Sony NEX-5RL: Beauty, body, & brains


The latest in Sony’s 3-year-old Alpha NEX-5 series of Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILCs) is only a slight upgrade from its predecessor. In fact, the differences are pretty hard to catch, so I’ll make sure to point them out to you while also looking at the NEX-5RL as the notable standalone camera that it is. Body & design The 5RL still sports the NEX line’s trademark diminutive body and large lens mount—quite sexy to look at for many people, including yours truly. It takes up little space in your bag and makes itself scarce when not in use. The dials and buttons are conveniently laid out, as if offering themselves to your fingers. The new top dial, which is accessible via the right thumb, controls camera settings while on shooting mode, lessening your movement when adjusting aperture size or shutter speed. This dial has pushed the dedicated movie button to the left and turned the power switch into a ring dial around the shutter button. These changes are no big deal and actually make a lot of sense. Another welcome addition is the function (“Fn”) button for quick access to focus modes and other settings. However, placing it on the far side of the top plate hides it from consciousness; it’s very easy to forget, especially when you’ve only used the 5RL for several days. The original control dial at the back offers one-click access to ISO, display, exposure compensation, timer, and burst settings. This, together with the two back buttons, serves as a worthy alternative to the touchscreen. Most of the time, there’s really no need to use the on-screen menu, although the functions of the two separate buttons change according to the display. The said 3-inch touch-capable LCD panel can flip upwards by 180 degrees. (Yes, this makes taking self-portraits easier.) Lens The 5RL comes with the new Sony E PZ 16-50mm (24-75mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens, which is the first E-mount lens with a power zoom mechanism. Finally, here is an E-mount lens that doesn’t add bulk. Its slimness helps the NEX camera to be even more portable. On the side of the collapsible lens barrel is the power zoom control that offers a smooth transition even while recording video. The focus ring functions as such when on MF mode but transforms into a zoom ring when on AF, giving a DSLR-like experience. The lens offers no distortion when shooting in JPEG. But, alas, it offers no macro focus as well, which is very stifling. The nearest you can get is at least nine inches, and that’s no close-up at all. To work around this, you’d have to step back, zoom in, and then focus. Of course, the 5RL being an MILC gives you the freedom to choose among Sony’s E-mount lenses, and the available selection isn’t limited. If macro shots are an integral part of your photographic life, then pair your 5RL with a more suitable lens. Performance The 5RL is quick and precise on all accounts, from startup to shutter lag. The new Fast Hybrid AF, for one, takes only a split-second to scan the scene and accurately zone in on a focal point. This is true for shooting still photos and recording a motion picture, making the 5RL a great tool for action shots and creative videography. Additionally, the new AF system comes with more focal points, expanding photographic opportunities and providing greater accuracy with less hassle. Image quality Both still and moving images taken with the NEX-5RL are fantastic. You can almost find no fault, except perhaps the strong distortion when shooting stills in RAW format. The camera reproduces colors quite vividly without going overboard. The details are sharp in virtually any condition, and the blurs in a shallow depth of field are soft and easy on the eyes. Noise start becoming a bother only when you reach ISO 6400, but the 5RL offers up to ISO 25,600 if you really, really have to take that shot in awful darkness. Motion picture is sharp and fluid, which is as expected from the large sensor and imaging processor the 5RL inherited from its older brother. Both can record scrumptious 1080p Full HD videos at up to 60 fps worthy of large-screen viewing. But to get this quality, you’d have to use the AVCHD file format. You can only save in MP4 format up to 30 fps. Connectivity First to have Wi-Fi capability, the 5RL easily scans and connects to nearby hubs. This allows you to send saved photos and videos to your computer or mobile device. You can even stream content to your supported TV. Another interesting feature that the Wi-Fi connection makes available is PlayMemories. This lets you install apps to your 5RL for additional functionality. Some are pretty interesting, although having to purchase Motion Shot and Time Lapse for US$4.99 and $9.99, respectively, isn’t very appealing, knowing that several older cameras offer this built in. As time progresses, however, this gateway will give you access to more and better apps if Sony continues to develop for it. Verdict The NEX-5RL, albeit more useful to non-NEX-5N owners, is an excellent MILC. It is smart and pretty, has a premium build, and renders superb image quality—not to mention highly compact. Review by Aritha Zel Zalamea First published in Speed July 2013