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Sony Alpha NEX-5N Ken McMahon and Gordon Laing, Dec 2011
 
   
 

Sony Alpha NEX-5N verdict

The Sony Alpha NEX-5N is the middle of three new NEX models introduced by Sony in August 2011. As such it offers new features which will make it an attractive proposition both to photo enthusiasts and those looking to move up from a compact.

The most noteworthy improvements over the original NEX-5 are a higher resolution 16.1 Megapixel sensor, a touch screen, faster 10fps continuous shooting and 1080p50/60 HD video. The LA-EA2 SLT adapter allows you to use A-mount lenses and also provides phase detect auto focus, while the FDA-EV1S electronic viewfinder accessory provides the same eye-level view as on the NEX-7.

For those who like their photography quick and easy without having to sacrifice creativity, the results-based Photo Creativity is now easier to use and the range of Picture Effect filters has been expanded. But if you want control the NEX-5N can provide it, with PASM modes that can be used for video as well as stills and a high degree of control over tonal reproduction via Dynamic Range Optimisation, and an Auto HDR mode.

Other improvements include an electronic first curtain shutter which reduces lag to two hundredths of a second, an increased sensitivity range extending to 25,600 ISO and lens compensation controls to correct for chromatic aberration and other defects. Now before my final verdict let's see how it measures-up to its biggest rivals.

   
 

 

Compared to Olympus PEN E-P3

     
 
 
     
     
The Sony NEX-5N falls between two Olympus models on price: the E-PL3 and E-P3. While the cheaper E-PL3 shares a tilting screen with the 5N, I've decided to compare it against the flagship E-P3 here, as this makes a fairer overall comparison when the Panasonic GX1 (below) is also included.

Literally the biggest thing in the NEX-5N's favour is its sensor, which boasts a considerably larger surface area, more pixels (16 vs 12 Megapixels) and a higher maximum sensitivity of 25,600 ISO; the 5N can further minimise noise with its composite noise reduction modes like Handheld Twilight and it can automatically generate panoramic images with a sweep of the camera. In terms of image quality, the E-P3 might deliver punchier images by default, but the 5N's resolve a little more detail and are also enjoy lower noise levels at high sensitivities.

The NEX-5N may employ a bigger sensor, but its body is actually smaller and lighter than the E-P3: measuring 111x59x38mm, the 5N may be roughly the same thickness as the E-P3, but is 11mm narrower and a considerable 10mm shorter. It's 100g lighter too at 269g for the body plus battery.

The NEX-5N shoots full resolution images more quickly too at up to 10fps compared to 3fps on the E-P3. Both cameras can shoot Full HD video, but while the E-P3's best quality AVCHD mode encodes interlaced video at 50i or 60i, the 5N can do it progressively at 50p or 60p. Both cameras feature 3in touch-screens, but while the E-P3's has 610k pixels and is fixed in position, the NEX-5N's sports 920k pixels and can tilt vertically. Both cameras support optional electronic viewfinders, but the Sony FDA-EV1S sports a panel with 2359k dots compared to the 1440k dots of the Olympus VF-2. The 5N additionally makes manual focusing a breeze with its focus peaking feature which highlights the edges of subjects in sharp focus.

It's not completely one-sided though. The Olympus E-P3 sports quicker autofocusing and a brighter OLED screen. Its body may be heftier, but feels more solid and confident in your hands. It features a built-in flash as opposed to the annoying screw-on accessory for the NEX-5N, wireless flash control and it also has a standard hotshoe, a proper mode dial and easier control of settings. There's also three, five or seven-frame bracketing. Arguably most importantly of all, the E-P3, like all Olympus PEN cameras, boasts built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach.

Then there's the Micro Four Thirds system as a whole, which boasts more lenses than Sony's native E-mount. This broader selection includes Panasonic's latest Power Zoom models, which unlike any E-mount lens to date offer motorised zooms for smooth adjustments while filming video. The standard Olympus 14-42mm kit zoom also retracts to become smaller than the hefty 18-55mm of the 5N.

See my Olympus E-P3 review for more details.



Compared to Panasonic Lumix GX1

     
 
 
     

Panasonic's Lumix GX1 is another key rival for Sony's NEX-5N. Both cameras shoot 16 Megapixel stills and Full HD video, and cost roughly the same with their respective kit lenses. But as always there are key differences to weigh-up.

Literally the biggest thing in the NEX-5N's favour is its sensor, which may share the same total pixel count as the GX1, but boasts a considerably larger surface area and a higher maximum sensitivity of 25,600 ISO; the 5N can further minimise noise with its composite noise reduction modes like Handheld Twilight and it can automatically generate panoramic images with a sweep of the camera. In my tests both cameras resolved similar amounts of real-life detail and shared similar noise levels until around 800 ISO, but at 1600 ISO and above, the 5N's bigger sensor delivered cleaner results. The 5N additionally makes manual focusing a breeze with its focus peaking feature which highlights the edges of subjects in sharp focus.

The NEX-5N may employ a bigger sensor, but its body is actually smaller and lighter than the GX1: measuring 111x59x38mm, the 5N may be roughly the same thickness as the GX1, but is 5mm narrower and a considerable 9mm shorter. It's lighter too at 269g for the body plus battery compared to 318g for the GX1.

The NEX-5N shoots full resolution images more quickly too at up to 10fps compared to 4.2fps on the GX1. Both cameras can shoot Full HD video, but while the GX1's best quality AVCHD mode encodes interlaced video at 50i or 60i, the 5N can do it progressively at 50p or 60p. Both cameras feature 3in touch-screens, but while the GX1's has 460k pixels and is fixed in position, the NEX-5N's sports 920k pixels and can tilt vertically. Both cameras support optional electronic viewfinders, but the Sony FDA-EV1S sports a panel with 2359k dots compared to the 1440k dots of the Panasonic LVF-2. Sony also offers an external microphone accessory, whereas Panasonic don't support external mics on the GX1.

It's not completely one-sided though. The Lumix GX1 sports quicker autofocusing. Its body may be heftier, but feels more solid and confident in your hands. It features a built-in flash as opposed to the annoying screw-on accessory for the NEX-5N, and it also has a standard hotshoe, a proper mode dial and easier control of settings. There's also three, five or seven-frame bracketing and an on-screen levelling gauge. Then there's the Micro Four Thirds system as a whole, which boasts more lenses than Sony's native E-mount. This broader selection includes Panasonic's latest Power Zoom models, which unlike any E-mount lens to date offer motorised zooms for smooth adjustments while filming video. The 14-42mm Power Zoom lens also retracts to become very compact, significantly reducing the operational size of the GX1. This is a really important factor as while the NEX-5N body is impressively small, its standard 18-55mm kit lens is bigger than the standard zooms for Micro Four Thirds.

See my Panasonic GX1 preview for more details.

 

Sony Alpha NEX-5N final verdict

The Sony Alpha NEX-5N builds on the ground established by the 1st generation NEX-5 to provide a mirrorless ILC with features and performance that take this form factor to the next level. In a series of firmware revisions, Sony has repositioned the NEX-3 and NEX-5, responding to consumer demand for a more enthusiast-friendly camera providing greater control and the NEX-5N continues in this vein. Sony has increased the sensor resolution without compromising on quality or low light performance, improved response times, added better quality video and a range of hardware options that further extend this camera's capabilities.

At the same time, by introducing a touch screen, enhancing Creative Control, extending Picture Effects and adding new HDR modes it's made the NEX-5 more consumer friendly. That's no easy feat to manage, but Sony has pulled it off and produced one of the most compelling mirrorless ILC models on the market and one we have no hesitation in granting our Highly recommended award.

 



Good points
Superb high ISO performance.
10fps burst mode.
1080p60/50 movie mode.
PASM modes for movie shooting.
920k pixel touch-sensitive flip screen.

Bad points
Single-use accessory port.
No touch-shutter.
Poor menu layout and organisation.
Inconsistent controls when customised.



Scores

(relative to 2011 ILCs)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20
19 / 20
17 / 20

88%


   

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