Sony NEX-5R Review

Camera Reviews / Sony Cameras / Sony NEX i Preview
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Alpha NEX-5R
Resolution: 16.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
(23.5mm x 15.6mm)
Kit Lens: 3.06x zoom
(27-83mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
Native ISO: 100 - 25,600
Extended ISO: 100 - 25,600
Shutter: 1/4000 - 30 sec
Max Aperture: 3.5 (kit lens)
Dimensions: 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.5 in.
(111 x 59 x 39 mm)
Weight: 16.4 oz (466 g)
includes batteries, kit lens
Availability: 10/2012
Manufacturer: Sony
Full specs: Sony NEX-5R specifications
Sony E APS-C
size sensor
image of Sony Alpha NEX-5R
Front side of Sony NEX-5R digital camera Front side of Sony NEX-5R digital camera Front side of Sony NEX-5R digital camera Front side of Sony NEX-5R digital camera Front side of Sony NEX-5R digital camera

Sony Alpha NEX-5R Hands-on Preview

by Shawn Barnett and Mike Tomkins
Posted: 08/29/2012

Now in its third iteration, the very popular Sony NEX-5R doesn't get the usual updates people have come to expect. Like the NEX-5N before it, the NEX-5R still has a 16.1-megapixel sensor, a 3-inch tilting LCD, and is about the same shape and size. But there are a few new features that many will find compelling, including a fast hybrid autofocus system with 99 phase-detection AF points; a touch-shutter and touch-tracking feature; and a built-in WiFi radio that enables direct uploads to social media, as well as image transfer to tablets and cellphones. Downloadable apps are expected to bring more sophisticated in-camera Picture Effects to the Sony NEX-5R, plus Direct Upload features, and remote control via a smartphone, too. Not the usual updates indeed, but quite welcome nonetheless.

Also welcome is a slight tweak to the controls on the Sony NEX-5R, making better use of the limited real estate, arguably making the NEX-5R a more photographer-centric design without going as far as the NEX-7, with its Tri-Navi interface.

Slated to ship in October, the Sony NEX-5R is expected to fetch US$650 body-only, and $750 with an 18-55mm kit lens.

The Sony NEX-5R's size and weight are essentially the same, coming in at 16.4 ounces (466g) with the 18-55mm kit lens, battery, and memory card. Dimensions may vary a fraction of a millimeter here and there, but it's hard to tell with the conversion: 4.36 x 2.31 x 1.53 inches (110.8 x 58.8 x 38.9mm).

Though other manufacturers have addressed the very small size of the Sony NEX-5R, it's still impressively dinky, stripped down to the essentials: just enough space to form a substantial grip on the front and provide for a tilting display on the back. The relatively large APS-C sensor peeks out from the large lens mount, whose diameter is slightly larger than the camera is tall, as if to emphasize just how small the Sony NEX-5R is while also driving home the importance of that large sensor. While I'm used to the lens release button on the camera's left side (which would be right of the lens mount in the above shot), I really like the lens release button in this position. The grip is so small, it's easy to move your fourth finger to press the button while still holding the grip and turning the lens with your left hand. The usual infrared port and AF-assist lamp complete the basic features on the front of the Sony NEX-5R.

Though they're not major, its on the top where we see the main external control enhancements. First, Sony now rings the shutter button with the power switch. This move frees up the back corner to house the best addition on the camera: a second control dial. Put the Sony NEX-5R into Manual mode, photographers, and you can adjust aperture with this new dial, and shutter speed with the rear dial. This change alone may be worth the upgrade. Exposure preview is live, and it's easy to nail just the look you seek. I find it quite natural. Bravo Sony. When shooting in Aperture or Shutter priority modes, by the way, only the top dial adjusts the primary exposure variable (aperture or shutter), and the rear dial does nothing. I think I'd have preferred the rear dial to adjust the primary variable as well.

Just right of the Sony NEX-5R's shutter button is the new Function button. Pressing this brings up a menu on the LCD, giving access to six functions: AF/MF Select, Autofocus Mode, Autofocus Area, White Balance, Metering Mode and Picture Effect. Turning either the top or the rear dial adjusts the settings for the selected menu item. You can select among the six items by using the left and right arrow buttons.

Movie and Playback buttons shift left a bit with this new control design, but I think NEX-5R users will adjust with gratitude for the extra control. The microphone holes are a little smaller on the top deck, and the speaker has moved to the bottom of the camera. Two slick ramps roughly behind the microphones serve to guide the LCD as it flips up to face forward for easy, well-composed self-portraits.

While it wouldn't be a huge feature for me, it's good that the Sony NEX-5R's LCD is more versatile, tilting up 180 degrees, and down 50 degrees, while the NEX-5N tilted only 80 degrees upward, 45 degrees downward. When you swing the LCD back down, you have to slide it back up a bit, as the bracket not only has to swing all the way forward, but it has to allow the LCD to slide upward to clear the top deck (it's easier to do than to explain, so it won't be an issue). The only other major external difference is the addition of a little space right of the rear control dial, allowing room for the ISO silkscreen.

One major change for the NEX-5 line is the switch from wide strap lugs to smaller, stationary lugs that need D-rings on the Sony NEX-5R. This combination has the tendency to introduce noise into videos. We were far happier with the cloth-only interface of the past design.

We've only had a short time with a pre-release version of the Sony NEX-5R, so we're not able to comment much further on its performance at this point. Overall, though, it reminds us enough of the NEX-5N that we don't think they've broken anything, and the autofocus does indeed seem quite fast. As Sony's back-end infrastructure apparently wasn't ready before press time, we weren't able to test the WiFi features or the apps, unfortunately, which is the other major story, though we were able to connect to a local access point using the NEX-5R's onscreen keyboard. We'll have to revisit that when we get a shipping version.

It seems clear that at least three major companies have taken on the challenge of connecting their cameras to the Internet directly, and we'll likely see more companies adopting easy WiFi interfaces with apps to support more social media interaction direct from their cameras. It'll be the new hot feature to tout, just as face detection and Sweep Panorama once were. Get ready for the connected camera! Even without WiFi, though, the Sony NEX-5R seems like it has the major features more serious intermediate photographers will want, the main feature coming with the simple addition of one dial that enables faster manual exposure control.


Sony NEX-5R Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

At the heart of the Sony NEX-5R sits a brand-new Exmor APS HD CMOS image sensor. Resolution is unchanged from that in the NEX-5N, at about 16.1 megapixels effective, from a total of 16.7 megapixels.

The APS-C sensor has an RGBG color filter array, and a 1.5x focal length crop.

So what's new? The NEX-5R is Sony's first model with on-chip phase detection autofocus, something we've seen previously in cameras from Fujifilm, Nikon, and Canon.

Sony's implementation features a generous 99 autofocus points in a cluster at the center of the image frame.

Sony refers to the system as Fast Hybrid AF, and that's because--like Canon's system--the on-chip phase-detect pixels are used only to determine focus direction and provide a ballpark distance to move the autofocus drive. When the lens arrives at the commanded point, another phase detect measurement is taken. If this doesn't show a significant distance to the focus point, then the NEX-5N falls back to contrast detection to fine-tune autofocus. Otherwise, the second phase-detect measurement is fed back to the lens for a further adjustment before contrast detection begins.

Contrast detection still works with 25 areas, just as it did in the NEX-5N, so from the user's point of view it operates much the same as it did previously--just with an improvement in focus performance when coupled with phase detect. Fast Hybrid AF requires a compatible lens, and firmware updates will expand support to existing models, says Sony. If not supported, the NEX-5R uses contrast detection alone.

You can, of course, still focus manually. Both focus-peaking and magnifier functions are available, and function similarly to the NEX-5N, except that there are now only two magnifier levels: 4.8x, or 9.6x.

Data from the NEX-5R's image sensor is handled by Sony's proprietary BIONZ-branded image processor.

The pairing allows the same sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 25,600 equivalents. Auto ISO ranges to ISO 3,200 max.

Couple the fast phase detect autofocus and BIONZ processor, and the NEX-5R offers unusually swift burst-shooting performance, even by DSLR standards.

The maximum rate of 10 frames per second matches that of the NEX-5N, but it now provides tracking autofocus, where the earlier model locked focus from the first frame at this speed.

That exceptional frame rate is available only in Speed Priority Continuous mode. In the standard Continuous mode, the NEX-5R offers a more sedate three frames per second.

Other drive modes include Single, Self-timer (two or ten second delay, and up to five exposures with the longer delay), bracketing, and Remote Commander.

Like other NEX-series cameras, the NEX-5R's lens mount accepts only Sony E-mount lenses directly, but can be used with an unusually wide range of non-native lenses via mount adapters provided by Sony and third parties.

Currently, Sony offers eight E-mount lenses: four primes, and four zooms (although two of these have identical coverage.)

As we've noted, not all E-mount lenses support the new Hybrid AF system right off the bat, though. At launch, only the SEL1855, SEL55210, SEL18200LE, and SEL24F18Z models will be compatible with the faster autofocus system; support should be expanded over time through firmware updates, but it isn't yet clear if this will eventually encompass all Sony's E-mount lens models or not.

Like its predecessor, the Sony NEX-5R includes a Sony Xtra Fine LCD monitor with a three-inch diagonal, and VGA resolution (640 x 480 pixels; 921,600 dots).

Also retained is the automatic/manual five-step brightness control with Sunny Weather mode for better visibility.

Sony has kept the touch panel that it introduced for the NEX-5N, but with a few tweaks.

Perhaps most notably, you can now trip the shutter release from the touch panel. You can also now select an object for autofocus tracking, and control background defocus with a slider control.

The big news for the NEX-5R's LCD panel is its improved articulation mechanism. The LCD can now tilt 180 degrees upwards for self-portrait viewing, but in this position it blocks the Smart Accessory Terminal. The panel also tilts downward just a few degrees more than in the NEX-5N's design.

There's one other big change in the NEX-5R's user interface: a new Function button and a second control dial.

To fit these in, the Power control now encircles the Shutter button, while the Playback and Movie buttons step aside somewhat.

Pressing the new Fn button calls up a function menu, giving quick access to focus, white balance, metering, and picture mode settings.

The Sony 5R provides all the same exposure modes found in the NEX-5N, plus one new option seen previously in the NEX-F3: Superior Auto.

Superior Auto automatically detects the scene type, configures the camera appropriately, and then captures anywhere from one to six shots. Multi-shot bursts are then combined in-camera, with the aim of either correcting backlit shots, or reducing noise levels.

The selection of Scene types available through the Scene mode position include Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports Action, Sunset, Night Portrait, Night View, and Hand-held Twilight.

All were also found in the NEX-5N.

The NEX-5R inherits Sony's By-pixel Super Resolution technology, seen previously in the Sony F3, and the company's Cyber-shot and Translucent Mirror cameras. By-pixel Super Res is basically a resampling algorithm that's aware of--and attempts to recreate--patterns in images.

The tech underlies features such as Clear Image Zoom, a 2x digital zoom that Sony claims offers results "nearly equivalent" to an optical zoom.

By-pixel Super Resolution is also used for Sony's unusual Auto Portrait Framing function. This uses face recognition to identify your subject, and then crops your image automatically to provide a pleasing rule-of-thirds composition. The camera will even change the orientation, if the algorithm feels it necessary.

The result is then upsampled back to the NEX-5R's full resolution, using the same techniques as in Clear Image Zoom, and saved alongside your original image.

Like any mirrorless camera, the NEX-5R meters images using the main CMOS image sensor. The scene is broken down and considered as 1,200 separate zones.

Metering modes include Multi-segment, Center-weighted, and Spot.

Flash exposures include a pre-flash for metering.

Shutter speeds on offer in the Sony Alpha NEX-5R span the range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds.

There's also a Bulb function.

The Sony NEX-5R doesn't feature a built-in flash, instead it's bundled with a small HVL-F7S fold-down flash. This and other compatible strobes mount in the proprietary Smart Accessory Terminal 2 connector on the top deck.

When mounted, the flash obviously prevents raising the LCD panel for self-portraits.

Flash modes include Auto, Fill-flash, Slow-sync, and Rear-sync.

A red-eye reduction function is also available, enabled or disabled through the Setup menu.

Flash X-sync is at 1/160 second, unchanged from that in earlier Sony NEX-series models.

More technical info to come shortly... Watch this space!

White balance modes include Auto, six presets, direct selection of color temperature, and a Custom mode.

The NEX-5R also offers six customizable Creative Styles: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, and B/W.

The generous selection of Picture Effects--there are 11 types and 15 variations--is identical to that seen in the NEX-5N.

So are the DRO and HDR functions, which optimize dynamic range automatically or manually.

A big addition is the Sony NEX-5R's support for downloadable in-camera applications, branded as PlayMemories Camera Apps. Sony says that some of these will be free, and you'll need to pay for others.

At launch, apps will include Smart Remote Control, Direct Upload, Picture Effect +, Bracket Pro, Multi Frame NR, and Photo Retouch. After launch, Time-Lapse and Cinematic Photos are planned.

The Smart Remote Control application will let you control your NEX-5R remotely from a smartphone running the Playmemories Mobile app.

You'll get a live preview image, and will be able to adjust exposure and trip the shutter remotely--then the photo will be transferred right to your phone.

The Direct Upload app will let you share images via WiFi to social networking services.

At launch, Sony will support both Facebook, and its own PlayMemories Online service. More services will be added later, says Sony.

The Picture Effect+ app offers additional post-capture picture effects that will appeal to users seeking an Instagram-like feel.

We're not sure if all the effects in our preproduction camera will be in the final app, but at the very least, Partial Color+, Watercolor, Illustration, Soft High-Key+, Miniature+, and Toy Camera+ are described in the NEX-5R's brochure.

Bracket Pro will offer shutter speed, aperture, focus, and flash bracketing, while Multi Frame NR will average multiple exposures to reduce noise.

Photo Retouch will let you adjust framing, resize, tweak brightness, soften skin tones, and more.

Apps can be sorted and removed, and some rely on Sony's PlayMemories site.

Although it's mostly unchanged, there are a couple of slight tweaks in the Sony NEX-5N's Full HD (1080p) video capture.

An Auto Slow Shutter feature drops shutter speeds as needed in low ambient light, to try and get a usable picture.

The other notable change is a repositioning of the NEX-5N's built-in stereo microphone. Previously located on the camera's top deck, it now resides on the base of the camera instead.

You can still use the ECM-SST1 external microphone accessory, too.

As we mentioned previously, the NEX-5R includes built-in WiFi wireless networking connectivity.

There's also an infrared receiver in the handgrip, compatible with the RMT-DSLR1/2 remote controls.

The remaining connectivity now shares a single door on the camera's left side.

Alongside the Type-C Mini HDMI port is a new, smaller USB 2.0 Micro port.

The latter now allows charging via USB, letting you carry one less charger if you've got other USB-charging devices.

The Sony NEX-5R stores images in JPEG or raw formats, on SD / SDHC / SDXC or Memory Stick Duo media.

Power comes from the same NP-FW50 lithium ion battery pack used in the NEX-5N. Sadly, battery life is 100 shots lower, at 330 shots to CIPA testing standards.

Available from October 2012, the Sony NEX-5R is priced at US$650 body-only. A kit version will include an 18-55mm lens, and sell for a premium of US$100, at US$750 all-in.

Three body colors will be offered: silver, black, or white.


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