Sony Alpha 5000 at a glance:

Sony Alpha 5000 review – Introduction

As Sony looks to consolidate its cameras under the Alpha branding, the Sony Alpha 5000 arrives to replace the NEX-3N, adding Wi-Fi functionality, an improved image processor, and benefiting from its lightweight construction and portable size. With the inclusion of the new Bionz X processor, also featured in the high-end Sony Alpha 7/7R and Cyber-shot DSC-RX10, the Sony Alpha 5000 is vying for the attention of enthusiasts looking to upgrade from a digital compact to an entry-level DSLR or compact system camera.

Sony Alpha 5000 review – Features

The Sony Alpha 5000 has the same 20.1-million-pixel, APS-C-sized (23.2×15.4mm) sensor we saw in last year’s DSLR-styled Alpha 3000, although the Alpha 5000 also has Near Field Communication (NFC) and Wi-Fi connectivity so users can connect and control the camera using the Sony PlayMemories app via a smartphone or tablet.

The Sony Alpha 5000’s compatibility with Sony’s E-mount lenses will appeal to enthusiasts with existing optics they would like to use on a highly portable camera, as well as to entry-level photographers or those new to Sony who want to invest in a system. The Alpha 5000 has the same 3in, 460,800-dot LCD screen as featured on the NEX-3N, and as such it can be flipped 180° to face forwards. Weighing only 269g, including battery and memory card, the Alpha 5000 is a good everyday camera, that fits into a jacket pocket even with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens mounted.

As expected, raw+JPEG image capture is included, while full HD video recording can be activated using the dedicated record button that is situated on the rear of the camera below the shutter. The Bionz X processor brings with it detail-reproduction software, diffraction-reduction technology, area-specific noise reduction and 3x faster image processing than the previous Bionz processor in the NEX-5.

Sony has also included a number of modes, tips and apps, such as free download Photo Retouch and the paid-for time-lapse application, to help inexperienced photographers and enthusiasts alike get the most out of the camera.

Sony Alpha 5000 review – Build and handling

The Alpha 5000 is a step up from a point-and-shoot digital camera, but lacks much in the way of physical controls, leaving you with just a control wheel/D-pad and one customisable button for accessing its various settings and shooting modes. It is also missing a hotshoe, but at this level of camera it is not uncommon for this to be excluded.

The textured grip makes the camera comfortable to hold in one hand, but while the Alpha 5000’s matt-black plastic build is attractive and solid, it is designed to be affordable rather than rugged.

Display mode, ISO, exposure compensation and drive mode are included as options on the D-pad, with the scene mode positioned in the centre of the selection wheel. A question mark denotes the custom function button that can be reassigned to a commonly used feature, such as focus type, white balance or metering. This is a useful feature that I mostly used for easy access to the white-balance options, but a second customisable button would have meant less diving into the menu to access the autofocus mode, which is another feature I use regularly.

However, the compact size and simplicity of the Alpha 5000 mean that it is very easy to use, although people with larger hands or gloves may find it a little fiddly.

Sony Alpha 5000 review – Metering

Image: This image was shot in the 16:9 aspect ratio, at ISO 400 with multi-pattern metering. As you can see, the camera has balanced the exposure well and maintained some detail in the shadows without blowing out the church building’s highlights

The intelligent 1,200-zone evaluative multi-segment metering system from Sony’s most advanced SLT camera, the Alpha 77, is found in the Alpha 5000. Centreweighted and spot-metering modes are also included.

Even under challenging bright conditions, the Alpha 5000 isn’t afraid to push highlights to the edge for the sake of rendering some good detail in the shadows. The metering is well balanced when faced with a high-contrast scene, and highlights in key areas are maintained by using effective exposure compensation to resolve valuable image information.

Under overcast or cloudy skies, the evaluative system does a good job of recognising subjects in the foreground, reproducing an evenly lit subject with details intact, even in JPEGs. In the Alpha 5000’s raw files, I was also able to recover enough useful information to increase the contrast and saturation to combat the flatness associated with overcast conditions, as well as tweaking white balance.

As the autofocus is linked to the exposure setting, I found that I could get consistent results if I stuck with evaluative metering, focused on the darker areas of the scene by half-pressing the shutter and then recomposed the frame. Centre and spot metering functioned well for portraits and specifically chosen subjects.

Sony Alpha 5000 review – Dynamic range and white balance and colour

Dynamic range

Dynamic range at ISO 100 is 12.2EV, which is average for a camera in this class. When faced with a mix of colours and high contrast, the Bionz X processor in the Alpha 5000 works hard to deliver an image that is representative of the overall scene in front of you. Despite the challenge of extremely high-contrast conditions, I saw very little blown-out highlight detail or areas that were completely black.

Image: The vibrant colour reproduction of this image shows how the Alpha 5000 shines when capturing everyday/travel pictures. The camera’s small size means that it is not too intrusive when taking pictures in public

White balance and colour

Auto white balance on the Alpha 5000 functions well, producing natural tones without a noticeable bias towards any one colour. I was particularly impressed with results produced from cityscape images, in which the Alpha 5000 rendered deep and vibrant blues, avoiding oversaturation and without leaving a yellow cast on the rest of the image.

However, when I selected the appropriate white-balance preset for the conditions in which I was photographing, the results were more accurate. In general, I would describe the performance of the Alpha 5000’s white balance as faithful and consistent.

Sony Alpha 5000 review – Autofocus

Image: With its weathered surface, this van shows how well the Alpha 5000 can capture detail. Some sharpening seems to have been applied to the JPEG, but it is not too heavily processed and I would be happy to print this image straight from the camera

The Alpha 5000’s sensor is only equipped with contrast-detection AF, but in fair light it is very responsive. The 25 AF points available on the Alpha 5000 are well placed enough to achieve accurate and correct focus the majority of the time.

Autofocus modes available on the Alpha 5000 include multi-area, centre, selective single-point, tracking AF, face detection and continuous, all of which function to varying degrees of success. Face detection is the most reliable mode for portraits and group photos, recognising and locking onto faces with very little delay, even in low light.

Contrast-detect AF is not quite as adept at dealing with fast-moving subjects when shooting with the Alpha 5000 in continuous AF mode.

When attempting to focus on subjects in motion, the camera struggled to keep up and, as a result, I consistently failed to capture any shots in focus.

In low light, the AF doesn’t hunt. Instead, it either homes in slowly or fails to focus entirely. This isn’t helped by the position of the AF-assist beam, which is placed so close to the Alpha 5000’s grip that it is easy to obscure it accidentally.

Multi-area AF mode was the most useful and reliable method of achieving focus in the majority of the shooting situations I found myself in while using the camera.

Sony Alpha 5000 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

Sony’s Image Data Convertor software is sluggish, even on a top-spec laptop. It was challenging to get the best out of the raw files, and in my opinion when support for the Alpha 5000’s uncompressed .ARW format is updated on third-party processing software such as Adobe Camera Raw, more detail should be recoverable.

For an entry-level CSC, the Sony Alpha 5000 offers a relatively broad sensitivity range of ISO 100-16,000, as did last year’s Alpha 3000. However, ISO performance appears to be better, with the Alpha 5000 resolving around 30 lines per mm (lpmm) on our test chart at its base sensitivity of ISO 200 – a slight improvement on the Alpha 3000’s 28lpmm.

Luminance noise only begins to impact the number of lines resolved at around ISO 800-1600, whereupon significant detail begins to smudge. Even at ISO 6400, though, 26lpmm is achieved, putting the camera’s ISO and noise-handling capabilities among the top end of models in this class.

The Bionz X image processor in the Alpha 5000 can apply area-specific noise reduction and has been fine-tuned to tackle it very well, colour noise especially. However, looking at the shadows in images shot beyond ISO 500, it appears that noise reduction works a little too well. Some luminance noise can help to define detail and texture, and without it surfaces can look unnaturally smooth and painterly.

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.

Sony Alpha 5000 review – Live view, LCD and video

The Alpha 5000’s 3in, 460,800-dot LCD screen stands out because its resolution is significantly lower than the 921,000-dot displays common in rival models, it’s disappointing to not see an improvement in this area. Even the NEX-3 had a 921,000-dot screen, and that was released in 2010.

The tiltable screen’s ability to flip up and face forward is perfect for composing ‘selfies’ and group photographs. However, its built-in pop-up flash sits awkwardly in the middle of the screen when in use, obscuring your view of the composition.

Using the LCD screen in direct sunlight can be difficult, but Sony has attempted to combat this by including a ‘sunny weather’ screen-brightness option in the set-up menu. However, it can still be difficult to compose shots because the supporting grid lines themselves can be hard to see, especially when shooting night scenes.

Full HD video in MP4 and AVCHD formats with stereo sound is available via a movie button, and it performs to a good standard that will satisfy most applications, such as filming family occasions, holiday shots and video blogging. The SteadyShot feature adds smooth filming capabilities, while colours and highlight detail are rich and satisfying.

Sony Alpha 5000 review – Our verdict

Although the Alpha 5000 is effectively a rebrand and refresh of the NEX-3N, Sony has made noticeable improvements in previously contentious areas, such as noise reduction, white balance and metering, as well as a significant jump in resolution.

The features of Sony’s entry-level compact system camera have been brought in line with much of the competition thanks to the addition of Wi-Fi and the increased functionality that comes with its inclusion, such as apps and remote-shooting functionality.

People upgrading from a standard compact camera, or photography newcomers, will do well to consider the Alpha 5000 with a view to one day upgrading again within Sony’s E-mount system. The ability to invest in a system with a good selection of lenses, at an entry-level price point, makes the Alpha 5000 an attractive first compact system camera.

Hands-on review

Sony Alpha 5000 at a glance:

  • 20.1-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
  • Bionz X processor
  • ISO 100-16,000
  • NFC and Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Price £419 including 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens

Sony Alpha 5000 – Introduction

After Sony announced that it was to drop the NEX branding from its compact system cameras, it was only a matter of time before the existing NEX range was replaced. The new Sony Alpha 5000 replaces two cameras, the NEX-3N and NEX-5T, which was inevitable given that there are only slight differences between the two older models.

Sony Alpha 5000 – Key features

While the Sony NEX-3N and Sony NEX-5T used a 16-million-pixel sensor, the new Alpha 5000, like the Alpha 3000 released a few months ago, has a 20.1-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS unit. The new sensor can capture images at a maximum sensitivity of ISO 16,000, which is the same as the NEX-3N but 1EV less than the maximum ISO 26,000 setting of the NEX-5T.

Aimed at the consumer market, the Sony Alpha 5000 lacks an accessory shoe, but instead features a built-in pop-up flash. The rear screen is a 3in, 460,800-dot display, again the same as the NEX-3N but lower than the 921,000-dot screen of the NEX-5T. However, the new screen can articulate through 180° so that it is front-facing for taking ‘selfies’.

Also, as you would expect from any camera released these days, the Alpha 5000 has both Near Field Communication (NFC) and Wi-Fi connectivity, to allow images to be quickly sent to a smartphone or tablet.

Sony Alpha 5000 – Build and handling

One of our early criticisms of the original Sony NEX range was that there was a lack of labels on the buttons on the rear of the cameras and that the menu system was somewhat awkward to use. The new Alpha 5000 has clearly labelled buttons on the rear and it was very straightforward to use.

Thankfully, the on-screen menus have also been improved. The large category labels remain on the initial screen when the menu button is pressed, but once one of these menu items is selected, the sub-menus all have the very familiar ‘Alpha look’ about them, as all Sony cameras now seem to be using.

Made of polycarbonate, the camera weighs just 210g (body only). However, it feels extremely well made.

Sony Alpha 5000 – Initial thoughts

With sales of CSCs falling, it makes sense for Sony to combine the NEX-3N and NEX-5T into one camera, and with a kit price of £419, the Alpha 5000 is very competitively priced.

We found that the 20.1-million-pixel sensor performed well in the Alpha 3000 and Alpha 58 SLTs, and we can expect the sensor to do just as well in the Sony Alpha 5000.

Look out for a full test of the Alpha 5000 in the next few months.

The Sony Alpha 5000 will be available from mid-February, price £419 including 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.