The Great Compact Camera Debate: S100 vs. NEX-5N

Photography / Monday, January 23rd, 2012


Two relatively different cameras: the Canon S100–an ultra-compact and a the Sony NEX-5N, an EVIL (electronic view finder, interchangeable lens) compact system camera. I've purchased both in an effort to find something to replace my Canon Rebel T1i which I recently sold on eBay in favor of something that I can carry with me all the time that still offers some of the creative manual features of a larger DSLR.

The S100 is truly pocketable. It slips into a bag or a pants pocket and, although it's well made with some solid weight behind it, it doesn't call attention to itself and is easily carried as long as you remember to bring it with you. It offers manual controls for aperture, shutter speed, and white balance while also providing the user with a full range of automatic functionality and creative scene controls. Shooting high-definition video, high speed video and RAW files is also a bonus that you won't find on other compacts in addition to fast shooting at 2.3 frames per second. The wide 2.0 aperture provides for some nice depth of field and the S100 has a larger sensor than most other compacts resuting in fantastic pictures and low light capabailty for a camera this small. I love everything about it except for the limited battery life which isn't a surprise given the power packed into such a small form factor so I have an extra battery at the ready.

The NEX-5N is a beast of a camera since it packs a DSLR sensor into a body that is at least a third as big as its full featured big brothers. The actual body of the camera is probably half an inch larger than the S100 which is pushing the limits of pocketability but since the sensor is so much larger, once you attach a lens like the kit 18/55mm, you either need to have some big pockets or be ready to carry this bad boy around in your hand or in a small bag or case. It's still easier to carry than a DSLR but the fact is it needs to be carried and isn't quite a inconspicuous. What I really like about it is you get the equivalent power, creativity and photo quality of a full DSLR including 10 frames per second shooting speed (60 frames per second are possible without continuous focusing) and a depth of field that blows the S100 away because the sensor is so much better. It's a low light powerhouse and offers creative video at full HD with complete creative control and select focusing.

So now you understand my dilemma. There is no pocketable camera better than the S100 at providing the kind of manual functionality that you get with this Canon mighty mite. There is no compact system camera better than the NEX-5N at providing the picture quality and video capability of a full DSLR APS-C sensor than this sensational Sony. Every manufacturer is working to produce better than these two in their respective categories but for now, they are Kings of the hill.

I would love to keep both and, until I can make up my mind and take some comparable pictures and video to put them through their paces, I'll hang on to each for a while. Neither is cheap, so I'll need to decide which tradeoffs I'm willing to make between pocketable and powerful in order to choose a carry-with-me-everywhere traveling companion that will play second fiddle to my completely unpocketable powerhouse, my Canon 60D. I also need to free up some cash tied up in cameras in order to satisfy me need for additional toys (and cameras) in the future when the inevitable latest and greatest hits the scene.

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