The New Sony Ponies - Sony's NEX-3 & NEX-5


Taking the design concept of an ultra-compact mirror-less/finder-less digicam advanced by the many Four Thirds (4/3)-format cameras currently on the market, Sony has taken the concept a step further by incorporating a Sony 14.2MP APS-C HD Exmor CMOS sensor (1.5x), which features 58% more surface area than a 4/3-format imaging sensor, and about 13 times the surface area of most point-and-shoot imaging sensors. And since sensor size is a major factor when it comes to resolving power, Sony’s NEX-series cameras should prove to be a significant upgrade in terms of sharpness and dynamic range compared to comparable sub-compact offerings.

The new system is available in 2 flavors – the NEX-3, which features a polycarbonate body, HD 720p/MP4 video, and MPEG-4 AAC-LC audio; and the NEX-5, which features a magnesium-alloy body, HD AVCHD 1080/60i video, and Dolby Digital (AC-3) / MPEG-4 audio. As for still imaging, both cameras capture JPEGs (Fine or Standard), RAW, or JPEG+RAW, in a choice of sRGB or Adobe RGB color spaces.

 Both cameras also come with a choice of Sony E-series optics – a slim-profile E 16mm F2.8 ‘pancake’ prime lens (24mm equivalent) or an E 18–55mm F3.5–5.6 OSS (Optical SteadyShot) zoom lens (27-82.5mm equivalent). In addition to the 2 kits lenses, there’s also a wider-range E 18–200mm F3.5–6.3 OSS (27-300mm equivalent) E-series zoom, and 2 wide-angle converters – the VCL-ECU1 Ultra-Wide Converter (0.75x) and a VCL-ECF1 fisheye converter (o.62x).

 A couple of options that should appeal to many shooters include an optional shotgun-style mic (ECM-SST1), which sits pretty atop the camera and can be tilted 90°/120° depending on your coverage needs. And for rangefinder-style shooting with the 16mm lens, there's a matched optical finder (FDA-SV1) that allows you to shoot with the camera close-up at eye-level.

Along with a choice of optics, there’s also a choice of colors –black, silver, and red for the NEX-3 and silver or black for the NEX-5.

The NEX-3 comes in Silver, Black, and Red, the NEX-5 in Silver or Black

 The NEX-series cameras are designed to use Sony E-series lenses, a new compact line of optics designed to work with the reduced flange distance that resulted from the removal of the reflex viewing system. The new E-series optics also incorporate silent AF and iris control to eliminate camera noise when shooting video.

In addition to Sony E-series optics, you can also use any of Sony’s traditional DSLR lenses (as well as all Minolta AF-mount optics) on NEX-series digicams by using the optional LA-EA1 lens adapter (Manual focus and full-open aperture metering only). And a box of donuts says in due time there’ll be a selection of 3rd-party adapters for other lens systems available for the new ‘Ponies’.

In the performance department, the NEX-3 and NEX-5 feature Contrast Auto Focus systems that according to Sony enable quick response times, which are bolstered by the camera’s ability to capture full-resolution stills at burst-rates up to 7 frames-per-second. Low-light shooters will also appreciate the ability to crank ISO sensitivities up to 12800. The new Sony's are also the world's 1st intercangeable lens APS-C cameras with continuouos AF/AE for video.

In addition to high ISO ratings, 2 very-cool low-light shooting features borrowed from Sony’s Cyber-shot pocket-cams are the Anti-Motion Blur and Hand-held Twilight modes, which capture 6 rapid-sequence images of a subject, analyze the exposure and focusing details of each image, and layer the optimum portions of these exposures into a single optimized image. These 2 handhold-able features work amazingly well in Sony’s pocket-cams, and should prove to be even more amazing when captured by the NEX-3/5’s larger imaging sensor.

Another creative imaging feature that’s been lifted from the Cyber-shot line is Sony’s Sweep Panorama mode, which captures up to 60 individual images and stitches them together in-camera to produce 23MB panoramic images up to 226-degree horizontal or 151-degree vertical shots with 16mm lens. Here too, the results should prove to be that much sharper and snappier due to the larger imaging sensor.

Being mirror-less, Sony’s NEX digicams feature a 3”, tilt-able 921,600-dot TFT TruBlack LCD, which along with Live-View functionality, can be tilted downward 45° and upwards of 80° for composing still or video images from extreme angles and/or in tighter shooting quarters.  

Other features found on the NEX-3 & NEX-5 include manual overrides for focus and exposure controls, Auto HDR capture and a Dynamic Range Optimizer for expanding shadow and highlight details, Advanced Anti-Dust technologies, 8 Scene modes and 6 Creative settings, Background Defocus, for in-camera selective-focus control, a 25-point AF system, HDMI connectivity, and up to 330 exposures per battery charge.

Because both NEX digicams are designed with technologies that enable easy hand-held, lowlight imaging, there is no built-in flash. But for times you want and/or need to use flash, a low-profile Sony HVL-F7S P-TTL flash (guide # 7m @ ISO 100) is included with each camera.

And stay tuned for our upcoming hands-on review of both of these very exciting imaging machines.


It's good to see so much enthusiasm here in support of mirrorless/prismless interchangeable lens cameras, because that enthusiasm will translate into the companies pumping out better and better versions of this format to satisfy demand.

Since these cameras are totally designed and built around new digital technology - instead of a hybrid mix of old and new, they fair a much better chance of shooting forward with rapid improvements than does the old/new format cameras, and will continue to approach the high-end professional DSLRs as generations of them continue to come.

With the continuous advancements in EVF technology, (we already have some very impressive ones - as the one in the Pany GH1 and the add-on EVF available for the Oly E-PL1), it will soon come that EVFs are as sharp and detailed as the image coming through a mirror/prism/lens system.  When that occurs, and it will soon, the big bulky mirror/prism VF system will be irrelevant, and the compact IL cameras on the market will be way ahead of the game and the others will be playing catch-up. 

As for the physics of "things" mentioned by a poster, day by day the industry is proving that bigger is not better - but the execution of design and function is what matters in photography - totally.  -- And photography - like the sense of sight - is all about capturing reflected light and processing it into an image.

Keeping that in mind, any image-capturing device capabilities is primarily a function of aperature and focal length, with focusing being a relatively minor final function.  And so, if bigger was really better, the human eye would be a dismal image capturing device.  However, the human eye is the ultimate standard in image-capturing devices - and it is very small.

The human eye has a focal length of 17mm, and the human iris has an aperature range from approximately f/1.0 to f/32. (Animal predators eyes can open even wider - down to f/0.3 for some animals - like cats, and their eyes are about the same size as ours - or smaller. -- The retina is the utlitmate digital sensor and it is even smaller than the sensors in entry-level P&S cameras, yet the data collected and sent to the brain for processing by the retina is orders of magnitude more detailed than the largest digital camera sensor on the market today, which is currently the product of Leica.So, the "physics" of the matter is NOT a simplistic "bigger is better", but a function of aperature and focal length, which determines "size" of an image-capturing device. 

Any 17mm camera lens could have an aperature range of f/1.0 to f/32 and still be the size of the human eye and work perfectly well for fine photography.  However, if our eyes could "zoom" (change their focal length), then they would have to get bigger to maintain their f/1.0 capabilites at longer focal lengths. Therein is the "physics" of the matter.  However, if our eyes could zoom and the f/stop increase accordingly, they could basically zoom out to almost a 500mm focal length at f/32 and not have to increase in diameter at all, but would require more lens elements, so they'd be tubular in shape - not spherical.

So, zoom and telephoto lenses are larger at the front end (the back lens is exactly the same size of all other lenses for that camera, and necessarily so), in order to maintain a useable f/stop range. If aperature size was not a consideration, zoom and telephoto lenses could be quite small as illustrated above. If we want a 500mm telephoto with an f/1.0 aperture, the front end of the lens would have be quite large - much larger than practical - so we compromise and accept a 500mm telephoto with it widest aperature beng f/8 to keep its size reasonable, and weight manageable. -- The length of a zoom and telephoto is simply a function of needing mutilple lens elements to lengthen the focal length, and keep the size of the lens a practical size. Otherwise a single-element 500mm focal length lens would have to be humongous - approaching the order of a mountain-top observatory telescope lens.

This is the physics of lens technology, and bigger is definitely not better - simply necessary in "some" applicatons - but certainly not all or even most applications in photography. To wit: some of the world's finest camera lenses that have ever been produced for photography with aperatures down below f/1.0 were made by what is now known as the Leica company, and those lenses were even smaller than the Oly E-PL1 kit lens. It requires precision design and manufacturing to accomplish such feats, and therein lies the "reality" of lens manufacturing.

Most manufacturers - even the ones we think of as the best will not go to that effort. They are much more content to design lenses that are easy and inexpensive to manufacturer, so they can get manufactuers in China to do an OK job of it, and still work effectively even with their bulky sloppy tolerances.  

And as a practical example of all of the above: a 17mm to 85mm (5x) zoom lens with a low aperture limit of f/1.0 at 17mm and low aperature limit of f/5.6 at 85mm, could be produced and be the diameter of the human eye, and half the length of your little finger, and function superbly for fine photograhpy. Manufacturing a 5x super fast lens that small would require extreme precision and super quality control to accomplish, but it is completely and totally achievable within the "physics" of the matter. -- As the market enthusiasm for compact interchangeable lens cameras increases in the future, such things as a 5x lens that small will come closer and closer to becoming a reality as well. -- It's only a matter of time. 

As for sensor size - it's basically the same as with lenses; "bigger" is a function and result of the limitations of the technology, not a matter of "physics".  (Remember: the human eye is bound by the laws of physics too.) So, as the technology improves -- crawling ever closer to the functionality of the biological retina, so too will the size of professional photographic sensors begin to approach the size of a human retina.

The 4/3rds sensor is 70% the size of an APS-C sensor, but 9 times larger than the sensor in most P&S cameras.  However, the size factor is basically irrelevant, because the form and function of the 4/3rds sensor was designed from the ground up as a new digital technology - not a borrowed technology as the APS-C sensor is borrowed from the original Kodak APS sensor designed and developed in the 90's for copiers. 

The 4/3rds sensor R&D is far from seeing any end-point limits, and already showing performance stats rivaling even the APS-H sensor, which is 20% larger than the APS-C sensor. -- But, the APS-C sensor has been in development for almost 15 years and reaching its limit for any further improvement, and will soon stagnate as other sensor technology supasses it.  

As these "realities" of the photographic machine become more and more apparent on the surface - where all of us live - prosumer and professional cameras will morph in the direction of smaller - not bigger - in all aspects of their build - and I for one will love it. 

There are two distinct markets for mirrorless/prismless format bodies: everybody's-P&S who want better quality pics at smaller size; pro and pro-sumer who want top-quality/fast-glass at smaller size. Fast glass means bigger size no matter what, multi-FL even bigger, clever design can achieve some minimization, but existing physics is existing physics on this, no fighting town hall. For those like me in the pro-sumer market, an APS-C mirrorless/prismless kit on par with quality APS-C SLR's -- really high resolution, pin-point selective AF, high ISO low-noise ability, high dim-light performance, high color rendition, selective focus points, exposure comp and other manual controls, RAW/JPEG output, eye level viewfinder, big memory, etc, -- is a gift from the gods! Same can be said for 4/3, just half the sensor size, so makes double the sense to opt for APS-C. And goes without saying, all with in-body IS! Finally something smaller than a tank to carry with the family or for travel, and at a full 1/2 FF sensor size, wonderful! For the P&S market, tiny glass seems the priority, so slower speed is accepted. But for the pro-sumer market, glass has to be fast at all FL's, f/2.8 minimum, preferable f/2. Pro-sumer zoom ranges already are established, just have to be matched in mirrorless/prismless: for shooters like me we're talking equiv 28-70mm or thereabouts (Oly's equiv 28-70 f/2 is Nirvana!), for longer shooters it's 70-200mm and longer (sky's the limit for these sports/bird/pazaratti gurus). Like their SLR counterparts, lenses of this magnitude will be bulky and costly, no way around that, all fast/fixed-f/stop glass is bulky and costly, but no where near as bulky and probably less costly than for larger diameter mount SLR's, so mirrorless/prismless will have met its potential. Come on gang, the mirrorless/prismless revolution is great for P&S with lesser glass, and would be great for pro-sumer with better glass. The former will pay more than for their tiny 1/2.7" sensor models, the latter will pay the same or less (hopefully less) than for their quality SLR models. Overall in terms of size/price/results, everybody wins! Sure, we'll all hope for scientific breakthroughs that reduce everyone's most incredible rig to comfortable/pretty/pocketable, but mirrorless/prismless isn't such a breakthrough, merely smart design made possible by an eye-level TV viewfinder or none at all, and related jiggering with mount diameter and optical design. Lets embrace the format, and hope producers ultimately build for both P&S and pro-sumer markets, what a glorious ending that would be!

After reading other full scope reviews of the Sony NEX cameras, and looking at the structure of the cameras more ciritically, I have to say Sony has taken "small" to the sublime. The bodies are way too thin and not even tall enough to have a secure tripod mount or full depth external flash mount, and no place to mount an EVF. 

I predict the NEX sublime compactness won't go over all that well with consumers, and so future generations of the NEX line will probably get thicker and taller - about the size of the Pany GF series and the Oly PEN series.

The Oly E-PL1 is the exact right blend of compactness and usefulness, and future generations of the Oly PEN cameras will stay the same size and with higher performance processor engines and improvements in the 4/3rds sensor.  

Pany's GF series will stay about the same size in future generations, but they will have to improve their ISO capabilities to match Oly's, and they'll have to offer a hi-def EVF add on as Oly already does, instead of the relatively low res EVF they now have for the GF series.

And, either Pany or Oly will soon license AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) monitor technology from Samsung and incorporate the super-bright hi-def paper thin monitor in a fully articulating format on their IL crossover cameras.  And that's a lot for Sony to keep up with - they best get hoppin'....

Sony made a big mistake by introducing a set of "special lenses" again.

C. Zeiss T* coated lenses are the only way to go . . .

I would love to see someone make a wide angle Zeiss-like prime, drop the slow auto focus and put on a NICE manual focus ring. 

I am not an advocate of Sony products in general - I go back to the Betamax days, and the Sony Digital-8 days and other Sony proprietary consumer nightmares, so I'm very relunctant to support any endeavor of theirs.

However, I am very glad to see Sony bringing prosumer photography to a mirrorless/prismless system in the same genre of the 4/3rds systems. Maybe with their market clout, people will take notice of the advantages of going away from the antiquated SLR design, and at last embrace the high-tech possibilities of digital photography. 

I have a Oly E-PL1 as my grab-n-go camera, and that little beauty has amazed me on almost every aspect.  I've paired it with a Pany 20mm f/2 pancake lens, and with that marriage; the quality of the E-PL1's jpegs and RAW photos at ISO 1600 is absolutely astonishing for such a small inexpensive crossover camera - and that's just the start of the E-PL1's impressiveness - even with a bit of AF lag. 

If Sony can match and exceed the Oly E-PL1 with the NEX-3 and NEX-5, then they may just be able to soften my resolve against them, and who knows - I may even have the Sony name on something I own once again.   These entries sure look promising from this review.

Now, if only Oly, Pany, and Sony would get really serious about their offerings in the lens department for their crossover cameras - as someone else said; these cameras which take advantage of digital technology could well be the beginning of the end of the DSLR. When there's a near-professional quality entry in this genre - no matter whose name is on it - I will be one of the firsts to have it. --- And I think the majority of consumers would agree and follow suit. -- The future is near....impressive beginnings.

I find it awesome just because of what it offers. It's really more resourceful than many others I've seen and that's enough to me. I hate when it looks modern, but works like an old one. Tks to Sony, we can get a kick out of shooting.  

I would only want this with the 16mm lens and would carry in stead of a second DSLR. For events is would be nice to be able to carry my D700 with a 70-200 and this Sony with the 16mm for wide work (24mm equal) as for me 24mm is perfect to complement the 70-200. 

The most exciting part to me is the improvement in quality on the panoramic mode. I have a Sony HX1 and the panoramic mode has become completely addictive.  It has become my most used camera because of this.  With the new larger sensor in this camera the panoramic shots should be even more detailed and amazing. (and they aren't bad in the HX1)  Add RAW to that and it gets even better.  Someone mentioned upcoming firmware that would make for 3D panoramic shots (this would be fantastic) and if that's true, wow.  I really hope that Sony continues to improve on the panoramic capabilities of their cameras.  This camera appears to be a big step up on that. 

 Yes, non-standard lenses are not generally desirable, but for the market that these are geared for, that's fine. What kind of mount would you want them to use? a 4/3 mount where they are just building another Olympus contender, or try to do something relatively different and set their products apart from the competition. And please, don't get me started about this being an attempted monopoly move. Sony does not have the market presence to be able to create anything resembling a monopoly with these cameras, nor does apple have a monopoly on anything. Of course Apple and Sony want to be able to support their products to the greatest degree possible, and with a bunch of junk 3rd party hardware on the market and people wanting to tinker and screw around with their products, I can't blame either of them for wanting to keep things proprietary.

The Alpha A mount lenses (SSM and SAM) will have the AF working properly with upcoming firmware that also brings 3D panorama (and some say movie mode!), as demonstrated in Croatia promotional event.

Overall killer cameras!

OK guys - I see where this is going. Next time around there won't be any camera body - the sensor and everything will be integrated into the lenses so you just hold it up like an old-fashioned telescope and look through the back end!

Well maybe if you want to save money by not having to buy the electronics each time they might have all the camera works integrated into something that looks like a thick rear lens cap. By having the display inside with a little vewfinder between the display and the eye, maybe those of us in Arizona will actually be able to see the display outdoors.

I agree with you, the optics is way to big!  The Oly/Pana-cams are that small they fit in my pocket with a zoom on it.  Think it is a fault using APS-C-size in a mini-camera.  So I will wait to see what Canon/NIKON are coming with.

Conclusion: Oly/Pana is not good enought at hight ISO (so also the Samsung)   SONYs NEX has to big lenses!

I have played with the GH1 and own a G1....also played with the Samsung offering...and so far this is my take....  the shutter lag on all the Pannys is too long for anything approaching sports work.  Likewise the Sammy.  The quality of my G1 is on a par with my 5Dmk1 at 100 ISO...but falters above that.  If the shutter lag was faster I could use the G1 for 100 ISO work.  Appears the Sony will be better at higher ISO as well. 

I am excited by this Sony move...and look forward to seeing how well the shutter lag is delivered.  The Oly while offering great images in the EVIL 4/3s cameras....appears to be lagging significantly behind the Panny in AF.  Appears Sony will at least match the Panny in AF.

Using the new sensor, and features they are incorporating from the Sony PS lines....could be very nice if the software is up to the interpretations of files off of this much larger sensor than what they have on PS cameras.

While perhaps not as groundbreaking as the G1 was.....this camera begins to combine real video capability with a sensor that may yield low light capability on a par with the 5Dmk2...and in such a compact package that would be great.

What is lacking with all these systems so far is any really fast glass in more focal lengths....a fast 24mm equiv.  is a pretty meagre offering.  Get me some portrait length and longer 1.4 ,1.8 and 2.0  lenses and a sub 50ms shutter lag in any of these EVIL cameras and we might have a DSLR killer.

Where's the Zeiss?  Put some T* optics on 'em and then you're talkin'!

i wish they would design these things with 4 dedicated dials for setting aperture, shutter speed, white balance and ISO so you don't have to go through the menu layers.  these are the 4 things i change most often when i'm shooting and need to be able to access them quickly.  everything else can be software controlled.

Does this Camera have a remote shutter release?

size matters

size matters

The attractive feature of the Olympus E-P1 or P2 is that the kit lens retracts for storage.  I can easily put my E-P1 in a waist pouch and carry it around.  The kit zoom for this new Sony is huge.  The point of these micro cameras is the small size.  This Sony doesn't look small to me once you add the zoom lens. 

Let's wait for the higher version of this camera. These look like they're geared for the point & shoot market / amateur video. Although quality and features may be already there... they're hidden in a bulk of menu navigations. A more professional friendly version will soon come out with more manual controls where "slimness" will matter less than functionality. Good start though, and should provide for a competitive market for the mirror-less systems.

 Does the optical rangefinder work ONLY with the 16mm lens?

 Does the optical rangefinder work ONLY with the 16mm lens?

 Its you.

I dont know if it's just me,

it doesnt look cool to me.

it looks like an old design.

these really looks like cool cameras these could knock out the olympus Panasonic GF1 & Olympus E-PL1 lets hope the price will be great to