Electronic First-Curtain shutter
New to the NEX series (and shared with the NEX-7) is the addition of an electronic first curtain shutter. By default, electronic first-curtain shutter is turned on, but can be deactivated via the 'front curtain shutter' option in the 5N's setup menu.
Sony claims a reduced shutter lag time of 20ms by eliminating the need to close then open the shutter before exposing the image. Although the perceptual difference isn't massive, in side-by-side comparisons the NEX-5N with electronic first curtain shutter turned on is indeed appreciably more responsive than the NEX-5. The use of electronic first curtain shutter also marginally increases the frame rate when shooting in continuous mode (which we cover in more detail on the performance page).
An electronic shutter also has the potential benefit of eliminating any vibration that might be caused by the first shutter actuation, which may be useful in macro photography or extreme telephoto photography (although shutter-induced vibration problems aren't a huge problem for most mirrorless cameras).
In-camera 'Lens Compensation'
New in the 5N (and Alpha SLT-A77/65) is optional in-camera optical corrections. Sony calls these tools 'lens compensation' and lens compensation comes in three flavors - 'shading', 'chromatic aberration' and 'distortion'. When these functions are activated (separately or en-masse) in the setup menu, the 5N will attempt to reduce the respective effects based on Sony's profiles of current E-mount lenses. Sony has indicated that the number of profiles that the camera holds will be expanded via firmware updates as the system expands. Even though lens compensation will be applied to the JPEG file when shooting in RAW+JPEG, the raw file will remain uncompensated.
CA compensation is applied by default in the NEX-5N and in our tests does a good job of removing green and purple fringing as you can see in the crop examples below. Each lens will have its own particular CA characteristics, and as such you may see different results depending on which lens you are using. But with our 18-55mm kit lens we are quite satisfied with the results.
The rollover above shows a 100% crop from the top right of the photo. The click-through links to the full image.
As you can see in the images below, the auto distortion compensation does a very good job of keeping the image from showing the barrel distortion caused by the lens. This shot was taken with the kit 18-55mm E-mount OSS lens at it's widest focal length.
This feature is enabled by default and we imagine most people will leave it enabled as there is really no noticeable detriment to overall image quality or continuous shooting speed.
The following shading compensation analysis was shot using the E f/3.5 30mm macro E-mount lens set to f/3.5. This lens and aperture setting were selected deliberately because they provides the most extreme falloff example of the E-mount lenses that we have available in our studio. This test illustrates that the compensation function is indeed effective at reducing vignetting. Note that shading compensation is not enabled by default.
Although it may not be immediately noticeable from the samples above, there is a measurable difference in the falloff towards the edges of the frame when shading compensation is active. With shading compensation set to 'auto' the far corners of the frame retain 67% (-0.6 EV) of the center brightness. When shading compensation is off the brightness drops to 43% (-1.2 EV) of center brightness. Although the compensation does not remove all of the vignetting caused by the lens, it will make a noticeable difference, especially in images with large areas of continuous tone, as you might find in skies. And even though Shading compensation works by essentially increasing the brightness in the corners of the image, we don't see a significant increase in visible noise in the compensated areas.
AF micro Adjustment
Along with support for the optional SLT alpha lens adapter (LA-EA2) the NEX-5N has an option for AF micro adjustment that can be set up and saved for each Alpha-mount lens that you attach via the adapter. This is not a feature that we would expect most NEX owners to utilize but for those who want and extra level of control, the option is available. It is important to note that AF micro adjustment can only be performed for lenses that are attached via the adapter.
Photo Creativity mode / Picture effects
With Version 04 of the NEX firmware (introduced with the NEX-C3) came a suite of photo creativity modes that allow for easy in-camera photo effects, providing a results-orientated approach to creative control for users upgrading from compacts. However while the Photo Creativity options were previously available while recording in Raw+JPEG , this is no longer possible in the 5N. When shooting in Photo Creativity mode on the NEX-5, images would only be recorded as JPEG even if you were shooting in RAW+JPEG mode. Now you must make sure you are only shooting in JPEG before the picture effects become available. The end result is the same but having to change the photo quality setting each time you want to use Picture effects in the NEX-5N is a retrograde step, and makes using Picture Effects confusing and much more time-consuming. For those familiar with the previous NEX models you may be surprised by the change of labeling in the beginner-friendly iAuto mode, the center button which used to be labeled as 'Photo Creativity' is now denoted with a 'camera with sparkles' icon on the 5N.
In Photo creativity mode the NEX-5N offers the same level of control as the NEX-C3, but instead of approaching the idea of image adjustment as a series of applicable filters, the 5N presents them as adjustable parameters along the bottom of the screen, most likely in an attempt to better accommodate the touch screen interface.
|Photo Creativity mode on the 5N has taken a more conventional approach than on the C3. Instead of the somewhat troublesome click-wheel filter application, all of the adjustable parameters are displayed along the bottom of the screen.|
In the NEX-5N 'Picture Effects' have been separated from Photo Creativity mode and are now available in PASM modes as well. However, Sony has made an interesting distinction between the two, offering different effects in each mode. Although some of the Picture effects overlap both modes, the optional characteristics (e.g. Toy Camera: Cool, Warm, Green, Magenta) are not available in Photo Creativity mode. Below is a list of which filters are available in each mode:
Photo Creativity mode
Picture Effects (PASM modes)
| • Toy Camera (Normal)
• Pop Color
• Posterization (Color)
• Posterization (B&W)
• Retro Photo
• Soft High-Key
• Partial Color (Red)
• Partial Color (Green)
• Partial Color (Blue)
• Partial Color (Yellow)
• High Contrast Monochrome
| • Toy Camera
• Pop Color
• Soft High-key
• Partial Color
• High Contrast Mono
• Soft Focus
• HDR Painting
• Rich-tone Mono.
The rollover example below illustrates the 'Photo Creativity' modes from the NEX-5N. As is usual with these options, we prefer some more than others. Because there's no way of adjusting the selected tone (or tolerance of similar tones) in the Partial Color modes, their effectiveness often comes down to luck (as you can see in the example below: Partial Color Blue and Green only produce B&W images). Equally we're not particularly smitten with the Posterization options.
|Toy Camera||Partial Color (Y)||Partial Color (B)||Partial Color (R)||Partial Color (G)||High-Contrast B&W|
|Soft High Key||Retro||Pop Color||Posterization (B&W)||Posterization (Color)||Effects Off|
When shooting in iAuto mode AWB is the only white balance option available, which (as you can see in the scene above) causes the images to become slightly yellowed by the tungsten light.
The NEX-5N includes an automatic sweep panorama mode that allows you to create large, high-resolution panoramas in-camera. The auto-stitch mode that does a very good job of hiding stitches and in general creates consistent tones, as long as there is no significant subject movement for the duration of the pan.
|NEX-5N sweep panorama (8192 x 1856px)|
|NEX-5N sweep panorama (8192 x 1856px) - Areas of unique detail (like the planes) often blend better than pattern areas such as in the trees in the image above on the right hand side.|
Sweep Panorama works very well, and creates usefully high-resolution files compared to the same function in Sony's Cyber-shot models, which stitches panoramas together from the camera's video feed. The ease of use and automated stitching come at a price however. Stitching errors can be an issue - look at the trees lower example, above.
When creating a panorama of a scene with a large dynamic range it's best to start the shot in the darkest area. The exposure is retained from the first shutter press and if the first image is too bright, the panorama tends to not complete at all, especially if the sweeping motion is too fast or inconsistent.