Sony NEX-5R Review

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Introduction

The Sony NEX-5R directly replaces the Sony NEX-5N as the company’s mid-range compact system camera offering. While the 5N saw boosted resolution, sensitivity range and continuous shooting rate over the original Sony NEX-5, that launched in 2010, the Sony NEX-5R retains many of the same specifications set down by the previous release.

However, this is not to say that the 5R is just a 5N with a few additions – the 16.1 million pixel APS-C sensor has been redesigned to incorporate a new super-fast hybrid AF system, and this is the first Sony CSC to feature Wi-Fi connectivity. The big news for this release, however, has to be its downloadable apps.

Design-wise, the basic shape has remained much the same, retaining the ultra-small streamline body that defines the NEX range. Size-wise the Sony NEX-5R is just a touch larger than your average compact camera.

Sony NEX-5R review

The kit lens, however, is an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, so is more akin to a full-size DSLR lens, which makes the camera look a little unbalanced when compared with its Micro Four Thirds rivals.

Despite the similarities between the Sony NEX-5N and Sony NEX-5R’s exteriors, there are a few key differences; firstly the new large control dial, Fn (Function) button and the touchscreen that now tilts to 180 degrees above the camera and 50 degrees down, similar to the Sony NEX-F3.

Sony NEX-R5 at a glance
Sensor:
16.1MP, APS-C Exmor CMOS
LCD screen: 3-inch 921k dot resolution
Video resolution: Full HD AVCHD/MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) up to 1920 x 1080 50p
ISO range: ISO 100-25600
Dimensions: 110.8 x 58.8 x 38.9mm (4.4 x 2.3 x 1.5 inches), 218g (0.48lbs) body only

Features

New headline features on the Sony NEX-5R include the design of the APS-C sensor; improved sensitivity performance; a hybrid autofocus system; app compatibility; Wi-Fi connectivity; 180-degree tiltable touchscreen; new control dial and function button.

All hopes for an integrated flash will have to wait until a later release, if at all. There is, however, a small external flash that slots into the accessory port on the top of the body. This small flash is included in the kit.

The 16.1 million pixel APS-C sensor has been redesigned to include a new hybrid AF system, which combines both contrast and phase detection. This new sensor teamed with Sony’s Bionz processor is claimed to enable super-fast AF, an impressive 10fps shooting speed and improved high sensitivity performance.

Sony NEX-5R review

The Sony NEX-5N improved on the sensitivity range of the NEX-5, adding a stop to either end of the scale and increasing the range from ISO 200-12800 on the NEX-5 to ISO 100-25600 on the NEX-5N. Now the Sony NEX-5R retains the range of the NEX-5N.

However, Sony has worked hard to improve the quality of images at the higher sensitivity values.

It’s not just the inner workings and technological advancements that have been introduced to the Sony NEX-5R, there are also a few more grass root additions that make taking pictures on a CSC that much more intuitive, and these have migrated from the Sony NEX-F3 and Sony NEX-7.

Sony NEX-5R review

Firstly, the tilt screen design is similar to the NEX-F3′s, and gives a full 180-degree tilt above the camera so that the screen can face the same direction as the lens. This makes taking self portraits that much easier, and features a handy visual countdown feature on the run up to the picture being taken.

In the opposite direction, there’s a 50-degree downwards tilt. This greater flexibility is a great improvement over the tilting screen on the NEX-5N, but still doesn’t match the flexibility of a fully articulated screen.

As on the NEX-5N, the screen is also touch-sensitive, with a touch shutter mode and controls that are all quickly accessible with your finger.

Sony NEX-5R review

On the top of the camera’s body there’s a new control dial, similar in many ways to one of the two that appear on the top-of-the-range Sony NEX-7. This can be used to quickly change settings, such as aperture and shutter speed, depending on the mode you’re in.

Mounted next to this is a function button that again enables you to quickly access different settings, such as focus or white balance.

Both these and other buttons on the back of the Sony NEX-5R’s body can be customised in the set up menu to fine-tune the handling to your liking.

Apps

Apps were the big new feature on the Sony NEX-5R. As with any smartphone, these can be downloaded directly, without the need for a computer. You do need to join Sony’s PlayMemories service, but once done, with the camera connected to Wi-Fi, it all looks pretty straightforward.

Sony NEX-5R review

The apps include some great image effects, a rather interesting cinema effect that looks like it mixes stills with movies to create a cinemagraph-like image, and a remote app that will enable you to adjust settings and remotely release the camera via your iPhone or Android phone.

Of course with apps you need a way to download them to the body, and to help keep things simple the Sony NEX-5R has Wi-Fi built in, a first for the NEX range of cameras.

Sony NEX-5R review

Firstly this is great for direct access to apps, but it will also enable you to download your images directly to your computer or phone without cables, once the devices being used are paired and the required software is installed.

If other recent releases of this type are anything to go by, this process should be pretty quick and straightforward.

Build quality and handling

Even with the larger APS-C format sensor, the Sony NEX-5R’s body is smaller than some of the Micro Four Thirds offerings, such as the Panasonic GF5 and Olympus PEN E-P3.

Despite this, the pronounced textured grip enables good purchase in use, and handling feels more comfortable than on many other CSCs.

The build is also reassuring, with the quality of finish that you’d hope for and expect from Sony. All dials and buttons have a defined click that assures you they have been pressed or positioned correctly. It’s a small thing, but one that’s often overlooked with many of these smaller cameras.

Sony NEX-5R review

One really nice feature is the battery and card slot door on the base. This has been designed in such a way so that even when mounted on a tripod it can be accessed without having to remove the tripod’s base plate. This is a design feature almost always overlooked on other cameras.

The only part that lets down the Sony NEX-5R’s build are the small flap doors that cover the accessories and HDMI/USB port. While these match the body well, they feel a little flimsy and likely to break after a year or two of use.

The addition of the new control dial and function button really change the way this cameras feels and handles when shooting. We found that when shooting in aperture or shutter priority, the ability to quickly change settings with your thumb enables a more fluid experience, almost reminiscent of using a lens aperture ring.

Sony NEX-5R review

When using the camera in aperture, shutter or manual mode we found that the Sony NEX-5R’s top control dial gives quick access to settings adjustments, increasing the speed at which a picture can be taken and enabling quick changes when needed to compensate exposure.

This new control dial offers a big usability enhancement over the Sony NEX-5N. Couple this with the new Fn button and most major settings can be directly accessed, giving this compact system camera a high performance feel more akin to a DSLR.

The top also sees a new Fn button, which can be clicked to access key features such as focus, AF mode, AF selection, white balance, metering and effects, again changing the settings using either control dial. The function of this and the control dials can be customised through the settings menu, but we found the default setup intuitive and easy to use.

Sony NEX-5R review

The updated 3-inch touchscreen has a 921k dot resolution, and while in shade it shows the image clearly, out in bright sunlight the high gloss finish of the surface makes it difficult to see what’s going on. During the test, a lens cloth was put to good use, cleaning the screen to remove finger marks that made it almost impossible to see the image or settings.

As with the NEX-5N, there is an optional EVF available that will slot into the accessories port.

The Sony NEX-5R’s touchscreen is pressure-sensitive, and worked well throughout testing. As well as being able to use the screen to select focus points and as a touch shutter, you can select options and scroll through settings.

Sony NEX-5R review

In use, this was all responsive, although the control dials offer a far more accurate form of navigation and selection than using the touchscreen.

App compatibility is the big new feature, and these apps can be accessed through their own section in the main menu. The camera ships with a selection pre-loaded apps, and further apps will be available in late October. We’ll bring you an update at the time.

The effects app gives you a series of different visual effects that are applied to the image when shooting. Once the app is selected it takes about five seconds to load (this may just be due to early firmware) and then each of the effects can be selected, giving a similar selection to the Art Filters found on the Olympus PEN range.

Performance

We found that JPEG images direct from the Sony NEX-5R look clear and crisp, with the multi-purpose metering system doing a good job of working out the correct exposure for the scene.

Sony NEX-5R review

In fact the metering gets it close to spot-on about 90% of the time. However, in high contrast situations there is a slight overcompensation for the highlights, with shadow detail in JPEGs being lost.

This shadow detail can still be recovered in the raw files when using sensitivity settings up to an impressive ISO 6400, or we found you could compensate the shadows in JPEGs by switching on the DRO (Dynamic Range Optimisation) settings to DRO Lv3 or above to instantly lift the shadows and balance the exposures for high-contrast shots.

Sony NEX-5R review

The new hybrid AF system uses both contrast and phase detection, automatically choosing the best to use depending on the conditions, and in some situations it will use both to ensure fast focus.

In bright daylight conditions, we found this system was capable of finding and locking onto the target quickly and accurately. Even when tested in low light conditions, there was little if any let-up in AF speed.

The phase detection part of the Sony NEX-5R’s autofocus system features 99 detection points, and contrast detection has 25 points. When using the camera in high speed shooting mode with continuous AF, we were able to capture a higher than average amount of frames in focus.

Sony NEX-5R review

Using spot focus proved that the Sony NEX-5R’s AF system is fast and accurate, but even when switching to multi-point AF the camera’s sensors worked out the point of interest and locked on to their target with little lens refocusing.

The combined system worked well with all conditions we threw at it, and with three AF options – Multi, Flexible and Spot – it offers a good amount of flexibility.

Looking through the images there’s a noticeable difference between the JPEG and raw files when it comes to dynamic range, especially in high-contrast shots. While some shadow detail is lost in JPEGs, this dark shadow detail in the raw files can still be easily recovered.

Sony NEX-5R review

As with previous NEX cameras, noise is handled well, with little if any being visible in images up to ISO 3200. Above this value, noise does start to encroach, but not to the cost of the image.

At the highest settings of ISO 12800-25600, noise within JPEGs is still handled well, but zooming into the image at 100% reveals the high amount of smoothing that has been applied to hide the noise, and cost the image its detail.

However, if the image is destined for a small 6 x 5-inch print or small web thumbnail, who’s going to notice? You still have a usable image at this size.

If we compare images shot at these high sensitivities of ISO 12800 and 25600 from the Sony NEX-5N and Sony NEX-5R, we can see that while noise is apparent in both, the NEX-5R has the edge for detail.

Overall image quality is good, and results for signal to noise ratio and dynamic range, especially in raw files, show a strong performance compared to its competitors. However, the resolution results are fairly average, despite an improvement over the Sony NEX-5N.

Sony NEX-5R review

In fact, the Sony NEX-5R’s resolution results at the lower end of the sensitivity scale lag behind those of the Panasonic G5, Samsung NX20 and Olympus PEN E-P3, but at higher sensitivities the Sony NEX-5R redeems itself.

During the test, Auto White Balance was selected for the majority of shots, and as we checked through the resulting JPEG images, we initially felt that they lacked the vibrance and saturation that we’d normally expect from this level of camera.

Sony NEX-5R review

However, this is not altogether a bad trait, since the colour itself is extremely accurate, with little colour cast and good neutral tones that give the pictures a pleasing natural look.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Sony NEX-5R, we’ve shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart’s central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Sony NEX-5R is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEGs

Sony NEX-5R review

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 100, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 800, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 6400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 25600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 100, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 800, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 6400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 12800, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-5R review

ISO 25600, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Sony NEX-5R with the Sony NEX-5N, Panasonic G5, Olympus E-P3 and Samsung NX20.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Sony NEX-5R review

These results indicate that the JPEG files from the Sony NEX-5R, Sony NEX-5N, Panasonic G5, Olympus E-P3 and Samsung NX20 have very similar noise levels, though the NEX-5R sits at the higher end of the narrow scale. Images from the NEX-R5 are, unsurprisingly, most similar to the NEX-5N.

Raw (after conversion to TIFF) signal to noise ratio

Sony NEX-5R review

It’s a very similar story for the raw files (after conversion to TIFF), with Sony NEX-5R, Sony NEX-5N and Samsung NX20 producing similar results, though this time with a smaller variation and fewer fluctuations in results. The Panasonic G5 and Olympus E-P3 show a lower signal to noise ratio than the others.

JPEG dynamic range

Sony NEX-5R review

The dynamic range results from JPEG images show some variation, with the Sony NEX-5R sitting below the Sony NEX-5N throughout the sensitivity range, and above the Panasonic G5, Olympus E-P3 and Samsung NX20 at most sensitivity settings, with the exception of a dip at ISO 400.

Raw (after conversion to TIFF) dynamic range

Sony NEX-5R review

The Sony NEX-5R’s raw files have a higher dynamic range than the camera’s JPEG images, producing better results at most ISO settings than the Sony NEX-5N, and significantly better images than the Panasonic G5, Olympus E-P3 and Samsung NX20 at all sensitivities. Only the Sony NEX-5R’s top ISO settings of 6400 and 12800 show a smaller dynamic range than the Sony NEX-5N’s.

Sample images

Sony NEX-5R review

Shot at ISO 100 at f/4.0 this macro shot shows good natural colour and sharpness fall off in the background. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Shot at ISO200 at f/4.0, the NEX-5R captures a good amount of tonal detail. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Shot in a relatively low light situation at ISO800 this image shows very low noise. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Auto exposure has avoided any burnt out highlights, but shadow detail in this JPEG image have been lost. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Despite the shallow depth of field at f/5.0, the kit 18-55mm lens produces good sharp image with a pleasing sharpness fall off. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Bright colour and detail is captured well using auto white balance. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Using ISO800 at f/11 captures the spinal shape of this bench with a high level of sharpness and little noise. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Despite overcast conditions, the auto white balance produces good natural colour. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Edge fringing is just about kept under control with only the faintest signs across the contrast edge. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

The tilting screen enables easy shooting at awkward angles. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

At 18mm at f/16 a good level of sharpness is seen across the image. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Switching to D-Range Optimizer Lv5 helps to recover shadow detail. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

An example of the High Contrast Mono effect. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

An example of the High Contrast Mono effect. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

High Dynamic Range picture effect example Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

High amounts of colour and detail have been captured at ISO160. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Sweep panorama example shot at ISO3200. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

High dynamic range picture effect example Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

High contrast mono picture effect example. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Natural colour and pleasant depth-of-field, shot at f/3.5. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

The new control dial gives easy control over depth-of-field whilst shooting. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Bright colours are captured well, producing images with plenty of tone and detail. Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Picture Effects

Sony NEX-5R review

HDR Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Soft Focus Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

High Contrast Mono Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Soft High-Key Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Retro Photo Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Posterization Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Pop Color Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Illustration Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Watercolor Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Miniature Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-5R review

Rich-tone Mono Picture Effect applied Click here to see the full resolution image

Sensitivity and noise

JPEG

Sony NEX-5R review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 25600

Raw

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Sony NEX-5R review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 25600

Verdict

The Sony NEX-5R is not only a refinement of the Sony NEX-5N, but a significant upgrade. The inclusion of downloadable apps enables quick and easy customisation, and if the service already on PlayStations and other Sony electronics is anything to go by, the implementation of the apps should be simple enough to follow and use.

The new hybrid AF system works well, with selected focus points locking on to targets quickly, with minimal refocusing through the lens. In multi-focus point mode the camera also makes quick and intelligent choices over subject matter, and again finds focus quickly.

Although the body redesign is minimal, with the inclusion of a new dial and function button, the changes that they bring make using the Sony NEX-5R a much-improved experience compared with using the NEX-5N.

The dial beneath the thumb works intuitively when shooting and is only a small step from the feel of a traditional aperture ring. While this is similar to the dial found on the Olympus PEN E-P3, the Sony control is far better.

We liked

The Sony NEX-R5 builds on the features of the Sony NEX-5N and packs some weighty advancements in technology into its small body. The inclusion of apps gives the camera an exciting edge, enabling you to customise it to your style of shooting.

The new hybrid AF system works as advertised, finding focus quickly and locking on to your target. We also found that the continuous AF system delivers a greater number of sharp shots when shooting at high speed than most other CSC systems we’ve tested.

The big feature when it comes to usability has to be the addition of the new control dial. Its position and ability to quickly change settings makes the Sony NEX-5R a joy to use.

We disliked

The highly reflective finish of the LCD screen can make it difficult, if not impossible, to see in bright sunlight – or when overly sticky fingers have been using the touchscreen.

The lack of an integrated flash means that you have to carry the supplied external flash around with you. Also, the resolution results are slightly disappointing at lower sensitivities when compared against those achieved by Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Early verdict

The Sony NEX-R5 shows how compact system cameras are really coming into their own. The design doesn’t have to rely on retro chic, but instead uses modern research and development to create a compact body shape that both fits the electronics and also feels comfortable to hold.

The merging of the tilting screen design from the Sony NEX-F3 and the control dial feature of the Sony NEX-7 make this a very user-friendly camera for both the beginner and intermediate photographer.

If you’re just getting into photography, looking for a CSC upgrade or wanting a second body to complement your DSLR, the Sony NEX-5R is the perfect companion. As well as the basic kit, which should be priced at around £500 (around $790), we’d also recommend getting the EVF accessory to combat difficulties with the screen in bright sunlight.

By Ali Jennings, TechRadar


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