Sony Alpha NEX-5N Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: January 27, 2012

Last Updated: July 17, 2012

The Sony Alpha NEX-5N (from $599) is a midrange mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The 5N sits in-between the entry-level NEX-C3 and almost over-the-top NEX-7. It's also the replacement to the NEX-5, a camera I had very mixed feelings about, though firmware upgrades addressed some of the issues I raised.

So what's changed between the NEX-5 and NEX-5N? It's chart time!

  NEX-5 NEX-5N
Sensor resolution 14.2 Megapixel 16.1 Megapixel
Touchscreen LCD No Yes
ISO range (full res) 200 - 12800 100 - 25600
Movie resolution 1080/60i 1080/60p or 60i
Burst rate (full res) 7 frames/sec 10 frames/sec
EVF support No Yes
Battery life (CIPA) 330 shots 430 shots
Dimensions 4.4 × 2.4 × 1.6 in. 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 in.
Weight (body only, empty) 229 g 210 g

So there are the major changes -- there a few cosmetic and feature set differences, as well.

The NEX-5N has garnered a lot of buzz in the photo world due to its performance, features, and photo quality. How does it hold up in our tests? Find out now in our review!

Due to their similarities, content from the NEX-7 review will be reused here.

What's in the Box?

The NEX-5N is available in two kits: body only for $599, or with an 18-55 mm zoom lens for $699. While the body only model is black, you can get the lens kit in silver or white, as well. Here's what you'll find in the box for each of those:

  • The 16.1 effective Megapixel Alpha NEX-5N camera body
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm Sony zoom IS lens [lens kit only]
  • NP-FW50 lithium-ion battery
  • HVL-F7S flash w/carrying case
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Sony Image Data Suite
  • 94 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM

Should you choose the lens kit, then you'll be find the F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm OSS (Sony's term for image stabilization) lens that came with the original NEX models. This lens offers solid build quality, good sharpness, and minimal purple fringing. It also makes the NEX-5N a lot more of a handful. There are now a total of seven E-mount lenses available, including the kit lens. Some notable lenses include the F2.8, 16 mm pancake lens (which use accept conversion lenses), an F3.5, 30 mm macro lens, and a pricey F1.8, 24mm Carl Zeiss lens. Whichever lens you choose, there's a 1.5X crop factor to keep in mind, so that 18-55 has a field-of-view of 27 - 82.5 mm.

NEX-5N with LA-EA2 adapter and giant A-mount Zeiss lens
Image courtesy of Sony Electronics

If you want to use old Alpha (A-mount) lenses, you have two options. You can pick up the original LA-EA1 adapter (priced from $129), which offers sluggish autofocus on select Sony lenses. A much better solution is to use the new LA-EA2 adapter (priced from $336), which has the same translucent mirror technology as Sony's D-SLRs and allows for super-fast AF with any A-mount lens. If you want to use lenses from other manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, etc.), there are adapters for that, as well.

Interchangeable lens cameras like the NEX-5N never come with memory cards. So, if you don't have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The NEX-5N is still a Sony camera, so it supports Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, but that slot can also accept SD, SDHC, and SDXC media. I would suggest a 4 or 8 GB card if you're mostly taking stills, and a 16 or 32 GB card if you'll be recording movies, as well.

The NEX-5N uses the same NP-FW50 lithium-ion battery as many other Sony cameras. This battery can hold 7.7 Wh of energy, which is on the upper end of the spectrum for interchangeable lens cameras. Here's how that translates into battery life, with a look at the competition:

Camera Battery life w/live view
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Nikon 1 J1 230 shots EN-EL20
Olympus E-P3 300 shots BLS-1 / BLS-5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 300 shots * DMW-BLD10
Pentax Q 230 shots D-LI68
Samsung NX200 330 shots BP1310
Sony Alpha NEX-5N 430 shots NP-FW50

* With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The NEX-5N easily wins the battery life competition, coming in a full 100 shots higher than the Samsung NX200. Should you need an extra battery, it'll set you back at least $50.

When it's time to charge the NP-FW50, just pop it into the included charger, which plugs right into the wall. Unlike the charger included with the NEX-7, this one is quite slow, taking a whopping 250 minutes to charge the battery.

NEX-5N with optional articulating electronic viewfinder

There's a decent set of accessories available for the NEX-5N. Here's a list of the most interesting ones:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies Choose from any E-mount lens, or use old A-mount lenses with one of the adapters below.
A-mount adapters LA-EA1
From $129
From $336
Both of these let you use A-mount lenses on the NEX-5N. The first one only supports autofocus with SSM and SAM lenses, and even then, will be slow. The second one offers super-fast AF with all lenses.
External flash HVL-F20S From $150 Attaches to the Smart Accessory Terminal and has a guide number of 20 (versus 7 for the included flash). Folds down when not in use. Since the camera lacks a hot shoe, this and the bundled flash are the only ones you can use.
Electronic viewfinder FDA-EV1S From $350 An absolutely gorgeous 0.5" EVF with almost 2.4 million dots and the ability to tilt upward as much as 90 degrees. Same as the EVF on the NEX-7. Expensive, but may be worth it.
Stereo microphone ECM-SST1 From $98 Attaches to the Smart Accessory Terminal and captures digital stereo sound. A windscreen is included.
Wireless remote control RMT-DSLR1 From $23 Control the camera in record and playback mode wirelessly.
AC adapter AC-PW20 From $77 Power the camera without using your battery.
Fast battery charger BC-VW1 From $35 Charges the battery in 90 minutes, instead of 250.
Leather body case LCS-EB50/B From $45 Old-school leather body case attaches via the tripod mount, and can stay on when shooting. Sony doesn't seem to offer any lens covers, though.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

In case you skipped all that, I just want to again give praise to the optional electronic viewfinder. It's the same one found on the NEX-7, and it blows away anything you've ever used. The only real downside is that you can't use the EVF and the flash at the same time.

Moving onto the bundled software now. Sony includes two products with the NEX-5N: Picture Motion Browser (Windows only) and Image Data Converter (Mac and Windows). Picture Motion Browser is a pretty standard photo organizing/sharing suite. In addition to importing photos from the camera, it can also share them via e-mail, prints, and on photo/video sharing websites. Editing tools include redeye reduction, brightness/saturation/tone curve, and sharpness. There's also an Auto Correct function which attempts to fix things with a single click. While PMB can view RAW files, it cannot edit them. For that, you'll need to use the next product.

That product is Image Data Converter, which can edit a number of RAW properties, including white balance, Creative Style, D-Range Optimizer, noise reduction, and exposure. IDC has a "version stack" that lets jump back in time to older iterations of the photo you're working on. My only real complaint is that it's a bit slow to process adjustments. If you'd rather use Photoshop for editing RAW files, just make sure that your Camera Raw plug-in is up-to-date!

Sony uses two different codecs for video recording on the NEX-5N: AVCHD and MPEG-4. Picture Motion Browser can be used to view all videos produced by the camera, and it can remove unwanted footage from your clip, or save a frame as a still image. While it can convert videos to WMV format, they'll be VGA quality. PMB can also burn videos to Blu-ray or DVD discs. If you want to use a commercial product to edit your videos and plan on using the AVCHD Progressive (1080/60p) mode, check with your software manufacturer to make sure you can actually edit the video.

Mac users can edit MPEG-4 and most AVCHD videos with ease, using iMovie or Final Cut Pro X. You will not be able to open the AVCHD Progressive videos however, unless you run them through Media Converter first (be sure to download the AVCHD rewrap plug-in, as well).

Unfortunately, Sony splits the documentation into two parts on the NEX-5N. There's a decent-sized basic manual to get you up and running, but if you want more information, you'll have to open up the full manual, which is in PDF format on the included CD-ROM. The manuals themselves are good enough for beginners, but enthusiasts will find themselves wanting a bit more depth. Instructions for the bundled software is installed in the form of help files.