Sony NEX 5N Review

Sony NEX 5N Review

Mirrorless system camera

Sony renews its mirrorless camera system and expands it further. With the NEX-C3, the first representative of the second NEX generation recently met in our test land now the NEX-5N has arrived for testing thanks to the distributor. It replaces the NEX-5 from the previous year and will represent the middle class in the NEX family in the future, the top model NEX-7 is to appear in the coming weeks. What does the new NEX-5N offer more than the smaller NEX-C3? We have investigated this question in extensive practical application.

Short evaluation


  • Connection option for optional electronic viewfinder
  • Full HD video at 50 full frames per second
  • Sophisticated auxiliary functions for manual focusing (e.g. edge raising)
  • Excellent image quality (but limited image conduction of the set lenses)
  • High-quality, easy-to-grip housing


  • Touchscreen reacts sluggishly
  • No internal flash, external flash and EVF share system shoe
  • A little bit less configuration possibilities


Sony NEX-5N with E 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 OSS (SEL1855) [Photo: Clara Andersson]


In the mirrorless NEX system, the NEX-5 gets a slightly improved successor with the NEX-5N. It scores above all with its compact yet robust magnesium alloy housing and its low weight of only 210 grams, but it is also technically convincing. The 16.1 megapixel CMOS sensor in APS-C size reaches up to ISO 25,600. The shutter release delay, measured without autofocus, should be only 0.02 seconds according to Sony. FullHD video recordings now also reach 50p full frames per second in the NEX system, stored in AVCHD 2.0 format. Another improvement of the video mode concerns the stereo sound, which now has a digital wind filter.

Both photos and videos are focused via the image sensor by means of contrast measurement. This remains active even during video recording. In addition to automatic exposure, there is also the possibility of manual control of exposure time and aperture. This is also possible with video recordings, which opens up a large creative scope. In another way you can get creative with the eleven picture effects with 15 variants. Miniature effect, HDR painting mode, blur and pop colors are just a few of them. A special skin smoothing mode is available for portrait photos. In addition, the NEX-5N offers a panoramic swivel mechanism in 2D and 3D.

The three inch screen at the rear is a touch screen, which is intended to simplify operation even further and make it even more intuitive. Practically, the 921,000 pixel screen can be folded 80 degrees up and 45 degrees down.

Ergonomics and workmanship

Compared to the NEX-C3, the NEX-5N looks more mature at first glance. Sony has dispensed with design gimmicks in the mid-range NEX, the design language is clear, but by no means angular. The matt black housing of our test model certainly also contributes to the valuable, almost noble impression; the camera is also available in silver as an option. Sony hasn’t slimmed down the case of the NEX-5N in comparison to its predecessor, so the pronounced grip bulge for the right hand remains the same. It gives the camera a good hold, even if it is only held with one hand. This even applies when the quite voluminous set lens is attached. The well-shaped handle absorbs the torque of the somewhat head-heavy lens/camera combination much more reliably than the very flat grip bead of the NEX-C3. The fact that Sony has tailored a massive metal dress made of an aluminium-magnesium alloy to the body of the camera also contributes to the high-quality impression of the NEX-5N. This not only looks good, but also makes the NEX-5N very robust – the cool metal allows even the strongest grip to go through without creaking noises.

This good impression cannot be diminished by the back of the camera, which is made of plastic. This is acceptable in so far as four fifths of the rear surface is occupied by a high-resolution display with a diagonal of lavish three inches in length. This display can be folded upwards by almost 90 degrees or downwards by around 45 degrees. This makes it possible to shoot upside-down and close to the ground without major contortions. As a rule, the NEX-5N is more similar to a compact camera on an outstretched arm. If you don’t like it, the 5N is the only NEX camera to date that can be expanded with the optional high-resolution electronic viewfinder FDA-EV1S. It is based on the same OLED technology as the EVF of the Alpha SLT-65/77 and fits into the small system shoe of the 5N.

But back to the display, which has 921,000 subpixels on the NEX-5N and is also touch-sensitive. Similar to a smartphone, fingertips and wipers are used to navigate through the tidy menus, browse through the photos or focus on the desired subject area. This makes the camera even easier to operate. But not necessarily faster, because the display sometimes reacts a bit sluggish to inputs. In addition, Sony would have liked to have been able to give the touch screen additional capabilities, such as taking a photo or enlarging the viewfinder image section.


Like its smaller sister NEX-C3, the NEX-5N’s operating concept is aimed more at newcomers to photography with a system camera than at experienced photographers. The latter first have to get used to the fact that the camera’s menus do not follow the usual conventions, but after a short familiarization period the operation no longer poses any big puzzles. Once this small hurdle has been overcome, the NEX-5N can be operated very quickly. A major contribution to this is made by the handy rotating wheel on the rear, which also functions as a four-way rocker. In addition, three buttons can be assigned individual functions, whereby the large set button in the centre of the rotating wheel only brings functions from the individually configurable user menu onto the screen. Overall, the NEX-5N adapts quite flexibly to the wishes of even the most demanding photographer, offering newcomers illustrated explanatory texts on the most important functions.

Sony has hidden the few connections under neatly closing flaps and not under fiddly rubber covers as with many cameras. The tripod thread is made of stainless steel and sits in the optical axis – exemplary. The battery and memory card share a compartment that is far away from the tripod thread and thus remains accessible even when the removable disk is attached.

Equipment and equipment

Similar to the smaller NEX-C3, the NEX-5N also cleverly conceals the considerable range of functions that Sony has given it. The fact that the 5 Series has much more to offer than its smaller sister is not even apparent at second glance. That doesn’t have to be a flaw, since it enables the inexperienced photographer to achieve respectable results without having to read a pen. The “intelligent automatic mode” is intended for him and selects the appropriate subject program for the respective shooting situation. If you don’t trust this automatic, you can alternatively specify the desired motif program yourself. The NEX-5N offers eight scene modes, which doesn’t sound like much at first. But Sony also allows some intervention possibilities in the automatic mode. For example, in the “Portrait” program it is possible to switch off the blurring of skin tones.

In addition, the automatic systems are supplemented by practical special functions. This includes, for example, the “panoramic panorama”, which records a very wide viewing angle by panning the camera. The NEX-5N can even record vertical panoramas with this technology and thus also captures high church towers or mountains on the chip that the lens cannot capture completely. With the second generation of NEX cameras, Sony has introduced the image effects already known from other manufacturers, the NEX-5N offers even more possibilities than its smaller sister. Many effects such as “toy camera”, “HDR painting” or “miniature effect” can be individually adjusted, such as the colors, strength of the effect or its direction. There are also creative styles such as “Landscape” or “Portrait”, in which the camera’s internal image processing processes the images in the desired way. Ambitious photographers will, however, miss the “Neutral” style known from the Alpha DSLRs, which is more gentle on the image processing than the “Standard” default setting.

For more serious images, the possibilities already known from the first NEX generation to significantly improve the image quality by multiple exposure are much more useful. The NEX can produce true HDR images by taking three differently exposed photos and offsetting them so that everything from the deepest shadows to the brightest lights is perfectly drawn through. Or it combines multiple shots in a way that drastically reduces image noise. However, the limitations already known from the NEX-C3 remain, the noise reduction per multiple shot is bound to a motive program that offers practically no possibilities of intervention. This is more cleverly solved with SLT cameras, where multishot noise reduction is another option in the ISO menu.

If you want to get out what’s really inside the camera, you have to leave the fully automatic or the motif programs behind you. They are clearly designed for those who don’t want to struggle with setting options. Not even the often important exposure compensation is allowed in automatic mode – a somewhat annoying limitation. The ISO sensitivity is also always set by the automatic, it regulates up to high ISO 3,200 high if necessary, the boundaries cannot be limited.

The NEX-5N allows the manual setting of the sensitivity from ISO 100 up to very high ISO 25,600. Face and smile recognition also work outside of the automatic motif recognition, as does the contrast enhancement via HDR multiple exposure. Photographers with greater ambitions will also be pleased that the NEX-5N offers contemporary flash modes: Long-term synchronisation, flash exposure compensation or flashes on the second shutter curtain are possible, the NEX-5N only lacks the ability for wireless control of system flash units.

As with all previous cameras in the NEX family, the NEX-5N no longer found room in the slim housing for an on-board flash. Instead, Sony attaches a tiny attach flash to it, which is slightly weak on the chest with a guide number of 8.1. Much heavier is the fact that the multifunctional flash shoe can also record either the optional video viewfinder or the ECM-SST1 stereo microphone. Flashes are therefore not possible when using the video viewfinder, nor is it possible to record high-quality sound while the EVF controls the viewfinder image at the same time. Only the upcoming NEX-7 will remove these restrictions, with flash and EVF integrated into the housing, and the conventional flash shoe of the Minolta/Sony system.

The NEX-5N’s speed is beyond all doubt. It shoots about 10 frames/s in the mode “frame repetition time priority” and is therefore much faster than the smaller NEX-C3. However, the camera freezes the focus and exposure to the values determined for the first image in the series. This is certainly a good way to live in many situations, but less so because the buffer memory is already full after ten JPEG shots. This means: After only one second, the NEX-5N falls from the sprint into the leisurely endurance run with approx. 1.8 frames/s. During the RAW recording, only seven images fit into the buffer memory, so Sony would have liked to have had a larger buffer memory. If focus and exposure are to be reset for each image in a series, the NEX-5N still achieves a respectable frame rate of around 3.3 fps. Now the buffer is enough for about 18 JPEG photos or eight RAW files.

The NEX-N5 is much more advanced than its little sister C3 when it comes to video recording. Their maximum video resolution is 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (Full HD resolution) at a maximum frame rate of 50 full frames/s (50p), stored in AVCHD format in the new specification 2.0. Older Blu-ray players do not support this format, but may be able to update their firmware. As an option, the NEX-N5 can also record at 24p, i.e. 24 full frames/s as with cinema films. It also offers the MP4 format, which is easier to manage and has a limited resolution of 1,440 x 1,080 pixels. However, the very high data rate is by no means all the NEX-N5 has to offer the videographer: Aperture and exposure time can be set in M mode, exposure compensation also works during video recording. In addition, unlike the NEX-C3, there is now a switchable wind filter for sound recording. Demanding videographers will at most miss an external microphone input as well as the possibility to manually control the film sound. Apart from that the camera inspires with a very good video quality and various configuration possibilities.


With the NEX family, Sony has introduced the new E bayonet. When a new bayonet is introduced to the market, the range of suitable lenses is usually quite manageable – currently this also applies to the NEX-5N. Sony currently offers two zoom lenses and two fixed focal lengths. But more will follow before the end of this year, including a high-quality 24 millimetre wide-angle lens from Carl Zeiss and a macro lens. We had the Double-Kit in the test, here Sony puts the SEL 1855 (18-55/3.5-5.6) as well as the “Pancake” SEL 16F28 (16/2.8) into the box. Unlike the Alpha DSLRs, the NEX system does not offer image stabilisation via sensor shift. It is only available if the corresponding lens is equipped with an optical image stabilizer. Sony has given the standard zoom SEL 1855, which covers a focal length range of 27 to almost 80 millimeters in relation to a 35mm, an optical image stabilizer – but not the very flat wide-angle lens SEL 16F28. With their integrated focus drive, both lenses focus very quietly. The standard zoom proved to be quite fast in the lab: on average, it takes less than 0.3 seconds for the camera to adjust and release the focus. In adverse lighting conditions, however, the focus time increases noticeably – after all, the NEX-5N can assist the AF in this case with a bright orange auxiliary light.

The NEX-5N makes manual focusing really easy: As soon as the focus ring is rotated, the central image section appears on the display for two or five seconds at 7.5 or 12 times magnification. Also practical: if desired, the autofocus can be overridden manually at any time, a small turn of the focus ring of the lens is enough to manually adjust the sharpness. In addition, the camera offers an “edge enhancement” function that makes manual focusing even easier. When “Peaking” is on, all contrast edges within the focus plane are highlighted on the display or in the optional viewfinder. This function is all the more practical since practically all 35 mm objects can be adapted to the NEX cameras via a coupling ring – its very short flange focal length makes it possible. We tested this possibility in a short but intensive practical test with different lenses for the Leica-M bayonet. With the help of the Peaking function it is child’s play to focus manually. The depth of field can also be controlled very well in the viewfinder image using the colored edges.

Picture quality

4.The APS-C sensor of the NEX-5N resolves 912 x 3,264 pixels, i.e. around 16 megapixels. In terms of paper form, it seems to be the same sensor as the NEX-C3, which surprised us pleasantly only recently (see further links). However, not only the sensor itself, but also the camera’s internal image processing plays a major role in the image quality delivered by a camera – or not.

The fact that Sony has set different priorities for the NEX-5N becomes apparent at first glance in the laboratory report: The NEX-5N is somewhat reserved in absolute resolution, it does not reach quite 40 line pairs per millimeter (lpmm) in MFT measurement – a limit that the smaller NEX-C3 was able to easily cross. On the other hand, the NEX-5N shines with other qualities, such as significantly gentler processing of the image data. The rate for sharpness artifacts always remains below ten percent. On the one hand, this means that the photos from the NEX-5N don’t look as crisp as those taken with the NEX-C3 – on the other hand, however, there are considerably more reserves for subsequent image processing.

If the absolute resolution of the NEX-5N doesn’t inspire praise, this doesn’t mean that the camera can’t reproduce the finest details. Quite the opposite: The NEX-5N convinces with a very good detail reproduction during the test of the texture sharpness up to high ISO 3,200; even at ISO 6,400 it still shows details that many cameras already let into the nirvana of noise reduction at significantly lower ISO levels. On the one hand, this is proof that Sony has mastered the balancing act between noise reduction and detail. On the other hand, it also makes it clear that a gentle image processing – apart from the MFT curves – can be quite advantageous. And so the NEX-5N is a very fine detail drawing – if the camera is equipped with the appropriate lenses. In addition, the NEX-5N’s image converter impresses with a very high dynamic range of almost eleven f-stops, the smoking behaviour is exemplary up to ISO 3,200 and good up to ISO 6,400. Apart from a slight tendency towards strong saturation, the NEX-5N reproduces colours in a very neutral way, the colour differentiation is very good at low ISO levels. The output dynamics are also at a high level, but Sony has tuned the tone curve quite crisply.

With the sensor and the processing of the image data, Sony has really succeeded in making a big hit. Unfortunately, this does not apply to the price-optimized set lens. What is particularly annoying is that the 18-55/3.5-5.6 shows a lot over the entire focal length range. But even in terms of edge darkening and edge sharpness, the standard zoom is not really convincing. The NEX-5N only shows what it really is when it is combined with fine glass. We had equipped the camera for a weekend with exclusive fixed focal lengths from Leica and significantly cheaper lenses from Voigtländer via adapters – they all deliver visibly better image quality than the standard zoom. It doesn’t help much that the NEX-5N can correct the worst imaging errors of the system lenses by software if desired. If you want to fully exploit the potential of the NEX-5N, you need high-quality lenses – Sony still has some homework to do here.

Bottom line

Even the NEX-C3 was able to please with its very good image quality, the NEX-5N is now adding a scoop. She is the finest of the two youngest NEX sisters and masters the balancing act between resolution, noise reduction and detail reproduction almost perfectly. Thus, the mirrorless system camera from Sony is also recommended for demanding photographers, although the range of adequate lenses currently still has large gaps. In addition, the somewhat limited configuration options then set limits to all too great ambitions. The NEX-5N is primarily intended for those who want to upgrade from a compact camera. With its practical automatic functions, the operating concept suitable for beginners and a high reaction and series picture speed, the NEX-5N has advanced to become a high-quality everyday camera. Thanks to its very good high-ISO capabilities, it is also ideally suited for reportage use, even when little light is available. The NEX-5N also plays in the first league with its video functions, only the possibility of manual audio control is missing.

Fact sheet

Fact sheet
Manufacturer Sony
Model NEX-5N
Price approx. 640 EUR**
Sensor Resolution 16.7 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 4.912 x 3.264
(aspect ratio) (3:2)
Lens 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 OSS
Filter threads 49 mm
Field of vision
Diopter compensation
LCD monitor 3″
Disbandment 921.600
swivelling yes
as seeker yes
Video output HDMI
as seeker
Program automation yes
Aperture priority yes
Aperture priority yes
manual exposure yes
BULB long-term exposure yes
Shooting modes
Portrait yes
Countryside yes
Macro yes
Sports/Action yes
more 4
Exposure metering Multi-field, Centre-weighted Integral, Spot
Flash yes (attachable)
Guide number 8.1 (measurement)
Flash connection Special flash shoe
Remote release Infrared (optional)
Interval shooting
Storage medium SD/SDHC/SDXC, MemoryStick
Video mode
Size AVCHD or MP4
Codec H.264/AVC
Resolution (max.) 1.920 x 1.080
Frame rate (max.) 50
automatic ISO 100-3.200
manually ISO 100-25.600
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Light bulb yes
Other Shadow, flash, manual color temperature selection
Manual yes
Number of measuring fields 25
AF auxiliary light orange
Speed approx. 0.25 s
Languages Yes
more 15
Switch-on time 1,8 s
One-hand operation
(zoom and shutter release)
approx. 269 g (housing only
)approx. 501 g (with lens**)
Continuous shooting function*
Number of series images 10 (JPEG
)7 (RAW)
9.8 (JPEG
)9.9 (RAW)
Endurance run
1.8 (JPEG
)0.9 (RAW)
with flash 1,4
Zoom adjustment at lens
Zoom levels continuously variable
Time WW to Tele
Memory speeds*
JPEG 0,5 (4,4 MByte)
RAW 0,9 s (16,1 MByte)
Triggering during
.Save as possible.
Battery life approx. 430 images (according to CIPA)
– not available”
* with Panasonic 4 GByte Class 10 SDHC memory card**
with lens Sony E 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 OSS

This test of the Sony NEX-5N with Sony E 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 OSS (SEL-1855) was done with DXOMARK Analyzer.

Short evaluation


  • Connection option for optional electronic viewfinder
  • Full HD video at 50 full frames per second
  • Sophisticated auxiliary functions for manual focusing (e.g. edge raising)
  • Excellent image quality (but limited image conduction of the set lenses)
  • High-quality, easy-to-grip housing


  • Touchscreen reacts sluggishly
  • No internal flash, external flash and EVF share system shoe
  • A little bit less configuration possibilities

Sony NEX-5N Datasheet


Sensor CMOS sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5
)16.7 megapixels (physical) and 16.1 megapixels (effective)
Pixel pitch 4.8 µm
Photo resolution
4.912 x 3.264 pixels (3:2)
3.568 x 2.368 pixels (3:2)
2.448 x 1.624 pixels (3:2)
Picture formats JPG, RAW
Metadata Exif (version 2.21), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.920 x 1.080 (16:9) 25 p
1.440 x 1.080 (4:3) 25 p
640 x 480 (4:3) 25 p
Video format
MPG4 (codec MPEG-4)


Lens mount
Sony E


Autofocus Functions Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, AF Assist Light
Focus control Depth of field check

Viewfinder and Monitor

Monitor 3.0″ TFT LCD monitor with 921,600 pixels


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 Program automatic, Aperture automatic, Time automatic, Manual
Bracketing function Bracket function with maximum 3 shots, step size from 0.3 to 0.7 EV, HDR function
Exposure compensation -2.0 to +2.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV
Sensitivity to light ISO 100 to ISO 1.600 (automatic
)ISO 100 to ISO 12.800 (manual)
Remote access Remote tripping
Motives Auto, Landscape, Macro, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Portrait, Sports/Action, 0 more scene modes
Picture effects four presets
White balance Auto, Cloudy, Sun, Shadow, Flash, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Manual
Color space Adobe RGB, sRGB
Continuous shooting Continuous-advance function max. 10.0 fps at highest resolution and max. 10 stored photos, max. 7 fps with focus on first image, max. 14 JPEG images, max. 7 RAW images
Self-timer Self-timer at intervals of 2 s, special features: or 10 s (optional)
Shooting functions Live histogram


Flash no built-in flash availableFlash shoe
: Sony NEX
Flash functions Auto, Fill Flash, Flash On, Flash Off, Slow Sync, Flash On Second Shutter Curtain, Red-Eye Reduction


Image stabilizer no optical image stabilizer
Memory Stick (Duo Pro)
second memory card slot
GPS function Internal GPS
Microphone Stereo
Power supply 1 x Sony NP-FW50 (lithium ion (Li-Ion), 7.2 V, 1,240 mAh
)165 CIPA-standard images
Playback Functions Highlights / shadow warning, image index, slide show function
Face recognition Face recognition, smile recognition
Picture parameters Sharpness, contrast
Ports Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0 High Speed
AV connectors AV output: HDMI output Micro (Type D)
Supported direct printing methods PictBridge
Tripod socket 1/4″
Features and Miscellaneous BIONZ image processorSensor cleaning function
(antistatic filter and ultrasonic)
Dynamic Range Optimizer (1-5 steps)
Long-term noise reduction from 1 second selectableNoise reduction
from ISO 1.6

00 and more with
priority selection)
Contrast, sharpness and saturation can be changed in /-3 stepsFinder magnifier
6x and 12x for manual focusingAVCHD
and MPEG-4 video recordingPtP transmission protocolMagnesium die-cast housingPercentage-accurate

battery capacity display Automatic
brightness adjustment of the screen, additional sunlight adjustment

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 111 x 59 x 38 mm
Weight 269 g (operational)


included accessories Sony BC-VW1 Charger for special rechargeable batteriesSony
NP-FW50 Special rechargeable batteryUSB connection cablePlug-in flashHVL-FS7Rising strapPicture editing software

Picture Motion Browser for Windows

optional accessory Sony GPS-CS3KA Universal ProductSony
NP-FW50 Special Battery Pack
AC-PW20Removable Memory CardOpticalViewfinder (FDA-SV1)
IR Remote Control (RMT-DSLR1


Stereo Microphone (ECM-SST1)
Camera Case

Firmware Update 1.01 for Sony NEX-5N: Autofocus and Camera Stability Improved

Sony provides a new firmware version 1.01 for the system camera NEX-5N. This is intended to improve the autofocus response when the distance to the subject changes significantly. In miniature effect mode, camera stability is improved when the distortion correction is set to Auto, and the Intelligent Autofocus feature is improved when using exposure correction. The update can be installed by the user himself using a manual availabe, which can be found on the Sony support website like the update. If you still don’t have the courage to update yourself, you should ask your dealer or the camera service for help.


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