Conclusion - Pros
- Very good JPEG output quality
- Very good build quality
- Support for excellent OLED EVF module
- Support for SLT Alpha mount lenses through the optional LA-EA2 adapter
- Easy to use but versatile iAuto mode
- Wider range of ISO sensitivity settings available in Auto ISO mode (up to ISO 3200)
- Good, clear live view magnification (particularly useful for using non E-mount lenses)
- Useful built-in user guide (Shooting Tips)
- Addition of Picture Effects to PASM shooting modes
- Excellent video recording quality
- Full manual video exposure control (Aperture, Shutter speed, Exposure comp.)
Conclusion - Cons
- Operation is very different in photo creativity modes compared to PASM modes - may be confusing for ambitious novices.
- No external microphone input (Sony does offer an optional screw on mic that plugs into the accessory port)
- Touchscreen offers little additional operational benefit
The NEX-5N is a significant update to the NEX-5 in terms of both usability as well as customizability. The added connectivity with the new optional OLED EVF accessory should help to make this camera more appealing to enthusiast users who prefer shooting through an eye-level viewfinder. In addition, the support for the newly announced LA-EA2 SLT alpha mount adapter makes it possible to expand your range of lenses beyond the somewhat limited E-mount offerings at the moment, while gaining the added benefit of quicker phase detect AF. The adapter coupled with the NEX-5N's full manual video exposure control makes this camera very attractive for videography.
The NEX-5N's image quality is excellent. The 16.1MP sensor in the 5N is capable of capturing images that rival some of the best APS-C format DSLRs on the market, and up to ISO 6400 image quality is impressive. Even at ISO 12,800, image quality is perfectly acceptable for online use and for small prints, and far ahead of most of the NEX's Micro Four Thirds competitors. The addition of a selectable 25,600 ISO setting adds further versatility in low-light. In the previous NEX models, ISO sensitivity in iAuto mode was limited to 1600, somewhat negating one of the best features offered by these cameras over compacts - the low light capability of the larger sensor. The NEX-5N still has a fixed maximum ISO setting in iAuto, but it has at least been increased to 3200. A welcome change, but we'd still like to see the entire ISO sensitivity range made available.
Videographers who have been enticed to move in the direction of DSLR cameras for high quality video should take a look at the 5N as well. The 5N offers AVCHD 2.0 video recording at 1080 60p, which is the highest rate currently available. At the moment, however, AVCHD 1080 60p is not widely supported by most editing software but can be edited with the newest version of Sony's PMB software. The 5N also is capable of recording video in the standard 1080 30p as well as a 'cinematic' 24p mode. One of the biggest downsides for serious videographers is the lack of an external microphone input. This said, Sony does offer an accessory microphone (ECM-SST1) that attaches to the 5N's accessory port on the top of the camera and offers greater versatility than the built-in microphone.
The introduction of a touch screen to the NEX-5N seems like a natural choice as the camera body has very few external controls. Sony has done a good job of adding that functionality to the 5N in such a way that is intuitive as well as non-intrusive. While we appreciate that Sony has created a touch interface that can make navigating menus easier we would have liked to see Sony add more direct shooting features using the touchscreen such as a single touch-to-shoot mode.
Photographers who are familiar with compact cameras should feel right at home with the NEX-5N's simple, minimalist interface. More experienced users might be frustrated by the ultra-streamlined ergonomics but will appreciate the generous amount of customization available. Like its predecessors the 5N has an articulated screen that swivels up to assist when shooting from a low vantage point or downward for use when shooting from above, which greatly aids handling in certain situations, in both still and video shooting.
Like the NEX-5 the 5N has a more pronounced hand grip than the one found on NEX-3 / C3 which we find more comfortable to hold, especially when shooting in one hand. It also makes handling easier when the 5N is used with the SLT adapter paired with a rather large lens. The NEX-5N is not a large camera by any means but the possibility of pocketability becomes unlikely with anything besides the 16mm pancake lens.
The final word
In terms of image quality the NEX-5N sits untouched at the top of the mirrorless interchangeable lens compact category. The low-light capability of its APS-C format CMOS sensor matches or exceeds what we've come to expect from the best of the current crop of APS-C DSLRs as well. Considering its sub $700 price point this is truly impressive, and makes the 5N a very attractive option for anyone looking to upgrade from a compact camera, or even as a second body alongside a more conventional DSLR outfit.
Despite the NEX-5N's excellent image quality and versatility we still wouldn't call this a true DSLR replacement - the 5N's ergonomics are completely different, apart from anything else. However, the 5N provides an addictive combination of familiar, hassle-free handling with truly excellent image quality which we think will appeal to a very broad base of users - not only those who want a 'compact' system camera.
Sony Alpha NEX-5N
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The NEX-5N is great little camera with big camera image quality. If you are looking to transition into enthusiast photography and want DSLR image quality in a small size, the 5N is definitely worth a look.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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