Body & Design
Sony's NEX-5 seemed remarkably small for camera with an APS-C sized sensor and, of course this is still true of the near-identical 5N. Interestingly, the camera isn't totally identical - although it's retained the same silhouette, its construction has been modified (it no longer has a seam-line running along the top of the camera - instead it has a magnesium alloy top plate that connects the front and rear halves). The result is a camera that retains the NEX-5's looks, but gives a better impression of quality.
Of course, for all that compactness, it's only really with the 16mm pancake lens attached that the 5N is anywhere near pocketable (unless you're talking about really large pockets). We've shown it here with the 18-55mm kit zoom attached, as this is likely to be a much more versatile option for the majority of those considering this camera.
In terms of button layout, the 5N is nearly identical to the NEX-5, with the most notable change being the new placement of the movie record and playback buttons to either side of the power switch. As with the NEX-C3, one of the directional buttons on the control dial is not labelled, as it is now a user-assignable control.
One of the biggest changes from the NEX-5 is the addition of a capacitive touchscreen that offers an alternative method of controlling the 5N's functions and navigating the menus. Users of previous NEXs will be able to pick up the 5N and use it in exactly the same way as they're used to, but that is not to say that the touchscreen interface doesn't add to the overall user experience. Sony has simply implemented it in a way that that does not diminish overall usability compared to the previous cameras.
The included flash unit is the same as the one that has been packaged with the previous NEX models (NEX-3/5/C3). It's not easy to attach in a hurry, so we suspect most people will either leave it attached at all times (as it doesn't add too much bulk or weight), or just leave it at home.
Along with the release of the NEX-5N, Sony has also introduced a new accessory port-mounted electronic viewfinder, and an Alpha mount lens adapter that uses Sony's SLT technology to offer fast phase-detection auto focus with compatible lenses. There's also an electronic viewfinder (the FDA-EV1S) that uses a high-resolution OLED display to create a viewfinder with enough detail and contrast to begin to rival some optical view finders. It's the same display that we were so impressed by in the company's flagship SLT A77.
This excellence comes at a price, of course - adding a viewfinder to the 5N will set you back around $349. However, we were impressed by how well it integrates with the camera - it features an eye-sensor so that the viewfinder engages seamlessly, rather than feeling like an add-on.
To further expand the range of lenses that NEX owners can use with full functionality, Sony has also announced the LA-EA2 adapter that promises fast autofocus with all existing Alpha mount lenses. This uses the company's SLT technology, with a fixed 'translucent' mirror and built-in phase detection AF sensor, plus an AF motor for 'screw-drive' lenses. Somewhat reminiscent of Leica's old 'Visoflex' system for its M-mount film rangefinders, the rather bulky housing also has its own tripod socket as the protrusion from bottom of the adapter will make it nearly impossible to mount the camera body to a tripod. The LA-EA2 includes the same 15-point AF sensor as the SLT-A65 and the original SLT-A55.
|The Sony LA-EA2 NEX-to-SLT adapter promises fully-functioning fast phase-detection autofocus with all Alpha-mount AF lenses - something no other mirrorless system can quite match|
While this certainly expands on the range of lenses accessible to NEX owners, we're not entirely convinced of its real-world practicality (especially as, at $399, it's not cheap). We have a sneaking suspicion that it need only exist to show that the NEX can be used with more than the handful of native E-mount lenses, rather than being a big seller. It seems likely that most people who own a range of Alpha lenses will already have SLRs to use them on, increasingly supplemented by 'real' SLTs. And perhaps the biggest attraction of mirrorless camera over SLRs is compactness, which rather goes away when using AF lenses with such a large adapter. But for those who bought a NEX and then discovered that they really wanted an SLT after all, it could well come in handy.