Canon S120 vs Sony NEX-5N
The Canon PowerShot S120 and the Sony Alpha NEX-5N are two digital cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in August 2013 and August 2011. The S120 is a fixed lens compact, while the NEX-5N is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The cameras are based on a 1/1.7-inch (S120) and an APS-C (NEX-5N) sensor. The Canon has a resolution of 12 megapixels, whereas the Sony provides 16 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Canon PowerShot S120 and the Sony Alpha NEX-5N? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
The physical size and weight of the Canon S120 and the Sony NEX-5N are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are available. All size dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
The NEX-5N can be obtained in two different colors (black, silver), while the S120 is only available in black.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Sony NEX-5N is notably larger (11 percent) than the Canon S120. In this context, it is worth noting that neither the S120 nor the NEX-5N are weather-sealed.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete and possibly misleading, as the S120 has a lens built in, whereas the NEX-5N is an interchangeable lens camera that requires a separate lens. Attaching the latter will add extra weight and bulk to the setup. You can compare the optics available for the NEX-5N and their specifications in the Sony E-Mount Lens Catalog.
The following table provides a synthesis of the main physical specifications of the two cameras and other similar ones. In case you want to display and compare another camera duo, you can use the CAM-parator app to select your camera combination among a large number of options.
|1.||Canon S120||100 mm||59 mm||29 mm||217 g||230||n||Aug 2013||449|
|2.||Sony NEX-5N||111 mm||59 mm||38 mm||269 g||460||n||Aug 2011||699|
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||98 mm||58 mm||31 mm||206 g||235||n||Jan 2017||529|
|4.||Canon G9 X||98 mm||58 mm||31 mm||209 g||220||n||Oct 2015||529|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||116 mm||74 mm||66 mm||553 g||240||n||Feb 2014||799|
|6.||Canon G16||109 mm||76 mm||40 mm||356 g||360||n||Aug 2013||549|
|7.||Canon G1 X||117 mm||81 mm||65 mm||534 g||250||n||Jan 2012||799|
|8.||Canon G15||107 mm||76 mm||40 mm||352 g||350||n||Sep 2012||499|
|9.||Canon SX50||123 mm||87 mm||106 mm||595 g||315||n||Sep 2012||429|
|10.||Nikon P7800||119 mm||78 mm||50 mm||399 g||350||n||Sep 2013||549|
|11.||Panasonic LF1||103 mm||62 mm||28 mm||192 g||250||n||Apr 2013||499|
|12.||Panasonic LX7||111 mm||68 mm||46 mm||298 g||330||n||Jul 2012||499|
|13.||Sony NEX-5R||111 mm||59 mm||39 mm||276 g||330||n||Aug 2012||749|
|14.||Sony NEX-F3||117 mm||67 mm||42 mm||314 g||470||n||May 2012||599|
|15.||Sony NEX-C3||110 mm||60 mm||33 mm||225 g||400||n||Jun 2011||599|
|16.||Sony NEX-3||117 mm||62 mm||33 mm||297 g||330||n||May 2010||599|
|17.||Sony NEX-5||111 mm||59 mm||38 mm||287 g||330||n||May 2010||699|
|Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.|
Any camera decision will obviously take relative prices into account. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The S120 was launched at a lower price than the NEX-5N, despite having a lens built in. Normally, street prices remain initially close to the MSRP, but after a couple of months, the first discounts appear. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.
The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Of the two cameras under consideration, the Canon S120 features a 1/1.7-inch sensor and the Sony NEX-5N an APS-C sensor. The sensor area in the NEX-5N is 749 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 4.5 and 1.5. The sensor in the S120 has a native 4:3 aspect ratio, while the one in the NEX-5N offers a 3:2 aspect.
With 16MP, the NEX-5N offers a higher resolution than the S120 (12MP), but the NEX-5N nevertheless has larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 4.78μm versus 1.89μm for the S120) due to its larger sensor. However, the S120 is a somewhat more recent model (by 1 year and 11 months) than the NEX-5N, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixel-units.
The resolution advantage of the Sony NEX-5N implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the NEX-5N for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 24.6 x 16.3 inches or 62.4 x 41.5 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 19.6 x 13.1 inches or 49.9 x 33.2 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 16.4 x 10.9 inches or 41.6 x 27.6 cm. The corresponding values for the Canon S120 are 20 x 15 inches or 50.8 x 38.1 cm for good quality, 16 x 12 inches or 40.6 x 30.5 cm for very good quality, and 13.3 x 10 inches or 33.9 x 25.4 cm for excellent quality prints.
The Canon PowerShot S120 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 80 to ISO 12800. The corresponding ISO settings for the Sony Alpha NEX-5N are ISO 100 to ISO 25600 (no boost).
Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for many cameras. This service determines an overall sensor rating, as well as sub-scores for low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and color depth ("DXO Portrait"). Of the two cameras under consideration, the NEX-5N offers substantially better image quality than the S120 (overall score 21 points higher). The advantage is based on 2.3 bits higher color depth, 0.8 EV in additional dynamic range, and 2.1 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The table below summarizes the physical sensor characteristics and sensor quality findings and compares them across a set of similar cameras.
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||1-inch||20.0||5472||3648||1080/60p||21.9||12.5||522||65|
|4.||Canon G9 X||1-inch||20.0||5472||3648||1080/60p||21.5||12.3||495||63|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||1.5-inch||13.0||4160||3120||1080/30p||21.5||10.8||581||58|
|7.||Canon G1 X||1.5-inch||14.2||4352||3264||1080/24p||21.7||10.8||644||60|
Many modern cameras cannot only take still pictures, but also record videos. Both cameras under consideration have a sensor with sufficiently fast read-out times for moving pictures, but the S120 provides a higher frame rate than the NEX-5N. It can shoot video footage at 1080/60p, while the Sony is limited to 1080/60i.
Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The S120 and the NEX-5N are similar in the sense that neither of the two has a viewfinder. The images are, thus, framed using live view on the rear LCD. That said, the NEX-5N can be equipped with an optional viewfinder – the FDA-EV1S. The table below summarizes some of the other core capabilities of the Canon S120 and Sony NEX-5N in connection with corresponding information for a sample of similar cameras.
|1.||Canon S120||none||n||3.0 / 922||fixed||Y||1/2000s||12.1||Y||Y|
|2.||Sony NEX-5N||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||Y||1/4000s||10.0||n||n|
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||none||n||3.0 / 1040||fixed||Y||1/2000s||8.2||Y||Y|
|4.||Canon G9 X||none||n||3.0 / 1040||fixed||Y||1/2000s||6.0||Y||Y|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||optional||n||3.0 / 1040||tilting||Y||1/4000s||5.2||Y||Y|
|6.||Canon G16||optical||n||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/4000s||2.2||Y||Y|
|7.||Canon G1 X||optical||n||3.0 / 922||swivel||n||1/4000s||1.9||Y||Y|
|8.||Canon G15||optical||n||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/4000s||2.1||Y||Y|
|9.||Canon SX50||202||n||3.0 / 461||swivel||n||1/2000s||2.2||Y||Y|
|10.||Nikon P7800||921||n||3.0 / 921||swivel||n||1/4000s||8.0||Y||Y|
|11.||Panasonic LF1||200||n||3.0 / 920||fixed||n||1/4000s||10.0||Y||Y|
|12.||Panasonic LX7||optional||n||3.0 / 920||fixed||n||1/4000s||11.0||Y||Y|
|13.||Sony NEX-5R||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||Y||1/4000s||10.0||n||n|
|14.||Sony NEX-F3||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||n||1/4000s||5.5||Y||n|
|15.||Sony NEX-C3||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||n||1/4000s||5.5||n||n|
|16.||Sony NEX-3||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||n||1/4000s||7.0||n||n|
|17.||Sony NEX-5||optional||n||3.0 / 920||tilting||n||1/4000s||7.0||n||n|
One difference between the cameras concerns the presence of an on-board flash. The S120 has one, while the NEX-5N does not. While the built-in flash of the S120 is not very powerful, it can at times be useful as a fill-in light.The NEX-5N has an articulated screen that can be turned to be front-facing. This characteristic will be appreciated by vloggers and photographers who are interested in taking selfies. In contrast, the S120 does not have a selfie-screen.
The Canon S120 has an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.
The S120 writes its imaging data to SDXC cards, while the NEX-5N uses SDXC or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. The S120 supports UHS-I cards (Ultra High Speed data transfer of up to 104 MB/s), while the NEX-5N cannot take advantage of Ultra High Speed SD cards.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Canon PowerShot S120 and Sony Alpha NEX-5N and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
Mic / Speaker
|1.||Canon S120||-||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||-||-|
|2.||Sony NEX-5N||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||-||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||Y||Y||Y|
|4.||Canon G9 X||-||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|6.||Canon G16||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||-||-|
|7.||Canon G1 X||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|8.||Canon G15||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|9.||Canon SX50||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|10.||Nikon P7800||Y||stereo / mono||Y||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|11.||Panasonic LF1||-||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|12.||Panasonic LX7||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|13.||Sony NEX-5R||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||-||-|
|14.||Sony NEX-F3||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|15.||Sony NEX-C3||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|16.||Sony NEX-3||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|17.||Sony NEX-5||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
It is notable that the S120 offers wifi support, while the NEX-5N does not. Wifi can be a very convenient means to transfer image data to an off-camera location.
Both the S120 and the NEX-5N have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The NEX-5N was replaced by the Sony NEX-5R, while the S120 does not have a direct successor. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Canon and Sony websites.
So how do things add up? Is the Canon S120 better than the Sony NEX-5N or vice versa? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.
Reasons to prefer the Canon PowerShot S120:
- Better video: Provides higher movie framerates (1080/60p versus 1080/60i).
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (12.1 vs 10 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
- Ready to shoot: Has a lens built-in, whereas the NEX-5N requires a separate lens.
- Less heavy: Is lighter even though it comes with a built-in lens (unlike the NEX-5N).
- Sharper images: Has hand-shake reducing image stabilization built-in.
- Easier fill-in: Is equipped with a small onboard flash to brighten deep shadow areas.
- Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
- Faster buffer clearing: Has an SD card interface that supports the UHS-I standard.
- More affordable: Was introduced at a lower price, despite coming with a built-in lens.
- More modern: Is somewhat more recent (announced 1 year and 11 months after the NEX-5N).
Advantages of the Sony Alpha NEX-5N:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (16 vs 12MP), which boosts linear resolution by 18%.
- Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (21 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
- Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (2.3 bits more color depth).
- More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (0.8 EV of extra DR).
- Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (2.1 stops ISO advantage).
- More framing options: Can be equipped with a hotshoe-mounted accessory-viewfinder.
- More flexible LCD: Has a tilting screen for odd-angle shots in landscape orientation.
- More selfie-friendly: Has an articulated screen that can be turned to be front-facing.
- Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (1/4000s vs 1/2000s) to freeze action.
- More flexible: Takes interchangeable lenses and can thus be used with specialty optics.
- Longer lasting: Gets more shots (460 versus 230) out of a single battery charge.
- Better lighting: Features a hotshoe and can thus hold and trigger an external flash gun.
- More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in August 2011).
If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the NEX-5N emerges as the winner of the match-up (13 : 11 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding on a new camera. A professional sports photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a street photog, and a person interested in family portraits has distinct needs from a landscape shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Canon S120 and the Sony NEX-5N place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best Travel-Zoom Camera and Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera listings whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.
In any case, while the comparison of technical specifications can provide a useful overview of the capabilities of different cameras, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the S120 or the NEX-5N perform in practice. User reviews, such as those found at amazon, can sometimes inform about these issues, but such feedback is often incomplete, inconsistent, and biased.
This is why expert reviews are important. The table below provides a synthesis of the camera assessments of some of the best known photo-gear review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], digitalcameraworld [DCW], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|1.||Canon S120||..||+ +||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2013||449|
|2.||Sony NEX-5N||3/5||+ +||..||79/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2011||699|
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||4/5||..||4/5||75/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jan 2017||529|
|4.||Canon G9 X||3.5/5||+ +||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Oct 2015||529|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||3/5||+||..||77/100||4/5||4.5/5||Feb 2014||799|
|6.||Canon G16||4/5||+||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2013||549|
|7.||Canon G1 X||5/5||+||..||76/100||4/5||4.5/5||Jan 2012||799|
|8.||Canon G15||4/5||+||..||76/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2012||499|
|9.||Canon SX50||3/5||+ +||..||72/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2012||429|
|10.||Nikon P7800||3/5||..||..||..||4/5||4.5/5||Sep 2013||549|
|11.||Panasonic LF1||3/5||+||..||..||4/5||4.5/5||Apr 2013||499|
|12.||Panasonic LX7||3/5||+ +||..||75/100||4/5||4.5/5||Jul 2012||499|
|13.||Sony NEX-5R||..||..||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2012||749|
|14.||Sony NEX-F3||4/5||..||..||74/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||May 2012||599|
|15.||Sony NEX-C3||3/5||+ +||..||74/100||4.5/5||4/5||Jun 2011||599|
|16.||Sony NEX-3||..||..||..||70/100||4.5/5||4/5||May 2010||599|
|17.||Sony NEX-5||3/5||+ +||..||71/100||4.5/5||4/5||May 2010||699|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The ratings are only valid when referring to cameras in the same category and of the same age. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. Also, please note that some of the review sites have changed their methodology and reporting over time.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting.
- Canon 1D X vs Sony NEX-5N
- Canon 650D vs Sony NEX-5N
- Canon 750D vs Sony NEX-5N
- Canon D60 vs Sony NEX-5N
- Canon M3 vs Canon S120
- Canon S120 vs Fujifilm X-T1
- Canon S120 vs Nikon D5200
- Canon S120 vs Nikon D5300
- Canon S120 vs Olympus E-M5 II
- Canon S120 vs Sony WX800
- Panasonic G80 vs Sony NEX-5N
- Panasonic TZ95 vs Sony NEX-5N
Specifications: Canon S120 vs Sony NEX-5N
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Canon S120||Sony NEX-5N|
|Camera Type||Fixed lens compact camera||Mirrorless system camera|
|Camera Lens||24-120mm f/1.8-5.7||Sony E mount lenses|
|Launch Date||August 2013||August 2011|
|Launch Price||USD 449||USD 699|
|Sensor Specs||Canon S120||Sony NEX-5N|
|Sensor Format||1/1.7" Sensor||APS-C Sensor|
|Sensor Size||7.6 x 5.7 mm||23.4 x 15.6 mm|
|Sensor Area||43.32 mm2||365.04 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||9.5 mm||28.1 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||12 Megapixels||16 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||4000 x 3000 pixels||4912 x 3264 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||1.89 μm||4.78 μm|
|Pixel Density||27.70 MP/cm2||4.39 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||Anti-Alias filter||Anti-Alias filter|
|Movie Capability||1080/60p Video||1080/60i Video|
|ISO Setting||80 - 12,800 ISO||100 - 25,600 ISO|
|Image Processor||Digic 6||BIONZ|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||56||77|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||21.3||23.6|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||11.9||12.7|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||246||1079|
|Screen Specs||Canon S120||Sony NEX-5N|
|Viewfinder Type||no viewfinder||Viewfinder optional|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.0inch||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||922k dots||920k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Tilting screen|
|Shooting Specs||Canon S120||Sony NEX-5N|
|Focus System||Contrast-detect AF||Contrast-detect AF|
|Manual Focusing Aid||Focus Peaking||no Peaking Feature|
|Continuous Shooting||12.1 shutter flaps/s||10 shutter flaps/s|
|Time-Lapse Photography||Intervalometer built-in||no Intervalometer|
|Fill Flash||Built-in Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||SDXC cards||MS or SDXC cards|
|Second Storage Option||Single card slot||Single card slot|
|UHS card support||UHS-I||no|
|Connectivity Specs||Canon S120||Sony NEX-5N|
|External Flash||no Hotshoe||Hotshoe|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 2.0|
|HDMI Port||mini HDMI||mini HDMI|
|Wifi Support||Wifi built-in||no Wifi|
|Body Specs||Canon S120||Sony NEX-5N|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||230 shots per charge||460 shots per charge|
100 x 59 x 29 mm
(3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 in)
111 x 59 x 38 mm
(4.4 x 2.3 x 1.5 in)
|Camera Weight||217 g (7.7 oz)||269 g (9.5 oz)|
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