Sony NEX-7 vs NEX-5N

August 26, 2011

I can call myself a big fan of the Mirrorless camera‘s technology. Who have imagined that we will see APS-C sensors in such small cameras a few years ago? The Sony NEX-7 that was announced on August 24 2011 caught my eyes straight away. When I read camera news on the web, I usually search for photography gear that can really make a difference, helping me to improve as a photographer and become more creative. The Sony NEX-7, in my opinion, is a landmark in the mirrorless camera’s evolution. I am a true believer in Sony NEX-series and I do believe in mirrorless cameras utilizing an APS-C sensor. The reason for that is of course image quality, and NEX cameras (ie. NEX-5, NEX-3) have already proven to outperform their Micro 4/3 competitive models.

Opening Remarks

Sony NEX-7 announced together with the Sony NEX-5N. The 5N model is replacing the NEX-5 aging model, while the NEX-7 is another new model that sits on top of all other NEX cameras, as a high-end camera in the NEX-lineup. When you look at the specs you might be surprised to see that the NEX-7 inherits quite a lot of the Sony A77 features, including the 24.3-megapixel APS-C Exmor sensor and 1080p60 HD movie recording. All that while maintaining a relatively very compact camera size. In this camera debate review I want to go over all the main features of the NEX-7 and see what so special about this new camera. Furthermore, I’ll we compare it versus NEX-5N – so it might help you choose between the two.

OK, before we start with the side by side comparison, let’s get familiar with the two cameras with a short introduction about each model.


Sony NEX-7

Sony NEX-7 with pop-up flash

Sony NEX-7 has a pop-up flash too

Announced on August 24 2011, the NEX-7 is a high-end mirrorless camera which represents the highest achievement of Sony in the Compact Interchangeable Lens (ILC) industry. It was designed to grab the attention of advanced and enthusiast photographers who know how to appreciate its features and are leaning towards purchasing or upgrading to an advance mirrorless camera.

Even more than that, I do think that some people who planned to buy a DSLR camera might think twice after viewing this camera specs. A digital SLR camera is not the only option for enthusiast photographers these days. I do think that the Sony NEX-7 is a well-worthy alternative to a mid-range SLR camera.

So what so unique about the NEX-7 anyway?

I’m glad that you asked. The NEX-7 is a unique camera, equipped with the latest technologies in the mirrorless digital imaging industry. Some of them are first seen here in the α NEX-7. This new camera features an 2.4M-dot Tru-Finder™ OLED electronic viewfinder, the first time an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology is being used in EVFs. I can understand why some people have decided not to buy a mirrorless camera, because an EVF was a deal-breaker for them. It makes composing images easier and really puts you in the frame where you cannot just see, but feel what you are shooting.

α NEX-7 also features a newly developed 24.3MP (effective resolution) APS-C Exmor™ HD image sensor, the same sensor used on the Sony SLT-A77 translucent mirror camera, which was announced recently. In fact, many of the functionality of the a77 is built right-in the NEX-7 as well. Furthermore, the Alpha NEX-7 is capable of recording movie clips at 1080p60 (progressive), as well as in 60i and 24p (cinematic framerate).

You can also find a Tri-Navi™ 3-dial manual control, shoot at 10fps burst rate and utilize the tiltable Sony’s 3.0” Xtra Fine LCD™ for composing your shots or use it while recording movies. Furthermore, the NEX-7 features the world’s shortest release time lag, which shorten the time from when you press the shutter release until the image is actually captured.

The NEX-7 is really a unique mirrorless camera that brings technology innovation, compactness and a wide range of software-based effects and in-camera image editing capabilities which are both fun and useful for the photographer’s market it aimed for.


Sony NEX-5N

Sony NEX-5N Mirrorless camera in Silver

The silver version of the Sony NEX-5N Mirrorless camera

The α NEX-5N is the direct camera replacement for the NEX-5 which was announced on June 7 2010. The resolution was increased from 14.2MP to 16.2MP, the screen is a touch-sensitive one, the camera is now compatible with an external (optional) electronic viewfinder, have faster burst rate (7fps vs 10fps) and can shoot 1080p60 AVCHD™ Progressive (Ver2.0) videos vs 1080i60 on the NEX-5. The design of the camera is almost identical to the previous model, but the main difference is inside.

The Auto focus speed and accuracy have been improved. Performance and usability have been improved, and the maximum ISO sensitivity has been pushed up to ISO 25600.

You might look at the NEX-5N model as a refresh/update over the previous model, which is quite understandable considering the popularity of this camera. As the famous saying says: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”. So with the 5N, Sony didn’t want to make drastic changes, but improve upon the existing functionality to make this camera more up-to-date to the latest standards, market demands and competition.

In terms of size, the NEX-5N is identical to the NEX-5. Let’s not forget that Sony has already released the super-compact mirrorless, Sony NEX-C3, which the size was one of the main attractions in this camera. The NEX-5N also comes in silver and white, which looks pretty damn good I must say.


Mid-Range vs. High End

The NEX-5N is a mid-range mirrorless camera, while the NEX-7 is Sony’s high-end camera in the NEX-series. A high-end camera means that the NEX-7 has advanced features that are demanded by enthusiast photographers, some of them are intended for a more ‘professional’ use. For example, the NEX-7 has an Electronic Viewfinder (an excellent one I must say), the NEX-5N does not. As I said earlier, many people will prefer buying the NEX-7 due to this feature alone. Of course you’ll have to pay almost twice the price to get your hands on this new marvelous digicam.

Sony has designed the 5N with simplicity in mind, with fewer buttons and without the two dials which exist on the NEX-7. Those two dials allow photographers a fast access to a wide variety of functions, without diving into the menu system to change settings or turn on specific camera functions.

Beginners will find the NEX-5N more user-friendly, and they will be able to operate the camera without the need to read a manual or have previous experience using digital cameras. By doing so, Sony hoped to attract new comers, which for them, is the first time they give themselves the pleasure of buying an advanced camera system.

Both cameras have a magnesium-alloy body, which is both durable and lightweight. It seems that the NEX-7 is a camera that many photographers have been waiting for. I personally didn’t find any mirrorless camera that really made me think twice whether I should buy a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, but the NEX-7 really seems like the next evolution, and I must admit that I am thinking buying one for myself.


NEX-7 vs NEX-5N

Although both cameras are targeted different markets, I think that you will agree that due to the price difference, it’s worth checking out whether the NEX-7 worth the extra cash that you pay for it over the NEX-5N. As an enthusiast photographer myself, I do agree that, in some cases, it’s better investing in a better glass instead of buying a more expensive body. Because mirrorless cameras accept E-mount interchangeable lenses, you might think twice before paying for the NEX-7, invest your money in a cheaper model and spend the extra cash on high quality lenses.


Design & Ergonomics

Many shooting with Sony NEX-7 mirrorless camera

NEX-7, Relatively good ergonomics

We all love beautiful cameras, don’t we? – However, buying a camera just because it looks more stylish is not the smartest hing to do, especially when buying an advanced camera, like the Sony NEX. Fortunately, Sony NEX cameras look very stylish and modern, but at the same time they are very high performing cameras.

When looking at the NEX7 and NEX5N side-by-side, the NEX-7 looks more professional, with its curvy rubberized grip, it’s thicker, a bit bigger and hve more buttons and controls. The NEX-5N looks more simple and it’s slimmer too.

If you have big hands like me, you will learn to appreciate the thickness of the camera body and grip of the NEX-7.  However, the NEX-7 is far from being bulky, especially when compared to a digital SLR camera.

In comparison, the Panasonic GF3 has a much smaller grip, just to keep the camera’s size smaller. If you shoot with a long telephoto lens, you’ll find that grip uncomfortable. It’s a personal opinion, but as I said earlier, people with large hands will appreciate the extra grip of the NEX-7.


Dimensions and weight (w/ batteries):

NEX-7: 120 x 67 x 43 mm | 291 g
NEX-5N: 111 x 59 x 38 mm | 269 g


Sensor & Image Processing Engine

The camera sensor is probably the most important hardware component in a digital camera. There is quite a lot of difference between those two cameras, mostly in resolution. The NEX-7 24.3MP sensor offers the current highest resolution among pocket cameras as for this day writing this article. A higher resolution has some advantages, especially for large prints, cropping, or if you want to capture every tiny detail in the photographed scene. It’s great for macro and landscape shots.

Furthermore, the NEX-7 sensor represents a next generation of sensors, capable of capturing highly-detailed image, but at the same time keeping the noise-levels relatively low considering the pixel density for the same sensor size.

I am personally not a big fan of ultra-high megapixel APS-C sensors, but I believe that Sony was able to compensate the high pixel density disadvantage by utilizing advanced technologies to keep the noise to bear possible minimum.

Sony has also optimized the BIONZ® image processing engine, which results in much better looking images, with lower noise characteristics. This is done for both cameras, and we can expect both cameras to outperform previous generation NEX cameras.

Sensor resolution and Size:

NEX-7: Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor 24.3MP (effective) | 23.5 X 15.6mm
NEX-5N: Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor 16.1MP (effective) | 23.5 X 15.6mm

Both utilize Charge protection coating on Low-Pass Filter and electromagnetic vibration mechanism as an anti-dust prevention mechanism.



OLED Electronic Viewfinder, Sony NEX-7

OLED Electronic Viewfinder on the Sony NEX-7

Both the LCD and Electronic Viewfinder can help us to compose our photos. The rear LCD is also used for viewing and managing photos, change camera settings and functions, as well for applying various effects and filters to our stills and videos.

The Sony NEX-7 is unique because it features an Electronic Viewfinder, which doesn’t exist on the NEX-5N. But it’s not just another LCD eye-level viewfinder, but a 0.50″ XGA Tru-Finder™ OLED (2,359K-dots).  Before this EVF came out, I was quite disappointed with the current EVF on the market. Some people can argue with that, but we can agree that there was still room for improvement.

Until now, an optical viewfinder offered the best viewing experience. Sony’s new OLED EVF now brings the same level of viewing experience, while also taking advantage of the fact this is an electronic viewfinder for displaying information and giving you a real-time view of the in-camera settings and how they reflect the final output. The OLED EVF provides 100% field of view with 1.09x magnification.

Rear tilt LCD, Sony NEX-5N

Sony NEX-5N and its 3-inch touch-sensitive tilt LCD

The lack of EVF on the NEX-5N doesn’t mean that it’s less usable. The rear Xtra Fine™ LCD with TruBlack™ technology and 921,6000 pixels provides a magnificent viewing experience, even when shooting at a bright day and with direct sunlight.

The NEX-5N has a touch-sensitive display, the NEX-7 does not. From what I’ve read on many photography forums and blog comments, many people don’t want this feature in their camera. I remember watching a video review on the Panasonic Lumix GH2, and the reviewer didn’t like the touch-sensitive display at all. However, I must admit that I like the touch-focus feature, which helps focusing on different areas on the image faster and much easier. I think Sony has made the right choice omitting the touch-screen from the NEX-7. Just by having an VF actually cancels the need for using a touch-screen for focusing on subjects.

LCD and Viewfinder Specs:

NEX-7: 3-inch Xtra Fine™/TruBlack™ 921,600-dots Tilting (90° up, 45° down) 100% coverage | OLED  2,359k-dots EVF 100% coverage
NEX-5N: 3-inch Xtra Fine™/TruBlack™ 921,600-dots Tilting (80° up, 45°down) 100% coverage | No EVF


What’s in Common?

In the above section we’ve talked about the main differences between NEX-5N and NEX-7N. We’ve mentioned the fact that the NEX-7N inherits some of the advanced technologies found on the Sony A77 camera. No doubt the there is a foundemantal difference in the approach that Sony engineers took to create those two cameras.

Both indeed targets different market segment, but at the same time they have a lot of things in common, including the following:

  1. Full HD 1080p movie recording at 60p, 60i and 24p (cinematic frame-rate)
  2. 0.02 sec Short release time lag
  3. Both Sweep Panorama™ AND 3D Sweep Panorama™ Modes
  4. Auto HDR
  5. 6-image layering capture, especially useful for low-light shots
  6. Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO)
  7. P/A/S/M operating modes for both video and still photos
  8. Picture effects mode with eleven different effects
  9. 10fps continuous shooting


Which NEX Camera is the Right for You?

I assume that after reading this Sony NEX-7 vs NEx5N specs comparison review you became familiar with the differences between those two cameras. I didn’t write a specific paragraph about it, but it’s worth mentioning that the Sony α NEX-7 has a pop-up flash, the NEx-5N does not. You can use an external flash by connecting it to the smart accessory terminal (HVL-F7S flash) on the α NEX-5N.

No doubt that many enthusiast photographers that until now skipped mirrorless cameras due to a lack of high quality EVF, will consider purchasing the α NEX-7 now. But it’s not only because of the EVF, but the wide range of useful features and makes the Sony NEX-7 a one-of-a-kind mirrorless camera.  Of course it will trigger other companies to push this mirrorless market forward and we, the customers will enjoy it.

For beginners, the Sony α NEX-5N is a great mirrorless camera to start with. It’s cheaper and features a really nice range of functionality and advanced options, while maintaining a simple design and user interface. Beginners will find the touch-screen very useful for AF, while more advanced photographers won’t miss that on the NEX-7.

All in all, two excellent mirrorless cameras that will make tough time for both Olympus and Panasonic this year. The competition doesn’t get any easier for them, as Sony raises the bar for they year 2012.