Anyone who's used to using a NEX camera will be at home with the NEX-5R. In fact, the camera body is very similar to the NEX-5N. The main change in design can be found on the upper face, where the on/off switch has been effectively moved to form a ring around the shutter-release button in order to make way for a settings thumb-wheel. The new thumb-wheel isn't a life-changing addition, but it does bring faster access to certain options, including the speed/aperture settings in manual mode.
One major change to the design is a little less obvious at first glance—the screen's hinges have been redesigned to allow the LCD to tilt upwards to 180°. The display can therefore be flipped up vertically on top of the camera (and thus ends up facing forwards), which can be really handy for self-portraits. It's also nice to see than unlike the NEX-F3, the screen hasn't lost any amplitude when tilting downwards—it still tilts down to around 45°, which is always useful for shooting over obstacles.
Note that there's still no sign of a built-in flash in the NEX-5R, even though that's something you now get with Sony's entry-level NEX.
The screen in this camera isn't particularly well calibrated. In fact, it's the same story here as with the NEX-5N, with the same blue overtone. That's a bit of shame too, as this LCD is otherwise pretty comfortable to use.
The interface is largely lifted from previous models. The automatic mode is clearly the star of the show in this camera, but you do get a a few customisable options, as well as access to PSAM modes. On the whole, it's all very nicely designed—with the notable exception of the application store (see inset).
For DSLRs and mirrorless lens-switchers, the rule is simple—a start-up time of over two seconds is just too slow. The NEX-5R therefore drops straight to two stars in this part of our review, making users wait two and a half seconds before shooting its first photo. The start-up time here is twice as long as with the NEX-5N. And it's interesting to note that we measured the same start-up time here as with the NEX-6—the Wi-Fi generation of NEX cameras clearly seems to struggle on this front.
The NEX-5R is otherwise a responsive enough camera, with a photo-to-photo turnaround time of under a second in both Jpeg and RAW, an autofocus that works consistently at around half a second, and a burst mode at 10 fps (but limited to nine Jpeg shots or four RAW). However, the new hybrid autofocus system isn't really any faster than the previous one—not with static subjects, in any case.
We weren't expecting too many surprises here, as the NEX-5R has the same electronics as the NEX-5N. The only difference is the addition of phase detectors on the sensor for the "hybrid" autofocus system.
There's been little change to the way noise is handled, although the NEX-5R gives a slightly lighter exposure than the NEX-5N, making noise more visible in dark parts of the picture. While some users may prefer the darker, denser-looking images of the NEX-5N, the result here is still very good up to 3200 ISO. In fact, 6400 ISO shots can still feasibly be used for small-sized images (onscreen viewing or 4" x 6" / 10 cm x 15 cm prints).
The NEX-5R mainly ships with Sony's basic 18-55 mm lens, which is known to vary in quality from one model to another. As it happens, the one we got with our NEX-5R was pretty good at wide-angle, but sharpness levels weren't even over the frame at telephoto. Thankfully for NEX cameras, the picture quality score we give to interchangeable lens cameras isn't affected by lens quality!
Here too, the specs are lifted straight form the NEX-5N, with 1080p video and stereo sound. Image quality is good, with flattering contrast levels that maintain bright, light parts of the picture effectively while making darker areas look denser, in turn limiting video noise. Audio quality is good but not extraordinary. Some models separate individual sounds more effectively but the overall ambiance is captured and rendered well with the NEX-5R. Voices also sound nice and clear.