Sony a5100 Review

Introduction

The Sony a5100 marks the latest installment in Sony’s 5000 series entry-level mirrorless camera. Initially released fall 2014, it aims to expand the existing APS-C lineup of interchangeable cameras. In many ways, it’s even better than its bigger brother, the a6000. Yet, it’s also a complete overhaul over the predecessor, the a5000. Its name may suggest just a small feature bump over the predecessor. However, the reality is that it far outperforms the older camera is virtually every comparable area. It comes with a newly designed 24.3-megapixel CMOS sensor and a Bionz X image processor, both of which represent a significant leap over the predecessor. In today’s post, review the seemingly forgotten gem in the Sony entry-level lineup to see if it’s still a good option in today’s market. 

Sony-Alpha-5100-camera-specs

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the a5100?

Pros:

Image Quality

It features the identical 24.3 megapixel CMOS sensor found in the higher-end a6000 series cameras and Bionz X image processor. Overall, the image quality delivered here is excellent, and what you expect from sensors of this size. It leaves ample room for post-production cropping and lends itself well for large format printing. 

Video Quality

It delivers significant improvements in both quality and capabilities over the predecessor. It now shoots 1080p Full HD video up to 60 frames per second and now in the newer XAVCS codec. XAVCS is Sony’s alternate MP4 container, which allows their cameras to deliver better bit rates for smooth higher quality footage when compared to MP4 or AVCHD formats. In this case, the camera now has a throughput of 50 Mbps, a 2x improvement over the predecessors 24 Mbps. The newer codec also allows video to provide a slightly wider dynamic range, which leaves greater room for post-production recovery or grading. It’s worth noting that to record in this higher XAVCS format; you need the faster high-capacity SDXC card. Nonetheless, we’re glad to see this feature not unnecessarily removed just because this is a lower-end camera. 

It features Auto ISO when filming videos in the manual mode, thankfully. You’d be surprised to know how many higher-end cameras lack this simple feature. Auto ISO is vital when filming in continually changing lighting, as it allows you to maintain a desired Aperture and Shutter Speed. With this feature, you can enable the camera to compensate for changes automatically. 

The video quality provided here is excellent for this class of camera. The colors it delivers are realistic, even on the default settings, and exposure is spot on without any signs of compression artifacts. Typically, you expect some issues with lower-priced bodies. However, that is not the case here. The footage is sharp and maintains this quality even when shooting at ISO’s as high as ISO 1,600. 

Surprisingly, the camera features a clean HDMI out, making it an excellent choice for those who desire to use external recorders.

If you enjoy using Creative Picture Styles, you’ll be glad to know that all available styles on this camera also translate into videos. All you need to do is enable them before recording. 

Low Light Performance

Low light performance is on par with the competition at this point. It has a native ISO range from ISO 100 to ISO 25,600.  Users can expect its sensor to deliver usable results as high as ISO 3,200 or ISO 6,400, with only minor post-production noise reduction. 

Focusing Performance

It has a 179-point phase-detect autofocusing system that delivers excellent continuous autofocus performance, especially for this class of camera. Of the 179 points, 25 also are used for contrast-detection, which further increases the versatility and accuracy of the camera across a variety of different lighting conditions. It also features both Face and Eye-detect autofocusing, which precisely focuses on the subject’s dominant eye. While, the continuous autofocusing system on this camera is not the same level as Sony’s higher-end and more expensive flagship cameras, for example, the newly released a6600. Compared to the predecessors, its system is superior, well-rounded, and excellent for the price. Both single shot and continuous autofocus lock on with minimal hesitation and works even at shallow Apertures when filming. When used in conjunction with Lock-On AF, the camera can confidently track movement across the frame. 

Interestingly,  the camera features a wealth of settings to help adjust the system’s performance to suit the shooting demands better. Users can change the speed at which the autofocus system tracks via the user’s menu to better tailor the camera to the specific shooting needs. 

The addition of a touchscreen allows the camera to provide both touch focus and touch shutter. With these additions, performing complex focus transitions or focus pulls are as simple as a tap on display. The camera can even focus at the extreme edges of the frame. Overall, this functionality makes focus pulls look professional, and significantly reduces any hunting that otherwise occurs when filming. 

Battery Performance

It uses the Sony NP-FW50 battery, which delivers a 400 shot per charge life and 75 minutes of video recording. These figures surpass the industry-standard expected in compact mirrorless cameras, which is 350 shots per charge and 60 minutes of video recording. 

Display & Viewfinder

It has a 3-inch 921K dot tilting touchscreen LCD. The addition of a touchscreen now allows the camera to sport both touch focus and touch shutter, though it not menu navigation.  Thankfully the touch implementation works for both photos and videos, which makes Complex focus transitions or rack focusing a breeze.

User Interface

Considering the cameras small and compact size, it does well to retain Sony’s standard menu hierarchy and overall organization. Previous Sony users will feel immediately comfortable using this camera and mastering its menus. The camera is not missing any critical functionality and still offers ample capabilities. It even features an excellent selection of helpful automatic modes to assist users when shooting in the various mediums they support. It also features ample scene-specific modes, which are useful when Program Auto fails to identify the specific scene automatically.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Overall, its controls and form factor are similar to the higher-end a6000. But, the two cameras do have their differences. One of which is it has a spring-loaded zoom lever that surrounds the shutter, a feature typically reserved for video camcorders. This level helps smooth transition to make zooming more cinematic when filming. Though it only proves beneficial for filming videos and not as helpful when shooting stills, however. 

Its body is composed of primarily polycarbonate plastic. Though considering the price point and demographic this camera aims, it is sufficient, and the camera seems resilient enough for years of use. In hand, the camera feels good and well put together, though it does have a smaller grip. Its size is an advantage, however, as the majority of its buttons fall on the right-hand side of the camera, making it excellent for one-handed operation.

Niche Features/Extras

It has a continuous burst rate of 6 fps, up from the 3.5 fps rate of the predecessor, and now with autofocus. These figures make it directly comparable to an entry-level digital SLR, with the advantage of being significantly smaller and more compact in size.  However, it’s performance is not necessarily just repeatable for the speed it shoots, instead, for its stamina, which is an impressive 20 seconds of continuous shooting without a hitch. It only after this point does the camera slow slightly to 4 fps, then shoot side firefly until the card fills or the battery dies. Impressive.

It has a built-in pop-up flash, which has a variable angle allowing users to tilt it, if need be, for bounce flash. 

It features zebra highlight warning, which indicates areas of clipping in either shadows or highlights while shooting. 

It has built-in focus peaking and focus magnification, which assists when using manual focus lenses to achieve critical focus better. 

It has built-in HDR, which combines multiple images into a single file for a better dynamic range. 

It features a slightly uncommon feature in its competing class called Dual Recording. This feature records both a higher quality XAVCS or AVCHD format as well as a lower quality MP4 video simultaneously onto the same card. The advantage of this feature is that the smaller file lends itself better for immediate uploading to social media. At the same time, you still retain the higher-quality version format for post-production editing. 

The camera has Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity for immediate wireless transfer of images to a smartphone via PlayMemories. You can also wirelessly remotely control the camera as well, which works well. For those who have android devices, connecting to the camera and transferring files is as simple as tapping the NFC badge on the camera. 

It supports USB charging. 

Cons:

Video Capabilities 

It lacks 4K recording capabilities. Users desiring this functionality will have to upgrade to the higher iterations in the a6000 lineup instead.

Display

While the camera features a touchscreen, it’s touch capabilities are limited and no not extend to menu navigation. With that, users are still forced to use the directional keys to navigate the menus of this camera. 

The rear screen lacks sufficient brightness for adequate viewing when composing outdoors in bright daylight conditions. It is easily washed out, even at the maximum brightness setting, and makes composing difficult. 

Unlike the a6000 series, it lacks an electronic viewfinder. While its body is rather smaller, and it would be challenging to feature this particular addition, it can still be a deal-breaker for some users. It will be even more so for those who shoot outdoors often, as mentioned previously.

Menus

Unlike Sony’s higher-end bodies, this camera lacks any physical custom buttons, C1-C3. However, even considering this lack, the camera still has customization over the physical buttons that do remain. For example, the Help Menu can transform into the Mode Selection function for quick access to the shooting modes.  So, while this may be a con for some as it lacks the default immediacy, much of the core functionality is still accessible with some finagling. 

This camera lacks a dedicated Quick Selection Menu. Instead, the only way to change settings on this camera is through the main menu. The reality is that most compact digital cameras offer customizable quick menus to reduce the overall burden on users when hunting through the menu for a specific setting. Unfortunately, since this camera lacks this feature, just about every setting change will require a trip and dive into the main menu. Incredibly tedious.

Ergonomics

The positioning of the primary control wheel lands near a critical gripping point when holding the camera. And because of its positioning, it lends itself to a lot of accidental changes. Considering it defaults to changing exposure, it can quickly ruin images long before you realized.

Due to its size, it lacks a physical Mode Selection dial. Instead, users change modes virtually through the main menu, which proves to be slightly tedious. 

It lacks dual adjustment dials to change exposure. Thankfully, the core functionality remains; the method is just slightly different. In this case, these changes occur virtually via the rotary wheel, which defaults to changing Shutter Speed. You can hold the Exposure Compensation button then rotate the wheel to change the Aperture. 

It has a rather small and shallow grip, which, while raised to remove any feelings of slipping out of the hands. It still is incredibly uncomfortable during prolonged use, especially if you have larger hands.

Lacking Features

It lacks a 3.5mm audio input jack. Considering the superb video quality, it delivers in such a compact size; it’s a shame the possibility of better audio capture is missing. Instead, users looking for more professional audio will have to use the onboard audio as a Guide Track, and an external recording device, then sync the two in post.

It lacks a headphone input.

It lacks a hot shoe adapter, which thoroughly removes the ability to mount any external flashes or specialized audio equipment.  

During Playback, the camera provides far less functionality than the competition. You can only review images to check details and play slideshows. It lacks any retouching functionality, RAW to JPEG conversion, other post-processing features. 

Is the Sony a5100 a good beginner camera?

Yes. When compared to the predecessor, the updates to the sensor, autofocus performance, and video capabilities all combine to deliver a far superior camera. Overall, it’s an excellent camera with an impressive autofocusing system and a high-quality APS-C sensor. It competes well with other APS-C cameras in both performance and feature set. Yet, it maintains a small compact form that’s small enough to stow away in a jacket pocket. In all, it’s a fantastic entry point for those looking for their first compact Mirrorless camera. 

What are the best lenses for the Sony a5100?

General Photography: 

Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS

Sony E 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS

Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS 

Specifically for Macro Photography:

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS

Specifically for Landscape Photography:

E 10–18 mm F4 OSS

E 16 mm F2.8

Sonnar® T* E 24 mm F1.8 ZA

Specifically for Portrait Photography:

E 50 mm F1.8 OS

E 35 mm F1.8 OSS

E 55–210 mm F4.5-6.3 OSS

Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS

Specifically for Astrophotography:

E 10–18 mm F4 OSS

E 16 mm F2.8

Sonnar® T* E 24 mm F1.8 ZA

Specifically for Sports Photography:

E 70–350 mm F4.5–6.3 G OSS

Specifically for Wildlife Photography:

E 70–350 mm F4.5–6.3 G OSS

Specifically for Product & Still life Photography:

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS

Extra Batteries:

NP-FW50 Utaxo Camera Batteries Charger Set for Sony

SD Cards:

SanDisk Ultra 64GB Class 10 SDXC UHS-I Memory Card

Best Bundles for the Sony a5100

Is the a5100 a good camera for you?

Yes. It makes an excellent camera for those looking for a compact hybrid camera that offers adequate photography and videography performance. Granted, when shooting video, you will need to be okay with dual recording and sync the audio captured by the external device in post.  However, if that doesn’t work for you, this camera is best reserved as a backup or secondary angle. For the image quality it delivers at such a low price, it makes for an excellent b-camera or backup camera to a higher-end mirrorless camera offering. 

It makes an excellent choice for those looking for a photography-centric camera, due to its compact size and portability. With the right lenses, the images it’s capable of delivering rival that of any other 24.3-megapixel sensor, no questions there. 

It makes an excellent choice for vlogging, with it’s articulating touchscreen, tracking performance, and lightweight body. Though, you will still need to address the lack of microphone input at some point as well. 

It makes for an excellent upgrade over the a5000. While it’s pricier than the predecessor, the updated sensor, autofocus system, and video capabilities combine to deliver a far superior camera. In actuality, it’s main competition comes in the form of the a6000. Since both cameras offer the same resolution sensors and high quality autofocusing systems, the main deciding factor is ergonomics and added features. In this case, the electronic viewfinder, added customization, hot shoe, and microphone input. If these components are critical for you, then the a6000 is the better camera. However, if you can compromise with these, then the a5000 is surprisingly the better camera. It features greater video capabilities and the added touchscreen functionality, which seriously make a difference in day to day use. 

Overall, this is a good camera and an excellent choice for a beginner. It delivers much of the same core imaging performance and features of Sony’s higher-end bodies, in a smaller and more convenient form factor. For that unfirmail with digital cameras, this camera will do well to provide high-quality results in the automatic modes. Whenever you’re ready to embark on learning manual mode, you will see the true capabilities of this camera.

Sony-a5100-vs-a6000-spec-comparison

Sony-a5000--vs-Sony-a5100-comparison-banner

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.1

Summary

The Sony a5100 is an excellent upgrade over the previously released a5000. The improvements made to the sensor, autofocus system, and video capabilities combine into a stellar camera. It remains competitive in today’s market, yet still small enough to stow away in a jacket pocket. Overall, it makes for a solid entry point into Sony’s lineup of interchangeable lens cameras and a great choice for a first compact mirrorless camera.