Cameras

Sony Alpha a5100 Review

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Sony is slowly replacing many of the cameras that used to be branded with the NEX moniker, and the A5100 is the replacement for the NEX-5T. Although the camera may be the same shape as its predecessor, Sony has fitted it with the same excellent 24.3 million pixel sensor and Bionz X processor as found in the Sony A6000.

Another key change is the increase in the number of autofocus points to 179 for phase detection and 25 for contrast detection. The NEX-5T also had a hybrid AF system, but it only had 99 phase-detection points in addition to its 25 contrast-detect areas. This gives the new camera far greater coverage and just the outer edges of the imaging frame are not covered. Focusing speeds are quoted as 0.07 seconds, making it just slightly slower than the A6000 and Fuji X-T1, which (with their 0.06 second AF speeds) claim to be the fastest focusing APS-C cameras on the market.

The sensor is APS-C sized but features exactly the same gapless on-chip lens structure as the full-frame A7R. This should make it better for capturing more light and therefore good in low-light shooting conditions. In addition to single AF and continuous AF, the A5100 has an Auto AF mode in which it decides whether to use single or constant AF, depending on whether it detects the subject to be moving. It’s capable of capturing at up to 6fps. This hybrid AF program furthermore operates in Movie mode and footage may be saved in AVCHD, XAVC S or MP4 format, or in XAVC S and MP4 – simultaneously. This provides the easy sharing capability of MP4 with the high data content of XAVX S.

Along with Focus Peaking to indicate areas of highest comparison (focus), there is a Zebra display to show areas approaching burn-out, and markers with grid lines and the centre point can be shown on the screen to make framing easier. Like the NEX-5T, the A5100 has a 3-inch 921,000-dot LCD screen that is touch-sensitive and can be flipped up through 180 degrees for taking selfies. Touch-control is again fairly limited, however, as it can only be used for setting the AF point or tripping the shutter. Thanks to the brand new processing engine, the sensitivity range also stays the same at ISO 100-25,600, despite the increase in pixel count.

While the NEX-5T had a hot-shoe with an accessory connection but no pop-up flash, the A5100 includes a pop-up flash (Guide Number 6 @ISO 100) but simply no hot-shoe.

Just like the NEX-5T, the Alpha 5100 has Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity and is compatible with PlayMemories apps to expand its feature set. These could be downloaded from the PlayMemories store directly from within the camera. With the appropriate app in place, images can be straight uploaded to Facebook and the like. There’s furthermore the possibility to remotely control the digital camera from your phone or tablet, as well as sending images across to a device for sharing online.

As standard, the A5100 comes bundled with a 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 power zoom lens – this means that you can zoom it from a switch on the camera body itself. There’s a decent range of E-mount lenses now available for Sony’s digital cameras, both directly from the manufacturer itself or through third-party manufacturers such as Sigma. Sony has also teamed up with Zeiss to produce a few extra high-quality lenses for the E-mount.

The Alpha 5100 sits at the beginner end of Sony’s selection of interchangeable zoom lens cameras, so its likely competitors are Panasonic GF6, Olympus Pen Mini, Samsung NX3000 and Fujifilm X-M1.

Performance

With the same sensor and processing engine as the A6000, we were pretty confident that the A5100 would also deliver excellent results – in fact, it’s fair to say that probably the biggest difference between these cameras is handling, not performance.

Colours directly from the camera are bright and vibrant, displaying a good level of saturation. You can adjust how colours are outputted directly from the camera by altering Creative Style. Here you’ll find options such as Vivid, Portrait, Black and White and Landscape. Each of these is customisable – you can increase the contrast for instance – and have the benefit of being able to shoot these styles in raw format, leaving you with a clean version of the image should you need it.

The detail is rendered extremely well by the 24.3 million pixel sensor, with lots of fine detail found right across the scene. This is especially true when looking at an image at normal printing or web sizes – and even when zooming in at 100%, the impression of detail is still great, giving you good scope to crop a graphic if you need to improve composition. In the majority of cases, the a5100’s metering system copes well to produce accurate exposures, however, you may find in some very high contrast situations it is beneficial to dial in some exposure compensation. Also very useful is the Dynamic Range Optimiser function; this helps you to get a balanced exposure when one area of the scene is darker or brighter than the rest of it. There are five levels it is possible to choose from or leave the digital camera to automatically detect the appropriate level. Shooting at DRO Level 5 is perhaps best avoided as it can leave the picture looking a little fake, but 1-4 are very handy indeed.

Similarly, the camera’s automatic white balance does a decent job of producing accurate colours in most situations. That said, it can err just a little towards warmer tones under artificial light, and if there are two different types of light in a scene, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a wholly accurate overall picture. Switching to a more appropriate white balance setting can be beneficial if you’re finding the warm tones to be displeasing. One of the benefits of the new Bionz X processor, Sony claims, is its better ability in low light shooting scenarios. Pleasingly, the A5100 copes very well with high sensitivity settings – at ISO 3200 for example, you get an excellent overall impression of detail and low noise. If you examine at 100%, you can see some areas of the picture have a slightly painterly effect, but overall detail is kept fairly well.

In the event that you examine the natural format equivalent of a JPEG image, you can observe how heavy-handed the camera’s in-noise reduction is. It is possible to set your own degree of noise reduction using Sony’s raw data converter software, or in a third-party software program such as for example Photoshop when Adobe Camera Raw is updated. This is useful if you would prefer to keep detail rather than smooth out noise. Other than Creative Styles, you can experiment with different Picture Effects if you want to get creative. These can only be shot in JPEG format, but are still worth experimenting with to see if any particular appeal. I’m a fan of Toy Digital camera and High Contrast Monochrome, but it will become down to personal taste.

It would be nice to see Sony providing you with the option to shoot in natural format here, as you might change your mind about the filter down the line – it’s something I keep hoping to notice with every new Alpha.

The supplied kit lens is a decent all-round performer, producing sharp images and giving you plenty of flexibility in terms of its focal range. There’s a decent number of lenses available now for the Sony E mount in the event that you decide you want to expand your repertoire. A particular favourite of mine may be the 50mm f/1.8 lens, which is great for capturing the shallow depth of field images, or when shooting in low light conditions. Another benefit of the Bionz X processor is the increased speed of both autofocusing and general operational speeds. Although not quite as quick because the A6000, or indeed Micro Four Thirds cameras, the A5100 locks onto targets under good light quickly and easily.

As the light drops, so do autofocus acquisition speeds, but it’s rare for a false-positive confirmation of focus to be presented. Shot-to-shot times are decent, and moving through the menus and screens is also pretty swift.

Check Out: Best Sony Alpha a5100 Lenses 

Verdict

Sony has produced another decent, well-performing camera. It’s not the most exciting compact system digital camera on the market, but it does have a good range of functions and features that should appeal to a wide range of people. The Sony E Mount system is also becoming a well-established system, so it’s a nice one to get started with if you’re thinking long-term, too.

Overall this would also make an excellent system camera for travelling with if you want something small and light that you can still rely on to produce fantastic pictures.

Check Sony Alpha a5100 Price 

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