My schedule has been absolutely INSANE the past few weeks so I decided today that I would force myself to sit down, take a breather, and finish my review of the Sony NEX 5N, especially before I enter into the production phase of Brandon Delaney’s new short film this Saturday. On a side note, I’ll also be posting a few blogs about the method behind the madness regarding the cinematography for that project. Expect lighting diagrams and DIY tutorials in the near future. But, I digress… Back to the task at hand.
Now, the Sony NEX 5N is by no means a new camera but every consumer knows there’s two times that you really check out a product. Once, when it first hits the market and again when it receives a significant price cut. With the camera body only well below $200 USD on most sites, this will be more of the latter, what I like to call a “late bloomer” review.
The Sony NEX 5N
The Sony NEX 5N was originally announced by Sony in August of 2011, as an updated version of the original NEX 5. It has a 16.1 Megapixel CMOS mirrorless sensor that is built around the widely used APS-C sensor (the same used in the T2i and the 7D). It has an extremely responsive LCD touch screen display, ISO settings from 100 to 25600, 10fps continuous shooting mode at full resolution, HDR and panorama, in camera CA, vignetting, and distortion correction, “Creative Control” user settings, and even shoots gorgeous 1080 60i/p (28 Mbps) or 24p/25p (24 Mbps) HD AVCHD videos. Alternatively, you can also shoot MP4 videos at a slightly lower resolution of 1440×1080.
If you’re like me and you’re coming over to NEX 5N from other DSLRS like Panasonic’s GH series or the Canon T2i (3i, 4i, etc), the first thing you’ll notice about the NEX 5N is it’s size. At 111 x 59 x 38mm (without a lens), it’s smaller and lighter (269g with the battery) than most cell phones. You’ll also notice the lack of a viewfinder and flash. You can pick up the optional external viewfinder or the flash, which mount into a slot that’s oddly placed on the top of camera. I’m not quite sure what it is with Sony and placing LCDs, viewfinders, and flashes in awkward positions but my NEX FS100 suffers from the same problem. The price of adding either of those accessories will run you about as much as the camera body. In my opinion, by the time you find yourself in the $500+ price range, you may be better off looking at a different model. At below $200, however, I believe you can’t go wrong with the NEX 5N as an entry level/prosumer DSLR camera, or in my case as a B-Roll camera with still picture capabilities to my NEX FS100 shoots.
I’ll preface the next section by stating the obvious. I’m no Vincent LaForet or Karl Taylor. I’m a video guy that sometimes dabbles in photography. So to my eyes and from a cinematography standpoint, the color rendition, the low noise, the sharpness of the images, the snappiness of the auto focus, the depth of field, and the ability to use my other E mount and EF lenses (via adapter) make the NEX 5N an absolute steal. The images I’ve posted above are all direct from the camera with no post processing whatsoever!
Now, as with all cameras, the Sony NEX 5N does have a few issues. No deal breakers but definite issues. Most of them are a direct result of Sony trying to keep the price point down. The lack of an onboard flash is a bit surprising. The only reason it doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should is because I don’t need a flash for video. The next issue is the LCD screen itself. The hinge on it allows it to angle up if you’re shooting low angle and angle down if you’re shooting above your head but it does not flip all the way up to allow viewing from in front of the camera. This won’t seem like much of an issue until you’re trying to take a self-portrait or simply just want to check framing from a distance… There is also a well documented issue with the on-board audio introducing a popping sound when recording video, especially handheld. Once again, not an issue for me because I use the XLR audio on my FS100 but it could be for you if you’re looking for a DSLR to do everything with. And since we’re on the topic of handheld, don’t even think about trying it with the 5N without a stabilizer rig. The still photo image stabilization is absolutely incredible, particularly in the twilight handheld mode but the image stabilization for the video mode… Not so much. The rolling shutter is absolutely killer. I have yet to encounter the overheating issue that others have. If I do, I’ll update this article.
The Bottom Line
The NEX 5N is definitely worth every penny of it’s price, even years after its release and with newer camera models available. I paid almost double for my Panasonic GH1 and it doesn’t hold a candle to the 5N. If you’re not yet ready for an A7s, GH4, or 5DMKIII, or you’re simply in the market for a cheap DSLR or B Roll camera that captures amazing images to supplement your shoots, this may be the camera for you. I absolutely love the camera and stand behind my purchase of it but I would never rely on it solely during a shoot due to the issues I listed above. The NEX 5N is perfect for B-Roll and stills. For photographers, your mileage may vary…