ONE INHERENT PROBLEM of DSLR cameras is the physical size, not taking into account the fact that you have to carry fairly large lenses with you as well. The micro 4/3’s format was something of a solution to this problem, but the cameras didn’t end up nearly as small as many hoped. For those that find micro 4/3 cameras too big there’s a new glimmer of hope on the horizon, as Sony has announced its new Alpha NEX-3 and NEX-5 cameras, of which the latter is the world’s smallest interchangeable lens camera.
As so often is the case when something called the world’s smallest is announced, there’s a caveat. Although the camera body of the NEX-5 is tiny at 111x59x38mm and weighing in at a mere 287g with battery and memory card fitted, the lenses are anything but small. The NEX-3 is only marginally bigger at 117x63x33mm and 297g all in. Oddly enough, the heavier NEX-3 is made out of plastic and has a slightly smaller grip than the NEX-5 which is made out of magnesium-alloy.
So what’s so special about these new cameras apart from their tiny size? Well, the fact that they use a full size APS HD sensor; in fact it’s the same size sensor that you’ll find in many DSLR cameras. Both cameras have a 14.6 Megapixel sensor, although the effective pixel count is 14.2 Megapixels. Sony isn’t the first company to do a small camera with a large sensor since Samsung beat them to it, but Samsung’s camera can almost be called chunky compared to the two new models from Sony.
Sadly Sony had to come up with yet another lens mount which is called the E-mount. This is how the camera manufacturers tie you in to a specific range or brand, as once you’ve invested in a few lenses; you’re like to stick with to the same brand of camera next time, as the lenses are in general compatible with new cameras from the same manufacturer. The E-mount is quite large, at least compared to micro 4/3’s, but then again, micro 4/3 cameras have a smaller sensor, so the mount can be smaller.
Sony will initially only offer two lenses, a 16mm F.28 pancake lens and an 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The latter supports optical image stabilization. Sony’s DSLR cameras on the other hand support sensor shift stabilization, so any lens will work with the image stabilizer. Later this year Sony will be adding an 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 telephoto lens which also features optical image stabilization. The lenses are also extremely well crafted and are made out of aluminium, unlike many kit lenses which are made out of plastic.
Unusually for an interchangeable lens system, Sony will also offer a pair of wide angle converters for the 16mm pancake lens. The first one is an ultra wide converter with a focal length of about 12mm, while the second model is a fisheye converter with an even wider focal length of about 10mm. Converters are more commonly found on high-end point and shoot cameras or as camcorder accessories.
The NEX-3 and NEX-5 are also Sony’s first interchangeable lens type cameras (including its DSLR’s) that are capable of recording video. The NEX-3 is limited to 1280×720 at 29.97fps with a bit rate of 9 or 6Mbit/s or VGA quality video at 3Mbit/s. Both formats are recorded in MPEG-4 within an MOV wrapper with MPEG-4 AAC-LC stereo audio. The NEX-5 ups the game by adding support for 1920x1080i at 59.94fps with a bit rate of 17Mbit/s in AVCHD with AC-3 stereo audio. It can also record video at 1440×1080 in the same MPEG-4 format as the NEX-3, but with a higher 12Mbit/s bit rate. Finally it also records VGA quality video, again with the same quality as the NEX-3.
Unlike most cameras, neither model has a built in flash, instead Sony bundles a small attachable flash which fits in a proprietary socket at the top of the cameras. The same socket can also house an external stereo microphone, although both cameras have built in stereo microphones. There’s also an optional optical viewfinder for the 16mm pancake lens that can be attached here.
Due to the tiny size of these cameras there’s no room for an optical or electronic viewfinder, so the rear 3-inch screen is used for framing the shot. The screen is tiltable 80 degrees up and 45 degrees down. The screen features Sony’s TruBlack technology and has a pixel count of no less than 921,600 which puts it right up there with the latest DSLR cameras. Other features worthy of a mention include HDMI output, support for Memory Stick Pro Duo cards and SDHC as well as the new SDXC cards.
Some more unusual features include a sweep panorama options which allows the camera to take several pictures in quick succession as you make a sweeping movement with the camera and it works both horizontally and vertically. Sony is said to be releasing a new firmware update in July which is said to add support for 3D sweep panorama and 3D photos. The 3D photos are done by taking multiple pictures of the same subject and then overlapping them to create a 3D image. The images can be viewed on Sony Bravia 3D TVs, but might work on other 3D TVs as well.
That brings us to the pricing and rare for a Sony product; both models are very keenly priced for what’s on offer. The NEX-3 is the cheaper of the two and it starts at $550 with the 16mm lens, while it will set you back $600 with the 18-55mm lens. The NEX-5 starts at $650 with the 16mm lens and with the 18-55mm lens it will cost $750. Finally the 18-200mm lens will cost $800 on its own. We can see these new cameras becoming extremely popular with people upgrading from a point and shoot camera, but aren’t ready to take the step to a full-size DSLR camera, or those that wants something a bit more compact. There’s a lot of interest in mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses and announcements are expected to follow from several other major camera manufacturers later this year.S|A
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