I've always thought these "digital SLR lite" cameras -- such as the Olympus PEN and Panasonic Lumix G series of Micro Four Thirds cameras -- were best suited for folks that didn't really need (or want the bulk of) a dSLR but wanted to upgrade from a compact point and shoot. So when the first cameras out of the gate (Panasonic's Lumix DMC-G1 and the Olympus E-P1) arrived with pricing similar to an entry-level dSLR and the complexity of advanced features to match, I was disappointed.
This year's generation of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, though, has finally targeted the aspiring consumer rather than a high-end dSLR shooter looking for a second camera. First came the Olympus E-PL1 ($599.99 with a 14-42mm kit lens), with its smaller and lighter consumer-friendly body and simplified interface, and then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10, also priced at about $600 with a similar lens.
Now Sony has finally joined the fray, benefiting from Panasonic and Olympus' experience and coming in with lower priced product from the get-go. The Alpha NEX-3 and NEX-5 will sell for $599.99 and $699.99 respectively (both with a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens) and are more compact and light than Olympus and Panasonic offerings, as well as the $699.99 Samsung NX10 (the other interchangeable lens compact on the market). Sony has focused on delivering an easy-to-use interface for both cameras, sometimes sacrificing the flexibility that higher-end users might look for. Like the NX10, both Sony cameras use a APS-C size sensor, which is significantly larger than the Micro Four Thirds sensors and should offer an advantage in image quality, especially in low light.
The main differences between the slightly more compact NEX-3 and the NEX-5 are the former's polycarbonate body (vs. the NEX-5's magnesium alloy build), and that the NEX-3 shoots only 720p HD video, while its more advanced sibling can shoot full 1080i in AVCHD format.
For more information, check out:
- Sony's full press release.
- DPReview's thorough hands-on previews of both cameras.
- Lori Grunin's hands-on take of the NEX-5 with video at CNET Crave.
- Imaging Resource's in-depth review with test images and performance scores.
[Updated with additional review link.]