Sony NEX-5N Review

A while back I sold my beloved Panasonic LX-5 premium compact camera to my friend Ben Witt. In my head, I had grand visions of upgrading my portable on bike camera system because I was finding some print limitations with some of the images I took with small sensor cameras. I know one could probably debate what I just wrote, but that was my thought process, right or wrong.

I considered a lot of cameras including several micro 4/3 cameras from both Panasonic and Olympus. I also considered the new Nikon V1 system. In the end, I decided to give the Sony NEX 5n a try because it was the least expensive option for the biggest sensor in a small package.

Before I get into to many details of this little Sony camera, I must get it out there that this camera does not give me the stereotypical romantic 35mm film shooting experience. There are no turning knobs for ISO, exposure comp, f-stop, etc. This is an electronic piece of equipment. I don’t feel as connected to the physical piece as I do more traditional looking and feeling cameras. It also has a quirky user interface and menu system. It has taken me quite a bit of time to learn. All that said, once I got it figured out and programmed the custom keys and menues to my liking, I have found I really like this little camera.

First and foremost, I ended up with this camera because it has the same 16MP APS-C sized sensor found in my Nikon D7000, my favorite camera of all time. It has amazing low light capability. The sensor is rather large compared to cameras of similar size and the camera produces very nice files. I also wanted something with interchangable lenses with at least one of those lenses small enough to fit in my mountain feedbag for easy access while riding my bike. Again, this the SONY NEX fit the bill with the 24mm f2.8 pancake.

I’ve now shot almost 3000 images with it and here are some thoughts. No charts. No graphs. Just thoughts and impressions. My kit includes.

  • Nex 5n body
  • 16mm pancake lens
  • 18-55 kit lens
  • 55-210 zoom lens

I like this camera. Beyond meeting my criteria and the points called out above, I have found myself really enjoying shooting with this camera. In fact, I have found a few of the new features such as touch screen spot focus point and the flip up screen to be really, really nice for how I shoot. I know some folks are loving this camera for video but I have not shot a single video with it. Overall, I’d give this camera about an 7 out of 10.

Here is what I like

  • Large APS-C sensor
  • Amazing low light (high ISO) images
  • Tilt screen
  • Touch screen spot focusing
  • Customization of buttons and custom menu make shooting and making my critical adjustments a snap
  • Small size
  • Adaptable to shoot just about any lens system in manual focus mode
  • Focus peaking when in manual mode

Here is what I don’t like

  • Current lens options are limited
  • Current lens offerings aren’t that great. In fact, all but the 55-210mm are pretty darn soft and they just don’t give me images that really pop without post processing. The 55-210 is actually quite big and negates the overall small size of the NEX. Note: I have not tried the new 30mm macro, the new 50 f1.8 or the new Zeiss 24mm f1.8.
  • Dust – The exposed sensor is really prone to picking up dust. There is no sensor vibration cleaning or anything like that. I now carry a rocket blower in my bag and blow out the sensor and the back of the lens everytime I switch lens. This is a real debbie downer and is almost enough for me to return or sell the system. I have a process now for changing lenses and I no longer have the issue, but it still annoys me.
  • I don’t like the sound of the shutter.
  • I don’t like the placement of the video record button but it’s there and I wish it could be turned off completely.

As you can see, the things I like and the things I don’t like are pretty darn even.  But…For some reason I still find myself gravitating to this camera to shoot it. I have some really beautiful photos from Hawaii and I also took some really good images with it at the MN State CX.  If I sit back and look at the initial reason I switched from the small sensor point and shoot, it does meet and exceed my needs. But…When I compare it to my Nikon D7000 I find it a bit lacking (for me).

Overall operational speed is acceptable but after playing with the new Olympus EP3 and the new Nikon V1 system, the focus speed seems slow and less accurate. Those cameras are simply show stoppers in terms of speed and focus accuracy.

One thing to note, while in Hawaii, I did have a problem with the camera freezing up and it required a full reset not once or twice, but 3 times. I have not duplicated this since returning. I can’t help but think it is related to humidity and/or wetness. Again, this is an electronic and not a mechanical marvel.

In the end, for me, the jury is still out. I’m going to give it a bit more time. I have a strange feeling about the camera in that I believe some of the features I like and the interaction of the camera point to the future of taking pictures.

All things said, what matters to me are the images and I have gotten some images I really love. Here are just a few of them.

Yes…The NEX is a strange, little, capable, small camera. It’s got a big heart, I mean sensor, and it takes some time to get used too. Once you do, it can produce really meaningful and impressive pictures. You just need to decide how much the visceral feel of a camera matters to you. For me, I am undecided. I like the pictures and I’m going to keep shooting until I decide.

Edit: I recieved some comments and emails about the camera already. One commenters said “It sounds very much like you WANT to like this camera, but….”. This is a very good comment and about 90% true. One other said that the pictures I posted could have been shot with something else. I agree, there are no visible differences for web sized images. I am testing printing and I can tell you that the files are nice and bigger than any of my other point and shoot image files. In the end, I am at a place where this camera is paid for, but I think if I could do it again, I may go a different route. What route? I’m not certain and I don’t have an answer for that.

Edit 12-19-2011: I purchased the Sony EVF for this camera and frankly, I am blown away. It simply changes the entire shooting process and interaction with this camera for me. Couple this with manual focus w/peaking and this camera takes on a completely new personality. Now….I’m ready to invest a bit more in this system. Next up is the Zeiss 24mm f1.8. I am also looking to give an adapter a try along with some of my old legacy Nikon or Pentax lenses.

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3 Comments

  1. wow your picture are just AWESOME! hehe. 🙂
    I am also planning to buy this camera but i want to research first if its worth the money.. i am focusing on mirrorless camera because they’re smaller / thinner than dslr. but based on the pictures I’ve seen here and on the other blog sites / websites.. i have decided that i’ll be buying nex – 5n.^^ thanks for sharing your photos and your review about the product.

    Reply

    1. Thank you and good luck with your 5n. It’s a wonderfully capable small camera.

      Reply

  2. […] of you may have read my Sony NEX 5N review. If not, check it out here.  In the end, I came to really enjoy the 5N and took some photographs that I really love. […]

    Reply

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