Sony announced a new mid-range NEX interchangeable lens mirrorless camera this week. The new Sony Alpha NEX-5R is a follow-up to last year’s popular 16-megapixel NEX-5N, which I loved (read my Sony NEX-5N Pro Review). The NEX-5R is mostly the same with a few key changes, namely the addition of built-in Wi-Fi, user-installable camera apps, and an improved auto focus system Sony is calling Fast Hybrid AF. They also added a new programmable control dial and an Fn button.
Sony Alpha NEX-5N Key Features and Specs:
- 16.1-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
- New “Fast Hybrid AF” for improved continuous auto focus
- Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity
- User installable camera apps
- 1920 x 1080 60p AVCHD Progressive (Ver2.0) full HD with stereo sound
- 3-inch tilting touch screen LCD display
- New customizable control dial and Fn button
- Sensitivity: ISO 100 to 25600
- Manual exposure controls (M, A, S, P)
- 10 FPS burst in Speed-Priority mode
For a closer look at the Sony NEX-5R in action, take a look at this advertorial video from Sony:
Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Mirrorless Camera Intro Video:
The built-in Wi-Fi and the fact that the NEX-5R is the first interchangeable camera with apps will probably get the most attention from the average photographer. And it is pretty cool that you can customize your camera with apps and transfer to Android or iOS devices (with free PlayMemories Mobile app); or upload photos right to Facebook with the 5R (with Direct Upload app and an available Wi-Fi network). But it’s the auto focus improvements that interest me.
Until recently, mirrorless cameras only had contrast detect auto focus. Contrast detect AF works great in single shot auto focus mode but it’s a pretty weak tool when you need to photograph or shoot video of a moving subject. For that, you need a digital SLR with phase detect auto focus (located on the camera’s mirror), which has excellent continuous AF performance. With no phase detect AF, poor continuous auto focus has been the Achilles heel of mirrorless cameras. To address this weakness, Sony embedded 99 phase detect AF points in the NEX-5R sensor for a combined contrast detect / phase detect auto focus system they call Fast Hybrid AF. I shoot a lot of action sports and use continuous auto focus all the time. With some subjects it can be the difference between getting the shot and getting nothing at all. So far, the only mirrorless camera I’ve had any success with is the Nikon J1, which uses a hybrid auto focus system similar to what Sony is using in the NEX-5R. I’m not going to speculate on the 5R’s AF performance, though. The new Canon EOS Rebel T4i / 650D also has a similar hybrid auto focus system for video auto focus and it is disappointingly slow – not all action-worthy. I will be really psyched if the NEX-5N has useable continuous auto focus but I’m going to have to get one in my hands and before I pass any judgments.
The Sony NEX-5R is more of an improved 5N than a completely new camera. Adding built-in Wi-Fi, apps and giving it better auto focus is a fine way for Sony to introduce some incremental improvements to what was already and outstanding camera. As far as image quality goes, the NEX-5R should be the same as the 5N – excellent. Other than the addition of the phase detect pixels, the NEX-5R’s 16-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor appears to be the same as the 5N’s and there’s no mention of improved image quality in the press release. And that’s fine with me. I was blown away by the image quality of the NEX-5N when I reviewed it this spring (read the review) so I don’t think there’s really any need for them to make any changes there.
The Sony Alpha NEX-5R is scheduled to be available this coming October (2012) for about $750 with the 18-55mm kit lens, or about $650 for just the camera body. For the fashion conscious, it will come in three finishes – black, silver and white.
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