The Sony Alpha NEX-5N is the fourth model in Sony's NEX line of APS-C format mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Just as the NEX-C3 replaces the NEX-3, the 5N is a direct replacement for its predecessor the NEX-5, using the company's latest 16.1MP CMOS sensor in place of the previous 14MP chip. Although the 5N is nearly indistinguishable from the NEX-5 on the outside (and is bound to be regarded as such by many casual observers), it is actually a very different camera, and one that is worthy of serious attention.

The two most significant changes to the NEX-5N compared to the NEX-5 are its new sensor, which we have been very impressed by in the NEX-C3, and the addition of a touch interface - unique in Sony's current Alpha lineup. When images of the first NEX cameras appeared, many people assumed their lack of buttons indicated touch-sensitive operation, so it's interesting to see a touchscreen finally appearing on the 5N.

While the NEX-3 and 5 were close siblings, differentiated mostly by styling and HD video capability, the NEX-5N and NEX-C3 are more like cousins. The 5N has a wider ISO range, spanning 100 - 25600 (equivalent) and adds support for the new FDA-EV1S electronic viewfinder. Like the co-announced NEX-7, the 5N also offers the option of using an electronic first-curtain shutter that promises to substantially reduce shutter lag. Furthermore, when paired with native E-mount lenses, it gains the capability to compensate for certain optical aberrations (namely lateral CA, vignetting and distortion - each of which can be turned on or off at the user's discretion). The NEX-5N also adds support for the new LA-EA2 SLT Alpha mount lens adapter which will also be compatible with the NEX-7.

Even with the addition of these enthusiast-friendly features the 5N still retains its appeal to compact upgraders. The same iAuto and Photo Creativity modes from the C3 are available on the 5N, along with a generous helping of the 'Picture Effects' creative processing options, available in PASM modes.

Sony NEX-5N specification highlights

  • Touch-screen display
  • Electronic First Curtain shutter
  • Revised 16.1MP CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-25600
  • 10fps continuous shooting mode (at full resolution)
  • In-camera CA, vignetting and distortion correction
  • Auto ISO limit of 3200 (increased from ISO 1600 in NEX-5)
  • Creative Control results-orientated user interface
  • Picture Effects processing options
  • 1080p 60p HD movies in AVCHD format

Compared to the NEX-5

The NEX-5N is almost identical to the 5 in terms of form, but there have been some significant changes made to its function. The 5N's new stand-out feature is the introduction of a touchscreen that provides alternative access the the camera's operational controls, as well as adding few additional features that take advantage of this input method.

Cosmetically, the NEX-5N (on the right) is nearly identical to the NEX-5, with the exception of a slightly angled top-casing and a silver flair around the power switch. The overall appearance of the 5N has been further streamlined by creating a single magnesium-allow top plate. The hand-grip material has has a more refined feel too, but doesn't seem to offer any more grip.

NEX-5N compared to NEX-5: key differences


Sony NEX-5N

Sony NEX-5
Sensor • 16.1 million effective pixels • 14.2 million effective pixels
Body construction • Magnesium alloy (front and top plate) • Magnesium alloy (front plate)
Maximum shooting rate • 10 FPS • 7 FPS
Electronic Viewfinder • Optional accessory • No
SLT Adapter support • Yes • No*
LCD touch-screen • Yes • No
Lens aberration correction • Yes • No
Video • 1080 60i/p (AVCHD) • 1080 60i (AVCHD)
Sensitivity • ISO 100 - 25,600 • ISO 200 - 12,800
Electronic first curtain shutter • Yes • No

* At the time of writing the LA-EA2 is only compatible with the NEX-5N and NEX-7 but Sony tells us that compatability will be added to the NEX-5/NEX-3/NEX-C3/VG10 in a future firmware update.

Compared to the Olympus E-PL3

The Olympus PEN series have, historically, been geared more towards the enthusiast crowd than Sony's NEX cameras which have been marketed primarily towards compact upgraders. However, with the 5N's new bevy of customization options and expanded features, that line is becoming blurred.

The NEX-5N is impressively small - as you can see in this comparison with the Olympus E-PL3, it's the same width but sits lower and has sections of its base cut away to reduce its overall volume. However, the 5N's larger sensor means the lens is considerably larger than the collapsing unit on the PEN and, unlike the Olympus, the NEX-5N doesn't have built-in image stabilization.
From the top down, the NEX-5N's generously-sized hand grip is obvious, and so is the supermodel-thin body, compared to the E-PL3. This is partly an optical illusion - the 5N's lens mount protrudes from the body and looks, here, as if it is part of the lens. Also apparent in this view is the 5N's unadorned top plate. Unlike the E-PL3, there is no exposure mode dial, and no hotshoe. Even the 5N's flash connector is concealed behind a door.