Sony Alpha A5100 Digital Camera Review
The A5100 may be Sony's mirrorless middle child, but it's a great value.
By the Numbers
With Sony slowly offing the NEX name with this year's A6000, A3000, and A5000, the final model to go was last year's excellent NEX-5T. The A5100 is the final nail in the NEX coffin, but Sony has ditched the name while luckily preserved the one thing that made the NEX-5T great: value. It is aimed at the same users as the A5000, but offers better performance and more video features. While we did love the NEX line here at Reviewed.com, we think that the new Alpha A series has truly upgraded each NEX camera and puts Sony near–if not on–the top of the sub-$1,000 mirrorless camera market.
Color & White Balance
Color on the A5100 is merely average. Standard is the most accurate color mode with a ∆C00 of 2.48 and saturation of 96.8%. We expected a bit more out of the A5100 since the A6000 had such great color accuracy and the A5100 has essentially the same insides. It's possible that Sony has tuned the A5100 to simply produce what it feels is a more pleasing color profile, but it's less accurate as a result. You can always get more saturated results with modes like Vivid or better skin tones with Portrait, but overall, standard is the most accurate.
White balance is obviously a big player in how color performs and on the A5100, white balance is acceptable most of the time. When using auto white balance, we saw tungsten struggle a bit–having errors around 2100 kelvin–but daylight and florescent are within 350 kelvin consistently. When we switched over to custom white balance, we got more accurate results–all averaged an error under 85 kelvin.
We tested the A5100 with the 16-50mm f/3.5-36 (24-75mm 35mm equivalent) "kit" lens. It did fairly well in tests, but it does have a bit of both pincushion and barrel distortion throughout all focal lengths. If you shoot in JPEG and let the camera apply enhancement then you can expect an average of 2,038 line widths per picture height at a contrast level of MTF50. It is as sharp as 2,700 LW/PH in the center of images, but falls as low as 1,500 LW/PH on the edges.
The RAW shots tend to be a little softer as the A5100 doesn't apply the sharpening software as it does to the JPEG images. Even when it is applied, it doesn't seem to be too aggressive to the point of ruining quality–as we have seen from some cameras. If you're shooting fine details and printing to massive sizes, however, you should really be shooting RAW and developing later.
Noise on the Alpha series is certainly a shining light and the A5100 is no different. Noise from ISO 100-800 is hardly noticeable–even without the NR (noise reduction) engaged. You can shoot through the entire ISO range (100-25,600) without crossing a 2% noise ratio, but we recommend capping it at ISO 1600 if you want to preserve fine details. If you take a look at the chart below you can see how you start to lose the finer details once you float above ISO 1600.
The NR did reduce noise at ISO 3200 and above by about 25%. However, you do lose a fair amount of fine detail. Ultimately if you absolutely have to shoot in low light you can use the noise reduction and still get a usable photo, but as always our recommendation is to stick with RAW in extreme situations and work it out later.
Video on the A5100 is improved over even its big brother, the A6000. When capturing HD video we achieved around 600 line pairs per picture height horizontally (LP/PH) and 575 LP/PH vertically. In low light the A5100 dropped around 450 LP/PH both vertically and horizontally–which is to be expected with less light to work with.
Surprisingly, the A5000 got as low as 3.5 lux in our low-light sensitivity test with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. Though the resulting video is grainy and unusable for most people, so we recommend staying around 8 or more lux to get quality video that you can actually use. In a dimly lit restaurant or at a birthday party, though, the A5100 will do the job just fine.
The A5100 capable of Full HD 1080 recording at 60p, but the real benefit here is its use of the newer XAVC S format. This codec can record at a higher data rate than AVCHD, topping out at 50 Mbps with compression that retains video quality better. The new Bionz X processor also allows you to record AVCHD or XAVC S with a lower-res MP4 video simultaneously to the same memory card. This means you can have a high quality video for editing and an MP4 file to quickly upload if the highest quality isn't as important.
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