This time around, we’ll be looking at the Fotasy Sanex hot-shoe adapter for the Sony NEX-5n and other NEX models which Sony “forgot” to equip with a provision for a hot-shoe.
If you missed my last post, I became interested in Kristen Dowling’s high ISO flash technique. I wanted to use my NEX 5n as a test vehicle, because it has the best high ISO performance of the various cameras I own. To shoot with an off-camera flash, I needed an add-on hot shoe that would fit the NEX 5n accessory port.
I soon discovered there are a raft of third-party hot-shoe adapters for the NEX series. All I had to do was pick one.
With so many different hot-shoes to choose from, I combed through the reviews expecting to find an adapter with a favorable rating. To my initial surprise, all of the aftermarket hot shoes I looked at had inconclusive reviews. I didn’t find any accessory hot-shoes with stand-out positive reviews. For every 5-star, great recommendation, there was a corresponding 1-star result accompanied by warnings that the item was a piece of junk. There didn’t seem to be much middle ground. People either loved these adapters or they hated them.
Even more troubling, most of the negative reviews indicated the shoes didn’t work or didn’t fit their camera.
Was the quality control on these add-on hot-shoes so bad that half of them wouldn’t even fit on the camera?
Why so many poor reviews?
A glimmer of understanding came when I noticed a review by a user who complained that the hot-shoe adapter wouldn’t fit his NEX-7. The NEX-7 was the first NEX model to be offered with a built-in hot shoe. The NEX-7 also features a built-in eye-level viewfinder. As a result, there is no room (and no need) for the accessory port offered on the NEX-5 and NEX-3 models. So what possible reason would this NEX-7 owner want to use one of these adapters on his camera, when he already had a perfectly good, built-in hot-shoe?
I can only assume that this user (and many of those who complained the shoe did not fit their camera) were actually looking for an adapter that would allow them to attach a slide-in flash on their NEX-7 cameras. The NEX-7 was one of the last Sony models to be equipped with the old Minolta Multi-Interface, click and lock shoe. I have always insisted this was a much better hot-shoe design, but Sony has bowed to demand and reverted to the less-secure, but much more compatible ISO slide-in style shoe.
I suspect that most of the people who claimed these shoes did not fit their cameras were NEX-7 owners looking to adapt slide-in flash units to the built-in hot-shoe. There are a plethora of such adapters available (including some manufactured by Sony,) but they are quite different from these add-on shoes, which are designed to add a hot-shoe to NEX cameras without this essential item.
I also noticed some complaints by users who said their flash wouldn’t fit into the shoe. Once again I’m guessing, but I believe that these users own Sony flash units designed for their older Alpha dSLRs, and wanted to use their Multi-Interface flashes with their newly acquired NEX camera. Since all of the add-on-shoes I looked at had the slide-in style socket, there is no way to connect older Sony flashes to these shoes, without adding an adapter.
Once I established that the hot-shoe complaints were probably based on a misunderstanding of the NEX hot-shoe adapter’s intended purpose, I was much more comfortable picking one out. I surfed through dozens of listings on Amazon. I’m not sure that any of the adapters were necessary better than any other. Most of them are similar in price, and the construction appears to be basically the same as well.
My Choice? The Fotasy Sanex adapter
In the end, I chose the Fotasy Sanex. I selected this model because it included a PC sync port on the side. I may never use the port, but I figured it was worth having in case I ever wanted to hook some old-style studio strobes to the NEX 5n. Sanex also sells a smaller, low-profile adapter that doesn’t stick up as far above the top of the camera. The low-profile shoe has a nicer appearance but doesn’t include the sync port. In the end, I chose the larger model.
The Sanex add-on shoe arrived in a nice cardboard box. Inside the box, I found the unit ensconced with a dense foam insert. The insert had a precision cut-out designed to exactly fit the hot shoe. This doesn’t any effect on how well the shoe functions, but it is nice Fotasy took the trouble to create a nice first impression. Most of the stuff I get from Asia is just stuffed in a padded bag, or is enclosed in a cheap plastic wrapper.
The Fotasy Sanex packaging was first-rate. Underneath the hot-shoe, I found a microfiber lens cleaning cloth that Sanex included as a bonus. I would not have bought this unit just because of the cloth and the packaging. Still, the extra details are nice features.
Adding the adapter gave me an actual hot-shoe on my NEX-5n. It works very well. I’ll talk more about how it functions in another post, but now I need to point out a couple of limitations to the hot-shoe adapter.
In the first place, I have no intention of using an actual flash unit with this adapter. I’ll repeat the advice I have issued many times in the past: the last place you want a flash is on top of the camera, directly above the lens and on the same lens axis. I know, most camera manufacturers place their hot-shoe in this location. Call it tradition or laziness on the part of camera makers. The truth is that this is the worst place to mount a flash: it increases the chance of red-eye, causes harsh shadows behind your subject and tends to wash out and flatten the face of your subject.
So the idea of placing a flash on top of my NEX-5n never entered my mind. Because there is no flash sync port on the NEX-5n, I will be using the hot-shoe adapter as a way to power an off-camera sync cord. I’ll discuss that more in the next post. for now, however, I want to explore a few limitations of these adapters.
The accessory port on the NEX-5n is designed to accept several accessories. You can add an eye-level, electronic viewfinder, a high-quality microphone, a proprietary Sony flash unit or one of the many add-on hot shoes.
The key is you can only add one item from the above list. You cannot mix and match. Thus if you attach the EVF, you cannot use a flash — not even the Sony toy flash. If you elect to use a flash or a hot shoe, there is no way to use the Sony FDA EV1S Electronic Viewfinder.
I can understand why Sony was reluctant to add a hot-shoe to the top of the EVF. You know that some users would attach a huge, heavy flash on top of the EVF. This could have resulted in damage to the EVF or even the camera itself.
Still, it would have been nice if Sony sold an EVF with some sort of PC Sync connection. Then NEX users could use the optional EVF with an off-camera flash or a radio trigger.
Of course, Sony may not have had this option, The EVF and the hot shoe may share some internal connections, precluding both of them being used at the same time. Still, it would have been nice if Sony had found a way around this issue.
No TTL, Manual flash only
One other small problem with the add-on shoe. there is no provision for TTL (Through The Lens metering) flash. This doesn’t bother me, because I shoot with manual flash almost exclusively. There are some well-known photographers, such as Joe McNally and Rick Sammon, who prefer TTL flash, but there are many others including the Strobist himself, David Hobby, who prefer to shoot with manual flash.
If you opt for one of these add-on hot shoes you’ll have to shoot manual, because I didn’t find any that include TTL connections. Again, for myself, this isn’t an issue, but if manual flash scares you, this setup isn’t for you.
These accessory port hot-shoes attach to the camera with a screw, which requires a screwdriver to attach and detach them from the camera. The small auxiliary flash Sony shipped with the NEX-5n uses a thumbscrew to attach to the camera, so you can add and remove it with just your fingers. All of the hot shoe adapters I examined use a slotted screw, which means you’ll need a tool to attach and detach them. Some accessory shoes include a tiny screwdriver, but I have heard that these Lilliputian tools are ineffective to tighten the hot shoe to the NEX accessory port. I used a real, honest to gosh screwdriver and I have had no problem with the Sanex shoe coming loose. I now carry a screwdriver in my camera bag and I don’t expect to rapidly change between the hot shoe and some other item mounted on the accessory port.
Hopefully, the following table should alleviate situations where people buy one of these adapters and find it won’t fit their camera. The bottom line is that these adapters should fit any Sony NEX model that has an accessory port. That includes most of the NEX models that lack a hot-shoe. If your camera has a built-in hot-shoe, you don’t need one of these adapters. If you have the A5100 or the NEX 3n, both of which lack the accessory port, you cannot use these adapters.
[table id=2 /]
Now that my NEX 5n has an honest hot-shoe, the next order of business is locating an off-camera cable to connect to my flash. That will be the subject of the next post.
UPDATE October 2021: The Fotasy Sanax Adapter is no longer offered on Amazon. I found a similar product: the SMDV Hot Shoe (SAFE SYNC) Safe Sync Adapter. It appears to be very similar to the Fotasy product, but I can’t say I have actually used this item. I assume it should work well, but I can’t verify its performance.