Sony A5100 Review
|Full model name:||Sony Alpha ILCE-A5100|
(23.5mm x 15.6mm)
|Viewfinder:||No / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 25,600|
|Extended ISO:||100 - 25,600|
|Shutter:||1/4000 - 30 seconds|
|Max Aperture:||3.5 (kit lens)|
4.3 x 2.5 x 1.4 in.
(110 x 63 x 36 mm)
includes batteries, kit lens
|Full specs:||Sony A5100 specifications|
One of the smallest, lightest and most affordable mirrorless cameras currently offered with an APS-C sensor, and sharing the same imaging pipeline as the Sony A6000, the Sony A5100 has few rivals in terms of offering good quality for the price. It lacks an EVF and external mode dial but this allows the body to remain sleek like its predecessors in the NEX-gone-alpha line, and it brings a few new tricks to the table like dual video recording.Pros
Very small and comfortable form factor; Very good image quality for its class; New dual video record function; Quick autofocus and good dynamic range.Cons
Lacks an EVF and external mode dial; No hot shoe; JPEG processing at higher ISOs not as good as some competing mid-level models.Price and availability
The Sony A5100 became available in September 2014 for an MSRP of US$700 (kit version). It is currently available as a kit for US$598 and body-only for US$458.Imaging Resource rating
4.5 out of 5.0
$1850.00 (79% more)
16.3 MP (49% less)
Also has viewfinder
$480.28 (18% more)
16.2 MP (50% less)
Also has viewfinder
$677.84 (42% more)
14.8 MP (64% less)
Also has viewfinder
Sony A5100 Review
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted 08/18/2014
08/18/2014: Field Test Part I - Out and about with a smorgasbord of lenses
02/13/2015: Field Test Part II - Catching fire and motion in low light
07/07/2015: Image Quality Comparison & Print Quality added
07/09/2015: Review Conclusion posted
Early in 2014, Sony knocked the ball out of the park with the Sony A6000 compact system camera, one of the most popular models we've seen in years. It has since given that camera a younger sibling in the form of the Sony A5100, and is clearly hoping to repeat its success.
Although its name might suggest it to be a followup to the A5000, the 24.3-megapixel Sony A5100 actually replaces the NEX-5T, the final Sony camera to sport the now-retired NEX badge. As such, the A5100 sits in between the A5000 and A6000, replacing neither, but providing an alternative to both.
Compared to the A5000, the Sony A5100 provides a significant step forward in terms of sensitivity and performance, especially in terms of autofocus. It also offers a little more resolution, a higher-res monitor that has a touchpanel overlay, and an uprated movie mode. And it's available in only two colors, where for the A5000 you have a choice of three.
The main differences from the A6000 are that the A5100 is more affordable and less swift, lacks a viewfinder or hot shoe, and has a weaker internal flash. On the plus side, it has a smaller, lighter body, and adds a zoom lever for power-zoom lens control and the aforementioned touchpanel overlay. Interestingly, it also boasts a couple of movie features its higher-end sibling lacks! (See our Tech Info page for details.)
Available since September 2014, the Sony A5100 originally had a list price of US$550 body-only, a savings of US$100 over the A6000 at the time. List price has since dropped to US$450. A kit with Sony E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS lens was priced at US$700, again a handy US$100 less than the corresponding A6000 kit, but is now listed at US$600. Compared to the A5000, which ships only in kit form with the same optic, the A5100 is about US$150 more expensive -- a difference that seems reasonable when you consider its advantages!
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Sony A5100 Field Test Part I
Out and about with a smörgåsbord of lenses
I've had the privilege of shooting with most of the NEX-gone-Alpha models since the beginning of the line in 2010. The NEX-5 from that year marked the beginning of the mid-level price / capability points of the line, nestled comfortably between the lower-end NEX-3 and the higher-end NEX-6 and flagship NEX-7 models. This mid-level line has been updated every year since its inception, with the A5100 being the 5th generation to date. [Though its naming struck us as odd, as many believe it to be the successor to the A5000, which of course it isn't but sure sounds like it is.]
To me, this model marks the most significant set of upgrades to the mid-level line thus far, as well as a few setbacks worth mentioning. Right out of the box it felt different than its predecessor, beginning with the rougher texture of the body, making it a bit more stable to hold and, at least to me, feeling more solid. Some will likely prefer the metal chassis of the NEX-5T, but on this size camera, I prefer the polycarbonate of the A5100. The grip is not quite as severe in its shape than last year's NEX-5T, allowing more breathing room for my fingers between the grip and the lens, especially when carrying it around. It's a bit thicker, as you'll see below, but that gives it even more stability in the holding, both with the right hand on the grip or with it resting on my left hand. Larger lenses also seem and feel more at home on this model, striking a better overall balance.
Read more about my hands-on experience with the compact and lightweight A5100.
Sony A5100 Field Test Part II
Catching fire and motion in low light
In viewing the handheld image of the A5100 with the Sony 55-210mm lens mounted in our first Field Test, it showed the nice balance of that combination, but didn't do full justice to just how small this camera can become. For shooting an NCAA basketball game as part of this second report I decided to try the A5100 paired once again with the Sony 16mm f/2.8 prime lens, and was immediately reminded of why this is such a good combination for things like travel and hiking.
We took a look at images from the 16-50mm PZ kit lens in the first part of this report, but for part two I'll be sticking with prime lenses having apertures that can open to at least f/2.8 in order to be able to fully test and show the low-light capabilities of the A5100. For anyone who's ever tried to photograph fast-action indoor sports, especially in relatively low light, you know how tricky it can be without a gargantuan camera and lens combination. And if you've read our indoor sports on a budget tutorial you've seen how the A5100's popular big brother the A6000 fares in that arena, so I thought it'd be a good comparison to take the A5100 to the same gym and see what kind of results I could get in similar lighting conditions.
Read about how the Sony A5100 performs shooting in low light, including indoor sports.
Sony A5100 Technical Info
Let's take a closer look at the Sony A5100!
Design. A replacement for the NEX-5T, the Sony A5100 sits between the A5000 and A6000 in Sony's lineup. In terms of design, though, it's A5000 all the way. All controls and features are located just as they were in that camera, and although the body itself has a new finish -- including a change to a leather-like texture on the hand grip -- the Sony A5100 looks very, very much like the A5000.
In fact, the only notable change we spotted is that there's now a cutout in the flash card / connectivity compartment door which provides access to the USB multi terminal without opening the whole door, to accommodate a new wired remote. Dimensions are identical, although weight has increased by a scant half-ounce (14g). And of course, the A5100 is available only in black or white, with no silver option like the A5000.
Sensor. At the heart of the Sony A5100 is the same 24.3-megapixel, APS-C sized CMOS image sensor as in the extremely popular A6000. This new sensor is not just higher-resolution than that in the 20.1-megapixel A5000, it's a key to many of the A5100's feature upgrades as compared to that model, as we'll see in a moment.
Click to read Sony A5100 technical info!
Sony A5100 Image Quality Comparison
Putting the A5100 up against the competition
Here are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing the Sony A5100 against the Sony NEX-5T, Canon T5, Nikon D3300, Olympus E-PL7 and the Sony A6000. All of these models sit at relatively similar price points and/or categories in their respective product lineups, with the only exceptions being the Sony NEX-5T which is the predecessor to the A5100, and the Sony A6000 which is the next category up in the Sony Alpha line.
We should make a brief mention that the 1:1 crop comparisons below are somewhat affected by the rather significant difference in resolution between the competing models, with the A5100, A6000 and D3300 sporting 24+mp resolutions compared to 16mp for the NEX-5T and the E-PL7, and 18mp for the T5. The resolution differences don't profoundly affect overall quality, but it's still worth keeping in mind as you read our notes and do your own comparing.
Sony A5100 Print Quality
Let's see how it does off-screen
The Sony A5100 stands tall in the print quality department as we'd expected, given that it shares the same imaging pipeline as its storied big brother the Sony A6000. Delivering good prints at ISO 1600 is no common feat for a sub-frame camera, and the ability to deliver a usable print at the top of the available ISO range is also always a welcome sign. Sporting the image quality of the A6000 in a smaller, lighter and less expensive package is a neat trick indeed.
Sony A5100 Conclusion
A smaller, simpler but still capable A6000
The Sony A5100 is a powerful imaging tool in a very small body at a current street price of less than $500 (body only), which makes it an intriguing proposition not only for users stepping up from smartphone limitations, but also for Sony Alpha shooters looking for a capable back-up to a higher-end model. It has the same imaging pipeline as its hugely popular big brother, the Sony A6000, and our image quality analysis confirmed that the I.Q. is, indeed, virtually identical.
If you're comparing this model to the A6000, you have several basic trade-offs to consider. The A5100 is smaller and lighter, costs roughly $100 less and also sports the nifty dual video recording feature (can record two separate video file formats simultaneously), while the A6000 has an electronic viewfinder, increased performance levels in areas like continuous burst shooting, and better overall ergonomics with more external controls such as a mode dial.
In the Box
The Sony A5100 retail kit package (as reviewed) contains the following items:
- Sony Alpha ILCE-5100 camera body
- SELP-1650 16-50mm E-mount Power Zoom lens
- NP-FW50 rechargeable Li-ion battery
- AC-UB10 AC adaptor
- Shoulder strap
- Micro USB cable
- Lens cap
- Instruction Manual
- Wi-Fi Connection/One-touch (NFC) Guide
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. 16GB Class 10 should be a minimum; SDXC Class 10 card required for XAVC S movie recording.
- BC-TRW Dedicated Battery Charger (~US$40)
- Additional lenses
1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate
2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate
3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate