Sony Alpha 5100 review

September 17, 2014

Overall Rating:


Sony Alpha 5100

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  • - Superb resolution and autofocus speed
  • - Lightweight, but tough with a compact body
  • - Advanced video filming capabilities


  • - Only six frames per second continuous shooting
  • - Touchscreen limited to taking pictures only
  • - No input for external microphone



With 24.3-million-pixels, 179-point hybrid autofocus and advanced video, is the Sony Alpha 5100 the most high- tech, entry-level APS-C camera yet? In our Sony Alpha 5100 review Jon Devo finds out

Hands-on First Look

Sony says its new Sony Alpha A5100 is the world’s smallest interchangeable lens camera, but with its 24-million-pixel APS-C sensor it packs an impressive punch.

Sony Alpha A5100: Key Features

Sony was the originator of what’s become something of a standard design template for compact system cameras, with its original NEX-3 and NEX-5 models back in 2010. These were triumphs of miniaturisation, with APS-C sensors squeezed into a compact bodies that used tilting rear screens for viewing. The Alpha 5100 is the latest model in this mould, and now incorporates key components from the highly-regarded Alpha 6000, most importantly the same 24-million-pixel Exmor image sensor with on-chip phase detection for autofocus, and the Bionx X processor.

The Sony Alpha A5100 replaces the NEX-5T, bringing to an end the NEX branding that Sony originally used for its E-mount compact system cameras. This means that all of the company’s interchangeable lens cameras, both E-mount CSCs and Alpha-mount SLTs, now come under the Alpha label. However in terms of design the Alpha 5100 is much closer to being an updated NEX-3N, with the same basic layout including a built-in pop-up flash, zoom lever surrounding the shutter button, single control dial, and hinged LCD that can face forwards for self portraits. With a plastic body shell, the camera weighs just 283g with card and battery.

Sony Alpha A5100: Sensor

Images are recorded using a 24-million-pixel APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor, with a sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600 on offer for stills shooting. Sony says that the Alpha 5100 will give exactly the same image quality as the Alpha 6000, which is no bad thing at all. Shutter speeds run from 1/4000 sec to 30sec, with an electronic first curtain used to minimise release lag, and eliminate any image blurring from shutter-induced vibrations. Continuous shooting is on offer at 6 fps, and up to 56 frames can be recorded in a burst in JPEG format.

Sony Alpha A5100: Autofocus

The Sony Alpha A5100’s standout feature – especially give its size – is probably its autofocus system, again borrowed from the Alpha 6000. The on-chip hybrid setup employs both phase-detection for speed and contrast-detection for accuracy, and Sony claims an exceptionally fast focus speed of 0.07sec. The 179-point phase detection array covers almost the entire area of the frame (with 91% vertical and 92% horizontal coverage), and can keep track of subjects as they move across the frame, and towards or away from the camera. This offers the kind of focus tracking during continuous shooting that’s usually associated with SLRs, and has generally been a weakness for CSCs, and on the Alpha 6000 it worked very well. The system can also follow moving subjects during video recording. The camera’s face detection system now includes Eye AF, which identifies and focuses specifically on the subject’s eye.

Sony Alpha A5100: Video

Movies can be recorded in 1920 x 1080 px Full HD at framerates up to 60fps, and the on-chip phase detection enables continuous autofocusing on moving subjects while shooting. The Alpha 5100 adds support for the XAVC S format with bitrates up to 50 Mbps for higher quality footage, and can record a lower resolution (1280 x 720 px) MP4 format file simultaneously for easier sharing.

Other features on offer for budding videographers include a zebra-pattern overexposure warning, and a peaking display to aid manual focus. The camera can also now show onscreen markers for the frame centre and a ‘safe area’ which should always be displayed, regardless of the device the movie is played on. Sound is recorded using built-in stereo microphones, but there’s no option to add an external mic.

Sony Alpha A5100: Screen

Framing is via a 3in 921,600 dot LCD, which can tilt upwards for waist-level shooting or face forwards for selfies; however it can’t tilt downwards for overhead shooting. It’s touch-sensitive, allowing either focus area selection or shutter release simply by tapping the screen. Unfortunately no other touch functions are available, meaning it’s not possible to use the screen to change camera settings during shooting, which would be useful on a camera with so few physical controls. The touchscreen can’t be used for image browsing in playback either,which is surprising on a product aimed at the smartphone generation.

Sony Alpha A5100: Flash

The tiny built-in flash has a not-very-powerful guide number of 4m at ISO100, but this should still give a range of about 3m with the kit zoom at ISO 1600. The Alpha 5100 doesn’t have an accessory shoe for a larger flash unit, though, and nor can it mount an accessory viewfinder, either optical or electronic.

Sony Alpha A5100: Wifi and NFC

Naturally the Sony Alpha A5100 has built-in Wi-Fi, along with NFC for quick pairing to a compatible device. Via the free PlayMemories Mobile app, users can browse their images and copy them to a smartphone or tablet for sharing. The camera’s capabilities can also be expanded using an array of downloadable apps, which allow such things as controlling the camera remotely from a smartphone. Photographers who like to dabble with using third party lenses on adapters can also buy an app to program in lens compensation parameters (such as colour shading or distortion).

Sony Alpha A5100: First Impressions

The Sony Alpha A5100 may initially look like just another iterative update to Sony’s compact body E-mount line, but the addition of the sensor from the Alpha 6000 including its phase detect AF system promises a significant step up in capability. Indeed the Alpha 5100 potentially combines both autofocus ability and image quality to match most SLRs, in one of the smallest interchangeable lens models we’ve ever seen. Indeed Sony’s biggest problem may lie in convincing potential buyers that this is even possible in such an unassuming little body.

For enthusiast photographers, the Sony Alpha A5100 is essentially a stripped-down version of the Alpha 6000, but with some key trade-offs for its smaller size. It has much fewer external controls, so a lot of button clicking and dial scrolling is needed to change settings. It has no electronic viewfinder and can’t accept an add-on unit, nor can it take a more powerful flash. On the other hand it adds a touchscreen, which we’ve generally found to be very useful for focus area selection.

Overall though the Alpha 5100 looks like an intriguing little camera, and we’ll be putting it though its paces and publishing our full review in the next few weeks.

The Sony Alpha 5100 will be available from mid-September 2014 priced at around £550 (16-50mm lens kit), £760 (16-50mm + 55-210mm lens kit) or £420 (body only).


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