First Impressions

The predecessors to the a5100 had a lot going for them: they were very compact, feature-packed, and produced good quality photos and videos. The a5100 is a much more compelling camera, taking the 'guts' from the more expensive a6000 and putting them into a body that'll easily slip into a jacket pocket. The best parts of the a6000 that came over to the a5100 include its 24MP sensor with on-chip phase detection, with the latter providing subject-tracking that's unmatched in its class. The a5100 one-ups all of Sony's mirrorless cameras by supporting the XAVC S codec, which allows for 1080/60p/24p video at a 50Mbps bit rate.

I have mixed feelings about the design and user experience of the a5100. I love its compact size, but this results in cluttered controls on the back of the camera. Sony keeps messing around with the movie recording button its cameras, either moving it to out-of-reach places or, in the case of the a5100, having it set into the body a bit, which makes it a bit hard to press.

When I first powered up the camera I was greeted by the same tiled main menu that was on the NEX cameras, but thankfully that can be turned off. While not wondrous, the menus work well enough. If you're confused about any of the items in the menu, pressing the '?' button will give you some help. Outside of the menus, the '?' button will bring up a guide of sorts, which shows you how to take pictures in various situations - handy for the beginner.

Performance-wise, the a5100 felt just like its big brother. Autofocus is very responsive and, in informal testing, subject tracking was excellent. While I haven't looked at photo quality (a gallery is coming soon), if the a6000 is any indication, it should be very good. Perhaps the most exciting part of the a5100 is its movie capabilities. There are no other inexpensive mirrorless cameras at this time that can record 1080p video at 50Mbps, and the tools that Sony has provided (focus peaking, zebra, uncompressed output over HDMI) are an added bonus.

While it has the internals of an enthusiast camera, the a5100 is target toward consumers, with the big '?' button on the back being a good example. It competes with the likes of the Fujifilm X-M1, and Nikon 1 J4, Olympus E-PL5, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 - several of which are getting long in the tooth and due for replacement. Barring any major developments, it's hard to imagine that any of the a5100's peers will be able to compete with its image quality, autofocus system, and video features.

Based on my initial experiences with the a5100, it seems like a very compelling midrange ILC. For $699 with the 16-50mm power zoom lens, you're essentially getting an a6000 without an EVF and a few dials. If you don't mind losing that feature, you're getting what seems to be a lot of camera for $699 (with a 16-50mm lens).