Hands-on: Sony Alpha A5000 is small yet mighty

With Sony’s NEX brand surrendering to the Alpha title, the A5000 is among the first compact system cameras we’ve seen to carry the new badge. But what’s in a name? We got to play with the A5000 at the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 to find out.

At first glance the A5000 is reminiscent of the NEX cameras of old. Design-wise it rests on the familiar format and layout and looks a lot like the NEX-5T model. The name may have changed, but the Sony compact system camera ethos remains as strong as it ever was.

But of course, the A5000 had to have something new to shout about, something to make it stand out. And this time around it’s size: it claims to be the smallest and lightest interchangeable with built-in Wi-Fi. 

It is small though - so much so that it’s rather squat in appearance. On the rear Sony has opted for a wide-angle screen that reduces some of the height compared to former NEX models. Why it’s opted for this in a camera which shoots 3:2 ratio images by default, we don’t know. Well, we do, it’s for the sake of size but with a negative impact on the typical scale of image preview. On the positive side, that screen is mounted on a flip-up bracket and so can be positioned too far forward for selfies - just like the NEX-5T model.

The small scale of the A5000 is a giant benefit. Weighing a mere 210g, the camera is definitely lightweight in the hand, and yet doesn’t feel cheap and plasticky. The white model we saw on the Sony stand exuded quality for such an entry-level class model.

The A5000 has the Sony E-mount - the very same mount established with the birth of NEX. Even though this is an Alpha camera it’s not compatible with A-mount lenses unless you buy into an additional adaptor. That's a bit confusing in some respects, but stick to E-mount and all will be fine. Although at this price point we suspect most owners won’t buy in to giant selections of lenses and will rely on the 16-50mm power zoom lens shown here. It collapses into itself when the camera is off to keep that size down as much as possible. It adds some additional weight, but the camera still feels light.

Autofocus has improved in Sony's cameras over recent years too, and while the A5000 doesn't have on-sensor phase detection capabilities, it still felt swift when snapping subjects into focus. No problems here, even if it's technically not as fast as something like the Olympus OM-D.

The camera's layout doesn't offer a mode dial, harking back to the earlier NEX camera models. This isn't a giant problem, but it does make the process of menu digging all the time to adjust modes a little irksome. And the Sony menu layout also takes some getting used to based on where various options "live".

Elsewhere the features list boasts a 20-megapixel APS-C sensor and, as mentioned, Wi-Fi in addition to NFC. We weren’t able to test these to the max on the show floor given the short time we spent with the camera, but given just how good Sony image quality has been in previous models we have high hopes for the A5000. And with the same Bionz X processor as found in the top-spec Alpha A7, we anticipate great things.

READ: Sony Alpha A7 review

Available from March, the Alpha A5000 will cost $600 with the 16-50mm lens. In UK terms we suspect that may land in around the £400-500 mark, but there's no official word yet. That makes it a highly affordable offering and one we think looks very attractive too.



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