Sony NEX-5R pictures and hands-on

We had previously reported that the Sony NEX-5R could be just around the corner, and it appears the rumours are true. The latest compact system camera in the NEX line has just launched, and we've had some time to play with the new model and bring you our first thoughts.

It seems our rumour report wasn't far off the money either. The latest interchangeable lens mirrorless camera has a number of key new features:

First up is the 16-megapixel APS-C sensor. Quality-wise it ought to be the same as its NEX-5N predecessor according to Sony, but the sensor has been adapted to include phase-detection "pixels" at the sensor level, covering 99 areas.

Although phase-detection autofocus won't be possible to the outermost edges of the sensor, the system also utilises contrast-detection autofocus. Cleverly the camera can use a combination of both, as it sees fit, depending on the subject.

As this focus system is faster and more accurate, the NEX-5R includes the same 10 frames per second (10fps) burst mode, but with one crucial difference: it's possible to use continuous autofocus during this burst. However, as the mode is a "Speed Priority" setting the camera won't make exposure adjustments between frames. Should that be key, there is a slower-paced continuous burst mode.

Design-wise the NEX-5R has added a new thumbwheel and a function (Fn) button to the mix. The thumbwheel is shielded to the side so it's difficult to knock it accidentally, while the one-touch movie button has been moved from its former place after complaints about accidental presses with the rear of the thumb knuckle.

We're impressed. The NEX-series has always had a, let's say, "difficult" menu system, and the addition of these quick-to-access controls really helps make quick and easy adjustments.

The tilt-angle, touch-capable LCD screen can now also flip all the way up for self-facing shooting, ideal for self portraits. It has taken big steps forward in the design department.

The Wi-Fi rumour also rings true. The NEX-5R is the first Sony camera to include the ability to connect online but, not only that, it makes use of a brand new Sony app service - PlayMemories.

This online app base will include downloadable apps such as "bracket pro", "remote shutter", "cinematic photo" and many more. Some will be free, but some will cost - though we don't have further details of how much as yet.

The idea sounds interesting, and you'll be able to log in via the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), but having to fork out extra cash after purchase might hold back some, unless these apps lean towards the budget side.

There's also nothing to stop other manufacturers releasing competitor cameras with pre-loaded modes equivalent to the Sony apps, or via free firmware updates. Indeed, Nikon has already announced its Android-powered Coolpix S800c compact, so is the open platform a safer, more sensible option?

Outside of the service, the Wi-Fi connection can also be used to connect with mobile devices (Android or iOS) or directly to the Web for sharing files to Facebook and other sites. As the 5R has a touchscreen it's nice and easy to type in addresses, and the unique password that the camera produces needs to be entered only the once to sync a device.

Available in black, white or silver, the Sony NEX-5R will be available for £670 and we anticipate an October 2012 release date. We'll be bringing you a full Sony NEX-5R review once we get the camera into our hands again.

However there's still no mention of the NEX-6, which, based on the accuracy of the NEX-5R leak, we expect is just around the corner for a Photokina 2012 launch.

The best compact system camera going; what do you think of Sony's latest CSC?