Sony NEX-5N – First Impressions

2011 PhotoPlus Camera Reviews Events Featured Mirrorless Sony

Sony NEX-5N - First ImpressionsSince their introduction in spring of 2010, the Sony Alpha NEX mirrorless cameras have become very popular with both serious photographers who want a high-performance compact camera, and casual photographers who like the smaller size and ease-of-use. I hadn’t seen the latest NEX cameras in person so I made it a point to take a closer look at the NEX line at the PhotoPlus Expo a couple of weeks ago. Right now the Sony NEX-5N is the sweet spot in the NEX lineup, offering the most performance for the money. They’ve bumped the resolution to 16-megapixels, improved the auto focus and speed, enhanced the video performance, and added a 3-inch touchscreen LCD display. For more information on the NEX-5N’s features and specs, please read our Sony NEX-5N announcement article. Since this was my first opportunity to actually play with the 5N, I want to focus this article on the camera’s feel and performance.

Sony NEX-5N Compact System Camera

I met with a Sony Alpha rep at PhotoPlus and he gave me a tour of all the new Sony Alpha cameras, including the NEX-5N. I took a bunch of photos of the 5N and got a pretty good feel for the size and controls. The camera body was not quite as small as I expected and it was more handsome in person. Really small is nice but sometimes it means a handling gets compromised. Sometimes, on a smaller camera, the controls become too small, closely spaced and awkward to use. The NEX-5N feels good in the hands and the controls are pretty easy to reach and manage. They are still different from a most of the cameras I’ve used so it took me a few minutes of messing around to figure them out. I think a day with the 5N and I’d be able to operate the camera without having to stop and think about the controls.

Sony NEX-5N - Controls & Tilting LCD Display

Although Sony’s NEX E-mount lenses are smaller than their A-mount DSLR lenses, they’re still pretty big compared to other compact system camera lenses. That’s one of the tradeoffs of the Sony NEX APS-C sensor. Yes, the larger sensor will produce better image quality. But the larger sensor also requires larger lenses, somewhat minimizing the size benefits of the smaller camera body. For people who really want smaller and lighter cameras, the Olympus, Panasonic, Nikon and Pentax mirrorless cameras might be a better choice. But if image quality is your top priority, then the Sony NEX-5N (or the 24-megapixel pro-level NEX-7) should be at the top of your list.

On the second day of the PhotoPlus Expo I realized I hadn’t really taken any pictures with the NEX-5N. Luckily, Sony had a sweet demo area set up with dancers, acrobats and a hot girl with a whip (this is why your husbands and boyfriends are really coming to “camera shows,” ladies). I had to wait a few minutes to get a turn with the NEX-5N but it was worth the wait. Once again I was reminded how nice the 5N looks and feels. It took me a couple minutes to get the camera set up how I wanted (shutter priority, high ISO, high-speed burst). But once I figured it all out, the camera seemed to perform very well. Beginners will be really pleased with the pro-level 10-FPS burst in Speed-Priority mode. But experienced action photographers will likely be disappointed when they discover the burst rate in any other mode is only 3 frames per second.

Sony Camera Demo Area Performer

Auto focus is one of the features that Sony claims has been significantly improved in the new generation of NEX cameras. As an outdoor action sports shooter I’m always very interested in continuous auto focus performance. It seemed to work well enough with the dancers in the Sony demo shooting area. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to put a memory card in the camera and actually record some photos – that would have been way too pro. So until I can actually get a Sony NEX-5N for review, we’ll all have to live with my positive but less than scientific impressions of the camera performance. I made sure to let the Sony Alpha rep know I’m anxious to get a NEX-5N for review ASAP so hopefully I’ll have actual photos and some field testing to share soon.

The Sony Alpha NEX-5N is available now on the Sony Web site or at a local or online authorized Sony dealer. The price for the NEX-5N body alone is $599 or $699 with an 18-55mm zoom lens.

Sony Alpha NEX-5N Intro >>


Related Content:
Sony Digital Camera User Reviews
All Compact System Camera User Reviews
EVIL & Micro Four Thirds Cameras Forum
Sony Cameras Forum
Sony Alpha NEX Cameras Web Site

About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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