I couldn’t wait… Sony α NEX-5n

Sony Alpha NEX-5n

Sony Alpha NEX-5n

I couldn’t wait for the NEX-7 so I got the NEX-5n. I was so looking forward to the 7 though. This month is going to be pretty busy. Going on vacation and soon after I’ll be hitting GDC in San Francisco. Both need a still camera and a video camera (although I’m told that we already have both, why do we need ANOTHER ONE) and my preorder for the NEX-7 wasn’t set to ship until the day I was to leave for SF. Obviously too late for either trip.

Yes I could have taken our Canon Powershot A650 and our Canon HF100 but that’s quite a few cameras to lug around everywhere. The beauty of the Sony NEX line of cameras are three-fold.

  1. The NEX cameras are capable of having nearly any lens you can throw at it with native support for the Sony Mirrorless E-Mount lenses and support for the Sony A-Mount lenses via an adapter plus a handful of thirdparty adapters that add support for a wider range of high quality third party lenses.
  2. With the introduction of the 5n and 7, Sony has introduced “highend” consumer grade HD video and standard definition video in a camera that shoots amazing, low light, high resolution stills. Essentially two great cameras in one, plus the standard def mp4 format goes straight to your blog for HTML 5 playback if you’re into that kind of thing.
  3. It’s so tiny! It’s a lot of camera for the size.

So why was I waiting for the 7 and why didn’t I just get the 5n to begin with?

If you read my NEX-7 post, you might be able to glean how enamored I was/am with it.

They’re basically the same camera, but the NEX-7 has the extra programmable dials, a built in flash and viewfinder. That all seems like stuff you need on a camera, but it turns out that you don’t really… well mostly.

I’ve sort of fallen in love with NEX-5n, but I do think a view finder would be helpful. It’s hard to focus using the LCD display in brightly lit environments, even using the Manual Focus Assist and Manual Focus Peaking Display doesn’t provide much help in a sunny day scenario.

Menus

Some features that I find I want to change most frequently are buried in software menus and its kind of hard to remember where they are in order to get to them fast. You can program 3 buttons (Soft key C center dial, Right Key right dial and Soft key B the bottom silver button)  to do what you want for the most part, but the custom settings are only available in the manual modes (P, A, S, M). This is ok, but it would be nice to be able to access to auto-focus without having to click a button, go into a menu, then go into another menu to get at it. Also, Exposure Compensation isn’t available for a custom key setting, it is 2 clicks to get to it in a menu, and however many clicks it is to find it in the item list.

Custom Key Menu

The NEX-5n has something that the NEX-7 does not… a touchscreen. Really? Sony didn’t enable a touch screen on arguably one of the best cameras to come out in this class for 2012? I find I prefer using the NEX-5n’s touchscreen at least half of the time. It might be that i don’t like hearing or feeling the click of the physical dial, or that I’ve been using touchscreen phones and tablets for so long that it has become more natural than the old school physical buttons, or that I’m inherently impatient so it is likely that I’d rather press the screen to access a menu item than spin the dial (in a direction that is at times counter intuitive) or press the dial in a direction multiple times. Whatever it is, I think leaving it off the 7 is a severe omission on the thirteen hundred and fifty dollar camera.

Focusing

I’ve read a lot of complaints about the auto-focus having a hard time in low light. I can confirm this, but it wouldn’t be that bad if the Manual Focus Assist worked while in DMF mode when the auto-focus fails. Huh? Yes, the manual focus with MF Assist does not work in DMF if the auto-focus part is failing… This happens in super low light and other random conditions, but it shouldn’t happen at all in my opinion. It’s obviously a bug, but a super bad one.

Documentation

The manual is great about labeling the features on the camera. What I mean is it does not explain the features, it just labels them. Being a noob to photography in general i’d like more explanation for the Metering Mode, AF Mode and AF Area. Just saying Metering Mode is kind of “unhelpful”.

The 5n does try to make up for this by having a severely annoying pop up explanation on every menu item. This pop up menu opens every time a setting is navigated to. If you stop on a setting a pop up menu obscures the view making it hard to remember what you landed on. The setting can be turned off as it really isn’t much more help than the label.

For Metering Mode the explanation is, “The method at which brightness is measured.” This is better than just having a label, but it does not give any further explanation for each setting available in the Metering Mode. I guess Sony thinks Google is the user’s answer here. Instead of “Read the *u*k*n* Manual, it is Search the F*c*i*g Google. This is sad as the manual is thick, but for the most part ineffectual.

Manual Controls

There are a lot of cool things about the 5n though. It will let you control the image to the point where you can find yourself fiddling with the controls more than taking pictures. You may find your subjects have moved on to something else by the time you get the settings “just right” but at that point it would be better to use the more than capable auto settings available on the camera.

White Balance

There are quite a few white balance modes in the camera, Custom, Auto White Balance or AWB, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Flourescent: Warm White, Flourescent: Cool White, Flourescent: Day White, Flourescent: Daylight, Flash, and Cool Temerature/Filter.

These are probably more white balance options than you’ll ever use, but there is one that is really cool. While in the White Balance menu, the bottom soft key turns into a white balance option button. This button allows you to change the white balance to any color you want by using a color grid.

White Balance Color Grid Option

NEX-5n White Balance Color Grid under the “option” soft key.

This comes in handy if you are shooting in RAW or JPEG+RAW because the “Creative Style” and “Picture Effect” modes are unavailable in these image formats.

The Strap

Why would anyone spend time writing about the supplied strap on a camera? Well, if you are someone who likes walking around with a camera strapped around your neck, or a large, thick strap dangling out of your pocket, I could see how this is a waste of time. I for one have not used a strap of this size so it has been more harm than good.

What’s good about the strap? Well, it is comfortable strapped around your neck.

What’s bad about the strap? It’s as big as the camera. I may be exaggerating only slightly. This strap is very big, and if you put the camera in your pocket, it’ll be like putting two cameras in there. If you leave the strap dangling out of your pocket, your worst nightmare could come true at any turn.

I had the strap dangling from my pocket. It seemed o.k. for the most part until I passed by a door. The door knob decided I could pass through the door way but my camera was to stay behind. I felt my beloved NEX-5n get pulled from my pocket as I watched it swing widely in the opposite direction then swing back, smacking against the door.

With a sigh I thought to myself, “Well it was a good 2 day run. Nice while it lasted.” We proceeded to go to the mall and I’d take pictures of our daughter’s first time at the nail salon.

When we got there, the 5 wouldn’t focus. I had the 16mm pancake lens attached during the “smack down” and the thing wouldn’t focus. I thought the whole camera was wrecked but then I noticed that my hand was in focus as long as it was 3″ away from the camera. With a lot ring turning the lens started to focus again, but at this point the strap was to be no more.

I replaced the death strap with my Canon A650’s wrist strap. This is way easier to handle and I would have liked to see one included with the NEX-5n instead of the fiasco they supplied instead.

The supplied strap wouldn’t be so bad if it was easy to remove via some kind of velcro or clipping mechanism. This way you could easily detach the strap at will and put it back on when needed. I’ll be going to the local camera chain store to see if this strap even exists near me before the month of travel starts.

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