Review based on a production NEX-3 and NEX-5, updated to reflect firmware v3Ever since Panasonic and Olympus created their Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system, all the talk has been about what the other players in the market will do. Micro Four Thirds has been steadily building its market share, seemingly without response from the three companies that account for over 80% of DSLR sales (Canon, Nikon and Sony), to the extent that ' Micro ' risks becoming the generic term for these mirrorless systems (' When will Brand X make a Micro camera? ' has become a fairly common thread title on our forums).The waiting is now over as, following the showing of some mock-ups at PMA and a torrent of teasers and leaks, Sony finally officially announced its NEX system last month. The details are exactly what you'd expect-HD video capable APS-C sensors in small bodies. What might take you by surprise is just how small the bodies are the NEX-5 in particular being tiny. In fact the cameras are too small to include in-body image stabilization units, as found in Sony's Gerd, and instead use lens-based Optical SteadyShot '. These NEX cameras will come under the Alpha brand but do not make use of the Alpha lens mount, instead using the completely new all-electronic E-mount Sony has made clear that it is aiming for compact camera users who wish to upgrade (a market it estimates at around 10 million potential buyers), rather than trying to offer a second room for existing DSLR users. And the NEX models have more in common with compact cameras than DSLRs-including very few buttons and a resolutely unconventional interface.As part of this interface it offers not only the standard Sony option of showing a small description of each selected option, it also has a full user guide built in to the room. Relevant sections of this guide are available in each shooting mode to give hints and advice about everything from how to hold the room to how to achieve an out-of-focus background. The company told us that it felt its competitors had merely miniaturized, rather than produced, so it's no surprise that the NEXs are more than just the company's Gerd with the mirrors will be removed. Instead you get a wholly new system with metal-bodied kit lenses (something we didn't expect to see again in a mainstream product), and an accessory port instead of a conventional flash hot shoe.As with Samsung and Panasonic, Sony's background is electronics (rather than cameras) so the incentive to move away from the optically complex DSLR design to one based more around electronic displays makes sense. Sony's situation is a little different in that it bought the respected Minolta brand and know-how but, despite plenty of new models, it has only been able to make a big impression on the DSLR market in a few selected regions. Consequently, it's understandable that it might want to combine its DSLR knowledge with its electronics expertise to establish some compelling competitive advantage.
NEX-3Three E-mount lenses are being announced alongside the cameras-an 16 mm F2.8 pancake, a standard 18-55 mm F3.5-5.6 stabilized zoom and a stabilized kit 18-200 mm F3.5-6.3 superzoom. Although the company talks a great deal about shallow depth-of-field, none of the lenses initially offered will offer a great deal of control in that respect. Being based around an APS-C sensor as used in the majority of DSLRs, the NEX cameras are subject to the same 1.5 x crop factor ' as them, so a 16 mm lens will give the same field of view as a 24 mm lens would on a 35 mm film cameras.Three kits are available: the ' snap ' kits which include the 18-55 mm zoom, the ' go out with me ' kits that feature the 16 mm prime lens and the ' go out and snap ' kits that include both. And, while we think at 24 mm equivalent prime lens will make sense to somebody and are quite able to look beyond the entertainment potential of calling a product ' go out with me, ' we cannot make any sense of the decision to bundle such a potentially challenging lens with what we're told are point-and-shoot cameras. The majority of people walking into room shops will be very badly served if they leave with a camera and nothing but an ultrawide angle lens. And, still more disappointingly, despite its F2.8 maximum aperture, the 16 mm lens will not offer much scope for blurring backgrounds, so shouldn't be sold on that basis either.Sony is also taking the unusual step of offering adapter lenses for the 16 mm F2.8 pancake, which attach via a bayonet mount on the front. In a manner familiar from compact cameras, it will be possible to adapt the lens from its usual 24 mm equivalent field of view using either an ultra-wide adapter to take it to 20 mm equivalent, or a fisheye that gives to 16 mm equivalent view.
An Alpha mount adapter will be available, giving the ability to use Sony and Minolta SLR lenses. The the-EA 1 adapter has a motor to control the lens aperture, but nothing to drive the autofocus though, following a firmware update, is able to autofocus 14 SSM-and SAM-designated lenses. This allows only single, not continuous, AF and, in common with most attempts to use contrast-detection AF with lenses designed for phase-detection, is a fairly slow process. It does allow the use of some Alpha-mount lenses until Sony can start to provide the impressive-sounding E-mount lens lineup it has set out.Sony proposed E-mount lenses:
• Wide fixed focal length CZ (2011)
• Telephoto zoom (2011)
• Macro (2011)
• Portrait (2011)
• High performance standard zoom G (2012)
• Wide zoom (2012)
• Mid-telephoto (2012)
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If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).