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Operation and controls

With the exception of the position of the playback button the external control layout on the NEX-5N is identical to the NEX-5. However the addition of a touchscreen interface can make the operation of the 5N more intuitive and approachable for some users. The 5N's capacitive touchscreen is quick and responsive and most of the menus utilize 'momentum' scrolling that makes it easy to scroll through long lists quickly.

Although the interface on the NEX-5N looks nearly identical to the C3, minor changes have been made throughout to accommodate operation by touch. Most notable is the change from a wheel layout of options on the right to a vertical list that invites touch scrolling.

iAuto Mode

The 5N's Intelligent Auto mode is pure point-and-shoot stuff and offers very limited creative control. But it does offer access to Photo Creativity mode where it is possible to take control over depth-of-field - or 'Bkground Defocus' as Sony calls it - which allows you to make the most of one of the 5N's biggest features - its large, APS-C format sensor. Exposure compensation is also available in Photo Creativity mode as a 'Brightness' adjustment. Quick access to 'Shooting Tips' is accessed through the menu or one of the user-selectable soft keys, which can be quite helpful for photographers just starting out.

iAuto mode will automatically choose the best shooting scene mode, so all you have to worry about is framing your subject. As you can see in this screenshot the 5N has correctly chosen macro mode as the subjects in this shot are quite close.

The NEX-5N is a more enthusiast-oriented camera than the C3, and as such iAuto mode isn't quite as central to its operation, but the benefits of the function shouldn't be overlooked. If you don't want to worry about anything other than framing your subject, then the camera will quite happily take care of everything else for you. iAuto isn't perfect though, and it is frustrating that Sony has not taken the opportunity in the 5N (or recently-reviewed C3) to rework 'Bckground Defocus' aperture adjustment feature in Photo Creativity mode. While this exposes a certain amount of manual control to the novice, it isn't always strictly helpful (when it blithely suggests shooting at f/22-32 for best sharpness, for instance). It also maintains an awkward disconnect between aperture control in this mode, and in the explicitly manual aperture priority and M shooting modes. It ends up being not as useful as it could be, either technically or educationaly.

In the previous NEX models, maximum ISO in iAuto mode was limited to 1600. Fortunately, this limitation has been increased to ISO 3200 in the 5N. One of the main advantages of a larger sensor is it's ability to take relativity less noisy images at higher ISO settings when compared to compacts. This provides another stop of sensitivity to work with, however is still 3 stops shy of the 5N's maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 25,600.

Touch interface

If you've used any of the previous NEX cameras before, you will have no trouble picking up a 5N and immediately starting shooting. All of the menus are muc the same h as before, just slightly modified to facilitate the touch interface. The fact that it is initially easy to overlook the capacitive touchscreen says a lot about its general unobtrusiveness (the touch interface can even be turned off completely in the menu if you prefer). That is not to say that the new touchscreen interface doesn't add to the overall user experience, merely that the 5N's touch-screen functions have been added in such a way that they are intended to complement the existing 'traditional' button-and-dial interface, rather than replacing it.

This is all very well, but some users might be disappointed that the touch interface doesn't bring a little more to the table. In fact, the only feature that the new interface actually adds is a touch-to-activate focus tracking function. This is a much easier way of choosing an object to track than using the control dial, but we would have liked to see Sony do more with the 5N's touch screen, at the very least perhaps an equivalent to the 'touch shutter' functions we've seen in recent Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras.

PASM modes

The NEX-5N offers a comprehensive range of manual exposure controls. Even with the 5N's simplistic physical interface, switching between shooting modes and adjusting parameters such as shutter speed and aperture are quite easy, and require only a minimal interaction with the menu system, especially after setting the custom buttons to your liking (see below for more information on customization).

Aperture and shutter speed are adjusted by rotating the control dial on the back of the camera. In manual mode, switching between shutter speed and aperture adjustments is controlled by pressing 'down' on the control dial, and the adjustable parameter will then be highlighted in orange. When in A or S modes the down button is used for accessing exposure compensation.

In keeping with Sony's general push towards results-oriented shooting functions in the NEX series, the aperture control in A and M exposure modes is presented as a background blur slider, and shutter speed in S and M modes as a subject speed slider.

Custom Buttons (PASM modes only)

Like the NEX-C3/3/5 the 5N has two soft keys along the right side of the screen, with the bottom one (B) being user programmable. The right button on the rear 4-way controller is unlabeled as it is a user programmable button. In addition to directly programmable keys there is also a 'Custom' function setting that brings up an on-screen menu that can be set to show up to 5 user-selectable functions; this can only be assigned to the center select button (C) of the control dial. Below is a list of functions that can be assigned to each of the NEX-5N's programmable soft keys and custom menu.

Custom menu options
(up to 5 can be selected)
Right Control Key & Soft Key (B)
• AF/MF Select
• Autofocus Mode
• Autofocus Area
• Face Detection **
• Smile Shutter**
• Soft Skin Effect **
• Quality **
• ISO
• White Balance
• Metering Mode
• DRO / Auto HDR
• Picture Effect **
• Creative Style
• Flash Mode
• Not Set
• Shoot mode
• Shoot tips
• AF/MF Select *
• Autofocus Mode
• Autofocus Area
• Prec. Dig. Zoom
• Face Detection **
• Smile Shutter**
• Soft Skin Effect **
• Quality **
• ISO
• White Balance
• Metering Mode
• DRO / Auto HDR
• Picture Effect **
• Creative Style
• Flash Mode
• Flash Comp.
• MF Assist
• AEL Toggle **
• Not Set *
* Option not available for the (B) soft key
** Newly available in the 5N

The 5N now offers 6 additional options that can be assigned to a custom button: Face Detection, Smile shutter, Soft Skin Effect, Quality, Picture Effect and AEL toggle. We're particularly happy to see the addition of quick access to the Picture effects as they were previously only available through iAuto or within the Brightness / Color menu. Below is a table of our preferred custom set-up that has worked best for us in our time with the camera:

Our Preferred Custom Setup
Right Control Key • Shoot Mode
Soft Key (B) • ISO
Center Select (C) • Custom
Custom Menu • AF/MF Select
• White Balance
• DRO / Auto HDR
• Metering Mode
• Picture Effect

Everybody's shooting style is unique and this particular configuration may not work for everyone but for those unfamiliar with shooting in PASM modes this should be a good way to get started and will provide access to the most often used functions.

Menus and displays

The NEX-5N has a slightly updated version of the version 0.4 firmware found on the NEX-C, and most of the changes center around accomodating the new touch interface. The most useful addition we have found in this version is the ability to add picture effects to the custom menu which saves from hassle of having to enter the Brightness and Color menu.

The main operational displays remain unchanged from the previous NEX firmware version. Picture mode can now be added to the Custom menu

Playback

Instead of the 'Stills' 'Movie' tabs on the left side of the playback screen on the previous NEX models, the 5N has a pop-up menu that allows you to switch between reviewing stills and movies. There is now a differentiation between AVCHD movies and MP4 movies. At first this can be quite confusing if you expect to find all of your files in the same playback browser, however after using it for a while we find it much easier to find our videos in a separate window rather than sifting through everything we've shot.

Image playback is nearly identical to the previous NEX models. The playback pop-up menu allows you to switch between stills and movies.
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Comments

Total comments: 2
BobFoster

After read two tons of reviews, and similar videos on youtube, and finnaly prove for myself the excelent overal quality of this camera ,clearly this is the best choice of compact system camera to date. Period. Put an 35mm or 50mm f1.4 on it, and you have the power only see in +2000$ BigBoys DSRls.

1 upvote
reanim888

Thats right!
Macro performance using the 18-55mm kit lens is excellent, with the NEX-5N quickly finding a focus point and setting a shallow depth of field, throwing everything outside of this tight area into blur and giving our backgrounds an attractive bokeh effect.

2 upvotes
Total comments: 2