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Never let it be said that Sony is timid about introducing innovation to digital photography! Although the predecessors to this model (the Sony Alpha NEX-5 and NEX-3 cameras) weren’t the first of the new breed of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras on the market, this new offering is in a class by itself. The NEX-5N boasts a body that is, minus your choice of lens, as compact as any point-and-shoot camera. But, tucked inside is a large sensor with the same size, light gathering power, and resolution of those found in the typical digital SLR from Sony and other vendors. Add in the ability to use an expanding roster of interchangeable lenses (including select optics from Sony’s Alpha line), programmable “soft” keys, a touch screen, and an affordable price tag, and you have a compact camera that sacrifices nothing in terms of features and capabilities. The original NEX-5 was great, and the new NEX-5N is even better.

You’ll find your new camera is loaded with options that few would have expected to find in such a basic camera. Indeed, the Alpha retains the ease of use that smoothes the transition for those new to digital photography. For those just dipping their toes into the digital pond, the experience is warm and inviting. The Sony Alpha NEX-5N isn’t a snapshot camera—it is a point-and-shoot (if you want to use it in that mode) for the thinking photographer.

But once you’ve confirmed that you made a wise purchase, the question comes up, how do I use this thing? All those cool features can be mind numbing to learn, if all you have as a guide is the manual furnished with the camera. Help is on the way. I sincerely believe that this book is your best bet for learning how to use your new camera, and for learning how to use it well.

If you’re a Sony Alpha NEX-5N owner who’s looking to learn more about how to use your camera, you’ve probably already explored your options. There are DVDs and online tutorials—but who can learn how to use a camera by sitting in front of a television or computer screen? Do you want to watch a movie or click on HTML links, or do you want to go out and take photos with your camera? Videos are fun, but not the best answer.

There’s always the manual furnished with the Alpha. It’s compact and filled with information, but there’s really very little about why you should use particular settings or features, and its organization may make it difficult to find what you need. Multiple cross-references may send you flipping back and forth between two or three sections of the book to find what you want to know. The basic manual is also hobbled by black-and-white line drawings and tiny monochrome pictures that aren’t very good examples of what you can do.

Also available are third-party guides to the Alpha, like this one. I haven’t been happy with some of these guidebooks, which is why I wrote this one. The existing books range from skimpy and illustrated with black-and-white photos to lushly illustrated in full color but too generic to do much good. Photography instruction is useful, but it needs to be related directly to the Sony Alpha as much as possible.

I’ve tried to make David Busch’s Sony Alpha NEX-5N Guide to Digital Photography different from your other Alpha learn-up options. The roadmap sections use larger, color pictures to show you where all the buttons and dials are, and the explanations of what they do are longer and more comprehensive. I’ve tried to avoid overly general advice, including the two-page checklists on how to take a “sports picture” or a “portrait picture” or a “travel picture.” Instead, you’ll find tips and techniques for using all the features of your Sony Alpha to take any kind of picture you want. If you want to know where you should stand to take a picture of a quarterback dropping back to unleash a pass, there are plenty of books that will tell you that. This one concentrates on teaching you how to select the best autofocus mode, shutter speed, f/stop, or flash capability to take, say, a great sports picture under any conditions.

This book is not a lame rewriting of the manual that came with the camera. Some folks spend five minutes with a book like this one, spot some information that also appears in the original manual, and decide “Rehash!” without really understanding the differences. Yes, you’ll find information here that is also in the owner’s manual, such as the parameters you can enter when changing your Alpha’s operation in the various menus. Basic descriptions—before I dig in and start providing in-depth tips and information—may also be vaguely similar. There are only so many ways you can say, for example, “Hold the shutter release down halfway to lock in exposure.” But not everything in the manual is included in this book. If you need advice on when and how to use the most important functions, you’ll find the information here.

David Busch’s Sony Alpha NEX-5N Guide to Digital Photography is aimed at both Sony veterans as well as newcomers to digital photography. Both groups can be overwhelmed by the options the Alpha offers, while underwhelmed by the explanations they receive in their user’s manual. The manuals are great if you already know what you don’t know, and you can find an answer somewhere in a booklet arranged by menu listings and written by a camera vendor employee who last threw together instructions on how to operate a camcorder.

Why the Sony Alpha NEX-5N Needs Special Coverage

There are many general digital photography books on the market. Why do I concentrate on books about specific digital cameras like the Alpha? When I started writing digital photography books in 1995, advanced digital cameras cost $30,000 and few people other than certain professionals could justify them. Most of my readers a dozen years ago were stuck using the point-and-shoot low-resolution digital cameras of the time—even if they were advanced photographers. I took thousands of digital pictures with an Epson digital camera with 1024 × 768 (less than 1 megapixel!) resolution, and which cost $500.

As recently as 2003 (years before the original Alpha was introduced), the lowest-cost enthusiast models were priced at $3,000 or more. Today, around $699 buys you a sophisticated model like the Sony Alpha NEX-5N (with lens). The advanced digital camera is no longer the exclusive bailiwick of the professional, the wealthy, or the serious photography addict willing to scrimp and save to acquire a dream camera. Digital models have become the favored camera for anyone who wants to go beyond point-and-shoot capabilities.

Who Are You?

When preparing a guidebook for a specific camera, it’s always wise to consider exactly who will be reading the book. Indeed, thinking about the potential audience for David Busch’s Sony Alpha NEX-5N Guide to Digital Photography is what led me to taking the approach and format I use for this book. I realized that the needs of readers like you had to be addressed both from a functional level (what you will use the Sony Alpha NEX-5N for) as well as from a skill level (how much experience you may have with digital photography, or a Sony camera specifically).

From a functional level, you probably fall into one of these categories:

  • Professional photographers who understand photography and digital cameras, and simply want to learn how to use the Sony Alpha NEX-5N as a backup camera, or as a camera for personal “off-duty” use.

  • Individuals who want to get better pictures, or perhaps transform their growing interest in photography into a full-fledged hobby or artistic outlet with a Sony Alpha and advanced techniques.

  • Those who want to produce more professional-looking images for their personal or business website, and feel that the Sony Alpha will give them more control and capabilities.

  • Small business owners with more advanced graphics capabilities who want to use the Sony Alpha NEX-5N to document or promote their business.

  • Corporate workers who may or may not have photographic skills in their job descriptions, but who work regularly with graphics and need to learn how to use digital images taken with a Sony Alpha for reports, presentations, or other applications.

  • Professional webmasters with strong skills in programming (including Java, JavaScript, HTML, Perl, etc.) but little background in photography, but who realize that the Sony Alpha can be used for sophisticated photography.

  • Graphic artists and others who already may be adept in image editing with Photoshop or another program, and who may have used an advanced film camera in the past, but who need to learn more about digital photography and the special capabilities of the Sony.

Addressing your needs from a skills level can be a little trickier, because the Sony Alpha is such a great camera that a full spectrum of photographers will be buying it, from absolute beginners who have never owned a digital camera before up to the occasional professional with years of shooting experience who will be using the Sony Alpha as a backup body.

Before tackling this book, it would be helpful for you to understand the following:

  • What an advanced digital camera is: It’s a camera that generally shows a view of the picture that’s being taken through the interchangeable lens that actually takes the photo.

  • How digital photography differs from film: The image is stored not on film (which I call the first write-once optical media), but on a memory card as pixels that can be transferred to your computer, and then edited, corrected, and printed without the need for chemical processing.

  • What the basic tools of correct exposure are: Don’t worry if you don’t understand these; I’ll explain them later in this book. But if you already know something about shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity, you’ll be ahead of the game. If not, you’ll soon learn that shutter speed determines the amount of time the sensor is exposed to incoming light; the f/stop or aperture is like a valve that governs the quantity of light that can flow through the lens; the sensor’s sensitivity (ISO setting) controls how easily the sensor responds to light. All three factors can be varied individually and proportionately to produce a picture that is properly exposed (neither too light nor too dark).

It’s tough to provide something for everybody, but I am going to try to address the needs of each of the following groups and skill levels:

  • Digital photography newbies: If you’ve used only point-and-shoot digital cameras, or have worked only with film cameras, you’re to be congratulated for selecting one of the very best entry-level enthusiast digital cameras available as your first camera. This book can help you understand the controls and features of your Sony Alpha, and lead you down the path to better photography with your camera. I’ll provide all the information you need, but if you want to do some additional reading for extra credit, you can also try one of the other books I mentioned earlier. They complement this book well.

  • Advanced point-and-shooters moving on up: There are some quite sophisticated pocket-sized digital cameras available, including those with many user-definable options and settings, so it’s possible you are already a knowledgeable photographer, even though you’re new to the world of the advanced digital model. You’ve recognized the limitations of the point-and-shoot camera: even the best of them have more noise at higher sensitivity (ISO) settings than a camera like the Sony Alpha; the speediest still have an unacceptable delay between the time you press the shutter and when the photo is actually taken; even a non-interchangeable super-zoom camera with 12X to 20X magnification often won’t focus close enough, include an aperture suitable for low-light photography, or take in the really wide view you must have. Interchangeable lenses and other accessories available for the Sony Alpha are another one of the reasons you moved up. Because you’re an avid photographer already, you should pick up the finer points of using the Sony Alpha from this book with no trouble.

  • Film veterans new to the digital world: You understand photography, you know about f/stops and shutter speeds, and thrive on interchangeable lenses. If you have used a newer film camera, it probably has lots of electronic features already, including autofocus and sophisticated exposure metering. Perhaps you’ve even been using a Minolta film SLR (a distant predecessor of the current Alphas) and understand many of the available accessories that work with both film and digital cameras. All you need is information on using digital-specific features, working with the Sony Alpha itself, and how to match—and exceed—the capabilities of your film camera with your new Sony Alpha NEX-5N.

  • Experienced users broadening their experience to include the Sony Alpha NEX-5N: Perhaps you started out with another Sony or Konica Minolta digital SLR. You may have used a digital SLR from another vendor and are making the switch to a camera with a more compact size. You understand basic photography, and want to learn more. And, most of all, you want to transfer the skills you already have to the Sony Alpha, as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

  • Pro photographers and other advanced shooters: I expect my most discerning readers will be those who already have extensive experience with other advanced cameras. I may not be able to teach you folks much about photography. But, even so, an amazing number of Sony Alpha NEX-5N cameras have been purchased by those who feel it is a good complement or backup to their favorite advanced Sony model.

Who Am I?

After spending years as the world’s most successful unknown author, I’ve become slightly less obscure in the past few years, thanks to a horde of camera guidebooks and other photographically oriented tomes. You may have seen my photography articles in Popular Photography & Imaging magazine. I’ve also written about 2,000 articles for magazines like Petersen’s PhotoGraphic (which is now defunct through no fault of my own), plus Rangefinder, Professional Photographer, and dozens of other photographic publications. But, first, and foremost, I’m a photojournalist and made my living in the field until I began devoting most of my time to writing books. Although I love writing, I’m happiest when I’m out taking pictures, which is why during the past 12 months I’ve taken off chunks of time to travel to Ireland and Barcelona, Spain. The past 18 months also took me to Zion National Park in Utah, the Sedona “red rocks” area and Grand Canyon in Arizona, Major League Baseball Spring training, and, for a few days, Las Vegas (I did a lot more shooting than gambling in Sin City). You’ll find photos of some of these visual treats within the pages of this book.

Like all my digital photography books, this one was written by someone with an incurable photography bug. One of my first SLRs was a Minolta SRT-101, from the company whose technology was eventually absorbed by Sony in 2006. I’ve used a variety of newer models since then. I’ve worked as a sports photographer for an Ohio newspaper and for an upstate New York college. I’ve operated my own commercial studio and photo lab, cranking out product shots on demand and then printing a few hundred glossy 8 × 10s on a tight deadline for a press kit. I’ve served as a photo-posing instructor for a modeling agency. People have actually paid me to shoot their weddings and immortalize them with portraits. I even prepared press kits and articles on photography as a PR consultant for a large Rochester, N.Y., company, which shall remain nameless. My trials and travails with imaging and computer technology have made their way into print in book form an alarming number of times, including a few dozen on scanners and photography.

Like you, I love photography for its own merits, and I view technology as just another tool to help me get the images I see in my mind’s eye. But, also like you, I had to master this technology before I could apply it to my work. This book is the result of what I’ve learned, and I hope it will help you master your Sony Alpha NEX-5N, too.

As I write this, I’m currently in the throes of upgrading my website, which you can find at I hope you’ll stop by for a visit. You’ll find an errata page that lists any typos in this book that have been reported by sharp-eyed readers like yourself. Send your comments to


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