Sony have been making digital cameras for many years now, and whilst they fall into the category of a general electronics company rather than a camera company, they have a reputation for producing high quality products.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of a Sony camera historically was their insistance on using their own proprietary Memory Stick storage, but thankfully this has been rectified and all current models offer SD or SDHC card support.
Sony produce a full range of compact and bridge cameras under their Cyber-shot brand, splitting them into Sleek & Stylish, High Performance, and Compact & Powerful. The Sleek & Stylish (T series) range aren’t the cheapest for the modest specifications they offer – the (unhelpfully named) DSCTX5B sells for around £250 for which you get a 10Mp sensor, 4x optical zoom and 720p movies. However like the rest of the range it does offer great image quality, a solid build, and is waterproof to 3m, so offers reasonable value.
The Compact & Powerful range (the W and S series) offer great value, and for a little over £100 you can pickup a well spec’d model that will serve you well in most conditions.
The High Performance (H series) focuses on features, and is aimed at those looking for control and quality over size and style. The DSCHX5VB won’t win any awards for its’ innovative name, but the great image quality and high specs have made it a popular high-end compact choice, whilst the DSCHX1 is a great bridge camera choice.
The NEX-5 and NEX-3 cameras offer an alternative to digital SLRs, still offering interchangeable lenses but in a much smaller form factor. At launch the NEX-5 was the smallest interchangeable lens camera available, although in reality the Panasonic GF1 is not much bigger. Both NEX models offer HD video (the NEX-3 supports 720p, whereas the NEX-5 will do 1080i) and tilting 3” screens, and both also feature a 14.2 Mp APS-C sensor. This is a nice touch, as Panasonic and Olympus both use smaller Micro Four Thirds sensors in their compact system cameras, which can impact on low light performance.
One word of warning when it comes to the NEX-5 and NEX-3 though; the lens mount on these cameras is the new Sony E mount, which is different to the α mount used by their Alpha series of digital SLRs. You can use an adaptor to make α mount lenses (and legacy Konica-Minolta lenses) fit, but you’ll be limited to manual focus if you do. Going the other way will be harder too, so if you invest in some lenses for your NEX-5 or NEX-3 you probably won’t be able to use them on a digital SLR if you upgrade.
Sony acquired the Konica-Minolta digital SLR line in 2006, and have been releasing cameras utilising the technology under their Alpha brand since. The Alpha range encompasses everything from the rather underwhelming (but cheap) entry-level A290, right up to the professional-level 24 Mp, £2000, A900.
If you have experience of the NEX-5 or NEX-3 compact system, then the Alpha digital SLRs may appeal because they will allow you to use the same lenses and accessories. Whilst you won’t have the same level of choice with lenses and accessories as if you’d opted for a Canon or Nikon model, Sony are adding new lenses all the time and all their current range support legacy Konica-Minolta lenses.
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