Sony A5100 Conclusion

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 short, the A5100 is generally better suited for novice shooters not needing an EVF nor extensive controls, whereas the A6000 will be more at home in the hands of experienced and enthusiast photographers as a primary or secondary body.

This is not to say that the A5100 can't deliver professional grade images, as it very much can! And as a "stealth" camera for incognito street shooting, you'll be hard-pressed to top it in that department, as we discussed in our Field Tests. If you pair it with the Sony 16mm f/2.8, as seen in the above image, you have a 24mm equivalent APS-C system that's only 12 ounces (total!) and rests quite comfortably in one hand. By tilting the LCD upwards to a horizontal position you're able to keep the camera at hip-level and shoot very inconspicuously (please respect individual privacy, of course, we're referring more to capturing street life and nature before it notices it's being photographed).

As mentioned in our first Field Test, the body feels easier to hold than the predecessor NEX-5T thanks to a more textured grip and body material and a slightly thicker shape, which is actually better for stability in this case. And while it does lack an EVF, we still found it to be a capable camera even in the difficult arena of indoor sports photography.

Factoring in the Sony A5100's price, size and weight with the other positives we found in our testing and shooting, the Sony A5100 makes for an easy recommendation as a Dave's Pick, and is very much a camera that we give our wholehearted Imaging Resource seal of approval.

Sony A5100: Field Test part I | Field Test part II | Image Quality

Pros: Cons:
  • Amazing amount of firepower for this size and price point
  • Largest sensor found in an inexpensive compact camera (APS-C)
  • Image quality is virtually identical to the popular Sony A6000
  • Dual video recording feature allows for two file formats recording simultaneously
  • Better external texture and feel than predecessor
  • Excellent JPEG image quality at low to moderately high ISOs
  • Very good high ISO performance for an APS-C sensor
  • JPEG images look less "processed" than A6000's at high ISOs (but also less crisp)
  • Very high resolution
  • Good dynamic range
  • Compact, wide-angle kit lens
  • Quick autofocus
  • Very low shutter lag
  • 6 fps burst mode with continuous autofocus
  • Generous buffers
  • Useful and fun multi-shot modes
  • Good battery life for its class
  • Dual media support
  • No EVF
  • Limited external controls compared to some mid-range models
  • No mode dial - have to go into the menus to change the mode
  • High ISO noise handling with JPEGs is not as good as some competing mid-level cameras
  • Sluggish power-on
  • Warm Auto white balance in incandescent light
  • Weak flash with narrow coverage
  • Video image stabilization is not very effective
  • No hot shoe
  • No wireless flash support
  • No microphone jack

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