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Sony NEX generation launched


SPLIT, Croatia, breakfast over – Sony Europe presents the new NEX-3 and NEX-5 mirrorless, HD video capable slim interchangeable lens APS-C digital cameras. This has been a launch anticipated by almost complete and accurate leaking of the specifications of the two cameras. Sony UK also provided advance information to all dealers, including pricing, before the press launch – allowing retail websites to have full data up and running as from May 11th.

Toru Katsumoto presents his team’s latest offering (he holds a silver NEX-3)

The entire system with accessories is to be available in June at once, no waiting for anything except the 18-200mm lens which will arrive a month later. Edit: the brochure says ‘October’ for the 18-200mm, at the presentation it was said that it would follow in a month or so. October is four months or so.

The full rollout includes – NEX-5, NEX-3, 16mm /2.8 pancake lens (NOT stabilised), 12mm wide angle and 10mm fisheye adaptors to fit this lens (£100/£120 and thus reducing the cost of w/a ownership greatly), 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS, 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS, stereo mic (no 3.5mm jack input is provided), GN7 mini flash free with each camera fits the same top thumbscrew secured accessory socket as the mic, optical viewfinder for 16mm only (£130!), and a range of bags, straps, etc plus of course spare batteries (new tiny type, £65, or bundled with aforementioned as an accessory kit for £85). The system is made in Thailand in a new Sony facility, but one fisheye converter on view was marked made in Japan.

While both use a new 14.2 megapixel sensor based on the live-view capable CMOS of the Alpha 550 and 450 DSLRs, the NEX-3 is wired to record 720p HD MPEG4 video only. The NEX-5’s main selling point to justify a higher price is 1080i HD video. It uses the AVCHD recording format, which is considered the most professional standard for consumer HD video crossing into TV and film potential uses, but also widely reviled for its incompatibility with many software players. However, NEX-5 also has an optional 1440 x 1080 MPEG4 mode which remains to be tested for the quality of HD it produces (it is a ‘stretched pixel’ mode not a cropped format).

They also offer recording to both SDHC and MemoryStick Duo Pro cards, but it remains to be seen exactly what cards they are truly compatible with; Paul Genge said ‘any modern card’ for recording time to a maximum of 29 minutes 1080i HD (more for other formats). Sony’s brochure says SD Class 4 or better. Canon claimed Class 6 SDHC cards would work with the EOS 550D/Ti2, but buyers quickly found hardly any Class 6 cards were reliable. The 1080p Canon HD video stream actually demands the best cards you can get, Class 10 SDHC.

There is no electronic viewfinder in the range on launch, composition is entirely on the new TruBlack 3 inch screen which is a match for the A550 in articulation but 55% brighter and with much higher contrast and a glass surface.

For the buyer, the body will immediately impress as it is ultra-slim, and it will easy for salesmen to remove lenses and actually show that the sensor is much bigger than the Micro FourThirds models from Olympus and Panasonic. The new Sony NEX system lenses use silent ultrasonic focusing motors and an electronically adjusted aperture. They also incorporate equaly silent floating group in-lens image stabilisation for the two zooms, with 10X efficiency Active Mode on the ‘sports and travel’ 18-200mm.

Everything from the body to the lens is communicated electronically – there are no mechanical links, and the lenses are designed to make no significant noise at all when focusin during video shooting. This is the big selling point of the NEX models; because the system has been entirely designed after the concept of V-DSLRs appeared, and is only marginally connected to an existing SLR system, no baggage has been hauled in to the design.

Click this picture for a Level 9 JPEG saved from a FULL SIZE NEX5 fine quality in-camera JPEG, taken at ISO 200, 1/8th, with the 16mm lens – the evening dinner for the European press at the Ivan Mestrovic museum-gallery in Split. Camera held on a wall for stability.

Even so, the NEX bodies will be able to operate with certain Sony lenses (or Minolta AF fit lenses). I took along both screw drive (11-18mm, 16-80mm) and in-lens motor (SAM 30mm and Sony G 70-300mm SSM) Alpha lenses in case there were adaptors to hand. The only one was a prototype – and Paul Genge said that despite all efforts, the plan to make SSM and SAM lenses work on the Alpha adapto LA-EA1 with AF confirmation had not been possible. At launch, Alpha lenses can be used with manual focus only but with aperture control possible, and full EXIF data transmission.

The NEX-5 is magnesium alloy, the NEX-3 is polycarbonate and not so elegant. The lenses used machined aluminium bright silver and matt black ‘zebra’ design, mostly silver. The lens mount is a bayonet, slightly smaller than Alpha with a mere 18mm back focus. The dual card format slot is a single, auto sensing slot not two slots.

Both cameras shoot 2.3fps with full AE and AF (25-zone full sensor area selectable points or wide zone), 7fps in speed priority mode (preset focus and exposure). They have a true high resolution sweep pan based on multiple still frames, not a video capture, which can produce JPEGs up 23 megapixels with incredible sharpness and quality (220 degree pan). There is also a video-based 3D Sweep Pan mode creating 3D Bravia compatible scrollable stereo images.

Face detection and Smile Shutter are built in; the screen is not a touch screen, but uses a clever new interface combining elements learned from mobile phone design with traditional scroll wheel and button control. An 80-subject user guide with comparison images is built in as an eBook which also pops up selected subjects as Tips. Full conventional control is also provided.

HDR uses 3 frames, and manul control allows up to 6EV difference (plus or minus 3EV) to create in-camera HDR merges. RAW shooting, RAW+JPEG, and the usual still modes are covered and the file format is ARW2.2 similar to current APS-C Sony Alpha DSLRs.

Paul Genge confirmed that the next generation of Alpha DSLR bodies would follow the NEX-3/5 and use the same video and BIONZ, but from his comments about the problems getting SAM/SSM lenses to work with contrast-detect AF, perhaps not the same AF option with live view. We shall see.

A new camcorder, similar to a HandyCam in design, will be launched in October featuring the NEX mount and lenses and adaptable to the A-system lenses. This is a definite statement, along with a firm commitment to develop the DSLR Alpha system and that the next generation of Alpha bodies will have the same video capabilities as the NEX models.

Here is the camcorder on display in proto-mockup form with NEX lenses and the E to A mount adaptor.

– David Kilpatrick


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