Sony A5100 Image Quality Comparison

Below 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.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved: click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Sony A5100, Sony NEX-5T, Canon T5, Nikon D3300, Olympus E-PL7 and Sony A6000 -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Sony A5100 to any camera we've ever tested.

Sony A5100 vs Sony NEX-5T at Base ISO

Sony A5100 at ISO 100
Sony NEX-5T at ISO 100

Immediately apparent is the resolution difference mentioned above between the A5100 at 24.3mp and the predecessor NEX-5T at 16.1mp. The boost in resolution allows the A5100 to wrest a bit more fine detail in the mosaic tiles and the pink fabric swatch, but otherwise the two deliver solid IQ performances here at base ISO. Interestingly, the NEX-5T renders the tricky red swatch somewhat more crisply and accurately.

Sony A5100 vs Canon T5 at Base ISO

Sony A5100 at ISO 100
Canon T5 at ISO 100

The A5100 is able to extract significantly more detail here at base ISO than the 18mp T5, especially apparent in both the red and pink fabric swatches.

Sony A5100 vs Nikon D3300 at Base ISO

Sony A5100 at ISO 100
Nikon D3300 at ISO 100

These two models with similar resolutions perform almost identically in the first two crops, but the fabric swatches are interesting as the A5100 renders more detail from the pink fabric while the D3300 draws more from the red fabric.

Sony A5100 vs Olympus E-PL7 at Base ISO

Sony A5100 at ISO 100
Olympus E-PL7 at ISO 200

The E-PL7 is the lone Four Thirds sensor in this group and is also a 16.1mp sensor. It performs admirably in the first two crops but loses some ground in sharpness and detail in the fabric swatches as compared to the A5100.

Sony A5100 vs Sony A6000 at Base ISO

Sony A5100 at ISO 100
Sony A6000 at ISO 100

These two models have image quality pipelines reported to be virtually identical, and the above results serve to support that assertion.

We'll move now to ISO 1600, where the higher quality cameras begin to show their moxie, and the struggling models begin to introduce their noise levels and relative lack of detail.

Sony A5100 vs Sony NEX-5T at ISO 1600

Sony A5100 at ISO 1600
Sony NEX-5T at ISO 1600

Interesting differences are on display here between the A5100 and its predecessor. While the A5100 has less apparent noise and noise reduction artifacts, the NEX-5T is clearly sharper and renders more detail, most noticeable in the mosaic tiles crop. Noise reduction artifacts are most noticeable in the pink fabric swatch.

Sony A5100 vs Canon T5 at ISO 1600

Sony A5100 at ISO 1600
Canon T5 at ISO 1600

Fairly similar performances here, with subtle differences in each crop. The T5 wrests a bit more detail in the first two crops, but also produces more in the way of noise as a trade-off. The A5100 handles the fabric swatches much better here.

Sony A5100 vs Nikon D3300 at ISO 1600

Sony A5100 at ISO 1600
Nikon D3300 at ISO 1600

Somewhat similar to the T5, the D3300 produces more detail at the expense of more noise in the first two crops, and the fabric swatches are close to a draw here, with only subtle apparent differences.

Sony A5100 vs Olympus E-PL7 at ISO 1600

Sony A5100 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-PL7 at ISO 1600

The E-PL7 with its smaller sensor does remarkably well here, rendering more detail in the first two crops and without too much in the way of noise or artifacts, though there are some. It does though begin to lose much detail from the fabric swatches.

Sony A5100 vs Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

Sony A5100 at ISO 1600
Sony A6000 at ISO 1600

Once again, these two models perform virtually identically here as expected.

And now to ISO 3200, where any differences should become a bit more obvious.

Sony A5100 vs Sony NEX-5T at ISO 3200

Sony A5100 at ISO 3200
Sony NEX-5T at ISO 3200

A somewhat similar story as with ISO 1600, where the NEX-5T renders a crisper image but at the expense of noise and some splotchiness as seen in the mosaic tile crop. The fabric swatches are mainly a draw here.

Sony A5100 vs Canon T5 at ISO 3200

Sony A5100 at ISO 3200
Canon T5 at ISO 3200

The T5 image here really suffers from too much noise, and also lacks most all detail in the fabric swatches. Neither perform badly for this price range, but we'll give the nod here to the A5100.

Sony A5100 vs Nikon D3300 at ISO 3200

Sony A5100 at ISO 3200
Nikon D3300 at ISO 3200

The D3300 produces not only crisper images here at ISO 3200 but also more realistic ones. The noise levels really show in the bottle crop, but otherwise the overall nod here goes to the D3300 for slightly better image quality.

Sony A5100 vs Olympus E-PL7 at ISO 3200

Sony A5100 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-PL7 at ISO 3200

Most all Four Thirds sensored-cameras start to show real strain at ISO 3200, and the E-PL7 is no exception, producing images that begin to look unrealistic. But in comparison it's really not much worse that the A5100, which suffers from an overall softness and lack of detail in general.

Sony A5100 vs Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

Sony A5100 at ISO 3200
Sony A6000 at ISO 3200

As with the first two comparisons, these two perform virtually identically as expected.

We use the table below to analyze fine detail performance all the way to ISO 6400.

Sony A5100 vs. Sony NEX-5T, Canon T5, Nikon D3300, Olympus E-PL7, Sony A6000

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. At base ISO the 24+mp cameras certainly best the others for detail, as would generally be expected. Interesting in this table is how well the Sony NEX-5T performs, all the way to ISO 6400 as the others begin to show signs of strain. The E-PL7 also makes a strong showing, and both cameras likely benefit here with stronger default JPEG sharpening algorithms. Also of note is how poorly the T5 performs in the fine detail arena, losing most all detail in the lettering even at ISO 1600. If you intend to photograph images with detail like architecture you'll want to pay close attention here.


Sony A5100 Print Quality

Excellent 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100/200; a nice 16 x 20 at ISO 1600; and even prints a usable 4 x 6 at ISO 25,600.

ISO 100/200 produces an excellent 30 x 40 inch print and higher -- able to print virtually as high as the resolution allows until pixelation is visible.

ISO 400 yields very good 24 x 36 inch prints, although 30 x 40's are more than suitable for wall-display purposes with minimal noise in only a few flatter areas.

ISO 800 prints are quite good at 16 x 20 inches, which is a very usable size for this ISO and yet again only minimal noise visible in a few areas of the test image.

ISO 1600 also delivers a good 16 x 20 inch print. Detail in the red fabric swatch of our test target is beginning to be lost, which is typical of most cameras by this point on the ISO ladder. There is also a touch of noise in flatter, shadowy areas of our test target, but still an amazing feat for this ISO and fairly uncommon for this price bracket.

ISO 3200 yields a good 13 x 19 inch print which is mostly free from noise in most areas other than a few flatter regions of our target, although our red swatch is showing less and less detail.

ISO 6400 delivers a usable 8 x 10 inch print, which is not bad for this ISO. We'd hoped the 11 x 14 would turn out as good as the 13 x 19 inch print at ISO 3200, but there is just a bit too much noise to pass our "good" rating here.

ISO 12,800 prints a good 5 x 7 inch print with overall good contrast and color still available.

ISO 25,600 yields a nice 4 x 6, with good color reproduction for such a high ISO.

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 16 x 20 inch 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.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)


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