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The SONY NEX-5 Camera: The Travel Photography Dilemma Solved?

The Travel Photography Dilemma - Reviewing the Sony NEX5 Camera for travellers looking for a lightweight solution to carrying a traditional SLR

It’s the old travel photography dilemma: digital SLR or compact point and shoot. You want the best pictures (and that means SLR plus lenses and other paraphernalia as above,) yet you also don’t want to

Carrying heavy camera gear when travelling - walking across a thin ice ledge in the Dolomitesa)      Lug around all that extra weight

b)      Mark yourself out as a rich, flashy tourist and virtually encourage locals to rob you

c)       Spend so much money to begin with

d)      Lose that money when the bulkiness of the camera body and lenses throws you off balance in a steep icy war tunnel and you slide for metres sustaining the odd injury but narrowly avoiding much worse. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience, of course.

But you do want those great pictures. Sigh…

Well, Sony think they’ve found the holy grail with their flagship SONY NEX5, the smallest and lightest camera with interchangeable lenses to date. They asked me to give it a trial run and here’s what I thought…

Independent Review of the SONY NEX5


Well, we hit it off straight away. The Sony NEX 5 is small and it is light and after a day wandering around the city, my usually aching shoulder felt as carefree as ever. I understand SONY describe it as a camera you can put in your pocket. This is something of a stretch, unless you happen to be wearing a kangaroo costume, but it certainly fits into my handbag. Huge points for this.


The menu and setup stages are intuitive and easy to use (plus, I have a soft spot for the clean, sweet noise it makes as you scroll through options and take a photo.) As a tiny point, I prefer buttons to dials on a camera: once you know what you’re doing, you can change settings much faster as you don’t need to look at the screen.

Photographs from the stunning stately home of Casa de Pilatos in Seville (Sevilla.) This building features mudejar tiles, arches, columns and beautiful gardens in Andalucia (Abigail King)

Sony NEX5: Making it easier to take travel photos


Manual Settings & Gadgets

The Sony NEX5 gives you all the manual control you could want. The DMF (where the camera autofocuses the first part and then you fine-tune the rest) is a great idea for saving time.

Detachable flash…I’m not entirely sure why they’ve done this. Presumably on bright sunny days, the thinking went, you leave the flash at home to cut down on weight. However, if you’re travelling for more than a day or suddenly realise you need a shot of canned sunshine then this isn’t going to work.

Photos from a kayak expedition to southeast Alaska. Featuring red and yellow kayaks against clear blue water, mountains and cloud-streaked skies. Taken using SONYNEX5

SONY NEX5 - Small Enough to Fit in a Kayak

Cool SONY NEX5 Features

Video and panoramic shooting – I’ll explain more about those in later posts. (Update! Sony NEX5 Video Tips & Review Now Here)

The shooting tips will be hugely helpful if this is your first journey out of the safe “auto” mode – and the explanations given for aperture and what’s more commonly labelled Tv are some of the clearest I’ve ever seen.

Illuminated green Carlsberg sign in the window of a pub or bar in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Abigail King)

SONY NEX5: Copes well with low light


No viewfinder

Image composition takes place on a screen, not through a viewfinder. Indoors, or perhaps in Britain and other grey and sludgy climates, this isn’t a problem. In snow, ice and sunshine, it definitely is. The NEX-5 has plenty of great features – but they fade away if sunlight blocks the view of what you’re taking a picture of.

Finding Lenses

The interchangeable lenses are incredibly hard to find! By the end of this trial, I honestly was ready to retire my old SLR and give my back and shoulders a break by switching to the SONY NEX5. And maybe someday I will. But until I can find a zoom lens to go with it, I’m chained to my old setup. Let’s hope that changes in the future.

Counter at the world famous fish stand in the Pike Place Market, Seattle, USA. Here fishmongers sing, throw fish in the air and generally entertain the crowd. Oh - and they also sell some fish. (Abigail King)

SONY NEX5: Copes well with flying fish in Seattle's Pike Place Market

So, does the SONY NEX-5 solve the travel photography dilemma and should you buy one?

Depends on who you are. The SONY NEX5 is a fantastic choice if you’re stepping out of the point and shoot and auto world for the first time and you travel a lot. Its lightness, image quality and helpful layout make it an absolute pleasure to use.

If you’re a more serious travel photographer, it doesn’t quite do everything you need. Weigh up (ho, ho) the limitations against reducing the strain on your back.

Man staring into sunlight in a forest in southeast Alaska - taken with the SONY NEX5

SONY NEX5: Freeing you to explore more

10 Responses to The SONY NEX-5 Camera: The Travel Photography Dilemma Solved?

  1. Sarah Wu February 16, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    Great review for the Sony camera!

  2. eurotrip tips February 16, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Very helpful review. I am dying to find a balance between a sucky point-and-shoot and a heavy DSLR. I try to take the best pictures as possible when I travel, so I guess this particular camera isn’t going to do the trick for me. But as you said, for anyone who travels to Britain and wants to step out their photographic comfort zone, it’s the ideal solution.

    Thanks for this review!

  3. AdventureRob February 17, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    I’ve always wondered about this camera. I though regular Sony lenses bolt straight onto it?

    I don’t see why SLRs need to be so big these days, I think a lot may be comfort in holding it. The 400g ish saving I guess you’d make with the NEX is noticeable, but ultimately you’ve still got to carry a glass laden lens around which is where a lot of the weight is in Photography equipment.

  4. Abi February 24, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    @AdventureRob – I think you can use regular Sony lenses but you need to buy an adapter to make it fit the NEX5 (which in my case, anyway, doesn’t make sense as the lenses I already have are Canon rather than Sony.)

    The NEX5 is mirrorless (unlike DSLRs), which is part of how Sony have managed to cut down on the size and weight.

    It DOES feel weird when you start using it after so many years of a heavier camera but it’s pretty easy to get used to.

    Weight seems to matter more and more as I get older, in so many different ways!

  5. Cathryn July 2, 2011 at 2:52 am #

    I just wanted to say I really appreciated this review because I’m thinking of buying the sony NEX-5 for travel.

    I have literally no experience with cameras (except for seeing someone else use one) and I was just wondering what lens you used for your pictures.

    Thanks! Also, your pictures are beautiful

    • Abi July 2, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

      Glad you found it helpful – I think it’s a great camera to get started with. I used the standard lens for all these pictures (except for the one at the top with me in it ;) )

      I haven’t been able to find any other lenses for sale for the Sony NEX5 yet…

  6. Michael Sutton October 13, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    HI Abi… I have an NEX 5 and it is my first venture out of point and shoot. I wondered whether you had any tips for chaning the aperture and shutter speed settings. Im a novice when it comes to those having just been using regular cameras. In particular when lowering the shutter speed in daylight to take pictures of running waterfalls etc… the picture becomes too bright and it just takes a white photo. ANy tips? Thanks a lot!

  7. Abi October 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    The short version would be to watch the screen as you turn the dial to change the shutter speed and take around five to ten photos at each of the points where it looks as though you may get the waterfall effect you’re after. Then, when you look at the images on a computer screen afterwards, you can see which looks best.

    The slightly longer (and better!) explanation would be to check out the book called “Getting Out of Auto,” which provides the best introduction I’ve seen towards understanding aperture, shutter speed & so on…Here’s the link:

    Enjoy and good luck!

  8. Jien July 20, 2012 at 12:23 am #

    Hi there, so I’m late,dont know a lot about cameras and sure there are better cameras out now. Love the NEX-5 though haven’t bought it yet, i think i will this year. If i bought the NEX-5N with the interchangeable lens and the Sony 55-210mm Zoom Lens, would that cater to a novices new found hobby of shooting travel vids and pics. I write a lot too, scripts, and at first I was thinking of getting the Cannon 5D MKII- (honestly that was totally based on the fact that i like Ed Burns and I read he shot his movie “Newlyweds” with it.. whateva dont judge me). So really my question is, with a full spectrum starting at needing something to travel all the way to learning how to shoot movies… would the NEX-5N suffice cos if i bought all its accessories listed above im looking at $1000+… versus should i just get Cannon 5D Mark2 without additional lens its close to 3k though i saw a refurbished for $1700. I have a feeling i just answered my own question but any help you can offer be great even if it is telling me to go with a totally different choice. Thanks

    • Abi July 20, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Well, as you say, you’ve probably answered your own question! The NEX-5 is wonderfully light but you may have trouble with accessories. Have you looked into the Canon 5D? That takes you a long way beyond the beginner stages and lets you create great movies. But it is heavier and more expensive…Do you have a friend with one or a handy photography shop nearby that will let you play around with both for a while so that you can get a better idea of what you’re buying?