Sony NEX-5N Performance Review

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Over the New Year holiday, I have been shooting with the NEX-5N. You can find out my first impression here.

Since then, Canon has announced the G1X and Fujifilm has announced the X-Pro 1, both are very capable cameras based on specs, but shouldn’t affect your decision of getting a Sony NEX, since the G1X and X-PRO 1 are different class of camera than the NEXs. If you are thinking about getting the Sony NEX-5N, have a look here first to see which camera is best for you.

If you are looking for a high end camera in place of a DSLR, you can’t go wrong with either the Fuji X-Pro 1, NEX-7, E-P3, GX1 or Nikon 1

If you own a DSLR and want something smaller,, then you can try either the NEX-7/5N, E-P3, GX1, G1X or Nikon 1.

Previously I have been using Olympus m4/3 (read more here, here and here) and I am very happy with it as long as you don’t expect it to performance like a DSLR. It is very portable and very capable of producing great images.

In the new year, I picked up the NEX-5N and it will serve me as my travel/casual camera, simply because I am a DoF addict and want a camera with high ISO performance. The NEX-5N has been benchmarked to have great ISO performance similar to that of the Nikon D5100 and much greater than any m4/3 (DxOMark).

Currently, I am using the Lowepro Ridge 60 to carry the camera + twin lenses. This is a great little bag which cost $5 USD as it is being discontinued. Alternatively try the Apex 60.

Sony NEX-5N + 16mm f/2.8 +18-55mm f/3.5-5.6

The NEX-5N is not much bigger than the iPhone 4. The NEX-5N + the pancake lens 16mm can be fitted in jacket pocket, but still far from being pocket size. If you work with DSLR all the time, you will appreciate with any m4/3 or mirrorless.

 Size comparison Sony NEX-5N + 16mm f/2.8 vs iPhone 4

During the New Year holiday, I picked up the NEX-5N and mainly shot with it most of the time. You can check out what I think of it here. Obviously the AF and start up are slower, changing settings are a bit fiddly, but you can’t expect it to perform like a DSLR. With its compactness, it makes a great 2nd camera for those who already own a DSLR, but it also makes a great camera for those who are looking for a high end compact camera that produces great image quality.

I took it around during the holiday and snapped some shots to test its functionality. Some background of the camera settings I used – For most of the time, I shot at Aperture mode and have ISO on Auto, the NEX-5N allows AUTO ISO up to ISO 3200. I had turned off all in camera image process, like noise reduction, HDR, DR0 and I shot with RAW.  Check out the images below.

The NEX-5N is pretty quick with the AF even thou it uses contrast detection. No pre focus for this shot.

f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 100, 55mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

The shot was taken using the kit lens 18-55mm, being a compact camera with flip LCD, it let me get the camera near water level. The flip LCD lets you shoot and compose from an interesting angle.

f/3.5, 1/60s, ISO 200, 18mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

With an APS-C size sensor, you can still get some nice DoF even using the kit lens.

f/4.5, 1/100s, ISO 100, 36mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 100, 16 mm (E 16mm f/2.8)

f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 100, 16 mm (E 16mm f/2.8)

Here, shooting with the pancake lens 16mm wide open. You can get some nice DoF shooting at minimum focusing distance. That’s the advantage of shooting with APS-C sensor. Read about what you could be missing out with smaller sensor camera here.

f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 100, 16mm (E 16mm f/2.8)

The pancake 16mm (equivalent to 24mm) is light weight, only 49g, which is perfect for travelling and taking those touristy shots like these.

f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 160, 16mm (E 16mm f/2.8)

f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 160, 16mm (E 16mm f/2.8)

The NEX-5N’s matrix metering does a good job in a high contrast scene.

f/2.8, 1/4000s, ISO 800, 16mm (E 16mm f/2.8)

The small NEX-5N is not small on colour rendering and image details even at ISO 3200.

                                       f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 250, 16mm (E 16mm f/2.8)                                                              f/2.8, 1/50s, ISO 3200, 16mm (E 16mm f/2.8)

The kit lens does have quite a bit of distortion at 18mm, but should be easily fixed by software.

f/5.6, 1/100s, ISO 160, 18mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

The  18-55mm kit lens is a great all purpose lens which has a FOV equivalent to 27-82.5mm on 35mm.

f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 160, 18mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

At ISO 2500, the image quality is still exceptional.

f/5.6, 1/60s, ISO 2500, 18mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

A couple of high contrast images to test out the metering system.

f/5.6, 1/60s, ISO 1600, 18mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

f/5.6, 1/60s, ISO 200, 18mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

f/8, 1/60s, ISO 160, 16mm (E 16mm f/2.8)

The details on the lychee are still very well controlled even at ISO 1600.

f/3.5, 1/60s, ISO 1600, 18mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

Here is a DoF comparison between FF (D700) and APS-C (NEX-5N) sensors. Check out the lines on the ceiling in the background, both were shot at 24mm equivalent, f/2.8, but you will notice the FF (D700) has a much shallower DoF and therefore isolate the subject much better. There is a slight WB issues on this shot with the NEX-5N, the WB turned out to be quite inaccurate, but was corrected in post.

                                             D700 – f/2.8, 24mm (24-70mm f/2.8)                                                                    NEX-5N – f/2.8, 16mm (E 16mm f/2.8)

The OSS built on the kit lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 works pretty good with this handheld shot at 1/10s during the New Year firework.

f/5.6, 1/10s, ISO 400, 18mm (E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS)

I also tried out the Panorama mode on the NEX-5N. Apparently it automatically shoots at a high FPS and all you have to do is pan the camera horizontally. You don’t even need to press the shutter. Pretty neat.


After a few days of test and still testing now, the NEX-5N does really good with the different shooting situation that you throw at it. Apart from the distortion and one off WB issue, I can’t fault its performance much. It certainly was my go to camera during the trip instead of my DSLR. I didn’t even feel hesitate  to shoot in low light, knowing that it will produce decent images even at ISO 1600-3200.

What do you guys think about the NEX-5N? Leave us a comment below.

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About Kent Yu

Kent is a professional wedding and portrait photographer based in Wellington, New Zealand. He and his team specialise in modern and contemporary weddings. Kent has his work published in international magazines and is a regular author to a number of photographic publication. He is fascinated by photographic equipment and enjoys showcasing the gear used in creating his images. You can find him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google+
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Comments and Feedback? Fire away !

avatar simonpark_hsp says:

Your break shot shows the zoom lens distortion. I have never noticed it, even owned it.
Good! learned from you! 

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