Sony Alpha 5000

The Alpha 5000 is an interesting camera design-wise. Its dimensions are almost exactly the same as the ultra-compact NEX-3N (to within a 10th of a millimetre) but the deeper-set grip handle—now running the whole height of the camera—and the pop-up flash makes this model feel bigger. Still, this is a perfectly pocket-sized camera and, in the end, the only thing stopping the A5000 from being any smaller is the size of its lens mount.

Sony A5000 front view screen

The A5000 has a softer, more rounded set of features than the NEX-3N that some will find more appealing. Others, however, may be disappointed to see the previous model’s clean-cut lines toned down. But no matter what you think of these minor updates, the controls and handling are still broadly the same. The tilt screen that flips up to 180° for easy self-portraits is carried over from the previous model, which means that resolution is stuck at 460,000 dots, that there are still no touchscreen controls and that viewing angles and colour fidelity haven’t improved. USB and HDMI ports can be found on the left-hand edge of the A5000 along with the memory card slot, which is good news for anyone who regularly uses their camera on a tripod. Note too that the HDMI port can output to a 4K TV.

Sony A5000 tilt screen

The ON/OFF switch still takes the form of a ring around the shutter-release. Around that there’s the same handy little lever for controlling the zoom directly from the camera body—a feature that’ll feel reassuring for anyone who’s used to using a compact camera and that more advanced users will soon come to appreciate. Around the back, the control layout is exactly the same as in previous NEX cameras, although a help button (“?” button) has now been added. For advanced users who don’t need a helping hand, this can be reprogrammed to bring up white balance settings, stabilisation and loads of other options.

Sony A5000 back view

Sony has decided to harmonise graphic interfaces throughout its camera range, from the lowest-end compact to DSLMs to top-of-the-range SLTs. The A5000 therefore gets the same orange and black menus that we’ve already seen in RX-series cameras and the Alpha 7, but with an extra layer of graphics to make things a little more user-friendly. As usual, the menus are serious and comprehensive. Still, we do have two regrets. First, there’s no Quick Menu for fast access to the main settings. Apart from ISO settings, the self-timer and exposure correction, which have their own dedicated buttons, you have to go into the main camera menu to change the focusing mode, exposure metering, switch on or off face detection, change image quality, etc. Basically, that’s all of the handy little settings you’re likely to need if you want to use the A5000 in anything other than Auto/Intelligent Auto mode (although both Auto modes are incredibly effective). The second thing missing here is an electronic level.

Sony A5000 SD

Responsiveness3/5

History keeps on repeating itself for cameras using the Sony’s 16-55 mm OSS power zoom lens, which is known for dragging down response times. This year the Alpha 5000 once again pays the price for its kit lens, with a start-up time over two seconds (that’s two seconds from hitting “ON” to shooting a first photo). When it comes to electronic powered zoom lenses, Panasonic is the only firm that really manages to keep things moving quickly, as even Olympus doesn’t manage to do a whole lot better with its OM-D E-M10.

A5000 responsiveness

Once the A5000 is up and running with the zoom lens deployed, it’s a generally speedier camera to use than the NEX-3N, shaving around 25% off our various lab tests for photo-to-photo turnaround and focusing times in good light. The AF hasn’t got any faster in low light, but 0.6 seconds is still a perfectly acceptable result. The burst mode stays at 2.4 frames per second in JPG mode—now for 30 continuous shots instead of five—and 2.7 frames per second in RAW+JPG, but only for six shots.

Picture Quality4/5

The sensor has been treated to a slight upgrade for the A5000. The long-serving 16-Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor has quietly made way for a 20-Megapixel APS-C CMOS introduced in last year’s Alpha 58. This is paired with the Bionz X imaging engine seen in the Alpha 7/7R and RX10, which Sony seems to be rolling out across its range.

These two bits of tech work together with excellent results. For day-to-day use in standard situations, the A5000 can shoot up to 3200 ISO with no real trouble. Still, the most demanding users will no doubt stop at 1600 ISO before smoothing kicks in too heavily. Note that in ISO Auto mode the sensitivity range runs from 100 ISO to 6400 ISO only. The sensor’s extra pixels bring a little more finesse when rendering fine details, increasing your potential for cropping shots when post-editing.

A5000 ISO test picture quality

Everything would be just great here if, once again, it wasn’t for the 16-50 mm OSS zoom lens. In spite of all the criticism that’s been thrown at it both here and elsewhere, quality is still highly variable from one model to the next. It’s a total gamble. The one that came with our Alpha 5000 proved pretty poor at wide-angle. At 16 mm, we had to close aperture down to f/16 to get an image that’s more or less sharp over the whole frame! At any wider aperture settings, only the middle of the frame looked sharp, while the edges were a soupy blur. And that’s all the more disappointing since distortion is corrected effectively by the camera’s software and there’s no trace of chromatic aberration. Thankfully, quality improved as we zoomed, with perfectly respectable results from 35 mm onwards. We’d even say that quality was pretty good at 50 mm.

Video4/5

Like the NEX-3N, the A5000 records Full HD video in AVCHD format (50i and 25p). Alternatively, it can shoot MP4, but only in 1440 x 1080 pixels or VGA resolution. You can start recording straight away no matter what mode you’re working in by hitting the video-record button. Ideally, though, you should switch to the dedicated video mode, which comes with its own PASM sub-modes where you can change aperture, shutter speed, sensitivity (limited to 6400 ISO) and exposure correction. That’s really quite a good choice of settings for an entry-level lens-switcher!

Image quality is clean and clear, with plenty of detail and no shimmer. The stereo sound has a surprisingly spatial feel to it, with left and right channels very clearly distinguished—so much so that it’s sometimes a bit disturbing. But for the kind of situations that the Alpha 5000 is designed for, it does a great job in video mode. Its only let-down is the noisy zoom. And that’s another thing we keep flagging up about this lens …

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