Cameras | Technopolis

Sony NEX-5

Is this new Sony camera mightier than the PEN?

Sony NEX-5

Image: Hugh Threlfall

August 08 2010
Jonathan Margolis

As I have discussed here previously, the big movement in digital photography currently is the interchangeable lens compact camera, giving DSLR quality and versatility with the convenience and style of a compact. These wonderful new cameras are perfect for photographers who want to be creative, but have neither the desire nor the muscle power to lug around a heffalumpine “real” DSLR camera.

The baby DSLR choice up to now has been between the retro-look Olympus PEN E-P1 and E-P2s (plus its equally wondrous new baby brother, the E-PL1) – and Panasonic’s excellent Lumix DMC-GF1. Partly because I am a sucker for retro styling and partly because the PEN is so great, I have invested a good deal in Olympus gear. I use my PENs around the world for work purposes with enormous satisfaction. But thanks to Sony and this, its new NEX-5 interchangeable lens camera system, I have some thinking to do.

The dense, metal-bodied NEX-5 (and to a lesser extent, its cheaper, non-metallic bro, the NEX-3) is considerably smaller than the PEN, although its standard 18mm-55mm lens is bigger. I could give you dimensions, but you need to handle the NEX-5 to appreciate how compact it is. The asymmetric NEX styling is like, well, something from the future. It makes the PEN look and feel a bit old-fashioned.

The Sony’s features are what worry me most, though. It doesn’t (yet) have an electronic viewfinder like the PEN E-P2 but, that apart, although there’s nothing my PENs don’t do that I wish they did do, the NEX has a hatful of functions I now realise are indispensable. I could write 2,000 words on the things the NEX does that I never knew I wanted: the clever tilting screen, the innovative user interface, the clip-on flash that can angle upwards for a softer effect, the ability to select (and very well) the right “scene” mode for the shot you’re taking, the control to blur the background if you want to, a superb automatic function to create panoramic photos, and real HD video.

The feature I pick out, however, is one, I believe, all serious cameras will soon have. It’s called HDR – High Dynamic Range. In its hard-to-find Auto HDR mode, the NEX takes three photos of the same scene within a half second or so at two widely different exposures. It then combines the three, so the resulting photo is correctly exposed for both the dark and light areas. The result is sometimes weird and arty, other times just useful. All in all, then, I have the feeling that a NEX will soon be joining my camera bag.

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