NEX-3/5/VG10 and A290/A390

I got myself a black Sony Alpha NEX-5 with Sony E 16mm F2.8 pancake lens sometime 1st of July 2010!

Why the 16mm? Because it is pocketable as heck!

I also got myself the very sweet Sony LA-EA1 lens adapter for using A-mount lenses on my E-mount NEX-5. It has a separate firmware from the body, which is a good thing should Sony decide to release firmware that allows the LA-EA1 to focus SSM and SAM lenses (as it was meant to, before, in Firmware ver. 00…)

This is a pre-production NEX-3 with the 16mm F2.8 pancake – even without the LA-EA1 adapter mounted, it still wants to report the lens adapter firmware.

Firmware Update

Firmware 1.02 adds 3D Sweep Panorama, improves the performance of Sweep Panorama, improves the startup time and improves battery life when the camera is off.

Sony NEX-3 firmware update:

Sony NEX-5 firmware update:

For v1.02, starting up is faster, about half a second, with lens cap on. Surprisingly though, starting up is also faster about half a second without lens cap.

I tested this with TWO NEX-5 bodies with the 16mm on. One was mine; the other was my colleague’s. I patched mine but not his, to do this test.

3D Sweep Panorama seems more sensitive to speed (coming up with “too slow”/”too fast” errors more often.) Then again it could be that mine was set to Vivid while his was normal. Creative Styles affect Sweep Panorama as well (set it to Black And White and you’ll see.)

And now, for a 3D Sweep Panorama crop! StereoPhoto Maker 4.30 was used to open the MPO file.

Find a large envelope or cardboard. Use it to separate the left and right images when viewing, like so:

Click on this image to open it in a new window (it is big!)

The effect is subtle but you will notice how it looks like in 2D if you close one eye or the other. If you turn the envelope the other way you can get closer to the screen and the effect will be stronger.

Interestingly – Shooting Tips helps here by saying that the optimal distance for the subject is 3 meters. I’ll go out and hunt for more suitable subjects.

And now, we rewind to the 4th of June 2010, where the Sony Alpha NEX-3 and Sony Alpha NEX-5 were launched at Teeq, Lot 10!

Screens and prints were displaying pictures taken with the NEX cameras.

One of the models who would hold the camera later when it was launched.

There were two events – the media-only launch and the blogger launch – here, bloggers were playing to win.

For the media-only launch, Toru Katsumoto and Masashi “Tiger” Imamura launched the NEX-3/NEX-5 (they did Singapore and Thailand the days before this before returning to Japan.)

As suspicions confirmed, the NEX is just one circuitboard (there were some other circuits in the grip and one around the sensor; this is from the back.) The multi-purpose flash connector is indeed on the main board.

During the short question-and-answer session, somebody asked if there would be more lenses – Toru said they were still doing market research and some wanted G and Zeiss, some wanted 55-200mm and 75-300mm lenses, some wanted primes and macro lenses.

He also said the reason why the NEX-5 came in silver and black was because they did a survey and found that these were the two most popular colors. So we may just see lenses based on popularity (unfortunately, that resulted in our 50mm F1.8 DT SAM!)

I then asked him if they’d have more NEX bodies with more dials and buttons and he said yes (but then again, the yet-to-be-launched-or-named Sony Handycam NEX-VG10 also counts as one.) And that was it, after those 2 questions (I guess the press didn’t have much questions at that time.)

So yes, there is expansion intended for both lenses and bodies, but what that will be, isn’t certain yet.

While you could say the target market for the NEX-3 and NEX-5 may not be interested in a Zeiss lens, I am sure there will be some videographers picking up the NEX-VG10, seen here in mock form (and what a mock it is, missing the very cool Quad Capsule Spatial Array microphone!) It would most certainly drive demand for brighter telephoto primes and zooms. Zeiss primes are popular with the video crowd.

Sony needed to push out cheaper bodies first or risk doing a Panasonic L1! The L1 had absolutely no impact on the market as to pushing out the then new Four Thirds system.

Anyway, back to present-day geeking.

Yes, the NEX-3/NEX-5 do not support wireless flash to trigger off-camera Sony flashes, but you can easily trigger any off-camera flash that can skip the pre-flash signal. Like my Sunpak PF20XD.

This is a screenshot from the NEX-3/NEX-5 user manual. There is also a flash extender, which apparently comes with the Sony E 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 Active OSS (it does not come with the NEX-3/NEX-5 packages, for sure!)

This is the Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 135mm F1.8 ZA mounted on the Sony LA-EA1 lens adapter and Sony Alpha NEX-5.

About the same thing, but with my gear-stripped Tamron 200-400mm F5.6 and 1.5x and 2x teleconverters.

A modern version of this would be the Sony 70-400mm F4-5.6G SSM. Now this is where the silver NEX-5 would match perfectly…

While at Sony Style, I also had the chance to check out the Sony Alpha 290 and Sony Alpha 390. The A390 can flip to waist-level position much easier than my NEX-5 can flip to overhead position, and the A390 can flip to overhead position just as easily as my NEX-5 does waist-level position.

It becomes obvious that the NEX-5 is designed to be easy to get to waist-level position hence the different articulation.

Sadly, the A290 and A390 were launched without much fanfare or enthusiasm – even Sony didn’t seem to put much into marketing it! They just needed to make a 2010 budget dSLR model which didn’t have that lousy handgrip of the A230/A330/A380 series of 2009.

The A290/A390 still has no quick way of changing AF point in Local Area AF. Wireless flash and screw-drive AF support is still there though. There was “Shutter release without lens” option sadly, even though it was released after the NEX-3/NEX-5 which had that option.

However, there was one massive, massive improvement – the hand grip! The grip is very solid and very deep – I tried it with the Sony 70-400mm F4-5.6G SSM and did not find any handling issues with it. Even the A550 can feel a bit creaky with that chunky lens, but not the A290 or A390!

The other thing I like that they kept, was the separate SD and Memory Stick Pro Duo slots – this means you can have both SD and MSPD at the same time, though you can only access one at a time and needed to flick a switch to choose between them. My NEX-5 is a pain in that sense because it has only one slot which means I can’t have a SD stored inside as backup. Also, the slot is bigger to allow SD, so inserting a MSPD can be fiddly.

The implications of the A290/A390 having the 14 megapixel CCD sensor are, that Sony has dumped the 10 megapixel CCD sensor. The Sony A350 has never been as popular as the A300 (and neither did the A350’s successor, the A380) so I can see why Sony decided to use the 14 megapixel CCD sensor stock to build the A290/A390. That leaves the current Sony Alpha lineup as:

Sony Alpha 290 (14.2 megapixel CCD)
Sony Alpha 390 (14.2 megapixel CCD with Quick AF Live View)
Sony Alpha 450 (14.2 megapixel CMOS with MF Check Live View)
Sony Alpha 500 (12.3 megapixel CMOS with Quick AF Live View and MF Check Live View)
Sony Alpha 550 (14.2 megapixel CMOS with Quick AF Live View and MF Check Live View)
Sony Alpha 850 (24.6 megapixel CMOS with Intelligent Preview)
Sony Alpha NEX-3 (14.6 megapixel CMOS with Live View and 720p with 25fps or 30fps MP4 video)
Sony Alpha NEX-5 (14.6 megapixel CMOS with Live View and 1080i with 50fps or 60fps AVCHD video)

Oh and how could we forget:

Sony Handycam NEX-VG10 (14.6 megapixel CMOS with Live View and 1080i/60fps AVCHD video)

Sometimes I think the Sony NEX series could’ve been called a Cybershot and it would not be a big deal. However, just as we thought the Cybershots were killed by the NEX series – Sony shows us that they planned it out and sequenced it so one product will not overshadow another. And so they introduced the Sony Cybershot DSC-WX5 and DSC-TX9 cameras. They have Superior Auto mode (shooting a burst of 2-6 images and deciding to reduce noise or increase dynamic range) and 3D Sweep Panorama (like on my NEX-5!) and the very cool Sweep Multi Angle which is not in any NEX or Cybershot! Check out the video on how it’s done!

They also have Background Defocus. Now if you’re wondering where they’d get the bokeh from given that it is using a small sensor (even my Cybershot WX-1 with F2.4 sensor doesn’t get much bokeh when not in macro) the answer is probably focus stacking. Usually macro shooters will focus stack to increase depth of field but I can see them doing the reverse to get shallow depth of field!

And so, the WX-5 finally supercedes my WX-1 with the backlit Exmor-R sensor and 24-120mm F2.4-5.9 lens. It’s the new low-light king of the Cybershots!

Oh and of course, the third guy being the Cybershot DSC-T99, a standard Super HAD CCD from Sony.

About the Sony FDA-SV1 optical viewfinder which I find in my view isn’t worth it:

The viewfinder, I find, is of limited use as it goes with the pancake only – the 16mm is so wide you get perspective distortion if you’re pointing at say a bicycle lying on a street.

This is perspective distortion – I was standing up and holding the camera at eye level. To reduce perspective distortion, you must adjust the location of the camera so the lines align with the frame.

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8 at F4.5, 1/40th of a second.

So in order to straighten the lines, I need to lower the camera. With the optical viewfinder, I need to squat or assume some kung fu stance! People will know if I’m taking a picture of their stuff!

With the flip-out screen, I can just keep standing and look down. Less obvious that I’m taking a picture, especially if I’m walking on the go. Only if you’re some traditional old-school fella you might prefer the optical viewfinder – otherwise, Live View is great!

(On a side note – notice the different shades of greens that the NEX-5 is capable of expressing. It has a pretty darn good color response!

About the infamous NEX menu system

The interface is indeed slow but if you really care for high ISO performance you wouldn’t be relying on ISO3200 JPGs but shooting RAW instead – I’d just do -1 EV on ISO1600 and get the same thing (because it is, really, the same thing!)

I shot for a gig where flash was not used and it shines there – in a spot where you don’t need to use flash, and can shoot RAW. Now if only DxO and Adobe could get their RAW support for the NEX out!

I quite enjoyed using it as a backup camera – when the A900’s buffer was full I just kept going with the NEX-5. Plus it being lighter was easier on my neck compared to having 2 dSLRs.

Oddly, it now feels like it has too many features and too few buttons. Such that they had to categorize each option under one of the six main menu options.

I didn’t understand initially why Shoot Mode needed a menu entry but it explains itself when you find the center button does not always invoke Shoot Mode.

It’s rather odd that with 9 buttons it has less than my WX-1 with 11 buttons. They so could’ve added just one, to the right, but it would not present well on the user interface (as it is, going out of Image Enlarge mode recommends you to press the Play button – and you’re left wondering which soft key was supposed to do that.)

Really – the top, center and bottom keys all change function depending where you are. It would be hard to have another soft key without cramming up the screen (not the body.)

Going from Video Playback to Image Playback is quicker once you figure you press Play – Down – Left – and then Down or Up and then Center.

One thing I didn’t like – Precision Digital Zoom enlarges the image, meaning the zoomed in image is still full resolution instead of being cropped, as it should be!

Other Lens Adapters

According to, we’d have the following tilt adapters!


Sure, the Micro Four-Thirds mount has loads of adapters, but the 2x crop sensor is a turn off and this explains why NEX is quickly overtaking it. Samsung’s 1.5x sensor in the NX10 isn’t up there yet. A full-frame EVIL will make it big – a 45mm F2.0 will feel better there than on an APS-C sensor.

Somebody used a Canon Extension Tube to make a EF-to-E-mount adapter!

The Sony VCL-ECF1 fisheye converter, for use on the Sony E 16mm F2.8 pancake lens. It mounts via a bayonet mount on the front of the lens (which is the same as the Sony E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS… whose front bayonet mount is used for the lens hood.) I love the lens cap, and how it clasps on!

It was meant to be paired with the Sony E 16mm F2.8 pancake lens – but what happens when you put it on the Sony E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS?

Sony E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS with Sony VCL-ECF1 fisheye converter on Sony NEX-5. Note the unique coma effects!

Using the NEX-3/NEX-5 for video:

I find that an ideal focal length for portraiture video is the 50mm – the 85mm is a bit too long unless you’re talking about a full-body shot from far away. If you want to record conversations, confessions etc. the 50mm is perfect, and the un-intimidating size of the NEX-3/5 makes it better. The NEX-VG10 would be a bit too big for the 50mm!

Longer focal lengths are a bit too hard to pan or track with (not so much the focusing, but tracking…)

If you find that manual focusing on a lens with a small focus ring to be too smooth or too slippery – put your fingers on the lens itself, like on the right – it helps to add friction and dampen your focusing.

The LA-EA1 lens adapter and 50mm fit in my pocket; I can also pocket the NEX-3/5 with 16mm in another pocket!

Aperture in video on the NEX-3/5 cannot be changed unless we use a lens with an aperture ring e.g. the Samyang 85mm F1.4.

You can only change EV while recording video. However Creative Styles, EV and WB take effect on the recorded video. DRO does not seem to have any effect on video. It auto-gains when going from a bright to dark place.

A fair bit of information on video and audio on the NEX-3/NEX-5 can be read here:

While I would not agree on perfect distortion-free sound (the videos I shot at gigs do have some distortion, but it could be Laundry Bar’s sound system) I would say Sony is very capable of recording audio with large dynamics. No Black Tie is such a place – the volume can go really loud with some singers without the sound breaking, but you know your mobile phones will have audio peaking and clipping. However even my Sony Cybershot WX-1 can handle it, with excellent audio quality and 720p! THe volume can get uncomfortably loud and still be distortion-free.

About Progressive And Interlaced

If you’ve read up on this you’d know progressive is preferred, and that the NEX-5 is weak in the aspect that it is 1080i at 50/60fps – however it is really a 1080p feed at 25/30fps, in an interlaced container. I could convert my 1080i/50fps video into a 1080p/25fps video with no problems. In theory, one could even make it a 540p video with 50/60fps!

The NEX-5 sold in Malaysia is 50fps. You get either 50fps or 60fps.

More Articles:
NEX: A Technical Hands On
Here’s What’s NEX
What’s NEX? Sony’s EVIL!

6 thoughts on “NEX-3/5/VG10 and A290/A390

  1. tubik Post author

    whoah!! thanks again Albnok for a very good details on Nex especially on the wireless flash thing. Now I can go looking for flashguns that support it.

    Thanks again. You make my day! 😀

  2. tubik Post author

    yeah, I do hope for a transmitter for the wireless flash. Btw, my Nex amazes me day by day. 😀


Leave a Reply

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