HandlingThis interchangeable lens compact has an unusually long and thin design that can be quite surprising the first time you lay eyes on the camera. With a nice, deep grip handle to help you keep hold of it, the NEX-5N is an attractive snapper that's oozing in understated style. The product finish is very good too, with several well-thought-out touches that help improve handling, such as a click-round settings wheel and a tilt LCD screen that can be angled up or down.
The NEX-5N has a new touchscreen. While you can easily select the zone you want to focus on by simply tapping the screen, you unfortunately can't tap the screen to take a photo. In fact, the touchscreen isn't really used to its full potential in this camera—for example, you still can't zoom in on photos in playback mode by 'pinching' the screen like you can in some touchscreen mobile phones.
Colours aren't reproduced particularly accurately on the screen but that's not too much of a problem. While the gamma is pretty good at 2.1, the white point is very cold (10600 K on average), which in turn affects colour fidelity (deltaE 94 = 5.5). In bright sunlight, the screen is very reflective and it can be hard to see what you're doing (an external viewfinder is available as an optional accessory). Otherwise, onscreen images flow smoothly in good light but do judder a bit in darker conditions.
ResponsivenessThe NEX-5N is certainly a speedy little camera. The only slight blip is the start-up time which, although still acceptable, unfortunately takes over a second. In every other field, though, the NEX-5N holds its own, with a fast autofocus, a good photo-to-photo turnaround time and a burst mode that shoots at 10 fps with the autofocus off. Note that this drops considerably to 3 fps with the continuous autofocus active.
Picture QualityThe 16-Megapixel sensor used in this camera has already been seen in the NEX-C3. The NEX-5N therefore keeps noise in check just as effectively as its counterpart. In practice, that means you can push up to 3200 ISO or even 6400 ISO without being ashamed of the results. Plus, the NEX-5N is capable of snapping at 25600 ISO, which can be handy (or a real lifesaver) in some situations.
The lens, however, complicates things slightly. Like the sensor, the 18-55 mm kit lens supplied has been seen before, but this time it doesn't make a particularly welcome return. The lens doesn't keep quality consistent across the frame and, on the whole, the results could be sharper. Upping the resolution to 16 Megapixels hasn't done anything to improve matters either, as the edges of pictures clearly lack precision compared with the middle of the shot, particularly at the maximum and minimum settings (18 and 55 mm).
Otherwise, the NEX-5N is a camera that's tailored perfectly well to the needs of its target users—the general public. Colours are dense and nicely saturated, there's a pleasant accentuation that makes shots stand out and look sharper and there are plenty of creative filters on hand (retro, miniature, black and white etc.) to play around with. However, those of you who prefer post-editing shots yourself on a computer will be happy to hear that there's a RAW mode ... even if it does use a proprietary format.
VideoThe video mode was already excellent in the previous model—the NEX-5—but things have got even better in this camera with 50 fps 1080p video. Although some creative filters aren't available in video mode, the NEX-5N lets you manually set the aperture, speed and sensitivity while filming. Picture quality is very good and there's only a slight speckle of fuzz when you film in low light. The NEX-5N records stereo sound and has a handy socket for connecting an external microphone. All that's missing is a 720p HD video function and an option for taking a photo while filming video.
- Compact design and high-quality finish
- Good general responsiveness
- Noise very well controlled up to 6400 ISO
- Vertical tilt screen
- Great video mode
- High-gloss LCD prone to glare in bright sunlight / Tilt rather than full swivel screen
- No built-in flash (separate flash accessory supplied)
- No built-in stabilisation
- 18-55 mm kit lens could be better / Limited choice of lenses unless you buy an adapter ring
- Noisy shutter release (not exactly discreet!)
The Sony NEX-5N is, without a doubt, the must-have interchangeable lens compact of the moment! It has an ultra-compact build, good all-round responsiveness, great picture quality in photo and video modes and a good range of customisable controls. What more could you ask for?