Sony Alpha NEX-5N

The Sony NEX-5N offers great image quality, a large SLR-sized sensor and a stylish body with the added bonus of a touchscreen.


8.2
CNET Rating

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About The Author

CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


Those photographers familiar with Sony's take on interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) will be well acquainted with the NEX-5 that was released last year. Just one year on we have seen a dramatic uptake of ILCs from all the brands, with Sony coming out again with the successor to the NEX-5, dubbed the 5N, as well as a smaller version named the C3 and the big daddy of the clan, the NEX-7.

Design and features

It comes as no surprise then that the NEX-5N looks very similar to the NEX-5, which it now supersedes. The body design is almost identical apart from a few stylistic cues, including the "5N" badge now residing on the top of the chunky grip. There's also now a tilting touchscreen in place of the original articulating screen, which adds tactile control to the camera.

An accessory port at the top of the camera lets you slot in Sony's proprietary flash unit (which is included), as well as an electronic viewfinder (which is not included). There's a stereo microphone at the top of the camera, nicely separated to provide enough definition from each channel.

The most notable additions to the NEX formula include a new 16.1-megapixel APS-C-sized sensor (that is, the same size as consumer SLRs), which uses Sony's Exmor technology. The resolution bump is more of a keeping up with the Joneses move; however, the performance bump is something more interesting. The 5N is now capable of shooting 10 full resolution frames per second, but it can only produce a burst of 10 in one go. This makes it currently the fastest ILC in terms of continuous shooting speed.

Unfortunately, the navigation system hasn't changed significantly from earlier cameras, which makes choosing even the simplest shooting modes rather challenging, particularly for beginner photographers. The addition of the touchscreen helps things only a little, given that half the time we forgot that the panel could be activated via touch.

Connectivity is provided at the side by a mini-HDMI and mini-USB port, and the 5N can accept Memory Stick Pro Duo and SD cards. The body is still overwhelmed by larger E-mount lenses and even the 18-55mm kit lens is a little unbalanced. Like the earlier cameras, it's worth trying out before buying to see if the ergonomics suit you.

The 5N also has 11 picture effects to choose from: toy camera, pop colour, posterisation colour, retro photo, soft high-key, partial colour (red), high contrast monochrome, soft focus, HDR painting, rich tone monochrome and miniature mode. The picture effects can only be applied when shooting JPEG — shooting RAW and JPEG combined disables the filters. You can see examples of some of the filters on our review of the NEX-C3.

Compared to

E-P3

Olympus E-P3 Panasonic Lumix G3 Samsung NX11 Sony NEX-5N
12.3-megapixel Live MOS sensor (four thirds type) 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor (four thirds type) 14.6-megapixel CMOS sensor (APS-C size) 16.1-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS sensor (APS-C size)
3-inch, 610,000-dot touchscreen OLED 3-inch, 460,000-dot touchscreen LCD 3-inch, 920,000-dot AMOLED 3-inch, 921,600-dot touchscreen LCD
Full HD video (1080i, 24fps) Full HD video (1080i, 30fps) HD video (720p, 30fps) Full HD video (1080p, 25ps)
35-point AF 23-point AF 15-point AF 25-point AF
3.2fps 4fps 3fps 10fps

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Time to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • Sony NEX-5N1.40.710.5
  • Panasonic G30.80.70.70.2
  • Olympus E-P30.80.70.70.2
  • Samsung NX111.11.21.10.3

Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)

  • Sony NEX-5N10
  • Panasonic G33.5
  • Olympus E-P33.2
  • Samsung NX113

Sony rates the battery at 430 shots.

Image quality

The kit lens hasn't changed since we reviewed the NEX-5, so our original qualms with it still remain. Distortion at the wide end is particularly prominent, though you are able to achieve some very nice-looking bokeh thanks to the large sensor. There is also a degree of chromatic aberration visible at full magnification on areas where light and dark objects meet. Focusing is quick and mostly accurate.

NEX-5N vs. competitors

Sample shots from competing cameras, the Panasonic G3 and the Olympus E-PL3. All images were taken on each camera's automatic mode at approximately the same focal length.
(Credit: CBSi)

Like the earlier NEX cameras, the 5N produces pleasing images on default settings. It does also follow suit in producing photos with slightly warm indoor colour balance — as a result images look saturated and smooth. The 5N performs very well at high ISO levels with even ISO 3200 delivering a clean shot at reduced magnification. The only real loss of detail occurs at ISO 6400 and above (the 5N can reach ISO 25,600). Unfortunately, our review camera was not provided with the necessary software able to read the RAW files produced by the 5N, so we were unable to assess RAW image quality.

As other reviews have noted, the NEX-5N exhibits a bizarre clicking noise when shooting video. It's most noticeable in quiet scenes and becomes more prominent when panning and moving the camera vigorously. In the sample video below you can hear the clicking periodically even with the background noise — though it isn't very loud. We contacted Sony Australia in regards to this issue, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/100, f/9, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/60, f/4.5, ISO 3200

Exposure: 1/125, f/13, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/100, f/5.6, ISO 640

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

The Sony NEX-5N offers great image quality, a large SLR-sized sensor and a stylish body with the added bonus of a touchscreen. If shooting video is a make-or-break deal for you, hold off buying the NEX-5N for now until Sony issues a fix for the clicking issue when filming. The 5N is available as body only for AU$899, with 18-55mm lens for AU$1049 or 18-55mm and pancake 16mm f/2.8 lenses for AU$1199. The twin lens kit also lets you choose the body colour of black, silver or white. The other two configurations have a black body colour only.

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