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What is it?
The 5R is one of Sony's NEX system and is classified as a CSC (Compact System Camera). This type of camera has interchangeable lenses so in this sense is like an SLR, however they are generally much smaller in size (for the body of the camera, not necessarily the lens). In the current lineup this model sits below the NEX 6 and 7. Where the NEX system excels above others of this type is that it has an APS
C size sensor - for those of you who don't know what this means, it has the same size sensor as a conventional digital SLR (but smaller than full frame/35mm negative) so in theory the quality should be high.
What are the features?
As mentioned this camera has a large sensor which is great from an overall quality perspective, it also has 16 million pixels (by no means the highest on the market, but more than enough for pretty much everyone) - this means that the individual pixels are larger than they would be on a smaller sensor which again has a positive impact on quality by making them more sensitive to light. There is also built in wifi, a touch screen, small left and right stereo speakers and 1080 AVCHD video. It doesn't have any sort of viewfinder (the 6 and the 7 do), there is also no built in flash, however there is a small screw in flash provided in the box which attaches to the top of the camera.
As cameras try to get more an more like phones (such as the inclusion of wifi), Sony has built in a number of so called 'Apps' into the camera which includes a fairly extensive retouch menu allowing things like horizon adjustment, contrast, brightness, saturation and a load of different photo effects - all of which might come in handy to those digital camera users who don't own a computer or any editing software.
How big is it?
Obviously overall size will vary depending on what lens you have attached at any one time. As it comes, the body is approximately 11cm long, 6cm tall and 4cm deep (measuring at the widest point ie. the grip), with the 18-55mm lens attached this depth goes out to about 10cm. If the lens makes this seem to big, and it is about the same size as an 18-55mm on an SLR, Sony are now making a 16-50mm power zoom which is approximately half the size, however I don't think they do a 5R 'kit' with this lens option (it is the standard lens on the NEX6).
How easy is it to use?
What first stood out to me is that there is no selectable mode dial on the camera - this can be looked at as a good or bad thing depending on your perspective, on the plus side you can't accidentally knock it into a random mode, on the downside it makes it slower to change modes (by going into the menu). To change the modes you select on screen by swinging the scroll wheel or the dial on the top of the camera and the LCD moves through all the different options, giving a description of each as you go - I thought this was quite useful for someone new to photography as it would help them select the appropriate setting without having to refer to a manual.
There is a lot to this camera but overall I feel it is well laid out, intuitive and easy to use - it shouldn't take long to work your way around it and pretty much use the camera on autopilot. The only thing I couldn't really wrap my head around was wifi - I found it easily enough on the camera and the instructions displayed on the LCD for connecting to my phone were very easy. I did everything it said - selected the appropriate mode on my phone, input the password etc and the LCD of the camera came up with 'sharing...' despite me waiting for a good few minutes nothing else happened to either my phone (which said signal strength was excellent) or the camera so I gave up. It just confirmed my previous opinion that wifi camera's are a bit of a useless gimmick at the moment.
Is the quality of the results any good?
I found the superior intelligent auto mode was very good at exposing for extremes of contrast (such as a fairly dark shop interior compared to quite a bright area out the door - the resulting image is exposed well for both areas rather than over or underexposing one area), the automatic scene selection also seems to be pretty accurate. The colours are generally pleasing although if I had to criticise I'd say maybe the skin tones are a little over saturated.
The sweep panorama is stitched well in camera so no up and down horizons to worry about, although the results aren't quite as sharp as those from a standard photo. You may also want to consider that when doing the panorama the camera makes a constant loud shutter noise so this mode would not be appropriate for anything where being quiet or subtle was fairly important.
Overall the image quality is fairly impressive when viewed at 100% and ISO levels are kept below 800 (ISO is expandable all the way up to 25600 if desired) - you get good sharpness, detail, colour tone and contrast. The only downside I can think of to the large sensor is that it does mean your minimum focusing distance isn't brilliant - using the 18-55mm the closest I could focus was about 10cm from the subject, so not great for macro work, however the depth of field enabled is pretty impressive.
On the video side I was pretty impressed - the camera continues to focus of its own accord and does so smoothly, you can prompt a readjustment in focus by half depressing the shutter although this does seem to make it jump in and out a bit so I'd let the camera do its own thing. The resulting videos are pretty much pin sharp and the sound is impressive despite the small mic, experiencing no unwanted noise from focusing motors, you can also select manual focus via the Fn button. As you zoom with your hands using the lens barrel - how steady the results are is entirely down to you!
What is the build quality like?
I found the camera to feel pretty sturdy and well made - the hand grip is a good size and rubberized making it comfortable to hold in this respect. The lens is mounted off the the left of the camera body which does make the camera feel a little lopsided weight wise and the thumb rest on the rear is too far to the right to make it comfortable for me. That said I do like the build quality when taken as a while and even with elements like a tilting rear screen I don't feel like this camera would easily break.
The touchscreen is one of the most responsive I've tried so far and makes the touch focus/shutter functionality more of a joy to use than the chore it is on many other cameras I have tried. It's also easy to activate or deactivate the screen with one touch. Keeping on the same theme the LCD has good clarity - I wouldn't say it's the best I've seen, but it's certainly among the better on the market at the moment.
What other lenses can I buy?
CSC's are a pretty new type of camera and the manufacturers are slowly expanding their range of lenses. As it stands you can only put Sony NEX fit lenses on NEX cameras as is (you can get an adaptor to allow you to use their SLR lenses, but to me that sort of defeats the point size wise!) - right now the pool of available lenses is fairly small and as they're all made by Sony (so no Sigma, Tamron etc) there is no competition price wise, this means some lenses can be pretty steep in cost. As an example the 18-200 lens costs around £600, this is similar to the price of one for a Nikon SLR and almost £200 more expensive than the equivalent for a canon SLR. To be fair to Sony not all lenses cost quite this much - the 16mm pancake lens is about £200 and the 55-210 is around £240, but price of extra lenses is definitely something you need to consider when making your purchase.
How much will this cost me?
At the moment the camera with the 18-55mm lens costs around the £450 mark (for UK stock, not grey imports).
It pretty much goes without saying that a camera like this uses a lithium ion rechargeable battery - it comes with one in the box which is good for in excess of a couple of hundred photos per charge and spares can be bought for £50 on average, although are sometimes on offer at half price depending on where you shop.
Would I recommend this camera?
Yes for the most part I would - although the handling isn't perfect, I much prefer the NEX system to any of the other CSC's on the market. Sony has the biggest sensor, impressive quality and the price of the 5R compared to the 6 and 7 makes it a very viable option if you don't require a viewfinder. The inclusion of wifi (even if I couldn't get it to work) and a variety of apps should satisfy those consumers looking for the next thing in technology.