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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 vs Olympus E-P2 vs Nikon D90 Real-life resolution (default settings / base sensitivities)

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To compare real-life performance we shot the same scene with the Sony Alpha NEX-5, Olympus E-P2 and the Nikon D90 within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings and base sensitivities. The NEX-5 was running firmware v2.

Each camera was fitted with its respective kit lens: the NEX-5 with the 18-55mm, the E-P2 with the 17mm and the D90 with the DX 18-105mm; note the Olympus kit zoom was not available. Each lens was set to its optimum aperture and adjusted to deliver the same vertical field of view.

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.

Nikon's D90 may be an older model, but still represents one of the best cameras in its class; the results for the D90 also provide an indication of what you can expect from the cheaper D5000 and pricier D300s, as all three bodies share the same sensor and imaging pipeline.

The image above was taken with the Sony Alpha NEX-5 at 200 ISO with an exposure of 1/640 and the lens set to 19mm f5.6; the original Large Fine JPEG measured 6.75MB. The E-P2 exposure required no adjustment, but as always with this scene, the D90 over-exposed, so the crops below are taken from a version with -1EV compensation applied. The crops below are taken from the areas marked with the red squares and presented here at 100%. The crops from the D90 show a larger area due to its lower vertical resolution.

At first glance, the Olympus E-P2 has the most eye-catching crops, but that's due to its punchier default processing of JPEGs; indeed look for more than a few seconds and you'll see artefacts due to the sharpening and contrast being arguably set a little too high.

The Nikon D90 adopts the opposite approach and like many mid-range DSLRs delivers relatively soft-looking JPEGs straight out the camera; and again as we've seen before, the D90 also errs to a warmer white balance when faced with this scene compared to many rivals, especially Sony models.

Which brings us to the NEX-5, which like most Sony Alphas, has opted for a slightly colder white balance, lending a blueish tint compared to the D90. But compare the crops for more than a few seconds and most would agree Sony has struck the right balance between applying sufficient processing to reveal detail without going over-the-top and suffering from artefacts. The default JPEG processing here looks very natural and the crops are packed with fine detail; this is particularly apparent in the final row of crops, where the NEX-5 has recorded greater spatial and tonal detail than its rivals.

It's not just a great start for the NEX-5 in our tests, but also the 18-55mm kit zoom, which has performed very well here, even when up against a prime lens on the Olympus. At first you may have thought the E-P2 had an unfair advantage given a fixed lens compared to the kit zooms on the other pair, but the Sony combination is easily holding its own – at least at this fairly wide coverage.

Scroll down and you'll see a RAW versus JPEG comparison, or if you're ready to move on, check out our lens results and high ISO noise results pages.

Sony Alpha NEX-5
with Sony SEL1855
Olympus E-P2
with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm
Nikon D90
with Nikkor DX 18-105mm VR
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f8, 200 ISO

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Sony Alpha NEX-5: JPEG versus RAW

We photographed the scene above using the NEX-5's RAW plus Large Fine JPEG mode, allowing us to directly compare images created from exactly the same data. Below are crops taken from the original JPEG file alongside the RAW version, processed in the supplied Image Data Converter SR 3.2 using the default settings.

On previous tests with Alpha DSLRs, the converted RAW files have often come-up a little soft compared to the JPEGs, but with the default settings, the opposite has happened here with the NEX-5. The crops taken from the converted RAW file are visibly punchier, but not necessarily better for it. In this particular scene, the default conversion has resulted in some undesirable artefacts with the in-camera JPEG being preferred.

Of course tweaking the settings may deliver superior results, and shooting in RAW gives you greater flexibility when it comes to retrieving highlight detail and adjusting White Balance, but with the default settings for both JPEG and RAW used here, we prefer the result from the former – which again illustrates the strength of the NEX-5's JPEG engine.

We're now going to take a quick break from the NEX-5 and take a closer look at the performance of the kit lens when fully zoomed-in and out. See how it measures-up in the corners and centre in our Sony SEL1855mm sharpness results, or if you can't wait to see how the camera fairs in low light, we won't be offended if you skip straight to our Sony Alpha NEX-5 High ISO Noise results.

Sony Alpha NEX-5: in-camera JPEG
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO

Sony Alpha NEX-5: RAW file processed with Image Data Converter SR 3.2 defaults
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 ISO
f5.6, 200 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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