First Look: Sony Alpha NEX-5N
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First Look: Sony Alpha NEX-5N

4:19 /

An especially good option for people who want a relatively inexpensive ILC for shooting video, the Sony Alpha NEX-5N's photo quality's about the same as its cheaper sibling.

Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor for CNET and this is the Sony Alpha NEX-5N. The 5N slips into Sony's compact interchangeable-lens camera line between the not-much-cheaper NEX-C3 and the seriously equipped but substantially more expensive NEX-7. The 5N's solid quality, performance, and features offer surprisingly good value for the money. The camera uses the typical NEX design. Though the thin body sports a relatively large grip, I don't find it very comfortable to hold single-handed because of the minimal free space for my thumb. Even supporting the lens with my left hand, the body feels just a little too small for me, and my hands aren't that large. So, that's really important that with this camera that you try it before you buy. It does feel solidly built, with sufficiently large controls though. I also keep waffling on the interface, which is one of the hallmarks of the NEX series. It consists of a combination of onscreen menus and context-sensitive buttons, along with a back dial and a movie record button that you operate with your thumb. The 5N introduces a hybrid touch-screen interface, which lets you perform operations via either the screen or the hardware. I'm not crazy about the implementation though; the screen feels too small for some of the areas that you need to press, and it takes multiple touches for some of the things to register, so ultimately it's not faster or more intuitive to use than the buttons. On the other hand, it does make useful features like touch focus possible. Overall, though, I think Panasonic's interface works better. I also found shooting with the 5N annoying on occasion, even after customizing the buttons appropriately. In part, I think it's because the dial has a tendency to fly past the setting I want. I also find the location of some of the settings I use semi-frequently a bit arbitrary, and get annoyed when I have to go digging for them. Your shooting experience with the 5N will rely on how much work you put in beforehand to map some of the soft keys to your needs, but in order to change them significantly you do have to forego of direct access to the virtual mode dial. Ultimately, I think whether or not you like it will depend upon your previous shooting experiences: point-and-shoot upgraders will probably like it a lot, but dSLR shooters who are going compact will likely feel more friction. You definitely need to try it before you buy. The camera though is capable of shooting some very nice photos. The colors are also good. It's accurate and not overly saturated and it doesn't blow out detail on saturated reds like some cameras. If I sound hesitant to call the photos excellent overall, that's because I think the camera takes a hit on sharpness. I think the kit lens could probably use some better coatings to improve clarity and brightness, though also I shot with the 18-200mm lens which did performed better. The video also looks very good by delivering bright, saturated colors, relatively sharp edges, and with no rolling shutter or moire. It's rock solid in 60p. Its general performance is solid but a little disappointing given how fast its competitors are getting. For single shots it does match them in terms of speed but it does stumble when it comes to image processing for sequential shots and it gets noticeably slower at high ISO sensitivities starting at about ISO 1600. One of my biggest problems came from the LCD, which gets difficult to view in direct sunlight; the ability to tilt it helps, but there are some angles that I wanted to shoot where I couldn't effectively position the camera because of the light. I highly recommend getting the new add-on EVF if you buy this model. I haven't tested it though, so I can't vouch for any issues you might have with it. I don't know that I could recommend any NEX-5Ns as the best option for point-and-shoot upgraders; for that, I think the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 offers a more familiar interface and better performance worth stepping up to. I also think the body might be too small for some people looking for a dSLR alternative, and for some of those folks a hardware mode dial and a traditional hot shoe can be a deal killer. But it's a solid camera with extremely good video quality and capabilities for its class, and though its performance isn't best in class, it's certainly good enough. I only suggest that you try before you buy it because it feels and operates differently than what you may be used to, and if you're not comfortable with it, it's hard to get good images from even the best camera. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the NEX-5N.

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