’m developing new skills. My attempt at adding some value to the photographic community.

  5. I enjoyed your Sony NEX-5 blog entry. I was at Precision Photo last week and ran into a Sony rep who showed me the Sony A33. I was very impressed, especially since I am in the market for a small HDDSLR. Do you like the NEX-5 video and how does it compare with your D7?

      1. Bill, I have not done a head to head comparison between my Canon 7D video vs the Sony NEX-5 video. The thing is that Canon 7D video does not autofocus so that is a non-starter for me. I’m not going to go through the pain of doing manual focus adjustments. If I were doing a serious Indy film it may be worth it but its too painful to use as camcorder replacements to film the kids.

        The NEX-5 does autofocus so its a lot more usable for me. Its not perfect but hopefully it will be good enough. I will really get to know it when I bring it along on my family vacations.

  6. Hi. I’m fairly (very) new the photography. I just (like 2 days ago) purchased the NEX-5. I tried taking some closeup/macro shots but I really can’t get the focus as clear as you have. Do you mind telling a total newbie what settings you used to take that picture of the leaf? And how you know what to adjust (i.e., based on lighting, etc). Of the two lenses that come with NEX-5 which one did you use? And for the closeups/macro shots do you always use a tripod? How close are you to the object? πŸ™‚ See I have too many questions… but I think once I get it… I should be able to build on it.

    Also, how long does NEX-5 Battery last? πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Ali, thank you for you visit and comment. Congratulations on your new NEX-5 purchase. I used the 18mm – 55mm kit lens to take the picture of the leaf. All lens have a minimum focusing distance which varies by lens. You can not focus closer to an object than the minimum distance. That might be part of the challenge you are having. I don’t know off hand what the minimum focusing distance is for that lens however this is what you can do to get these type of closeup shots. Move back a little from the object you want to photograph so that it can lock on focus. Now use your zoom to zoom in closer to the object. Sometime when you zoom in, the minimum focusing distance may change a bit, if you can’t focus move your camera a bit further from the object. For the leaf I shot the photo at about 46mm, so my zoom has set roughly half way between the 35 and 55 mark on the lens. For this image, I shot this handheld, it was a really fast grab shot and I wasn’t doing a serious macro. The kit lens can get in pretty close but its not a true macro lens. Serious macro photographers do tend to use tripods and even extra lights to brighten their subject. I’m not a serious macro shooter so any closeup you see on my site has been done without tripod. The NEX battery should last for about 330 shots but taking videos can greatly reduce battery life. I hope this helps.

  7. ^ Thanks for the tips. Did you have Auto Focus, MF, or the third option that escapes but its a blend auto and MF? In my feeble first attempt, the AF also focused on the wrong object (usually on something in the background) (SCN: Macro). MF and Assist gave me better results but I wasn’t too impressed by it. What settings on the camera do you normally use for quick grabs?

    On the battery life — just playing around with the settings and 3-4 shots later it drained to 80% on a full charge. Sound like a defective battery to you?

    My first real experience and what peaked me into photography was my first digital camera, the Canon A70. A simple point and shoot but had an impressive Manual functionality and took really decent shots. But that was early 2000s. Ten years later I’m back in with my first SONY.

    You’re gonna kill me with all these questions πŸ™‚

    1. HI Ali, almost all if not all of my photographs are taken with Auto Focus. Most of my photos are taken with the focus point set to the center point. I use the center point to autofocus on where I want and then I recompose the shot.

      20% drained after 3 – 4 shots does sound strange. Maybe a defective battery.

      I heard the Canon A70 was a great point and shoot. Enjoy your camera and send me an email if you end up posting your photos online somewhere.

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