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Sony A5000 Review -- First Impressions

Preview posted:

Sony A5000 review -- three-quarter view, LCD swing

The change is, it would seem, now official. Sony's NEX camera brand is no more, folded into the company's overall Alpha ecosystem with no distinction made any longer between mirrorless and Translucent Mirror camera models -- at least, in terms of product naming or model numbers. The rumor mill had predicted as much after the debut of the full-frame, FE-mount Alpha A7 and A7R compact system cameras, neither of which sported NEX branding, but the 20.1 megapixel Sony A5000 is the first compact, crop sensor-shod, E-mount camera to forego the moniker. (Technically, the A3000 is also a crop-sensor, E-mount model without a mirror, but it features SLR / SLT-like styling, which made the lack of a NEX badge more understandable.)

Were the NEX brand still extant, though, there's little doubt that the 20.1 megapixel Sony A5000 would sit squarely within its confines. It's a mirrorless camera just like its NEX forebears, after all. Sony tells us that it considers the new model to sit above the existing NEX-3N and Alpha A3000 in its model line, while the NEX-5T and Alpha A58 are still further up the line.

So... that's where it fits into the rejigged Alpha family, but what does it bring to the table? Conceptually, it's quite similar to the NEX-3N, although it features styling more reminiscent of the NEX-5T, including a generous hand grip. Like the 3N, the Sony A5000 has a built-in popup flash and a 180-degree tilting LCD monitor. It also has a very similar control layout, including a rocker control for power zoom lenses, although there is one new control -- a rear-panel delete button.

But the A5000 does manage to shoehorn in the Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity of the NEX-5T, despite being near-identical in size and weight to the NEX-3N. (That, says Sony, makes this the smallest and lightest APS-C interchangeable-lens camera on the market with Wi-Fi.) Wireless features include remote live view and control, as well as transfer of images and movies. You'll need to use Sony's PlayMemories Mobile app -- available for Android and iOS devices -- for this purpose.

The Sony A5000 also supports in-camera apps that let you do things like timelapse photography, in-camera retouching, and so on, although some apps are come with an extra fee, typically in the region of US$5-10.

Fans of Android devices will be pleased to see Near Field Communications connectivity present, allowing automatic Wi-Fi connection setup simply by holding the camera close to your smartphone or tablet. Apple users will miss out, though, as no Apple device has yet provided for NFC support.

On the inside, the Sony A5000 pairs a new APS-C sized, 20.1 effective megapixel Exmor APS HD CMOS image sensor, and the same BIONZ X-branded image processor that debuted with the full-frame Sony A7 and A7R, as well as their fixed-lens sibling, the RX10.

Sony A5000 review -- front view, black

Despite the modest step up in resolution from the 16.1 megapixel sensor of the NEX-3N, the new sensor and processor pairing allows the exact same sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 16,000 equivalents. And it yields much the same performance, too, allowing a manufacturer-rated 2.5 frames per second burst shooting, or 3.5 fps with focus locked in Speed Priority Continuous mode.

The Sony A5000's sensor might offer higher resolution than that in the NEX-5T, but it lacks that camera's on-chip phase detection autofocus support. That means you're limited solely to contrast detection autofocus, with 25 points on offer, just as in the NEX-3N.

On the rear panel, the tilting LCD is also much like that of the NEX-3N. It has a three-inch diagonal, and a total resolution of 460,800 dots, half that of the NEX-5T's equally-sized panel. And the articulation mechanism is a simple 180-degree upward flip, unlike the more complex mechanism of the NEX-5T, which allows 180-degree upward or 50-degree downward tilt.

In one respect, the A5000 is curiously bested by both of its forebears. We mentioned that it features a built-in, popup flash as in the NEX-3N, but it has a guide number of just 4 meters at ISO 100. That's a lot less than the 6 meters of the NEX-3N's built-in strobe, let alone the external (but bundled) strobe of the NEX-5T, which carries a 7 meter rating. Bear in mind that to get the actual maximum range at the stated sensitivity, you'll need to divide by the aperture you plan to shoot at.

With the f/3.5-5.6 maximum aperture of the Sony A5000's kit lens and when shooting at ISO 100, you can expect at best a working range of 3.6 feet (1.1m) at wide angle, and 2.3 feet (71cm) at telephoto. You'll thus need to crank up the sensitivity to get a truly useful range from the popup flash, although that's not terribly unusual on smaller cameras.

Video capture capabilities of the Sony A5000 are much the same as the cameras it sits in between: You can shoot at up to Full HD (1080i / 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution), but a 60p progressive-scan frame rate isn't available. Instead, you can choose either interlaced 60i video from 30p sensor data, or 24p video.

We've already discussed its new wireless connectivity, but like the NEX-3N before it, the Sony A5000 is more limited on the wired connectivity front. There's no hot shoe for external strobes, and connections are limited to just what Sony calls the Multi Terminal -- essentially a USB port which also supports certain accessories such as wired remote controls -- plus a standard HDMI Type D micro connector for high definition video output. The latter, though, is relatively unusual in supporting 4K still image output, if you happen to have the ultra high def display to which to connect it.

Sony A5000 review -- card slot

Like earlier models, the Sony A5000 stores images on Secure Digital cards, including SDHC, SDXC, and UHS-I types which have higher capacity and speed. It can also accept Sony's proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo, PRO-HG Duo, and XC-HG Duo types. The A5000 draws power from an InfoLithium NP-FW50 lithium-ion battery pack, exactly the same type used in the NEX-3N and NEX-5T. Battery life falls pretty squarely in between the two, with a CIPA-rated 420 shots on a charge, versus 480 shots for the NEX-3N, and 330 shots for the NEX-5T.

The A5000 ships with a Sony E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS lens, a stabilized, power zoom optic which covers everything from a 24mm-equivalent wide angle to a 75mm-equivalent telephoto. Available from March 2014 in white, black, and silver-bodied versions, the Sony A5000 kit is priced at US$600.

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