Nov 202014

How I became a Zeiss fan

by Toni Ahvenainen

This article is closely related to my personal photography project called ‘Year of the Alpha – 52 Weeks of Sony Alpha Photography –

I have written about it here at Steve Huff’s website before, so I’m not going to repeat all the things I’ve written earlier. Instead I give you the short version: at 1st of January I started a year-long and Sony Alpha related photography project which focuses on creative photography taken with Sony Alpha cameras. Because the positive attention my project has gathered in social media circles I found out that the Zeiss was willing to support my project. They offered me two lenses from their Touit line up, Touit 2.8/12 & Touit 2.8/50M, if I would share my experiences about the lenses through my project. I have never shot with any Zeiss lens before, so I seized for it and the story I’m sharing today is based on my first Zeiss experience. To learn more about my project and its background, I recommend you to check these two articles which I have published here earlier:

Year of the Alpha by Toni Ahvenainen

First time with Zeiss by Toni Ahvenainen

Be sure also to check my website at: 

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO1250, 1/60sec, f2.8, Raw


After making an agreement with Zeiss, the lenses finally arrived one Friday afternoon with UPS delivery and I was of course very excited about it. I had read about Zeiss’s legendary reputation from many photography sites likes this, but never believed I would get opportunity to actually shoot with them. To me, like for many others, the most exciting lenses have always been something I can only see through a store display window.

For my photography this was a very unique opportunity and something of which I consider myself to be very lucky. If you haven’t yet become acquainted with the Touit line up before, it is the new family of Zeiss lenses which are targeted to mirrorless system cameras (Sony E-mount & Fuji X-mount). All the lenses have full autofocus capabilities and they represent a modern Zeiss design with black matte finish and more contemporary look – but most importantly they convoy the famous Zeiss optical quality for mirrorless system cameras.

The Touit 2.8/12 is an ultra wide-angle lens with a focal length of 12mm (equivalent of 18mm on a full frame system) and has a relatively large maximum aperture of f/2.8. Then the Touit 2.8/50M, being a macro lens, is kind of opposite with a focal length of 50mm (equivalent of 75mm on a full frame system) and 1:1 reproduction scale.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO100, 1/400sec, f5.6, Raw (focus stacked)


My first impression was really good regarding both construction and image quality. Right from the first photo walk with Touit lenses I could see a difference in images I took, but it was really hard to put in words. To be honest, I felt certain cognitive dissonance for the first four weeks, because I didn’t have right terms to conceptualize this difference in images to myself. Sometimes I even thought it was just a placebo and that I was just seeing what I was expecting to see, because of the almost mythical reputation that Zeiss has in many photography forums in the net.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO100, 3,2sec, f7.1, Raw


Now that I’ve used these lenses for longer period of time, I think I have finally gain better understanding of how good optics will affect the image quality and what one can expect of them in general. In terms of sharpness, both of these lenses do very well indeed. The Touit 2.8/12 is very sharp right from the start and the Touit 2.8/50M is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, also quite sharp wide open and gets very good after that. I could go on and describe how changing aperture size affects the overall sharpness, but truth to be told, I find most of the lens reviews putting too much emphasize on sharpness alone. Let’s just say that both are very much sharp enough. When it comes to high quality lenses, I would much more prefer to emphasize the contrast and colors, because it’s where the quality shows.

To understand where I’m coming from, you need to know that before these Zeiss lenses I was shooting with 18-55mm and 50mm Sony E-mount lenses (SEL1855 & SEL50F18). While the 50mm Sony is a pretty good lens, I was only rarely fully satisfied with my colors (very close but something was missing). While I couldn’t exactly put my finger on my definition of ‘good colors’, all the same I knew when I saw them and especially when I didn’t. Having shot over 30 000 shots with these Sony native E-mount lenses and worked with over 5000 raw-files, I can say for a fact that the Zeiss lenses deliver more contrast and better colors. Because I’m not an optical engineer I really can’t conceptualize my experiences with objective scientific language, but in my experience the better contrast shows with greater clarity while colors stand out better and have certain fidelity in them which makes, for example, the primaries look very pure and good. Together they form pictures that often have a deep colors, but retain their subtle nuances and natural look in overall image.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO100, 1/2000sec, f5.6, Raw


Before my Zeiss experience I had a preconception that minor color & contrast differences between lenses is insignificant and something that can be ‘fixed’ and ‘made better’ with computer and post processing. I guess this is still a pretty common conception and while images can and surely are made better with post processing, it is still just the perception of things what we are editing and the actual light signal digitized by the camera isn’t going to get any better (meaning more accurate colors for example). It is in my experience that the Zeiss lenses deliver better contrast than my Sony E-mount lenses. Now, I can try to adjust ‘contrast’, ‘clarity’, ‘curves’ or do some fancy tonal contrast thing with software x for the pictures taken with my Sony lenses and hope to make them as good as Zeiss. In practice I’ve seen that, while this might work for some pictures, most of the time pictures just get congested and stuffy before they reach same overall clarity. And it’s the same with colors. While in theory the usual HSL tab (hue, saturation, lightness) should open the entire color space for editing, in practice it’s often too cumbersome to touch the subtle textures and grading of natural colors. As I said, I’m no optical engineer, and the only way I can explain this experience to myself is to think that with the Zeiss lenses the contrast and colors are captured more accurately and that this accuracy transfers into final pictures as well.

This altered perception of clarity, contrast and colors was really an eye-opening experience for me. With these lenses I suddenly felt, for the first time, that I was actually pretty satisfied with the colors I was achieving. Not with every shot of course, but more and more I was amazed how good colors I could achieve with these lenses and some post processing. When looking some of my pictures taken with the Zeiss lenses I sometimes felt my old Sony Nex-5N had transformed into some other camera. In fact, I’m willing to say that this experience is the single most important thing which justifies the Zeiss’s legendary reputation in my eyes. However, I don’t want to claim that there is magic ‘Zeiss color’ or something similar. As much as I liked the colors, claiming something along those lines would just be essentialism and I think there is already enough mythical stories build around Zeiss (and other gear as well). To put it in plain words, I think Zeiss builds high quality lenses and when it comes to colors and contrast they certainly get it right.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO800, 1/15sec, f14, Raw


Through this experience I also came to appreciate that these two Zeiss lenses actually gave me a very good reference point regarding image quality. I’m not talking about ‘image quality’ in absolute terms, but as a valuable standing point where I don’t need to speculate if some other piece of gear would have provided me the result I was looking for. If I don’t get it with Zeiss it’s because of me, conditions or something else – and not because the lack of ‘right gear’. This sort of certainty which comes with more expensive high quality gear is something that is often less talked about aspect in gear reviews and forgotten when putting value for photography equipment. Personally to me, it has made my photography easier since I don’t need to worry if I have equipment good enough. Instead I can concentrate on particular situation, getting my images and feel good about it.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO400, 25sec, f2.8, Raw


Finally for the end of this article, I will try to expand the usual views how we taught to approach the photographic equipment we use. I’ve been talking a lot about sharpness, colors and other things that make up the image quality, and which is, in the end, something you would expect to get for your money when buying Zeiss lenses. However, there are other point of views as well which are often forgotten when approaching from a technical point of view. Zeiss has been manufacturing lenses for a long time, probably longer than any other of the current companies. This means tradition and maybe it’s because of this tradition Zeiss tends offers more information and history about their lenses than other companies. For example, the Zeiss staff scientist Dr Hubert Nasse has written excellent papers explaining the history of their designs like Distagon and Planar. Reading these I got the impression that Zeiss takes its tradition pretty seriously and tries to transfer it into their designs as well. Honoring the tradition and craftsmanship is similar to values which I believe many photographers share as well – at least ideally. Therefore I think using Zeiss is something that can also support one’s identity as a photographer.

I don’t know about others, but at least I enjoy using tools and equipment that are aesthetically, emotionally and intellectually pleasing to me. When I’m trying to capture ‘that moment’ which speaks to me about my life, time and being, I need to get away from all the technical discourses. Using something that I connect with, whether it is the rugged point&shoot, high-end camera or a shoebox with a hole, certainly helps me to see and feel these moments. In the end, I think the Zeiss succeeds very well in this and perhaps even better than most of other lens manufacturers. It is also the final reason why I became a Zeiss fan (might lead to expensive taste, though). Not only did I find that I could finally get the colors I was looking for, but I also found certain intellectual and aesthetic pleasure using Zeiss lenses. And I believe I’m not alone here, these kind of experiences shared by other photographers like me may eventually be the reason for the Zeiss’s high reputation.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO800, 1/60sec, f13, Raw


The definition of good photography is, of course, not related to equipment one uses and there are many paths to photographic success. Therefore I don’t want to say with my article that you should run to the nearest camera store and put your last money on Zeiss lenses – there are other ways to succeed as well. But if you already are on a verge and maybe considering the Zeiss, you should know that it’s really more than just ‘image quality’ if you open up to it. And while I can’t tell anyone that Zeiss lenses would be worth of their price for them, I can certainly say that their high quality shows in terms of image quality, construction and total shooting experience, and that they are not overpriced for what they offer.

As for right now, I have just entered into last phase of my photography project. With the ‘Season of Photographic Eye’ I will be discussing about the photographic eye, which is a particular way of seeing things and subjects, which is partly subjective and partly cultural. While I’m trying to explain why I approach the photography the way I do, I will also try offer some inspiration for others to contemplate their own photographic eye. If interested, be sure to check my project at:

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO800, 1/20sec, f2.8, Raw


 Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO800, 1/80sec, f13, Raw


Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO200, 1/60sec, f7.1, Raw


Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO100, 1/500sec, f5.6, Raw


Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO100, 1/2000sec, f5.0, Raw


Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO160, 1/80sec, f13, Raw


Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO100, 1/80sec, f2.8, Raw


Apr 022014

Using Sony NEX-7 and NEX-5n for Travel, Street and Casual Shooting

By Ernest Karl Roco Del Rosario

Hi Steve!

I’m Roco del Rosario from the Philippines. I’ve been wanting to send you a user report since last year but somehow I can’t find anything to say.

It was year 2011 when i first stumbled into your website. I was searching for a camera that is small and good for travel.

That was the time when I saw your review of the Sony NEX-5n, which eventually led me to choosing it as my first camera. Actually it was my girlfriend who first bought it then I purchased after her. Ever since, I visited your site everyday and have been a loyal follower. I learned to shoot by researching online and practicing with my little nex. Because of my enthusiasm and love for casual shooting, I soon bought a cheap Canon fd 50mm f1.4 lens, Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake plus wide-angle converter then the excellent Sony 50mm f1.8. These lenses are all really cheap and advisable to people who wants to start learning photography without draining the wallet.

During the day, I use NEX7 because the viewfinder is really helpful especially when the sun is up and shining brightly. The NEX-5n, on the other hand, is really great and enough for low light situations.

1 Puka Beach Boracay - Nex 7 + Sony 16mm

2 Nex 7 + sony 50mm

3 Nex 7 + Sony 16mm

4 White Beach, Camiguin Nex 5n + kit lens

5 nex 5n + kit lens

6 nex-5n + sony 16mm

7 nex-5n + Sony 50mm

8 Moonset over Calaguas Island Nex-5n + Canon fd 50mm f1.4

10 Nex-5n + Canon fd 50mm f1.4

11 Nex-5n + Sony 16mm

12 Tarsier- Nex-5n + Canon fd 50mm f1.4

Processed with VSCOcam




Oct 262012

From Steve: Just an FYI. This site allows opinions, photographs and articles from a wide variety of people. Any camera can be discussed, almost any topic can be written about and I let everyone share their thoughts. This is not a political site and I am not even close to being a supporter of the Libertarian Party :) This is an article about Judd’s experience shooting this convention. Two weeks ago I posted abut the Democratic Convention and if anyone wants to submit a story about the Republican convention then feel free to contact me and submit one. 

I did not write this but it is here as a guest post. As they say in TV Land, just because something is posted does not mean I agree with it. I disagree with many guest posts here but I allow the freedom for many to do so even if I disagree. No need to get your panties all in a bunch because this article is a bit different than what is usually here. Anything you do not want to read doesn’t have to be read. Blog posts are easily skipped. 

Complaints about 4 letter words and the theme of this post is nonsense and again, comes from Judd as a guest post. In his style. Thanks :)


It’s October in an election year, so you know what that means.

It’s Politics Time!

Shooting the Libertarian National Convention with my NEX-5n by Judd Weiss

Embrace it my friends, don’t fight it. It’s good for us once in a while to think about what the fuck the government is doing with our money. Yeah, thinking about this stuff can get aggravating very fast, there’s certainly no shortage of negative energy in the realm of politics. So I actively try to mix in some positive energy into an often very negative world. One of my tools is my camera, which has become pretty much biologically attached to my arm for the last 2 years:

My Sony NEX 5n.

This was my first time at the Libertarian Party National Convention, and I WAS SHOCKED!! Imagine what would happen if a car company fired all its salesmen and stuck all the car engineers in a room and said “You’ve all helped engineer a truly exceptional car, now we want you guys to work together and agree on this year’s comprehensive marketing and sales strategy for the company within 3 days.” Yeah that’s what the Libertarian Party National Convention was like. All out brutal warfare! Nastier because it’s nerd warfare, and they sharpen their arguments to hit as hard as possible, with no account for the damage and fallout.

I’ve been a Libertarian since I picked up Anthem by Ayn Rand when I was 14. Ayn Rand has inspired a lot of people, and laid much of the foundation for the libertarian movement. Part 2 of the film adaptation of her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged is out in theaters since last Friday (I just reviewed it here). Go to any libertarian event and you’ll see that there are very different elements within the party and the movement. Which is cool, people come to the ideas of liberty from different perspectives and for different reasons, I can only see that as a positive thing.

What I didn’t expect to see was how intense the infighting was for ideological control of a third-party. If you put a bunch of intellectuals together, you know you will get some bickering, no matter what. That’s fine, that’s healthy, that’s cute. This wasn’t that. This was different. There’s a left-right divide within the party, not really regarding any serious difference in views, but over a strong difference in focus. Some want the party to focus its energy and message on economic matters like deregulation, cutting spending and taxes, etc. Others want the focus to be on ending oversees wars and ending the drug war. Fortunately nominating Gary Johnson as the Presidential nominee went pretty smoothly. After all, Gary Johnson was not only a 2 term Governor of New Mexico, but he gives a lot of emphasis on ending the War on Drugs and bringing our oversees troops home, while he also appeals to the Tea Party side of things advocating for slashing our national debt, limiting government’s size and scope and spending, and freeing up our markets with less regulations.That went fine. All hell broke loose during the nominating process for the party’s National Chair position. The more radical faction surprised everyone with a well planned coup to put in very strong Anti-War people into Chair, Vice Chair and executive party positions. Someone paid for busloads of anti-war delegates and many already printed signs encouraging a majority to exercise the “None Of The Above” voting option in order to restart the nominating processes and get their guys in office. And they succeeded. Long term I think that was a very bad play, it caused some bad blood. But I’ve got to hand it to them, that was impressive.

Anyway, yeah, so there was some contention at the convention, and some hurt feelings. Until I posted a Facebook album of convention photos I took. Then something magical happened. People suddenly felt a lot more united again. The photos made them look important. The photos made the movement look important. They liked how there were portrayed. They were proud to be part of that crowd. They saw themselves as part of the same group again, united by the same force. Many changed their profile picture to one of my black and white shots. Seemingly sworn enemies would tag each other and comment on how good the other looked and start making jokes again. It was amazing having a front row seat to this, getting a Facebook notification for every like, comment, and profile picture change.

So that’s my small contribution towards the cause. I want to see these nerds look better and be more cooperative. But I’m not a professional photographer. Never charged for a photo. It’s just a hobby. I’ve only started taking photography more seriously about 2 years ago when I upgraded from a point and shoot to the Sony NEX. I’ve only learned what aperture means about a year ago. So I’m still kind of raw, but I’m building my confidence behind the lens. Especially as I’ve now got over a 1000 profile pictures to my credit. Seriously, that’s insane! That count explodes every time I shoot a convention.

There’s a couple things in my mind when shooting a convention or a conference. First of all I tend to shoot black & white in that environment because I think conferences look very boring in color. This is not a pool party on a sunny day, or a luscious garden. The background is white walls and carpet with nauseating color patterns. Besides, the people who come to conferences tend to think they’re involved in something important, and black and white makes them look more historically significant and epic.

The next thing I think about is being sneaky. I’m trying to capture the person in their moment. I want a part of who they are revealed in the image. Those are more interesting photos to me. That’s my challenge when I shoot. Posed shots of people smiling at the camera are ok, but they’re usually kind of boring because there’s really nothing very interesting about them. Also, when people know there’s a camera pointed at them, their guard goes WAY up, and you lose the authenticity of their personality in the shot. That means I lost my shot, and I’m annoyed. I totally understand, because I’m like that too, I’m not the most photogenic and I get a little uncomfortable when a camera is pointed at me. My only options are to take photos before they realize a camera is around, or to snap off so many damn shots until they become numb to the camera and drop their guard, behaving normally again.

Either way the small size of the NEX is a huge blessing. Having an APS-C DSLR size sensor in a camera that fits in my pocket has been incredibly valuable to me, and opened me up to much more of what photography is about. Because it’s small enough to be with me in normal social interactions, it’s not very intrusive and intimidating, it’s allowed me to capture so many more moments that I would have otherwise not kept visualized. Moments that have brought my friends together to bond over and even help mend their friendships.

Beyond the ideas, an ideological movement has many other pieces of the puzzle needed for resonating and becoming successful. In our digital Facebook age, we can’t over emphasize the importance of photos that capture our important moments and allow us to share our memories with others.

I shot all photos from the Libertarian Nation Convention with a Voigtlander 35mm 1.4 adapted to my Sony NEX 5n.

Be sure you go and visit Judd’s website, HUSTELBEAR.COM

Jan 302012

The workshop attendees shoot the SLR Magic 50 LM T0.95 Hyperprime on the M9 and NEX-5n

Since I am now back home at my desk I can go over more images that were shot at the workshop using the new SLR Magic lens. These were shot by me and a few others at the workshop, credits will be before the photos…enjoy! Oh, and just for fun I threw in a shot taken with the 50 Noctilux ASPH. Which one is it? Check out the two from Jay Bartlett below and see the difference. ALL shots below are wide open and the title shot above of Max was taken by Ashwin Rao with the 85 Zeiss Sonnar on his M9. 

First, A few more snaps of the gang from me.

Stephen, the resident male model of the workshop shot at 0.95 – click image for larger and sharper view

Below: Andrew from SLR Magic talking with Max on Sunday during our Lunch at El Cholo

…and speaking of Max Klimov, he shot some GORGEOUS shots with the Hyperprime – look at the rendering of the model shots

and one of his street shots as well…

Jay Bartlett took these at 0.95  – but one is from the Noctilux ASPH – one from the SLR Magic! Which is which? I can tell…can you?

BELOW: Ashwin Rao snapped this amazing shot while we ate dinner at the Yardhouse on Saturday night. It was DARK!

BELOW: Dave Grady tried his hand with the Hyperprime on the M9  – The 2nd shot has some CA (which the Noct ASPH has as well)

BELOW: Judd Weiss tried the Hyperprime on his NEX-5n

BELOW: Our awesome host, Todd Hatakeyama shot the next couple with the Hyperprime and his M9

I will be shooting with the lens for a few weeks/months and will be posting a full review down the road with many images, full size and comparisons with other lenses. I plan on flying down to Seattle to hang with Ashwin and do a thorough shoot out between this one and the Leica Noctilux ASPH. We may be able to even throw in the Voigtlander Nokton 1.1 in the mix as well. Should be a blast. Also look for a post this week with a wrap up on the LA Workshop including everyones fave images from the weekend. As for the SLR Magic hyperprime, it is a special lens and I am eagerly awaiting pricing info. When I find out, I will post the news here.

FAST FACTS and why this lens is pretty exciting:

The SLR Magic 50 LM (Leica Mount) T0.95 Lens has 12 Lens Elements, 12 aperture blades and focuses to .7 meters (also the equivalent of an f/0.92 aperture at T0.95)

The Voigtlander 50 f/1.1 Nokton has 7 Lens Elements, 10 aperture blades and focuses to 1 meter

The Leica Noctilux ASPH has 8 elements, 9 aperture blades and focuses to 1 meter

Jan 272012

Using Pentax FA Lenses on the Sony NEX-5n by Tord Eriksson  – Tord’s Flickr

Hi Steve,

My name is Tord S Eriksson, I am 59 years old, married, and I drive buses in Gothenburg, Sweden, but I have been around cameras much of my life, but not taken more than a few shots in my previous life as a journalist, and editor (as illustrations to articles, or photos of my interviewees).

The NEX-5n

In my twenties I had some training as a photographer, and in studio work. We students used the school’s cameras: Nikon F-1, Canon Pellix, Leica M3, and Hasselblads of various versions, including my favorite, the SWC.

We even got a chance to try the real heavy stuff, like Sinar – lovely cameras, but certainly not your point & shoot. Soon 40 years ago, but I remember those years fondly!

I got my first SLR system as a young teenager: an old Edixa Reflex (1957 version) – one of many screw-mount cameras coming out of Germany after the war, with three primes, and a Japanese zoom – very rare in those days). I bought the whole kit very cheaply from my sister’s boyfriend, who then moved up to a Hasselblad 500C). Gave the well worn kit away ages ago, after it had sat in a box for decades, together with a lot of other camera stuff.

Began my second SLR system about 40 years later: It is by now fairly complete, with zooms from 10mm to 500mm, and a respectable range of primes from 15 to 400mm (800mm using a converter).

Various reasons, including size, weight, and price, led me to Pentax DSLRs (my first was a K-x, with the DA 18-55 kit lens). Pretty soon I learned about the famed lenses that carry the unusual designation ‘Limited’, so I started to collect a few (not that many in production).

These Limited lenses are not the fastest there are, but all really sharp, and most with a nice bokeh. There are two groups, the DA series, optimized for Pentax APS-C cameras (thus have no aperture ring), and the FA group, which is a relic from the days Pentax made full frame cameras. The FA all have aperture rings, thus can be used in manual mode, essential if you’re going to use them on another camera system.

After having read various reviews of the Sony NEX-5N, including yours, Steve, I realized that this little marvel could be a great backup, if I could find a K Mount adapter. Amazon had both very cheap, and very expensive ones, so I went the middle of the road: a Chinese adapter for about $40.

Over the last two years I’ve have got myself a nice selection of FA Limited prime lenses, actually almost all of the FA lenses still in production: the Pentax-FA 31mm F1.8 AL Limited, the Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9 Limited, and access to my wife’s Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited. There are two more: the FA 35/2.0, which is still in production, but that’s not a Limited, and neither is the Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4, which my wife owns a copy of.

NEX-5n with Pentax 31 Limited

The Limited designation is not restricted to FA lenses: A few really outstanding DA lenses also have it, like the tiny DA40, equally small DA21, and the superb DA 50-135/2.8 zoom. The FA43 is much bigger than the ‘pancake’ DA40, but also quite a lot sharper, faster, and more expensive. Like the others, the FA31 is superbly sharp, with a really nice bokeh, but doesn’t handle flare as well as most modern lenses, so not ideal for all situations!

In addition to these lenses I have two other K Mounts suitable for my NEX-5N: The Tamron SP 90 Macro, a truly classic design, and a very old Pentax-M 400/5.6, both equipped with the needed aperture rings. The 400 suffer from CA at times, but overall works superbly with the NEX!

After a lot of ‘studio’ test shots with my, and my wife’s, Limiteds (and the Tamron), using Theodore the Bear as model (he never tires), I noted a few things …


Pentax K5

Using both my beloved Pentax K-5 (my second!), and the new friend, the NEX-5N, with exactly the same lenses, at various apertures, it is evident that to get similar results you have to set the K-5 slightly lower, say -1.0 EV, or thereabout. But the K-5 can be pushed up to ISO 51200, leaving the NEX-5N far, far behind, but I did my tests from 100 up to 1600, more normal settings. All test photos are totally unedited, and you note that the AWB of the two cameras handled the light quite differently – the 5N has a yellowish tone, while the K-5 is more like my eyes saw it.

You have to have a steady hand, as neither the lenses, nor the NEX body, have any kind of stabilisation.

Or even better, use a good tripod, and a serious ball/panorama head. I used my Berlebach Reporter 3032, which has a big ball head integrated into its design, so setting it level is very easy, even on a sloping surface. You extend the legs to the approximate setting and use the spirit level to set the top perfectly level, and then tighten the clamp – as easy as it could be! I maybe overdid it slightly as I used my Wimberley WH-200 on top of that (made changing cameras so much easier).

What more to say about the NEX-5N? A little jewel of a camera, that is on par with the K-5 in most situations, and when used as a video camera, surpassing the K-5 easily! The NEX-5N is very nice to use, especially if you have the hard-to-find electronic viewfinder. The menu system is simpler on the Pentax, and I do like to have buttons to access things, like the K-5, and the NEX-7, have, but as the latter is currently unavailable.

The 5n and 18-200

The Sony E 18-200 that my wife bought for her NEX-5N is an excellent lens, even when not making videos. This lens was designed with the pro NEX video cameras in mind, so it is kind of oversize on NEX-5N. But help was at hand: For a small fee SRB-Griturn in the UK made a tripod attachment for that lens and since then attaching it on a tripod head is a simple task – the 5N isn’t quite up to being the sole support for this amazing lens.

I love the NEX-5N, and it has indeed become a perfect compliment to the K-5!


Tord S Eriksson

Sep 052011

The Sony NEX-5N Digital Camera Review

It’s a MONSTER full of features!

See my NEX-7 review HERE!

NOTE – EVERY image in this review was shot as a JPEG. At the time of this writing Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom does not support NEX-5n files. So every picture here was shot as a JPEG and all of the images here were shot with the 18-55 kit zoom, a few with the 16mm and some with a Leica lens via adapter. All Auto White Balance. Also, this is a long 7000 word real world review as I had quite a bit to say about the 5n. Enjoy and leave a comment below if you like!

Below: Video Overview

Ok, so the headline picture above is a break from the norm for my main title graphic but it DID grab your attention did it not? Haha. In fact that shot is a self portrait of yours truly taken with the NEX-5N and Leica 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4. I was testing out my new $10 Halloween mask and was having some fun with the camera late one night. When I looked at the image and then looked at the specs of the NEX-5N it all made sense. There I was, looking like a monster and I shot this image with a camera that has so many features that it is an actual MONSTER of a tiny camera! A monster in the bang for the buck camera world. Yep, the Sony NEX-5N, after using it for a week or so has impressed me quite a bit with its abilities. This came at a time when I was almost ready to write off the whole NEX series after getting unsatisfactory color from my Old NEX-5 (after comparing with the Olympus E-P3).One thing is for sure,  these are Exciting times for us camera gear head nuts.

Now, without further ado, here is my MONSTER of a real world review!

Being a guy who loves photography AND the gear associated with it is a dangerous thing. A guy in my position gets to try out just about any camera gear I want. While I do not try everything (I AM only ONE guy and this site has a staff of ONE…ME) I do try what catches my eye. I am always aware of the new technology and new cameras. When I see one that gives me goosebumps I add it to my “MUST review list”. I admit, the 5n did not really give me goosebumps when it was announced but I was intrigued by Sony’s claims so I gave it a shot.

The NEX-5N and 18-55 Kit Zoom – out of camera JPEG – Vivid – ISO 2000 – Yes, 2000. Click for larger version.


When the original Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5 were released there was a ton of hype not only from Sony, but from users as well. Sony had a ton of press on these cameras all because of the super slim design and large sensor. Sony were the 1st to take the APS-C sensor and pack it into a very TINY body that was capable of great performance. They also broke new ground with High ISO performance and I remember the NEX-3 and 5 were pretty special in this area. I did buy a NEX-5 when it was released and owned one up until a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the camera for about a year but when the new Olympus E-P3 came out with its new lenses and super fast speed I went back to Olympus yet again. Even though the E-P3 has a smaller sensor than the Sony NEX-5 I loved it for its style, its design, its new found performance all the way around, and most of all, the new lenses.

Back to the NEX, but my heart belongs to the 7

So here we go, not long after the E-P3 is in my hands and paid for I see Sony announce the NEX-C3, 5N and 7. The NEX-7 was the camera that REALLY tugged at my soul. There it was. 24 Megapixels, a built in OLED EVF, pro build but still compact, more dials for easy control…super HD video quality and even a new Zeiss 24 1.8 lens announcement. THIS is the camera I have been longing for…and for YEARS (THE NEX-7). Yes, I have my Leica M9 and will always have my M9 but as a take anywhere snapshot camera the Olympus E-P3 which is so quick and easy to use has taken over as my daily shooter. Lift and quick! I finally decided to save my Leica M9P for special moments or when I actually do paying photo jobs.

Oh yea, where was I? The NEX-7…that camera seems to have it all so when the 5N was announced along side of it I had no real interest. Why would I? The 7 had everything I wanted while the 5N seemed the same as  the old 5. Well, after getting a hold of the 5N I can say if this is any indication of what will come in the 7, “hold on to your britches”!

Sony has somehow taken the great performance of the NEX-5 and made it quite a bit better in many areas. The body style of the 5N is almost exactly the same as the old 5 with a few new snazzy cosmetic improvements like the dual colored on/off switch in silver and black and the shutter button seems to look and feel a little better as well. But as Sony said, the NEX-5N has improvements under the hood.

Check out two out of camera JPEGS at higher ISO below shot with the kit 18-55 Zoom. Yea, those are higher ISO images and you can click on them to see larger versions. Then I will get on to what is new with the NEX-5n.

What is new in the 5N? Let’s take a look:

  • The new 16.1 Megapixel Sensor – This sensor is all new and is shared in the new C3, but let me state RIGHT NOW…if you are in the market for a new NEX camera, do NOT buy the C3 unless you strongly prefer it’s grip. For $100 more you can get the 5N which trounces it in many areas. With that said, the new sensor in these cameras is pretty astonishing. It gives us plenty of resolution with a 4912X3264 image size. This is plenty of resolution for almost ANY need. I used to know a guy who shot billboards with a 4MP camera. 16.1 MP is enough for almost anyone, and the target market of this camera is everyone from 100% amateur to enthusiastic photo nut. What do these people take photos of? Their kids, flowers, their pets, themselves, vacations, landscapes… Yep, 16.1 Megapixels is plenty!  What is really improved with this sensor though is the color rendition. Quite simply put, it is gorgeous. Look at the ISO 1250 shot above of the fruit bowl, which is an out of camera JPEG shot with the kit zoom. The high ISO capabilities of the 5n are ridiculous for  this size of a camera. ISO 25,600 can be used in a pinch of you absolutely need the shot. 12,800 even better and 6400, no problem. This is an improvement over the past NEX-5, no question. This new sensor is a WINNING even more than Charlie Sheen.
  • The new touch screen LCD Panel – Sony added a touch screen to the NEX-5N but they did NOT add it to the C3. Will I use the touch screen? Probably not while shooting as it does not work as slickly as the E-P3 touch screen. With the sony you have to do a double tap to take a photo, with the Olympus you touch once and it focuses super fast and snaps the shot. I may use the touch screen while reviewing photos as it works like my trusty iPhone. More from Sony: Sony’s 3.0” Xtra Fine LCD™ monitor has 921K dots for superb resolution. The TruBlack™ screen includes a special resin layer to suppress internal reflections, increasing contrast compared to conventional LCDs. Sunny Weather mode boosts visibility even further in bright sunlight. Tilts down 45° and up 80° to frame high- and low-angle shots that would otherwise be hit-or-miss. Object Tracking AF can lock onto a specified object and maintain focus even as the subject moves. This hassle-free mode allows unpredictable subjects to stay in focus even while zooming. Letting you concentrate on the scene and composition without having to worry about focus. The subject on which to lock focus is easily selected via the touch screen or the center button of the control wheel.
  • Improved HD Movie mode – From Sonys Web Site: Record Full HD 1920×1080 video in a variety of frame rates from 60p for super smooth action to 24p for a more cinematic feel. The NEX-5N utilizes the AVCHD™ codec, the industry standard for high quality HD video capture, as well as the MP4 codec for easy upload to the web due to it’s smaller file size.
  • Worlds shortest shutter lag – In photography, shutter lag, or release time, is the delay between triggering the shutter by fully depressing the shutter button and when the photograph is actually recorded. By initiating the exposure electronically instead of with the traditional shutter mechanism, release time on the NEX-5N is reduced to just 20 milliseconds – helping you to capture the decisive moment.
  • 10 Frames Per Second – Capture the decisive moment in sports and get the ideal baby photo. Up to 10 fps continuous shooting at full 16.1 MP resolution. Standard continuous shooting speeds vary based upon shooting conditions and memory card speeds.
  • Ability to use the new OLED EVF (The C3 does not allow  this) – The optional FDA-EV1S OLED Tru-Finder? offers a large, bright and wide-view of the scene. With high resolution 2.395K dot, and unprecedented speed, contrast and color accuracy, the FDA-EV1S provides an extraordinary view.
  • New BIONZ Image Processing Power – The brain of the camera is a refined version of Sony’s BIONZ® image processor. Its chroma noise reduction delivers high-resolution, low-noise photos even at ISO 25600 sensitivity. Also enables fast processing for up to 10 fps continuous shooting of data-intensive 16.1 megapixel images, 2D/3D Sweep Panorama™ modes and 6 image layering.
  • Manual Focus Peaking (Also in old Nex-5 via firmware update) – The Peaking AF display makes precise manual focusing much easier by highlighting the edges that are in focus in your choice of three colors ( white, red, or yellow). This is especially helpful during macro or portrait photography where your focal plane can make or break your shot.
So with all of these new additions the #1 thing to rave about (in case I did not already mention this) here is the new sensor. Even when shooting with the 18-55 Kit zoom, the output is wonderful. When shooting with my Leica 50 Summilux ASPH via an adapter, the quality I am seeing is better than what I used to get with the standard NEX-5, and it is breathtaking if the light is right.
To be honest, after shooting with this camera for a while I almost wish sony would have used this sensor for the NEX-7! I am a little worried that the 7 with its 24 megapixels will be more noise filled at higher ISO, but we will see, maybe it will be even better. Let’s be real for a second…Super high ISO past 3200/6400 is over rated anyway and no one I know ever goes past 6400.
From what I am seeing in the 5N, it appears to be the new king of the “Bang for the Buck” digital cameras on the market. No it is not cheap at $699 but for what you get it IS really a deal. But the NEX-5N is NOT perfect. Read on to find out what I do not like about the NEX system.
Sony NEX-5n with 16mm – not bad huh?
Kit Zoom – ISO 500 – Out of camera JPEG

16mm – the colors are pretty close to what I saw

The NEX-5N is not perfect. What are the negatives with the NEX system?

So you thought this was going to be a 100% rave about the NEX-5N? Well, as a camera I have mostly great things to say about it. Then again, I ONLY review and write about cameras that I like as I hate negativity and I hate whining. Be assured if I write about a camera here with a full review then I have used it and really liked it. I liked it enough to write about it because if I hate a camera I am not inspired to write about it and why should I? Crap cameras should not get publicity :)

So seeing that the 5N’s positives greatly outweighed it’s problems I am now sitting here writing about it. The NEX system as a whole is still fairly new. Basically, it has only been about a year since the very 1st cameras were introduced and because of this the main problem with the NEX system is there are no really good lenses available! Well, there are lenses, but not many. You would think that Sony, a GIANT among GIANTS would be able to whip out 4-5 new now. BUT they have been slow going. The 1st year all we had for native lenses was the 18-55 Kit Zoom, the 16mm Pancake Kit Lens, and the 18-200 super zoom. There were no fast primes and the 18-55 and 16mm were very soft on the NEX-3 and 5. That was the one drawback to many who wanted to step forward with a NEX purchase. The lenses.

How long has the Micro 4:3 format been out now? 2-3 years? They are JUST now starting to get some great lenses for that system so maybe it is just a matter of time for the NEX system. This year we will get the new 24 1.8 Zeiss prime which is AWESOME. We will also get the new 50 1.8 lens which will be affordable as well as useful. This is good news but still, as of this writing, these lenses are NOT available.

As of now all I have to use natively is the 16mm and the 18-55. The great news is that the NEX-5N seems to work better with these lenses than the previous “5”. Maybe it is just my eyes playing tricks on me but the performance of these kit lenses seems to have gotten a little bit of a boost with the new sensor. So much so that I am now a fan of the 18-55 and I never thought I would say that about this lens. The 16mm still leaves a bit to be desired in the contrast/color/sharpness area.

The other negative of the NEX-5n is still all about the control. It has the same control scheme as the old 5, no added buttons. The buttons are customizable though so this is a step in the right direction (with the 7 being the ultimate NEX design). It is also VERY small and the lenses are a bit LARGE. Cameras like the Olympus E-P3 have SMALL lenses with a smallish body. The NEX-5N is about TINY body, LARGE lenses! Kind of odd but it is what it is due  to the larger sensor being used in the NEX system. Some will argue that the Leica M9 is a full frame and it uses small lenses. True, but the Leica lenses are MANUAL focus and aperture. They do not need AF motors or mechanisms inside the lenses, which in turn makes them bigger. Still, the NEX-5N and kit zoom or even the 24 1.8 is NOT as big or fat or bulky as a DSLR. Not even close.

Compared to the Olympus E-P3 the E-P3 feels more solid and better built and is also heavier. It also feels better and more comfortable in the hand than the NEX-5n and focuses quicker. The NEX-5n will hunt a bit in lower light when using Auto Focus. At least with the 18-55 kit lens it does. I am also getting more accurate focus with my E-P3 as it never seems to fail me. The NEX-5n did fail a few times when shooting in lower light scenarios, meaning the focus was off. But there are tradeoffs. The swivel LCD of the NEX and the better quality it is capable of may outweigh everything else for some.

There you go, those things are really about the only negative things I can say about this camera/system. The same things people have been saying for a year. What is interesting is the NEX-7 seems to have fixed almost all complaints. The body is a little larger, it has a built in EVF and control wheels up top and new lenses on the way. Mark my words.The 7 will be the superstar in the NEX line if the image quality is as good as it is in this NEX-5n, and on paper it appears it SHOULD surpass it. We shall see. I think the Zeiss 24 1.8 will be a GREAT pairing with the NEX-5N and 7.

Speaking of Image Quality

ISO 500 – NEX-5n and 18-55 – Click image for larger version

The image quality of the NEX-5 is absolutely killer and I have been using the cheap-o kit zoom lens and cheaper still 16mm! When I opened up my files I expected the somewhat dull, somewhat fuzzy results that I seemed to get from my old NEX-5 most of the time. Or even the sharper and more colorful results (but still a little “fuzzy”) that I got from the C3. WRONG! When I opened up the JPEG files from the NEX-5N I rubbed my eyes and said “WTF”?? Gorgeous color. Smooth detail. No fuzziness or softness anywhere. Sure I still saw the distortion from the 18-55 when at 18mm (until I enabled in camera distortion correction) but the image quality POPPED off of my screen. Sony has really improved the color and out of camera JPEGS with this camera.

Again, I will say that if you are thinking of a new NEX and are in this price range, do NOT even consider the NEX-C3! The 5N is now $100 more and you get so much more for  that $100. I can NOT recommend the C3 but will highly recommend the 5N just due to its new sensor and performance. C3 with Kit lens is $549 – NEX-5n with kit zoom is $699

NEX-5n with the 16mm at 2.8

Another with the 16mm. Remember you can click image for larger view.

Keep in mind though that while the high ISO performance is the best yet in a NEX camera, when you get to lower light and past ISO 1250 you will start losing a bit of color fidelity and things will start getting a little more dull. Not really dull, but not as vibrant and nice as if you shot low ISO in good light. Also, the 5n seems to underexpose a little when using their evaluative metering. I found using center weighted helped. Speaking of low light…

Shooting the NEX 5n in Low Light – The true test of High ISO

I took the NEX-5n out with me one day to the local Aquarium because I knew it would be a challenge due to the very low light and funky lighting. As I stated at the top of this review ALL images in this review are out of camera JPEGS as at the time of this writing Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop do not convert NEX-5n files. So everything you see here is all JPEG. When Adobe updates Camera RAW I will update this review at the bottom with some RAW conversions.

So at the aquarium I also brought along my Olympus E-P3 and can say without a doubt that the Olympus focuses faster in good and low light. It’s instant but the Sony hunts a bit when the lights go down. Still, both are fairly quick though the Sony has to use the assist lamp to nail it and I was not using the assist light with the E-P3. I also got quite a bit more image noise with the E-P3 files at LOWER ISO’s than I did with the NEX-5n files at higher ISO’s.  The NEX-5n’s images were also “richer” and had a little more depth due to the larger sensor. With the new image processing in the 5n, the JPEGS are much nicer than those from the old 5. Sharper, more colorful and they seem to pop out at you.

ISO 1250, 18-55 kit zoom – click image for larger version

ISO 3200 in VERY low light. Low light is where you can see the real high ISO performance. 

iso 3200 – click image for larger

I can say with confidence that the quality in REALLY low light and higher ISO was pretty darn good. I left the camera on Auto White Balance and Auto Focus. I shot with the 18-55 wide open as I could get it and I hoped for the best. No, these are not noise free with perfect tone and color but no camera will give you this at high ISO’s like 3200 IN super low light. For being handicapped with a slow zoom and not using any kind of flash, AND being in a dim and dark aquarium, this IS impressive.

Imagine if we had a time machine and went back to the days of the Nikon D2h and Canon D30 with a camera like the NEX-5n. ISO 25,600? CRAZY! We can get better quality today in a $700 camera set than we used to get from a $5000 camera body. Technology just keeps getting better and better. I wonder what digital will be like in 10 years from now? Hmmmm.

SUPER High ISO – Is it useable?

Yes, this camera goes up to ISO 25,600 (see the 1st shot below) but usually when you see this listed on a camera spec sheet you can laugh it off as a joke. The 5n at its maximum ISO, if taken in “decent” light, meaning, not bright but not dark, can yield pretty incredible results… and  the shots still hold detail which is pretty freaking cool. Take a look below at my SUPER HIGH ISO SHOTS and crops. You must click each image to see the lull size out of camera versions.

My conclusion? I have yet to see any camera beat this for high ISO..well, maybe the 100lb Nikon D3s, but maybe not? Still, the sweet spot for the 5n is between 100-1250 ISO.

Low Light HIGH HD Video

I also shot some low light and high ISO HD video at 3200 and even 6400 ISO. The results are below and I am impressed! Remember, this video was shot with the SLOW 18-55 and HIGH iso!

Shooting the NEX-5n with Leica glass – Let the focus peaking begin!


As 98% of you already know, you can shoot the NEX-5n with Leica glass just like  you did with the NEX-5. Just buy an adapter like THIS ONE and you are all set. Though if you want the BEST adapter I would buy THIS ONE. But why spend all of that cash when there are adapters available for 10X less? Well, I already have been through FOUR of the cheap M to NEX adapters and they all become loose over time and the lenses wobble. The higher priced model from Novoflex has not done that and it provides a very FIRM fit. Expensive but will last. I guess it is for those who like to buy one time and be done with it. There is a difference and after a year of use and four cheap adapters I decided it was time to bite the bullet for the Novoflex especially with my new found love for this system and manual glass with its EVF and focus peaking.

Old M mount glass, new M mount glass…they all work lovely on the NEX-5N and even better than they did on the old 5 it seems. The 5n comes loaded with the new Focus Peaking feature that allows us to easily shoot with our old manual lenses and get our shots IN FOCUS. I show an example of this in the video at the top of this page. When manually focusing using the rear LCD or the EVF you will see your in focus ares light up and that is when you know you are in focus. It’s quick and easy and works pretty damn good. The EVF worlds AMAZINGLY well with manual focusing using peaking. Spot on every time for me. I had the camera set to  HIGH for peaking and used the RED color. In bright sun it is hard to see the rear LCD but the EVF saved the day and made it a breeze.

Below are a few shots taken with the 5n and the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH. In my opinion the results speak for themselves and the quality is gorgeous.

The next four shots were all with the NEX-5n and Leica 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4


and the next two were shot with the 5n and 50 Summitar at f/2 in Dynamic B&W mode

The NEX-5n Picture Effects & other fun features

Inside the “Brightness/Color” menu you will see the choice to choose a Picture Effect, if and only if you are shooting JPEG only. This area will be greyed out if shooting in RAW format, even RAW + JPEG. This seems to be Sony’s attempt at creating Art Filters like Olympus does in their cameras. Inside the NEX menu you will find the following choices:

Toy Camera, Pop Color, Posterization, Retro Photo, Soft High Key, Partial Colors, High Contrast B&W, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich B&W (like B&W HDR), Miniature

There is also the old standby options like Hand Held Twilight and Sweep Panorama which I spoke of in my NEX-5 review almost a year ago.

Sweep Panorama works great and is super easy to use.

The NEX-5n VS the others

I am already getting the question “Which camera should I buy”? Again, I can not answer that for you and all you can do is look at reviews on various sites and judge for yourself. I will give my thoughts on a few hot cameras right now and how they compare though.

NEX-5n vs Olympus E-P3 – The Olympus looks cooler, feels better built, and feels better in my hand. It’s more expensive and has a smaller sensor that puts out more noise than the NEX-5n. The 5n is capable of higher resolution, more depth, and shallower depth of field to the photos but lenses are lacking for the NEX system at the time of this writing.

If you do not mind a smaller sensor, not as good low light performance, and paying a little more, the Olympus E-P3 will give you faster auto focus, super clean low light video (not sure how they pull it off but they do) and access to some cool lenses like the Olympus 12mm f/2, 45 1.8, Panasonic 20 1.7 and 25 1.4. BUT the image quality will be better with the 5n in lower light and high ISO. Also, the 5n has a swivel LCD which I used quite a bit and appreciated. The E-P3 has to be held level so you can see what you are doing (unless you have the EVF). Also, the Sony NEX 5n with the new OLED EVF is fantastic. Almost a must IMO.

E-P3 – Better build and feel but more expensive. Easier to control, faster AF, in body image stabilization and good HD video though lots of “Jello Effect” if IS is on. Noisy high ISO, less shallow depth of field.

NEX 5n – Better low light capability and cleaner high ISO images, better battery life, 24P and 60P manual control HD video, larger sensor and higher resolution with great color and more deoth. Also more HD video options (No Jello Problem) and swivel LCD screen. No in body IS.

NEX-5n vs The Fuji X100The Fuji X100 is a fantastic camera as well and is only hindered by it’s slow and quirky operation. Slower AF, slow write times, slow feeling when compared to other similar cameras. BUT the Fuji has a great fast prime lens that delivers rich and nice colorful images. It is great to hold and feels super good in the hand, more like a traditional camera. The beauty of it is that it has a built in hybrid VF and there is no need to buy an external. The X100 can not change lenses though so you must be happy with a 35mm field of view. The NEX-5n is a totally different camera than the Fuji but beats it in the HD video department and speed department. Also, the Sony can change lenses and use a multitude of glass using adapters. In my opinion, the Fuji feels like a camera and the NEX more like an electronic gadget. Which you choose is all down to taste and preference.

Fuji X100 – Nice design, built in hybrid EVF/OVF, great fast prime 35mm equivalent lens, beautiful files and great low light performance. Also silent in operation.

NEX-5n – Faster in focusing and write times, even better high ISO capability, better battery life, better HD video, smaller body but bigger lenses and louder shutter.

NEX-5n vs Ricoh GXR System – The Ricoh GXR system is a great little camera system that uses “modules” with the lens and sensor all built into one “Cartridge” that slides on to the body of the GXR. I loved this system while I owned it but sold it off after acquiring the Fuji X100 and Olympus E-P3. Why? Because it had shutter speed limitations that I did not like. The Fuji has them too but its built in ND filter solves the issues. I still love the GXR and what it does because it is a fantastic everyday shooter that gives wonderful and rich quality. There are only two lenses for the GXR system worth owning IMO, the 28 and 50 APS-C A12 modules. Their new Leica M mount module is arriving any day now so that should be interesting though 1st samples I have seen have been underwhelming to me.

In real use, the NEX-5n beats the GXR in focus speed, high ISO, HD video but the GXR wins in usability and build and has better lenses. Also, the GXR LCD does not swivel though you can buy an external EVF for it. This one comes down to personal preference as the GXR is a camera you will either LOVE or HATE.

Ricoh GXR – Built very well, versatile with the superb 28 and 50mm f/2.5 modules, snap focus for street shooters works well, high ISO is good up to 3200.

NEX-5n – Swivel LCD, high ISO capability, awesome HD video but lack of lenses right now hurts the NEX system.

NEX-5n vs NEX C3 and older NEX-5 – NO CONTEST. If you are going to buy a new NEX camera right now and are not planning on buying the super NEX-7 at $1199, then go for the 5N. It is the biggest bang for the buck and it makes no sense to buy the C3 when the 5n is only $100 more. You gain metal build, better grip, touch screen, quieter shutter sound and possibly better high ISO and JPEG sharpness. Also, the 5n is a better buy than the old 5 unless you are getting a GREAT deal on the old 5. This one is easy, if buying new, go for the 5N, no contest.

NEX-5n vs NEX-7 – Hmmm. Well, no one has held or shot with a working NEX-7 as of this writing so this is tough but on paper, the camera to choose would be the 7 if you r budget allowed. It’s the superman of the NEX series and I can not wait to get my hands on it. I am excited most about the OLED built in EVF and two control wheels on top. I am also happy that it is a little larger than the 5n. Finally, I can compose on a NEX, even with old manual glass and use the built in EVF to frame and focus AND use my fingers to control the Aperture without looking out of the EVF. Also, I won’t have a huge wart sitting on top if I want to use the EVF. From a design standpoint, the NEX-7 is perfect. WIll it have as good of high ISO performance of the 5n. Unllikely, but who uses ISO 12,000 in real life anyway? Not me, I usually max out at 6400 no matter what, and even that is rare. Im sure the 7 will be fantastic at 3200. Me, I am buying the 7 for my personal use for the reasons I described. It even has a built in flash unlike the C3 and 5n.

BUT, if you do not have that kind of budget, or prefer the design of the 5n then the 5n is the best of the NEX series for  you. Even if you do not need the NEX 7 features you could save some money and buy a 5n (or keep your old 3 or 5) and buy a new lens like the upcoming Zeiss 24 1.8 or Sony 50 1.8. This would be a great addition as glass is always more of an investment than a body. A NEX-5n and 18-55 and EVF will cost you $1049. The NEX-7 with no lens is $1199, with the kit zoom $1349. So $300 more for the NEX-7 body, design, features and higher res sensor. In reality, not bad IMO as it looks like a long term keeper.

NEX-5n vs Leica M9 – Ok, I had to do this comparison as I know I would have been asked. Leica M9P with 50 Lux vs NEX-5n with 50 Lux. Same light, same aperture. We all know these are different cameras but Sony, with the new Focus peaking and EVF is starting to really bridge that gap with the quality and user experience. This is where the new EVF shines and where the NEX-7 will really show its stuff.

Here is a full out of camera JPEG from the Sony NEX-5n with the Summilux 50 at 1.4 – Click image to see the full size

and now the same shot with the M9P and 50 Summilux, also at 1.4 – click to see the full size

The new Sony OLED EVF for the NEX-5n

I also have been able to use and try out the new EVF for the 5n and have to say that it is fantastic, but expensive at half the price of the 5n itself. Even with that being so, the view is huge, wide, and crisp. NO it does not look like an optical VF, it looks like an electronic VF but let’s face it, the EVF (Electronic View Finder) is the future of digital and I like seeing Sony push the quality up. This will be the same EVF that will be built in to the Sony NEX-7 and A-77 DSLR. Highly recommended for all NEX-5n shooters as this makes shooting the camera feel more natural and easier to compose for those of us who are more used to a viewfinder. Also, as I already hinted at, if you shoot with manual glass on your NEX I find this is a MUST own as the EVF combined with the Focus Peaking works SO well. I am sorry to say that this accessory is NOT compatible with the old NEX-5. Why? I have no idea but I think Sony should have supported the old 5 as well. Kind of crappy of them to do that.

This is the best EVF I have ever laid my hands on. Period. Not only in quality but also design and eye comfort. Below is a shot of the EVF on the black NEX-5n. Yea, it is a wart like all external EVF’s but it works and works well.

PROS and CONS of the Sony NEX-5n


  • Small size, improved sensor, super high ISO performance
  • Dynamic Range seems HIGH – dare I say better than a 5DII? Hmmm.
  • Longer battery life than the old 5
  • Faster AF than the previous 5 (but not by much)
  • Lovely color rendition when shot in good light, even good in lower light
  • Ability to shoot with third party lenses via adapter
  • Great quality HD 1080 Video with various options and manual control – no jello effect
  • New lenses finally on the way!
  • Price is right, great bang for the buck and beats the NEX-C3 easily.
  • Swivel LCD is great
  • OLED EVF is fantastic
  • 10 frames per second shooting speed is crazy fast
  • Low light twilight mode works very well as it did with the previous 5
  • Sweep panorama still rocks!
  • Focus tracking works well
  • Shutter lag is virtually non existent at 20 milliseconds.
  • Focus Peaking and EVF are a perfect match for manual glass
  • Hunts to AF in low light, even with assist lamp which is pretty bright
  • Lack of lenses right now! (at the time of this writing)
  • Lenses will always be larger than Micro 4/3 lenses
  • Still wish it had a better navigation and control system, feels more like a gadget than camera sometimes
  • EVF sticks out quite a bit (but it does lock down) and makes the camera less portable
  • Should come with a lens rear cap and camera body cap in the box but it does not
  • Should have in body image stabilization!!!
  • Touch screen does not have a touch shutter like the E-P3

My Conclusion

When the new Sony NEX-C3 arrived to me a few weeks ago I yawned. It was not enough of an improvement over the normal NEX-3  to warrant an upgrade IMO. When the 5n arrived to my doorstep I looked at it and almost yawned. It looked the same as the old 5 that I had shot with for a year but I know that looks can be deceiving. Regardless, I charged up the battery to see what it was all about expecting to write about it and say its a minor jump up from the old 5.

When I looked over my initial test shots I was amazed at the image quality coming out of the camera. The JPEGs have been improved dramatically and whatever Sony has done to the in camera processing, they did it right. The new 16.1 Megapixel APS-C sized sensor rocks and it is a huge step in the right direction to improve the NEX series of cameras. I only wish that they had a better lens than the 18-55 at this time because I know the sensor is capable of way more than the kit lenses give (even though things have improved in that area with the new sensor) after seeing the Leica glass on the camera.

The 1080 HD video is great on the 5n as well, giving you a plethora of options to choose from. I still like the 24P setting and many are in love with the new 60P option. You also have all manual control over video, which is also very welcome and appreciated. The Dynamic Range is improved as well and to my eye seems better than a Canon 5DII in that dept. Much better than Micro 4/3 in DR here guys.

Is it worth an upgrade if you have a normal 3 or 5? Well, tough to say. If you want the new features then it is worth it to you. If you do not need the extra resolution and feel you are getting what you need from the 3 or 5 already then I’d spend my money on a new lens like the Zeiss 24 1.8. The 5n does indeed up the ante in the IQ department but it is not CRAZY drastic better (though it is pretty damn good) and the old 5 is still a perfectly good camera. In use the camera feels the same though the shutter sounds better than the old clunky clunk of the old 3 and 5. When shooting with the EVF and you hear that slick sounding shutter sound you feel like you are shooting with a pro camera.

This baby also shoots at 10 frames per second though I admit I am not an action shooter. I remember when 7 FPS was a big deal on the pro DSLR’s. Now we have 10 FPS in a tiny camera that can fit into a coat pocket. Amazing. We also have some exciting new lenses on the way like the LONG awaited  Zeiss 24 1.8, also the Sony 50 1.8 and 35 Macro plus a zoom or two. S0 lenses are coming for those NEX’ers who have been patiently waiting.

I wish Sony would release a FAST pancake that is small, something like the 20 1.7 for Micro 4/3. THAT would be amazing but sadly I do not think they can do it due to the larger sensor, which is quite a bit bigger than the M4/3 sensor. The lenses have to cover the imaging sensor so I do not think we will see small AF lenses on the NEX. Manual lenses? Yes. AF lenses? No.

I like the NEX-5n and if it was not for  the NEX-7 coming out I would probably keep it. Hell, I may keep it anyway until the 7 arrives to do more Leica M glass experiments. I like what I see here so that just makes me even more excited to see the NEX-7 in action. The 5n is not perfect though as it could use better controls, a built in EVF, and a larger grip…WAIT, that sounds like the NEX-7, haha.

The bottom line is that Sony improved the 5 series and the 5n is an easy recommend as well as the best bang for the buck in the NEX line. At $699 with lens, I have to ask myself..” For the money does it get any better than this? The answer to that is NO!” 

Where to buy the Sony NEX-5N?

This camera is available just about everywhere. I buy my Sony gear from B&H Photo or Amazon. B&H has the Sony NEX-5n at the links below:


Buy the Sony NEX-5n in black, with 18-55 lens at B&H Photo HERE

Buy the Sony NEX-5n in Black, body only, at B&H Photo HERE

Buy the Sony NEX-5n in Silver with kit lens at B&H Photo HERE

Buy At Amazon!

Buy the Sony NEX-5n – Body Only – AMAZON

Buy the Sony NEX-5n with 18-55 Kit Zoom in Black – Amazon

Below are a few more images all shot with the 5n. Enjoy!


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