When reviewing the Sony NEX-5 a couple of weeks ago I found the tiny size of the Sony camera to be a problem. The NEX-5 was simply too small. The cost of the NEX-5 puts it in a similar price bracket as some slightly larger competitors, namely the recently released Canon 550D. The 550D does all the that the NEX-5 does and is only a fraction larger, both cameras come with an impressive array of features and both are capable of shooting full 1080p video. So does a sacrifice in size get you a better camera?
Holding the 550D feels better from the outset. The NEX-5 is a bit like a compact with an SLR lens glued to the front and feels far more unbalanced and awkward. The 550D grips well and seems to have improved build quality over the older plasticky entry level Canons. The camera also has a big bright screen and better still a proper viewfinder, a feature that I cannot understand why Sony left out. I don't like framing images on a screen and find a viewfinder faster and better.
The NEX-5, however, does have a size benefit over the 550D. Small cameras are inconspicuous and are great for candid or street photography. The strange shape of the NEX-5 alongside the bright shiny silver lens stuck on the front does attract some attention, but nowhere near as much as the black 550D body.
In terms of image quality both cameras are pretty impressive. I found low light results to be relatively similar on both cameras which is a testiment to Sony who have managed to cram such a high quality sensor in a small body. The Canon packs an 18 megapixel CMOS sensor as opposed to the Sony's 14 megapixel NEX-5.
The 550D trumps the NEX-5 in the video department. For a camera of its size the video capabilities of the 550D are stunning. I have used Canon's flagship 5D MK II camera on several occasions to shoot video and found that the 550D wasn't far behind. Low light video did lose a bit of detail but nothing on the scale of Sony's offering.
Using the 550D is far more intuitive and straightforward than the NEX-5. The Sony does include a button which offers intelligent tips for shooting situations but I found these were more shortcuts than anything that would help you learn to shoot properly. Even the absolute beginner will quickly learn how to use the 550D, making it perfect for those considering getting into photography. What seems like a daunting set of buttons is actually relatively simple to manage with a bit of practice.
I find that the NEX-5 just doesn't justify its price tag when there are so many better alternatives out there. Cheaper micro four thirds alternatives like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 will provide much of the small size and weight the NEX-5 offers but at a more affordable price.
Unless you absolutely have to have the tiny size of the NEX-5, the Canon 550D is the camera to go for. It outdoes nearly every other DSLR in its price bracket and is almost the same size as Sony's offering. It may cost you an extra £120 to invest in the Canon but the future-proofing is worth it. The capabilities of the NEX-5 will seem limiting after a year's photography but the 550D will continue to impress, helping your photography grow.
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