Sony NEX-5N review
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The Sony NEX-5 was our favourite camera of 2010. Its image quality was a true match for an SLR's, and its slim, stylish design, superb videos and innovative shooting modes added up to an outstanding package. The Sony NEX-5N is a subtle but inspired evolution of the NEX-5, keeping the best and addressing the worst of its predecessor.
Its slim magnesium alloy body looks extremely smart. The 3in wide-aspect screen with its sharp 921,600-dot resolution makes a reappearance, but this time it's touch sensitive. This isn't a huge timesaver in general operation as the physical buttons and dial are generally quicker to use, but it came into its element when moving the spot focus point or defining a moving subject to track. The physical controls remain fairly scant but it's possible to define up to seven functions for quick access. It retains its predecessor's wealth of advanced shooting modes, including automatic panorama stitching in both 2D and 3D, automatic HDR, combining of multiple exposures to reduce noise and lots of creative effects.
The resolution is up from 14 to 16 megapixels, and we're happy to report that this comes with no discernible detriment to noise levels. That places the NEX-5N way beyond rival compact system cameras (CSCs) and on a par with the best SLRs at this price for sensor quality. The ISO control goes up to 25,600, and delivered usable snaps at that top setting. The NEX-5's automatic mode failed to capitalise on its superb sensor, limiting ISO speeds to 1600, but the NEX-5N sensibly raises this to ISO 3200.
Videos are recorded in AVCHD format at 1080-25p, 1080-50i or 1080-50p. There's full control over the shutter speed, aperture and ISO speed, and track focus can be updated via the touchscreen while recording. Picture quality was outstanding, with sharp details, natural colours and low noise in gloomy conditions.
Video autofocus was fast, smooth and silent, but we did notice some clicks in the soundtrack. It appears that the orientation sensor is to blame, with subtle clicks that were audible in the room as we angled the camera up, down or to the side. However, we had to move it around pretty violently to induce these clicks while holding the camera level. There are videos on YouTube showing the problem to be much worse, though. Sony is offering a fix, although it only claims to reduce rather than eliminate the problem.
There's also the longstanding issue of Sony’s NEX and Alpha cameras overheating while recording. A warning icon appeared on screen after shooting for 20 minutes, but the camera kept recording for the full 30 minutes' maximum clip length. It might not last so long when recording in hotter climates, though.
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