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Sony Alpha NEX 3 / 5 (firmware v2) Gordon Laing, September 2010

Sony Alpha NEX-5 results : Real-life resolution / lens sharpness at 18mm / lens sharpness at 55mm / High ISO Noise / HHT / AMB

Sony Alpha NEX-5: Handheld Twilight mode versus Program mode (at 320 / 400 ISO)

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The Sony Alpha NEX-5 inherits two modes from the Cyber-shot range which are designed for use in low light conditions. The Handheld Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes both fire-off six frames in quick succession and stack them to deliver a single image with claims of better protection against noise and camera shake.

On this page we've put the NEX-5's Handheld Twilight mode to the test. This automatically selects the sensitivity so we've compared it against the closest manual ISO setting in traditional modes.

Since the cheaper Sony Alpha NEX-3 shares the same sensor and imaging pipeline as the NEX-5, not to mention the same kit lens option, the results below are also representative of what you'd achieve with that model.

Below are 100% crops from our first Handheld Twilight sample, which under the conditions of the day automatically selected a sensitivity of 320 ISO. Like the Cyber-shot HX5 before it, the Handheld Twilight samples were often darker than shots taken in other modes under the same conditions, so for comparison we took an additional shot in Program mode with -0.3EV compensation. The PASM modes only offer 1EV increments for ISO settings though, so we selected 400 ISO as the closest match.

While a shot taken at 320 / 400 ISO isn't going to push the noise levels of the large sensor in the NEX-5, it is clear from the crops below that the Handheld Twilight version is cleaner. While far from problematic, the 400 ISO Program sample exhibits minor noise textures, which are completely absent on the 320 ISO Handheld Twilight version. Annoyingly the NEX-5 prevented comparisons using identical sensitivities, but we can't imagine Program mode at 320 ISO would have been significantly different from 400 ISO. So a modest but noticeable win to Handheld Twilight mode here: there may be no extra detail present, but there is lower noise without the downsides to noise reduction.

Scroll down for our second test image which includes a comparison against the Olympus E-P2, or if you've already seen enough, check out our Sony Alpha NEX-5 Anti Motion Blur results.

Sony Alpha NEX-5: Handheld Twilight mode at 320 ISO
f4, 1/30, 320 ISO
f4, 1/30, 320 ISO
f4, 1/30, 320 ISO

Sony Alpha NEX-5: Program mode at 400 ISO
f5.6, 1/15, 400 ISO
f5.6, 1/15, 400 ISO
f5.6, 1/15, 400 ISO

Sony Alpha NEX-5: Handheld Twilight mode versus Program mode (at 1250 / 1600 ISO)

In this second example we've moved to the bar-setting seen in our Sample Images pages to see how Handheld Twilight mode copes with a common low-light situation. Once again Handheld Twilight mode automatically selects its operating sensitivity, but this time it's gone for a higher setting of 1250 ISO.

As explained above, the PASM modes only offer sensitivities in 1EV increments, which prevented us from manually selecting 1250 ISO for comparison, so instead we chose the closest setting of 1600 ISO. The Olympus E-P2 did however offer a 1250 ISO option, so we've included crops from a sample taken moments later for direct comparison.

Taking the crops from the Sony NEX samples first, the Handheld Twilight mode has once again managed to capture roughly the same degree of detail, but with lower visible noise. The noise textures and patchy artefacts of the Program sample have gone and what you're left with is a very clean image. Again the Handheld Twilight mode enjoyed the minor advantage of operating at a sensitivity one third of an EV lower than the Program sample, but again we don't believe Program at 1250 ISO would have been significantly different to 1600 ISO.

So another win for Handheld Twilight mode over traditional modes and an extra string in the bow of the NEX cameras. It really is very impressive to take another look at the Handheld Twilight crops below and remind yourself they came from an image taken at 1250 ISO.

The low light performance of the NEX becomes even more impressive when compared against the Olympus E-P2 here. The E-P2 delivers a fair image under the conditions, but it's noticeably below that of the NEX in Program mode and a world apart from the result in Handheld Twilight.

Handheld Twilight mode greatly impressed us on compacts like the Cyber-shot HX5, and we always wondered how it might translate onto a camera with a larger sensor. The NEX models have answered that question and the result is truly impressive – it equips them with a valuable benefit over rival models and the only question is why Sony hides it away in a scene preset when it should be the default setting in auto modes in low light. The bottom line is if you're shooting a static subject at sensitivities above 400 ISO, we'd strongly recommend switching to this mode over any other.

But this isn't the only unique shooting mode available, so check out our Sony NEX-5 Anti Motion Blur results for a detailed look at this alternative option.

Sony Alpha NEX-5: Handheld Twilight mode at 1250 ISO
f3.5, 1/30, 1250 ISO
f3.5, 1/30, 1250 ISO
f3.5, 1/30, 1250 ISO

Sony Alpha NEX-5: Program mode at 1600 ISO
f4, 1/30, 1600 ISO
f4, 1/30, 1600 ISO
f4, 1/30, 1600 ISO

Olympus E-P2: Aperture Priority at 1250 ISO
f5.6, 1/8, 1250 ISO
f5.6, 1/8, 1250 ISO
f5.6, 1/8, 1250 ISO

Sony Alpha NEX-5 results : Real-life resolution / lens sharpness at 18mm / lens sharpness at 55mm / High ISO Noise / HHT / AMB

All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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