A gorgeous compact camera that delivers versatile, high-quality images
Camera phones are fine for casual snapping, so you might not have any need for a dedicated compact camera. The Sony NEX-5N is no ordinary compact camera, though, taking the best features from SLRs and cramming them into a slim, stylish body.
Sony isn't the only company that makes compact cameras with interchangeable lenses, but the NEX-5N is the best we've seen. It looks gorgeous with its sleek magnesium alloy body, substantial metal buttons and tilting widescreen display. The zoom lens sticks out quite far, but there is wide-angle lens that is much slimmer – interchangeable lenses are one reason why these cameras are so much more versatile than conventional compact cameras.
SLRs take better photos than your typical compact camera because their sensors are physically larger. That means they capture more light and measure it more accurately, giving sharper details and more accurate colours. The sensor in the NEX-5N is exactly the same size as those used in SLRs, making it about eight times bigger than conventional compacts' sensors.
The result is exceptionally high image quality, especially in low light. There was barely any blur or grain, nor much call for the clip-on flash unit. Autofocus could be quite slow in gloomy conditions, though, making it hard to shoot with precision timing. Otherwise, the camera was quick, with an option to capture 10 shots in just one second.
Daylight shooting is extremely impressive too. Focus could be a little vague in the corners of photos but this problem was rarely serious. Shots sometimes came out a little dark, but it wasn't hard to boost them with the exposure compensation control. Otherwise, the results were every bit as good as the best SLRs at this price.
Video quality was even better than from SLRs. The 1080p resolution delivered pin-sharp details and smooth, accurate colours, even in very low light. Unlike SLR lenses, this one is optimised for video, focusing gently and silently rather than jolting back and forth. The touchscreen helped for focusing, too, letting us touch to define which part of the scene to focus on, either before or during capture.
On Auto mode, the NEX-5N is very easy to use. There's also the full range of SLR-style options for those who want them. They're a little tricky to access, but various buttons can be customised to jump to the most important settings. It's a shame there's no dedicated mode dial, though. Enthusiasts will want to switch between exposure modes, while casual users will want quicker access to the various clever scene presets such as panorama. Doing so via the menu is a little clumsy.
These aren't serious criticisms, though. With sumptuous image and video quality, responsive operation and a beautiful design, this is the best compact camera available under £1,000.
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A friendly, stylish compact camera that takes exceptional photos and videos. It's expensive, but worth every penny.
Outstanding image and video quality, point-and-shoot simplicity, lots of fun shooting modes
Slow to focus in low light, no mode dial, not exactly pocket-sized
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