Just over a year ago Sony introduced its first mirrorless camera systems, the NEX-3 and NEX-5, to a very receptive public. To almost everyone’s amazement, Sony was able to design a highly functional camera that was both smaller than many point-and-shoot cameras, yet contained a comparatively monstrous APS-C format imaging sensor. With the exception of being challenging to use under brighter lighting conditions, as all LCD-only cameras are, the new cameras were elegantly and intelligently designed, performed quite well and sold quite well. As a follow-up to the original NEX system, Sony has introduced the alpha NEX-5n, which we had an opportunity to tool around with a few days before it was officially announced.
Sony’s alpha NEX-5n is similar in appearance to its predecessor, the NEX-5. But unlike its predecessor, the NEX-5n now boasts a higher-res, 16.1MP CMOS sensor, shutter-release times as short as 0.02-second and a 3.0″, 921,000-dot touch screen LCD that in addition to tap and finger-sweep control of almost all camera functions, features tap focus control, which we found to be psychologically reassuring when shooting under bright lighting conditions. While many of the system status icons that line the edges of the screen are somewhat smallish, when you tap on the menu icon, your choices are presented in a combination of large, clear text complete with short explanations of each function. In practice, my only gripe was that when spinning the shooting mode dial, the modes passed by far too quickly and I often had to spin it carefully back-and-forth before snagging the shooting mode I wished to choose.
In addition to a choice of JPEG, RAW and JPEG/RAW stills, the new camera also captures higher-quality 1080/60p AVCHD View video (the NEX-5 captured 1080/60i AVCHD). The NEX-5n’s ISO range has also been expanded on both sides of the sensitivity range and can now be set from ISO 100 to 25600, compared to the NEX-5’s narrower ISO 200-12800 sensitivity range. Continuous high speed burst rates of up to 10 full-res frames per second are also possible on the new camera, compared to the slightly slower (but still rather impressive) 7 frames-per-second burst rates of the NEX-5.
All of the uniquely Sony imaging technologies found in the original NEX cameras, including a choice of very effective low-light shooting modes such as Handheld Twilight mode, an advanced HDR mode which combines a half dozen rapidly captured, bracketed exposures and merges the sharpest, best-detailed portions of each into a single optimized (and relatively noiseless) image file, can be found in the NEX-5n.
Also carried over is the Sweep Panorama mode, in which you press the shutter and slowly pan the camera in the direction of the arrow on the LCD while the camera clicks off 60-plus images and stitches them together in-camera for panorama images with fields of view of more than 225° (12416 x 1856). In addition to standard Sweep Panoramas, the NEX-5n can also capture 3D Sweep Panorama images that can be played back in full 3D effect on 3D-compatible HD TVs.
Other picture modes that can be called up for active duty on the Sony alpha NEX-5n include Toy Picture, which emulates a tilt-shift, “miniature” look; two Posterization modes (color, and black and white); a Pop Color mode that amplifies color saturation levels; a Retro Color mode that decreases color saturation levels; Partial Color, which only retains color data for a select color and renders the balance of the image in monotone; a Soft High-key mode; and a High Contrast monotone mode that renders the image in pure black and white.
The camera we tested was a pre-production model, and as such, we agreed to not publish any images or video we shot along the way. But we will say that despite the fact our Sony E-series 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS was a little rougher than similar Sony kit zooms we’ve used in the past, all of the images, both stills and video, were well up to par. That said, we look forward to taking another test drive with a production camera as they become available.