Sony has very short life cycle for many of its products lately. We’ve seen four flagship Xperia Z phones during two year period and digital cameras multiply like rabbits. This is especially the case with NEX cameras… Sorry, they are called ILCE now. Whatever the name I’ll always regard them as NEX, after all, I’ve owned one for three years and made great shots with it. Anyway, the latest newcomer is the A5100. I’ve reviewed A5000 earlier this year: it was announced in January and now in September came the new A5100. Main differences include resolution bump to 24 megapixels, more focus points, higher resolution LCD, faster burst rate and better video. Continue reading to find out if it is of any significance or Sony just makes cameras for the sake of new cameras.
- Announced: 2014.
- Type: entry-level mirrorless
- Dimensions: 110 x 63 x 36 mm (4.33 x 2.48 x 1.42″)
- Weight: 283g (with battery)
- Sensor: APS-C (23.5 x 15.6 mm), 24 MP (6000 x 4000 pixels)
- ISO: 100-25,600
- Shutter speed: 30″ – 1/4,000
- Lens: interchangeable E-mount, kit lens (16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS)
- Image stabilization: No
- Dust and moisture protection: No
- Flash: Built-in pop-up
- Continuous shooting: 6 fps
- LCD screen: 3″, 921,600 dots
- EVF: No
- Memory card: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Battery: Li-Ion NP-FW50
- Video: 1920 x 1080 (60p, 60i, 24p), 1440 x 1080 (30p, 25p), 1280 x 720 (120p), 640 x 480 (30p, 25p)
- Video codec: MPEG-4, AVCHD, XAVC S
- Connectivity: micro USB 2.0, micro HDMI, Wi-Fi
SONY A5100 CONSTRUCTION, HANDLING AND MENU SYSTEM
Build quality is average. A5100 is made from plastic all the way around and you can feel that. Grip is protruded and makes holding easy, but although has leather-like appearance it is cheap plastic. Nevertheless, the camera is well put together and has a solid feel in hand.
Small pop-up flash is built-in. It has 4m range (nothing special) but you can tilt it backwards and use it as bounce flash.
Control layout is the same as seen on previous model. You get several buttons on the back and most of the features are controlled via menu system. It has been some time Sony got rid of initial NEX menu system and now we have traditional Alpha-style menu layout where options are organized in tabs. Not everything is basic though: you can customize 5 buttons on the back of the camera and assign one of around 20-30 various options.
There is no shooting mode dial, so one of the buttons will have to remain just for that since I doubt you will want to go to Menu each time when you want to change shooting mode.
Altogether, A5100 has quite a wide range of manual controls, but most of them are not easily accessible.
One detail annoyed me quite a lot: A5100 emits fake shutter sound through the camera speaker each time you fire a shot! Why?! What’s the point of that when still it has second mechanical curtain that makes sound of its own.
Here’s a table of differences between A5000 and the new A5100:
SONY A5100 LENS
A5100 is delivered with the familiar 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 lens. I wrote one of the first reviews on this lens on the internet, so check it out to see how it performs. Long story short – it is good enough for amateur use, but optics is only average and motorized zoom control will drain the battery power very fast.
Interesting thing about the A5100 is that it has zoom rocker switch around the shutter button so you can control this camera with just one hand.
Auto focus received update compared to A5000; now it has 179 on-sensor phase detect points. It is fast enough but I regard some Olympus and Panasonic mirrorless cameras to be faster still. You can select single focus point, group them or let the camera to decide automatically where to focus. A big feature is that now you can adjust AF point size in three levels: very important when you need to nail focus to a single spot.
SONY A5100 LCD
LCD display has usual 3″ diagonal and 921,000 dots. This is a welcome bump from A5000 which had only 460,000 but I have to remind you even the first NEX-3 back in 2010. had 920,000 dot resolution. Sony downgrades some options in one generation so it can return it back in another one. LCD has good quality but is somewhat dark even on maximum brightness setting and that can be a problem in sunlight.
LCD has touch capability and touch shutter option. Strangely, touch works only for taking shots, you cannot control any other setting with it.
There is neither electronic viewfinder nor the option to attach one.
SONY A5100 SENSOR AND IMAGE QUALITY
Image quality is excellent, that’s all you need to know… Sony is for years now a global leader in digital sensor technology and this 24 megapixel APS-C unit performs as it should, nothing to complain here. High ISO is usable up to ISO 3200, and you can get some nice shots even at 6400 or 12,800 but that will require a bit of post processing. If you need (want) better, prepare to pay 3-4 times more for a full frame camera.
SONY A5100 MEMORY AND BATTERY
A good thing about NEX cameras is that all of them use the same battery from the very beginning – NP-FW50. It will give you juice for around 300 shots. It is charged inside camera via micro USB (you get AC adapter in the retail package).
A5100 supports both MemoryStick and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards in the same slot.
SONY A5100 VIDEO RECORDING
Video recording got a significant upgrade. A5100 can record in XAVC-S format at full HD resolution, 60p frame rate and 50Mbit bitrate. This is some serious performance, even A6000 does not support XAVC-S as of yet.
Video quality is excellent; nice colors and without compression artifacts. Moiré is a problem though and I feel videos are not as sharp as I would have wanted. Those from e.g. Panasonic G6 look better to me.
A5100 also relies only on built-in microphone; there is no way to attach external one. This might be a problem for anyone looking for a camera for video recording.
There is an option to manually control exposure in videos (shutter aperture and ISO).
SONY A5100 vs. A6000
I made a special YouTube video comparing these two cameras, so in case you wonder if you should buy A6000 instead of A5100, take a peak at it, it might be of help: