Sony A5100 Review: More Features And A Higher Price
With the Sony A5100, Sony puts a better camera, but also more expensive sister model to the side of the Alpha 5000. Under the conditions of “built-in flash” and “built-in WLAN”, the Sony A5100 is even supposed to be the smallest mirrorless system camera with an APS-C sensor. With 24 megapixels, this sensor now has a resolution of four megapixels more than its numerically smaller sister. Sony has also integrated 179 phase detection sensors for hybrid autofocus on the image sensor. This helps the autofocus especially when tracking the subject, the continuous shooting rate climbs to 6 frames per second. There are also improvements to the screen.
Pros And Cons Of The Sony A5100
- Very similar in handling to a compact camera
- Extensive features
- HDR function delivers natural image results
- Extensive video options
- Weaknesses in resolution of the kit zoom at the edges
- No post-processing possibilities in the camera
- Touch function limited to focus and shutter release
- Zoom noise clearly audible in video
In terms of appearance and model name, the Sony A5100 could be a successor to the Alpha 5000. But this is not the case. The Sony A5100 rather follows the NEX-5T and is supposed to close the gap between the A5000 and the A6000. So she’s the older member of the family and not a twin (as a user wrote us). That this is the case is shown by the inner values: the resolution climbs by 4 megapixels, the screen has a higher resolution and is touch-sensitive and – particularly interesting – the Sony A5100 has 179 phase contrast detectors, which are intended to improve the continuous focus on moving objects in particular. This review shows what the new model can do and whether it is worth the extra cost.
The 7.5-centimeter monitor is still a folding screen that can be swivelled upwards by 180 degrees. This makes it easier to shoot close to the ground and especially selfies. In the Alpha 5000 test, we still criticized the low-resolution screen, which is a bit too dark in sunlight, but Sony now puts both of these down in one fell swoop: The resolution climbs from 460,800 to 921,000 pixels, and the “White Magic” screen should also be easier to read in sunlight.
In addition, a touch screen is now used instead of the normal screen, which allows the autofocus point to be placed on a motif detail with a finger pointer.
The pictures are taken either with automatic subject control, selectable scene mode programs or in the classic way with program automatic, semi-automatic with aperture or time preselection as well as manual exposure.
Special programs such as Sweep Panorama or HDR master special shooting situations, the eye autofocus helps to adjust the perfect sharpness for portraits. So the Sony A5100 has a lot to offer both beginners and ambitious photographers. This also includes the possibility of adding special functions to the camera with apps, both free and paid apps.
Furthermore, the Sony A5100 is equipped with WLAN and NFC. This allows the camera to be connected to an iOS or Android device to transfer images and control the camera remotely using the appropriate app. However, if you wish, you can also trigger the Sony A5100 in the classic way using the RM-SPR1 remote control, for example on a tripod.
The higher-resolution CMOS sensor with its phase autofocus not only enables faster focusing and higher continuous shooting rates, it is also more light-sensitive than its 20-megapixel counterpart: the highest ISO sensitivity is now ISO 25,600, while only ISO 100 to 12,800 is possible for video recording.
The resolution reaches a maximum of Full-HD (1,920 x 1,080) with either 60p, 50p, 25p or 24p. In AVCHD format, a maximum of 28 Mbps is recorded, whereas the new XAVC S offers a higher quality 50 Mbps. In MP4 format, on the other hand, Sony continues to limit the resolution to the 4:3 image format with 1,440 x 1,080 pixels resolution or VGA. The small HD resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels offers Sony just as little as 4k.
In order to ensure faster image processing for continuous shooting as well as brisk autofocus, the Sony A5100 uses the Bionz X image processor, which is three times faster than its predecessor model and is also built into the Alpha 7. In addition to the higher processing speed, it should also improve the image quality.
Since September 2014, the Sony A5100 is available in silver, black and brown at a price of just under 500 dollars. The set lens SEL-P1650 (16-50 mm 3.5-5.6 power zoom) was already included in the Alpha 5000 at this price. This set costs 650 dollars for the Sony A5100, the double zoom kit with additional SEL-55210 (55-210 mm 4.5-6.3) comes to just under 900 dollars. The matching case LCS-EBD for the Sony A5100 should cost just under 40 dollars and be available in black and brown.
Ergonomics and Workmanship
Apart from the graining of the rubber coating and the bayonet ring, which is now in black instead of chrome, there are no differences between the Alpha 5000 and the Sony A5100 at first glance. The case material is still cleanly made of high-quality plastic and therefore weighs almost the same at 265 grams.
The brick shape becomes quite handy due to the well formed handle hump, although not exactly super ergonomic. Especially people with large hands will not be able to comfortably place all fingers on the housing. Small and at the same time fit for the sick is just not possible. However, the compromise between size and ergonomics can definitely be described as successful.
A big advantage of the Sony A5100 is the one-handed operation that is possible thanks to the zoom lever on the shutter release, especially considering that an APS-C format sensor is used. Just like with a compact camera, the motor zoom of the Sony can be used to adjust the image detail with a certain degree of sensitivity.
But that’s not all: The 16-50 mm kit lens we tested offers two additional zoom levers. With the seemingly manual zoom ring, either the entire focal length range can be covered very quickly or the focal length can be adjusted very precisely. A third possibility is offered by the zoom slider, but it is not as easy to reach. In practice, we liked the lever on the shutter release best when the small power zoom was mounted.
The Sony E 18-105 mm F4 G OSS PZ, which is oversized on the Sony A5100, on the other hand, zooms so slowly with the zoom lever that it is more suitable for video recordings. Due to its size, it has to be held two-handed anyway, so that the use of the zoom ring is obvious. This runs so smoothly that it can hardly be distinguished from a mechanical drive.
The monitor’s folding mechanism, already familiar from the Alpha 5000, is well suited for close-to-the-ground shots and self-portraits thanks to the 180-degree hinge that is hinged at the top, but it is not suitable for photos taken with the camera held above the head. After all, the resolution has now risen to a contemporary 921,000 pixels, and thanks to the touch function, there are also some new features in terms of operation.
The display is pleasantly bright and clear, sharp anyway, and quite independent of angle. Nevertheless, one does not only wish for the viewfinder of the Alpha 6000 in bright surroundings, but it is reserved for the more expensive model and cannot be retrofitted. Apart from that, the display offers everything your heart desires.
Different grids, any recording parameters, and a histogram can be displayed. The tripod thread is made of steel, is positioned exactly in the optical axis, and far enough from the hinge of the solid battery door so that there are no conflicts with a quick-release plate. This is particularly praiseworthy with such a small housing.
The port and memory card covers are also okay, although they make a somewhat less solid impression. It is annoying that also the battery has to be charged via the micro-USB-connection, as an external charger can only be purchased as an accessory.
The few switches are clearly arranged on the back next to the display and can be easily reached with the thumb. The main control element consists of a combination of a cross rocker and a rotating ring, in the middle of which another button is mounted. There is no designated program selector wheel, but this is simulated on the display as soon as this central button is pressed.
With the small ring, all basic functions are then quickly selected. In principle, this is almost faster than with a real program selector, so that after a short period of getting used to it, you can cope with it very well.
However, it is disturbing that only the cross rocker ring is available for setting the recording parameters. It can be used to set the aperture, time, and scene mode programs directly depending on the selected camera function. With the four directional buttons, exposure corrections, shutter control, and ISO sensitivity or the amount of information on the display can be set. Unfortunately, all other functions can only be accessed via the menu, as there is no more direct access to functions due to the lack of keys.
What is nice, however, is that three directional and two additional buttons can be assigned to almost any camera function. If five directly selectable functions are sufficient for you, you can easily manage with the few keys.
The menu initially appears in the so-called tile view, in which the six main pages fill the entire screen. Of course, this almost screams for finger operation, but this is incomprehensibly not intended. The touch function of the Sony A5100 limits Sony to focusing and shutter release.
To go one level deeper into the menu, the desired tile must first be selected with the ring or control pad and then called up with the button. Only then does the photographer go one level deeper into the menu and can select options. If you find this an unnecessary detour, you can switch off the tile view and reach your destination immediately. A huge amount of functions is revealed here, which unfortunately is sorted a bit confusingly for Sony newbies.
Even the only moderately prepared operating instructions hardly help. You’ll have to scroll through the menus quite a bit to really unlock all the secrets of the Sony A5100. But more about that in the next section right below.
Equipment And Features
Due to the few buttons, one tends to think that the Sony A5100 is a rather simple camera in terms of functionality. Far from it! In the depths of the menu, there is almost nothing that does not exist.
All standard functions are naturally on board, even two fully automatic ones. The “superior automatic” switches to continuous mode if necessary, in order to be able to take an HDR photo with extreme contrasts or to calculate a quieter one from several photos in low light. This works quite well, but with the suppression of noise details, they are lost here as well. It is particularly praiseworthy that the photographer is allowed to intervene if necessary despite the fully automatic system.
Although there is no classic exposure or color correction, there are some controls for brightness, color mood or depth of field that are easier to understand for laymen. In addition, image effects such as toy camera, trendy colors and much more can be adjusted. A wide field for experimenting even in fully comprehensive mode.
To tame high-contrast scenes, the photographer can also manually switch on HDR and DRO. DRO brightens dark areas of the image in five strength levels. With HDR, three photos with up to 6 f-stops difference are combined to one shot with balanced contrast. The normal exposure is additionally saved for comparison, great!
As a matter of principle, there should be no movement between the shots in the series, otherwise, ghost images – sometimes quite attractive ones – are created. Both functions work excellently and lead to natural-looking photos with good highlights and depth of field, even at the highest level.
In Scene Mode, the photographer selects the appropriate automatic mode for the planned shot, such as Sports, Portrait and Macro, or “Night Scene without Tripod” where the camera tries to calculate an optimized image with less camera shake from a series of three. An image stabilizer in the lens successfully supports this.
The panning panorama has got its own position on the virtual program selector. Before taking the picture, the desired panning direction and whether to pan in portrait or landscape format can be selected.
After pressing the shutter release button, the Sony rattles off with fast frame rates while the camera can be tilted about 180 degrees. The resolution is limited to just over 12,000 pixels in width and just under 2,000 pixels in height. Obviously the sensor is not fully utilized. Nevertheless, this is more than sufficient for private use, because pictures in the format 120 x 20 centimeters must first find a place on the wall.
As you’d expect from Sony, the video mode has a lot of options. Exposure control during filming can be done in the classic modes P, A, S, and M, which is very flexible. The file can be produced just as flexibly in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) at a maximum of 24, 25, 30, 50, or 60 frames per second and at data rates up to 28 Mbps in AVCHD format. With Sony’s own XAVC S mode, even 50 Mbps are possible. This of course requires a very powerful memory card.
The Sony A5100 guides sharpness in three speeds well-damped and safely and without pumping to the target thanks to the phase measurement sensors. We rarely had better autofocus when filming. In conjunction with a power zoom lens, it is also possible to achieve butter-smooth zoom movements that also remain in focus. It’s just a pity that especially zoom- but also focus noises are clearly audible as buzzing and creaking in the stereo sound. An external microphone would help here but is unfortunately not provided.
The autofocus can also be flexibly adapted to individual needs and motifs in photo mode. If desired, the Alpha will focus before the shutter release is pressed, making it ready to shoot faster. Single and continuous AF as well as face recognition, even of registered persons, including eye recognition are on board.
If you do not leave the choice of AF area to the camera, a freely movable single field can be used, which is available in three different sizes. However, to move it, you must first switch to the menu. We wanted direct access to the position and have assigned the “?” key with the corresponding function.
In practice, the autofocus was quite fast and accurate, but sometimes had difficulty finding the focus, especially with very close subjects. Surprisingly, even with a small AF area and exact positioning to the desired subject detail, this only worked partially. Apparently, Sony’s AF module prefers more distant objects.
In continuous mode, the Sony A5100 achieves almost six frames per second and maintains this speed for an impressive 46 JPEGs. After that, she needs a little pause for thought and then continues shooting with still lively two frames per second. If the focus is to be adjusted at this speed, some somewhat hidden settings are necessary.
In addition to AF-C, the AF lock must also be selected for the focus areas. Only then is a scene captured by the camera pursued quite stubbornly by the small phase difference fields and tracked in focus. With a black dog, which stormed towards the camera in a full run, this was only partially successful, but these are also very unfavorable conditions.
The Sony A5100 should have no problems with the photography of children that are moving and playing. When focusing manually, both a focus magnifier and focus peaking can be used, the zoom ring of the 16-50 PZ becomes a focus ring.
The Sony A5100 also has a mini-flash on board, which covers all the usual functions. It has to be folded out by hand if necessary and has just enough power for small rooms or a few people, but with a lens, with a focal length of 16 millimeters, it loses brightness clearly visible towards the edge over two f-stops. But as a brightener it does a great job, unfortunately, it is not enough for more. Too bad there is no accessory shoe for a system flash.
The Sony camera doesn’t offer many editing options in the camera, but several functions can be retrofitted via a free or paid app. The latest app allows, for example, the recording of currently very popular star tracks. Multiple exposures only adds brighter pixels to the image. Unfortunately, this app costs five dollars. The Alpha now also understands modern communication, the camera can be remotely controlled with a smartphone connected via NFC/WLAN, including the motor zoom.
Image Quality Of The Sony A5100
The quality of the images often sparks off heated discussions. Those who come from an inexpensive compact camera or even the smartphone will certainly judge the image quality of a system camera differently than an experienced photographer. We give the discussion a constant basis by measuring all cameras, including the Sony A5100, with the test software and in practice.
Like many cameras with interchangeable lenses, the kit zoom is the Achilles’ heel of the Sony A5100. In the center of the image, the resolution (MTF50) still achieves impressive values beyond the 60 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm) at optimal aperture F8, but towards the edge, you have to accept a strong loss of resolution of about 50 percent.
Especially at wide-angle, this is visible as a sharp spot with a clearly blurred environment, especially with critical subjects. T
he small power zoom is only more balanced in the medium focal length, towards the long end the resolution drops overall and more clearly towards the edge.
However, the Sony A5100 hardly knows about chroma errors and the color fringes they cause, which indicates a good correction in the lens or more likely by software in the camera.
The Sony camera also has distortion and vignetting well under control, only in the wide-angle there is a barely one percent ton and hardly visible edge dimming.
The Sony cuts a better figure again in the sizes that depend on the sensor and image processor. There are hardly any disturbing effects of the electronic sharpening, so-called sharpening artifacts, and also the course of the texture sharpness shows that Sony does not do much to make sharpening look as good as it might.
Fine details are reliably reproduced up to ISO 1.600, annoying color noise is only disturbing in the highest ISO regions, and the same applies to luminance noise. The grain size is inconspicuous except for an outlier in the red channel at ISO 3.200. Up to ISO 3,200, the useful signal is above the critical 35dB limit and only falls significantly below it in the highest level – ISO 25,600 after all.
Also impressive is the input tonal range of almost eleven f-stops over almost the entire sensitivity range. In practice, however, a tendency towards somewhat dull colors could be observed in low light.
In the test with the testing software, the Sony A5100 was very colorful, especially in the warm colors, but the manual white balance was very accurate. Images in JPG format are prepared very crisply so that they can be used directly from the camera. If you want to do it yourself, it is better to use the raw format. The shutter release delay, including focusing, isn’t blazing fast with 0.4 to 0.5 seconds, but it’s certainly suitable for snapshots. Pre-focused, a delay is hardly measurable.
Conclusion: Is The Sony A5100 Worth It?
The Sony A5100 is a big step forward for the newcomer from the compact camera class. It doesn’t need much getting used to it, because the small size and the zoom lever give a real compact camera feeling. The assistance functions provide excellent support without paternalism, and manual options are also available in abundance.
Great is also the DRO and HDR automatics, which very simply lead to good pictures even under difficult lighting conditions. The missing viewfinder and the missing flash connection are probably the strongest limitations compared to the Alpha 6000.
The Sony A5100 lies between its twins in terms of continuous shooting speed but is on par with the Alpha 6000 in terms of phase AF.
There is mainly criticism for the kit-zoom, which shows blatant resolution weaknesses in the image corners. Otherwise, it fits perfectly with the camera thanks to the motor zoom and its small size.
In terms of price, too, the Sony A5100 lies exactly between its sisters. Think about it: With the Alpha 6000, you can get the viewfinder, the accessory shoe, and almost double the continuous shooting speed for 150 dollars more.
Specifications Of The Sony A5100
This test of the Sony A5100 with Sony E 16-50 mm 3.5-5.6 OSS PZ (SEL-P1650) was made with DXOMARK Analyzer.
- Very similar in handling to a compact camera
- Extensive equipment
- HDR function delivers natural image results
- Extensive video options
- Weaknesses in the resolution of the kit zoom at the edges
- No post-processing possibilities in the camera
- Touch function limited to focus and shutter release
- Zoom noise clearly audible in the video
Sony A5100 Datasheet
|Sensor||CMOS sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5
)24.3 megapixels (effective)
|Pixel pitch||3.9 µm|
|Image formats||JPG, RAW|
|Metadata||Exif (version 2.3), DCF standard|
|Maximum recording time||27 min 50 sec|
|Autofocus mode||Phase-comparison autofocus, autofocus operating range from 0 EV to 20 EV, contrast autofocus with 25 points|
|Autofocus functions||Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, AF Assist Light|
|Sharpness control||Depth of Field Control|
Viewfinder and monitor
|Monitor||3.0″ TFT LCD monitor with 921,600 pixels, tiltable 180° up and 45° down, with touch screen|
|Exposure metering||Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement, spot measurement|
|Exposure times||1/4,000 to 30 s (Automatic) Bulb function|
|Exposure control||Programmed automatic, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual|
|Exposure bracketing function||Exposure bracketing function with a maximum of 3 shots, step size from 0.3 to 0.7 EV, HDR function|
|Exposure Compensation||-3.0 to +3.0 EV with a step size of 1/3 EV|
|Photosensitivity||ISO 100 to ISO 25,600 (automatic) ISO 100 to ISO 12,800 (manual)|
|Remote access||Remote release, remote control via smartphone/tablet|
|Scene modes||Auto, Landscape, Macro, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Portrait, and Sports/Action|
|Picture effects||The miniature effect, toy camera, soft focus, pop color, partial color (R/G/B/Y), tone separation (B/W), soft focus|
|Color space||Adobe RGB, sRGB|
|Continuous shooting||Continuous shooting function max. 6.0 fps at the highest resolution and max. 56 stored images, 6 frames per second max 23 (RAW), 22 (RAW JPEG)|
|Self-timer||Self-timer with 2 s interval, special features: or 10 s (optional)|
|Recording functions||Live histogram|
Flashgun Of The Sony A5100
|Flash||built-in flash (hinged) Flash shoe: not available|
|Flash code||Guide number 7 (ISO 100)|
|Flash functions||Auto, fill-flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, flash on second shutter curtain, red-eye reduction|
Equipment And Features
|Image stabilizer||no optical image stabilizer|
Memory Stick (Duo Pro)
|Power supply unit||USB charging function|
|Power supply||1 x Sony NP-FW50 (lithium-ion (Li-ion), 7.2 V, 1,240 mAh) 400 images according to CIPA standard|
|Playback functions||Highlight / Shadow warning, image index, slide show function|
|Face recognition||Face recognition, smile recognition|
|Image parameters||Sharpness, contrast|
|Connections||Data interfaces: USB USB type: USB 2.0 WLAN: available NFC: available|
|AV Connections||AV output: HDMI output Micro (Type D)|
|Supported direct printing methods||PictBridge|
|Special features and miscellaneous||BIONZ-X image processor Sensor cleaning function
(anti-static filter and ultrasound)
Dynamic Range Optimizer (1-5 steps)
Long-term noise reduction selectable from 1-second Noise reduction
from ISO 1.600 and more with priority selection)
Contrast, sharpness, and saturation can be changed in /-3 steps Finder magnifier 6x and 12x for manual focusing AVCHD
and MPEG-4 video recording PtP transmission protocol Precise percentage battery capacity display automatic
brightness adjustment of the screen Additional
sunlight adjustment ( /-2 steps)
Remote control via Smartphone App
Size and weight
|Dimensions W x H x D||110 x 63 x 36 mm|
|Weight||283 g (ready for operation)|
|standard accessory||Sony AC-UB10C Charger for Special BatteriesSony
AC-UB10D Charger for Special BatteriesSony
NP-FW50 Special Battery Li-Ion
(NP-FW50) Battery Mains ChargerUSBChargerUSBChargerAC-UB10USB ConnectionCableStrapBeltPictureEditing SoftwarePicture Motion Browser for Windows
|additional accessories||Li-Ion (NP-FW50) Replacement Battery Removable Memory CardHDMI CableCamera Bag|