Sony NEX-5N Flash
Like almost all NEX-series cameras at the time of this writing-- the sole exception being the flagship NEX-7--the Sony NEX-5N forgoes any built-in flash or standard hot shoe, in an effort to keep body size down to a bare minimum. Instead, flash photography is catered for with an updated version of the proprietary accessory port used in earlier NEX models, and the same tiny HVL-F7S flash strobe is included in the product bundle.
Sony's HVL-F7S flash folds flat against the top of the lens mount when not in use, and although very compact, is still reasonably powerful for its size, with a useful range extending out as far as sixteen feet. Sony officially lists the guide number as being seven meters (23 feet) at ISO 100. Once safely packed in its protective plastic case, it's dimensions are barely under 2" x 1.5" x 1", easily small enough to slip in a pants pocket and forget you're even carrying it, until you have a need for it. Unfortunately, the coverage is rather narrow, leading to pretty uneven illumination at wide angle with the 18-55mm zoom kit lens. The same will apply to the 16mm prime and 18-200mm zoom lenses, and vignetting will likely prove an additional concern with that combination, given the modest height of the HVL-F7S strobe when extended (around an inch), and the significantly larger dimensions of the lens itself.
Thankfully, the bundled HVL-F7S flash strobe is no longer the only option for NEX-series camera owners. Sony now also has an optional HVL-F20S strobe, which while it's quite a bit larger, should also offer greater performance. At ISO 100, the guide number is officially 20 meters, almost triple that of the bundled strobe. Sony doesn't provide a specification for coverage, but the HVL-F20S also includes a built-in diffuser panel to improve coverage at the cost of some reach. The larger dimensions also mean that the HVL-F20S stands significantly higher above the lens, and should thus be less likely to be blocked by the lens barrel. In addition, the HVL-F20S can operate as a bounce flash, providing more natural light so long as the distance from camera to subject via the ceiling is within the flash's working range. Of course, since the HVL-F20S strobe uses the same proprietary connection as the bundled flash, you still have the issue that you can't use any other accessory simultaneously with flash photography.
A small thumb screw in the base of either strobe--or any of the other available accessories--allows them to be tightly fixed to the camera, safe from being accidentally bumped off, but those with large hands may find the screw a little fiddly to tighten down. If you're in a rush, the flashes do function without the screw being tightened, but they don't mount very tightly, so if you're planning on keeping the flash on camera for more than a few seconds, tightening the thumb screw is a must. Two small pins on all the accessories mate into holes on the camera body to keep everything steadily aligned.
The Sony NEX-5N's has five flash modes: Auto, Fill, Slow Sync., Rear Sync., and Off. The Sony NEX-5N allows you to adjust flash and ambient exposure independently of each other, by providing flash exposure compensation between -2 and +2 EV in one-third EV increments. Through a separate menu option, red-eye reduction can be enabled, which functions by adding several bursts of preflash to contract your subjects' pupils, in addition to the regular metering and exposure flashes. Flash modes are changed in the Camera menu, Flash Compensation in the Brightness / Color menu, and Red-Eye Reduction in the Setup menu. Available settings vary depending on exposure mode. X-Sync (the maximum shutter speed with the flash enabled) is 1/160 second.
Below are test results using the bundled HVL-F7S flash unit.
Flash Test Results
Coverage and Range
A somewhat weak flash (compared to most SLRs) with narrow coverage at wide-angle. Our standard shot required above average exposure compensation but was still dim.
Coverage. Flash coverage was quite uneven at wide-angle (18mm), leaving very dark corners in our flash coverage test image. Narrow coverage at wide-angle isn't unusual, though, and some of the corner darkening is from the lens itself. Coverage was much more uniform at telephoto (55mm).
Exposure. Our Indoor Portrait test scene was still dim with +1.0 EV flash exposure compensation at base ISO of 100. (Most cameras we've tested required about +0.7 EV for this scene.) The NEX-5N offers flash compensation up to +2.0 EV, but higher values did not increase brightness, though you can always increase ISO sensitivity to increase flash range. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced bright, even results with no flash exposure compensation, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting.
ISO 100 Range. With the 18-55mm kit lens at maximum aperture, flash exposure started out bright at 6 feet at wide-angle, and gradually became dimmer. Brightness was good to about 9 feet. At full telephoto, flash exposure started out slightly dim at 6 feet, and decreased in brightness from then on.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. The Sony NEX-5N's built in flash is rated with a Guide Number of 7m or 23 feet at ISO 100. That works out to about 6.6 feet at f/3.5 and 4.1 feet at f/5.6, the maximum apertures of the kit zoom lens. In the shots above, the Sony NEX-5N performs as Sony says it will, producing good exposures at the rated distances with its ISO set to 100. In fact, flash exposures were slightly overexposed by about 1/3 EV here. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.