Just a few months ago at PMA, Sony made it clear that the next extension of its Alpha brand would come in the form of an HD-video-shooting interchangeable lens compact. Now, those prototypes have become full-blown cameras in the form of the new NEX-3 and NEX-5, which will be hitting shelves in July. Both come packing the same new 14.2-megapixel Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor, which is almost 60% bigger (23.4mm x 15.6mm) than what you'll find inside a micro four thirds body. Both can capture HD video and stereo audio via the built-in microphone, but the NEX-3 tops out at 720p, while the NEX-5 can crab 1080i video in AVCHD format. Despite the extra sensor real estate, both bodies are impressively compact. The NEX-5, which has a magnesium alloy body, weighs just 10.1-ounces (with battery and media) and the NEX-3 checks in at 10.5-ounces. Compare that to the 11.1-ounce Olympus E-P2 and the 10.1-ounce Panasonic Lumix GF1.
To accompany its new pint-sized bodies, Sony has introduced three new E-mount lenses: The 16mm (35mm equivalent: 24mm) f/2.8 ($250), the 18-55mm (35mm equivalent: 27-83mm) f/3.5-5.6 OSS ($300) and the 18-200mm 35mm equivalent (27-300mm) f/3.5-6.3 (fall, $800). The compact barrels are made from brushed aluminum and have steel mounts. They also boast ultra-quiet AF motors, enabling continuous autofocus during HD video capture. If you're not satisfied with three lens options (and you have a little extra room in your bag), the optional LA-EA1 Mount Adapter allows both NEX cameras to use the full range of Alpha lenses, plus a "huge range" of other legacy A-mount lenses if you don't need AF. It's worth noting that there's no internal image stablization on the NEX bodies, so you'll have to opt for the 18-55mm lens if you want to enjoy the Optical Steady Shot functionality.
In keeping with the compact part of its lineage, both the NEX-3 and NEX-5 have a redesigned and simplified interface, as well as a handful of Sony's specialty shooting modes like Hand-Held Twilight, Auto HDR and Anti-Motion Blur. Units will ship with the standard Sweep Panorama feature that they offer in other compacts, but a coming firmware update will allow both of the NEX cameras to capture 3D Sweep Panoramas, which can be played back on compatible 3D HDTVs.
Both models sport an impressive 3-inch TFT TruBlack LCD displays with 921,600 pixels and 100-percent Live View coverage. The screen can be angled approximatley 80-degrees upward and 45 degrees downward to allow for shooting at unique angles.
While the bodies lack a built-in flash, a clip-on flash, which attaches via the smart accessory terminal is provided in the box. If you want the FDA-SV1 Optical Viewfinder or the ECM-SST1 Stereo Microphone, you'll have to buy them sparately. There will be two different kits available at launch, including the NEX-5A ($650) and NEX-3A ($550), which come bundled with the 16mm prime. The NEX-5K ($700) and NEX-3K ($600) come with the 18-55mm zoom.
Read on for the full specs.