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Sony's Alpha A5100 sounds surprisingly good

With high bitrate movie recording and the same sensor and autofocus system as the A6000, Sony's $700 Alpha A5100 interchangeable-lens camera kit seems pretty interesting on paper.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
5 min read

In updating the design, Sony made the zoom switch and grip more selfie-friendly. Sony

With the Alpha A5100 (aka ILCE-5100), Sony replaces the NEX-5T and sticks a fork in the NEX line, unifying all its mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (ILC) under the ILCE model-naming convention. Coming in at $550/£420 for the body or $700/AU$899/£550 for the main kit with the 16-50mm power zoom lens, it's sufficiently close in price and similar enough to the A6000 to make your choice a little confusing.

Shop for Sony Alpha A5100 (body only, black)

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It also means that at $500 (£350) the more feature-packed 5T disappears in favor of the relatively less powerful A5000 . As I complained about this type of decreasing-power-for-the-same-price behavior vis-à-vis the Canon EOS Rebel T5 , I thought it only fair that I call Sony out for similar activity. So if you're looking for a $500 Sony kit, snap up the 5T before it disappears.

Sony's current sub-$1,000 mirrorless line now consists of four models:

  • The big, $300 dSLR-style A3000 (approximately £254/AU$500 for the kit, though in Australia it's called the A3500 and has a different lens) for budget-constrained folks who want better photo quality than a point-and-shoot but can't afford to pay more to get smaller size or better performance.
  • The A5000 at $500 (£350/AU$700 for the kit), its entry-level ILC for folks who want a compact model that delivers dSLR-quality photos but don't care that it can't match the speed.
  • The new $700 A5100, designed to provide the speed and quality of a dSLR in a compact design.
  • And the A6000 at $800 (£670/AU$1,100), which adds the electronic viewfinder that advanced users find handy.

The A5100 seems like a budget version of the A6000 more than a higher-end version of the A5000, which makes sense given the relative price gaps. It incorporates the sensor, autofocus system, and Bionz X imaging processor of the A6000 in a body almost identical to the A5000.

If you don't want or need the viewfinder on the A6000, it actually sounds like a better deal, and despite the $200 price bump over the A5000, seems to give you a lot for the money.

Notably, for the price premium over the A5000, you get the hybrid autofocus system which works far better than the contrast AF that bogs down the A5000 and the A3000, a higher resolution, touchscreen LCD, and significantly better continuous-shooting performance that can handle more shots at a higher rate of speed and with autofocus.

In addition, it outclasses the A6000 with the addition of support for Sony's higher bitrate XAVC S codec. The codec produces better HD video than the AVCHD codec in the A6000 and allows for simultaneous high-quality and Wi-Fi-upload quality movie recording. It also bests the A6000 with a flip-up, touchscreen LCD plus interface optimizations that make Sony's cameras stand out for selfies. It's rated a bit slower for continuous-shooting than the A6000, which Sony attributes to mechanical differences, but 6fps is fine for most consumer uses.

Right now, while there are a lot of competitors at and around the A5100's price, Sony's option seems to offer quite a bit for the money.

Specification comparison

Samsung NX300 Sony Alpha A5000 Sony Alpha A5100 Sony Alpha NEX-5T Sony Alpha A6000
Sensor effective resolution 20.3MP Hybrid CMOS 20.1MP Exmor HD CMOS 24.3MP Exmor HD CMOS
16.1mp Exmor HD CMOS 24.3MP Exmor HD CMOS
Sensor size 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5 x 15.6mm 23.5 x 15.6mm 23.5 x 15.6mm 23.5 x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
OLPF No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 16000 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Burst shooting 8.6fps
(3.5fps with fixed exposure)
56 JPEG/23 raw
15 JPEG/11 raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
(mag/ effective mag)
None None None Optional OLED EVF
0.4 in/10 mm
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
Hot shoe Yes None No No Yes
Autofocus 105-point phase-detection, 247-point contrast AF 25-area contrast AF 179-point phase-
detection; 25-area contrast AF
99-point phase-
detection; 25-area contrast AF
179-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity n/a 0 - 20 EV -1 - 20 EV 0- 20 EV 0- 20 EV
Shutter speed 30-1/6,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 221 segment 1,200 zone 1,200 zone 1,200 zone 1,200 zone
Metering sensitivity 0 - 18 EV 0 - 20 EV -1 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Best video H.264 MPEG-4
1080/60i/30p @ 24Mbps
1080/60p/30p/25p/24p; 720/120p
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps
Audio Stereo Stereo Stereo Stereo, mic input Stereo; mic (via accessory shoe)
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes n/a Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 29:59 minutes n/a 29 minutes n/a 29 minutes
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
LCD 3.3-inch/84mm
AMOLED tilting touchscreen
768,000 dots
Flip-up touchscreen
460,800 dots
Flip-up touchscreen
921,600 dots
Flip-up touchscreen
921,600 dots
Flip-up touchscreen
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash Bundled optional Yes Yes Bundled optional Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 330 shots 420 shots 400 shots 430 shots 420 shots
Size (WHD) 4.8 x 2.5 x 1.6 in
122 X 63.7 X 42.7 mm
4.5 x 2.5 x 1.5 in
109.6 x 62.8 x 35.7mm
4.3 x 2.5 x 1.4 in
109.6 x 62.8 x 35.7 mm
4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 in
110.8 x 58.8 x 38.9 mm
4.8 x 2.9 x 1.8 in
120 x 66.9 x 45.1 mm
Body operating weight 10.9 oz (est)
310 g (est)
9.5 oz (est)
210 g (est)
10 oz (est)
283 g (est)
9.7 oz (est)
276 g (est)
11.6 oz
330 g
Mfr. price (body only) n/a n/a $550
Primary kit $650 (with 18-55mm lens)
AU$700 (with 16-50mm lens)
(with 16-50mm PZ lens)
(with 16-50mm PZ lens)
£350 (est)
(with 16-50mm PZ lens)
(with 15-60mm PZ lens)
Alternate kit $750
£400 (est)
(with 20-50mm lens)
(with 16-50mm and 55-210mm lenses)
(with 16-50mm and 55-210mm lenses)
(with 16-50mm and 55-210mm lenses)
(with 16-50mm and 55-210mm lenses)
Release date March 2013 March 2014 September 2014 September 2013 April 2014