The Sony NEX-5N adds a high-spec 16.1MP sensor to the NEX-series. Can Sony retain its Compact System Camera image quality crown? The What Digital Camera Sony NEX-5N review...
Sony NEX-5N review – Design
The NEX-5N is a carbon copy of its NEX-5 predecessor, so there’s nothing new in terms of extra function buttons or dials for those users hoping there would be. A common complaint of the original NEX releases was the difficulty in locating and adjusting options from within the cameras’ menu systems. While the 5N’s menu hasn’t changed and still feels somewhat clunky, the left and right of the rear d-pad, central d-pad button and lower function button can all command user-defined controls (this was also made available via firmware updates for existing NEX-5 and NEX-3 users).
The centre d-pad button opens a ‘Custom’ menu where it’s possible to command five main options, selecting from AF/MF Select, Autofocus Mode, Autofocus Area, Face Detection, Smile Shutter, Soft Skin Effect, Quality, ISO, White Balance, Metering, DRO/HDR, Picture Effect, Creative Style, Flash Mode. The on-screen menu is a partial success, but as it’s only possible to pre-define a maximum of five of those listed options and you’ll have to dig through the camera to change settings of anything not selected or to change anything not contained within that list.
The inclusion of a touchscreen panel may sound like an exciting development, but the 5N makes little to no use of it when in any of the manual modes. Its inclusion is almost baffling though iAuto does allow for swiping between photos in playback and AF-point placement on screen. However it’s a long way behind the intuitive and immersive Panasonic Lumix G-series experience.
To activate the NEX-5N’s movie mode there’s a one-touch button that’s just behind the shutter. As it sits on a slanted part of the camera body, however, it’s very easy for a hand to knock and press it, thus activating the movie mode. You won’t always know this has happened and I very quickly used up space and drained the battery after recording a few very long videos of the inside of my camera bag over the course of a few days.
As the Compact System Camera market expands with ventures from Nikon, Pentax, Olympus and Panasonic – all of which have smaller sensor sizes than the Sony – the pressure is on for small, compact-sized CSCs. The NEX-5N is small by design, but the large sensor means larger lenses are needed to provide the correct level of coverage. The 18-55mm kit lens is smaller than a DSLR equivalent, but not by anywhere nearly as much as the Panasonic Lumix 14-42mm or Nikon 10-30mm lenses, for example. If small is among your highest priorities then, considering the full implication of the system, the Sony is among the larger of CSCs available and may be less well suited.
Instead of a standardised hotshoe fitting, Sony has a particular ‘Smart Accessory Terminal’ for fitting its flash unit (which is included in the box). Having the attachable flash is useful, though the fuss of screwing it into place is a nuisance, can takes excess time and, with a guide number of 7, it’s not a very bright offering either.
One useful menu feature that can help define modes is the on-screen Help Guide mode. Novice users will appreciate its presence, though more advanced users are still likely to find the NEX-5N tricky to use at first due to its lack of external controls and dials.