NEX: A Technical Hands On

I managed to try the Sony Alpha NEX-3 and NEX-5 recently! Both are demo units but the functionality should be the same. Here we can see that the “Release without lens” option is back, so we can use unchipped lenses in Aperture Priority! YAY!

One step forward for Sony Alpha, this – the option was missing from the A200 onwards (including the A850/A900!)

Left to right: Sony E 16mm F2.8 pancake lens; Sony VCL-ECF1 fisheye converter; Sony E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS lens; Minolta 24-105mm F3.5-4.5(D), Minolta 50mm F1.4 Original.

This should give you an idea of the scale of the 18-55mm. Note that it has a metal mount, unlike the plastic mounts of the Sony 18-70mm F3.5-5.6 DT or the Sony 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 DT SAM. One step forward.

The back of the Sony E 16mm F2.8 pancake lens. Also metal mount.

Sony E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS (Optical SteadyShot). This makes for quiet stabilization in video – you really don’t hear it stabilizing, or focusing! However when you turn the zoom ring you can still hear it rather obviously, especially when you hit the ends. There is no sensor stabilization, which has been a strength of the Alpha series before this. I would have preferred to have sensor stabilization as well so we can use it for taking pictures (obviously, sensor stabilization can be heard while recording video, so it could be disabled then.) One step backward.

The lens hood is the ALC-SH112.

I can’t tell if it’s focus by wire – you can’t even see the focus elements moving if you look at it from the front for the 16mm and 18-55mm even at the 55mm end!There is a delay when turning on the NEX cameras, probably caused by priming the lens aperture – the NEX lenses have their apertures closed when not mounted, or when the camera is off. When you turn it on, it opens slowly, closes again, and then opens again animatedly. You can see the screen brightness animate when this happens. Why does this have to happen, and why do we have to wait for it? One step backward.

Please pardon this crop from the fisheye converter! The package does not include a body cap, but there is a new rear cap which is gray in color and feels just like the A-mount cap.

In front is the plastic case for the HVL-F7S flash. Yes, the flash has its own case!

Left to right: Sony Alpha NEX-3; Sony Alpha NEX-5. You open the top by pulling it up with a fingernail.

Top: The Sony Cybershot WX-1 on left; Sony Alpha NEX-3 on right with Sony E 16mm F2.8 pancake lens.
Bottom: Here the HVL-F7S sits on a Nokia N70 (if you had one, you can see the scale. The screen is the same size as a Compact Flash card.)
Every picture you have seen of this camera, makes it look a lot bigger than it really is! I can fit the 16mm and flash on camera, in a loose pocket (not a tight jeans pocket) but with the handle in first.

Another picture to show scale. Note the tripod mount adapter for the LA-EA1 A-to-E-mount lens adapter.

The external stereo mike has a switch to go between 90 degrees and 120 degrees coverage. Very sweet! I don’t know since I don’t have a professional mike, whether 90 degrees is tight enough.

There was also a mock Sony E 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS (Active).Both the NEX-3 and NEX-5 feel surprisingly natural in hand, like the Samsung NX10, GF1 etc. Nothing at all like the A230/A330/A380. The magnesium alloy body of the NEX-5 feels a heck lot more solid than the non-magnesium alloy bodies, which creak when heavy lenses are mounted!

It is sized like an 85mm F1.4 but with the hulking look of the Zeiss 16-35mm/24-70mm/135mm.

Left: Sony Alpha NEX-5 with LA-EA1 lens adapter; obviously the A-mount is wider than the E-mount, as you can see the Sony E 16mm F2.8 (and VCL-ECF1 fisheye converter) on it.
Top-right: The underside of the VCL-ECF1 fisheye converter; it has a bayonet mount and clicks on snugly to the Sony E 16mm F2.8’s bayonet front. I forgot to try putting a 49mm filter on the 16mm to see if the VCL-ECF1 fisheye converter could still mount!
Bottom-right: The LA-EA1 lens adapter allows full aperture control but definitely no AF with screw-drive lenses. I did not fully mount it yet hence the rotation.

I tried the Sony 30mm F2.8 DT Macro SAM on it, but it jerked a bit and didn’t jerk or move again after pressing the lens release buttons. Then again this was a demo unit so the functionality could be changed, as there are other testimonials saying that SSM lenses did AF.

The Minolta 50mm F1.4 balances well. Then again, a Nikkor 50mm F1.8 E-series pancake will fit in pockets better.

MF with screw-drive lenses was not as hard as I thought – if you saw the video from the Zeiss 135mm F1.8 the first thing you’d notice is the wobbling (no SteadyShot!) You’d probably think that it supported AF in video, the way I was manually focusing. Anyone could beat the contrast-detect AF speed on say the Nikon D90 easily. Then again, I was pretty alright refocusing with the Nikon D90 albeit handicapped by the reverse focus ring.

Unfortunately, the rectangular baffle of the LA-EA1 lens adapter is APS-C sized; if there was a future full-frame NEX body, you’d have to buy a new lens adapter to fit full-frame lenses!

Sweep Panorama with the VCL-ECF1 fisheye adapter isn’t as clean as it is without – it also stops at a 180 degree turn. However it should still, in theory, give you more at the top and bottom. Will need a scientific test with and without for this.

Sweep Panorama fires the shutter away, making it a really noisy process – nothing at all like the silent sweeping espionage on my WX-1. One step backward.

The fisheye adapter has a permanent lens hood which will reach nearly the center of the image when flash is used. Sony, give us a bigger flash or the ability to trigger an external flash! One step backward.

There is no wireless flash option. I’m sure somebody will figure out the pinout protocol and make a standard hotshoe adapter (preferably using a flash bracket.)

At the very least, I would buy a Sony FA-CC1AM flash cable with the E-mount accessory port instead.


In some ways the interface is slower but not that slow, for example if I was in Aperture Priority:

To change aperture on the NEX-3/NEX-5:
1) roll the dial

To change EV on the NEX-3/NEX-5:
1) press Down on the D-pad (it is marked with the EV icon)
2) roll the dial

To change ISO on the NEX-3/NEX-5:
1) press Menu
2) select Camera icon
3) press center button
4) go through menu to ISO option
5) press center button
6) select the ISO (I don’t remember if the dial can be used for this)

Now let’s see how the A-mount Alphas do it:

To change ISO on an A-mount camera:
1) press ISO button
2) roll the dial

What about Sony Cybershot cameras?

To change ISO on a Sony Cybershot WX-1 camera:
1) press Menu button
2) press up or down to ISO option
3) press left or right to change ISO

If you just changed ISO, and want to change it again, it will remember that you were at the ISO option, so you skip step 2 and save time!

There is a lower button which is always set to Shooting Tips. I would love for this button to be customizable, to change ISO, for example.

I wish the Sony Cybershot team designed the menus instead! The idea of putting the workload in another team to get to a deadline is cool, but the results were not cool. I’ve always thought that the Cybershots had far better menu design. One very big step backward.

Heck, even changing the sweep direction is far more hidden, by these darn Sony Ericsson designers! Don’t get me wrong – I don’t expect the interface of a bigger-sized Alpha 900 with loads of buttons, but this is weaker than the Cybershot interface.

That said, if you are interested in the NEX series, or a tiny Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Format camera, and you are well aware of its shortcomings, when you see and touch one, you will not be disappointed! A slight desire for this will be amplified when you see it.

I have started a Mass Order here:

More reading:
Here’s What’s NEX

4 thoughts on “NEX: A Technical Hands On

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *