The Sony NEX-5n is built around a 23.5 x 15.6mm APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor that produces an effective resolution of 16.1MP. At maximum resolution in the default 3:2 aspect this equates to a maximum output of 4,912 x 3,264 pixels. In addition, it’s also possible to record images at 8.4MP (Medium) and 4MP (Small). Alternative shooting aspects are restricted to just 16:9 however, so if you want to give your images a 4:3 or 1:1 look you’ll have to crop them accordingly on a computer.
There are two levels of JPEG quality – Fine and Standard – along with the option to record lossless Raw (Sony .ARW) files. Sensitivity, meanwhile, extends from ISO 100 up to ISO 25,600 with the NEX-5n able to shoot full-resolution JPEGs (and Raw) throughout the entire ISO range. Given the NEX-5n’s compact-like dimensions there’s no space for a built-in, pop-up flash, although a dedicated (albeit slightly plasticky) flash unit is supplied in the box that attaches to the NEX-5n’s proprietary Accessory Port hotshoe.
The NEX-5n further benefits from Sony’s current generation of BIONZ image processor, enabling it to crunch its way through data at a fair old pace with up to 10fps available in Speed Priority Continuous mode (whereby the AF and metering functions are only active for the first frame of the sequence) or 3fps with the AF constantly active in regular Continuous mode.
Shooting modes extend to the regular quartet of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual, and these are neatly supplemented by a point-and-shoot Intelligent Auto mode, eight individually selectable Scene modes, an Anti Motion Blur mode, a 3D mode and, last but not least, a Sweep Panorama mode that enables the easy creation of ultra-wideangle images with a single button press. Sadly, this last option doesn’t include the high-resolution option seen on other Sony models, such as the HX9V.
The NEX-5n offers the usual array of Creative Style image processing options and Picture Effect digital filters, which variously allow you to alter the contrast, saturation and sharpness levels of your JPEGs or to give them a miniaturisation or toy camera look. These are supplemented by five levels of D-Range Optimiser control for more even exposures in high-contrast scenes and an automatic HDR tool that automatically shoots three images at a user-defined EV differential of up to 6EV before blending them into a single image.
Movie recording abilities extend to a maximum 1,920 x 1,080/50p Full HD with further options to record 1,080/50i and 1,080/25p AVCHD movies at a choice of 24 and 17mbps, or indeed MP4-encoded movies at non-HD resolutions. While the degree of choice and technical capabilities on offer are certainly impressive, we can’t help but think that many consumers will find the sheer number of options and the way they are presented somewhat confusing.
As with other Sony NEX models we’ve reviewed, overall build quality is pretty high, with the NEX-5n benefiting from a predominantly metal body and a general sense of solidity. This premium feel is further enhanced by Sony’s dedicated E-mount range of lenses, which again are treated to a metal finish.
The finger grip is only really big enough for two fingers and the squared off, relatively low profile design encourages these fingers to sit at a slight angle rather than square to the camera. In use, this works quite well offering a grip that’s both secure and reasonably comfortable, while positioning the camera in the hand at an angle that’s conducive to using it at or around eye-level. It's definitely not as nice to handle as a full size SLR or larger CSCs with deeper grips, but is nicer than many of the even slimmer CSCs that feature hardly any grip at all.
Size-wise, the NEX-5n is one of the smallest APS-C equipped compact system bodies on the market – noticeably smaller than the Samsung NX200 we recently reviewed. Indeed, the compact-sized dimensions of the NEX-5n even hold up quite well against its Micro Four Thirds and Nikon CX competitors as well – at least in terms of the actual camera body.
No, this isn't a huge telephoto lens but the standard 18-55m kit zoom lens
However, when it comes to the matching Sony E-mount lenses, it's a different matter. Of course it’s not so bad with the 16mm ‘pancake’ prime attached, but with the 18-55mm kit zoom on the front the NEX-5n’s compact-sized body can look and feel a bit unbalanced. If this doesn’t bother however, and you already own a Sony DSLR then the good news is that you can also fit regular A-mount DSLR lenses to the NEX-5n via an optional LA-EA2 converter (c.£300).
The 3in monitor produces rich colours, deep blacks and pin-sharp images in both composition and playback modes. However, it is worth noting that the 16:9 dimensions of the screen mean that regular still images shot at 3:2 don’t fill the whole screen and can therefore look a little small.