Sony has taken a more laid-back approach to updating its NEX range of interchangeable lens cameras than much of its competition has. The NEX-C3 is the second generation following the NEX-5 and the NEX-3, showcasing refined elements from each model and adding a few new features.
Design and features
What strikes you first about the NEX series is its very classy build quality. The E-mount lenses are metal, the top panel of the C3 is also metal and the body is a refined polycarbonate. Like the earlier cameras in the series, the C3 occupies a tiny footprint that is often overwhelmed by a larger lens on the front, such as the 18-55mm kit lens. Despite this, the C3 feels satisfying to use, even though it's not quite equivalent to a point-and-shoot experience (as you really do need to balance the lens under your left hand when shooting). The C3's grip has shrunk a little, which makes it easier for smaller hands to use.
Other design cues don't stray far from the original NEX models, with the main controls accessible from the top panel, including the playback button, shutter and power controls, and a top flap that lifts up to reveal a proprietary connector used for mounting a flash or microphone. The lovely 3-inch, high-resolution widescreen LCD at the back of the camera can pop out and tilt down just like its predecessor. It's a pleasure to look at (provided there's not a lot of direct sunlight), and the menu interface is very aesthetically pleasing. More on the menu options a little later.
The screen on the NEX-C3 can do some pretty funky things.
Where the C3 trumps its competitors is in the size of its sensor; APS-C is much larger than the sensors found on compact cameras and on Micro Four Thirds cameras, and is the same size as those on consumer SLRs. The resolution of the sensor on the C3 has been increased to 16.2 megapixels. Connectivity is provided via a mini-HDMI and mini-USB port.
The NEX-5 had a wide range of shooting options, but lots of them were hidden and rather difficult to find in the menus without spending a decent chunk of time with the manual. The C3 improves on things slightly, with the main interaction done through the top menu button and scroll wheel at the side. From the menu, you have the option of choosing the shooting mode (with options usually found on a mode dial), and further choices are made by using the wheel and centre button. Menu selections still require a couple of clicks and button presses, so bear this in mind if you prefer simply pointing and shooting.
The main menu interface of the NEX-C3.
If you're a photographer who loves picture effects and in-camera trickery, you'll be over the moon with the options on the C3. From the shooting menu, there are options such as partial colour in red, blue, yellow or green (converts the image to black and white, but keeps the chosen colour), high-contrast monochrome, high-key, retro, pop colour and toy camera effects.
A selection of the picture effects on the NEX-C3.
It's also relatively easy for newbie photographers to get the hang of adjusting options such as background defocus, brightness and colour with the sliders, without needing to delve deep into the menus and adjust exposures manually. The other great thing about these effects is that most of them can be layered: so if you want a photo with a blurred background, with bright colours and a blue hue, you can do that in-camera.
|Panasonic GF3||Sony NEX-C3||Olympus E-PL2||Samsung NX100|
|12.1-megapixel Live MOS (Four Thirds type)||16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS||12.3-megapixel Live MOS (Four Thirds type)||14.6-megapixel APS-C CMOS|
|3-inch, 460,000-dot touchscreen||3-inch, flip-down 921,600-dot screen||3-inch, 460,000-dot screen||3-inch, 610,000-dot AMOLED screen|
|Pop-up flash||Optional flash attachment||Pop-up flash||Optional hotshoe flash|
|Full HD video (1080i, AVCHD)||HD video (720p, H.264)||HD video (720p, Motion JPEG)||HD video (720p, H.264)|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Sony NEX-C126.96.36.199.5
- Panasonic Lumix GF188.8.131.52.2
- Panasonic Lumix GF21.01.30.80.2
- Samsung NX1001.13.71.30.3
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Panasonic GF33.8
- Panasonic GF23
- Samsung NX1002.5
- Sony NEX-C32.5
Sony rates the battery at approximately 400 shots.
Thanks to the large APS-C sensor, the C3 delivers very good images. The kit 18-55mm lens does deliver rather a lot of distortion, though, which is something that needs to be taken into account when assessing these images. The degree of barrel distortion, in particular, is very prominent.
Colours are good, if a little more punchy than real life. This seems to be something of a Sony favourite, though, as we've seen it before on the company's range of SLRs when shooting on JPEG. Overall, colours tend to be a little more accurate than those found on the Panasonic GF3. Noise control at high ISO levels is very good for JPEG images, with usable shots up to ISO 5000. The C3 has an ISO range of 200-6400.
The C3 does like to err on the cool side, with its automatic white balance (just like the NEX-5), and makes things look a little too blue by default. However, this is something that can easily be fixed by adjusting the picture mode if shooting in automatic, or adjusting manually if shooting RAW.
Like the earlier NEX cameras, and the Panasonic GF3, for example, there is no in-body image stabilisation in the C3. You will need to use stabilised lenses (the kit 18-55mm lens has IS) to avoid camera shake.RAW vs. JPEG
A comparison between the RAW and JPEG files created with the NEX-C3, 100 per cent crop. Processed using the included software.
Video resolution has dropped to 720p compared to what was found on the NEX-5, although it doesn't affect quality that much. It's also a lot easier for consumers and photographers to manage in post-production, thanks to the lower resolution.
Exposure: 1/200, f/13, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/160, f/4.5, ISO 500
Exposure: 1/250, f/5.6, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/125, f/6.3, ISO 200
Sony has created a great little interchangeable lens camera in the NEX-C3, although it's not exactly what we'd call compact with the kit lens attached. Operational quirks prevent this from being the best in class, so we look forward to how the NEX system will improve in the next iteration. In the showdown between this camera and the Lumix GF3, the Panasonic wins the battle on size, but the Sony has it on style and fun — after all, taking photos should be a pleasure. Stay tuned, as we'll have a more detailed showdown between these two cameras soon.
Don't despair if you have already invested in the NEX system and can't quite afford the upgrade; Sony has a firmware update that adds the picture effect function and peaking for more precise manual focusing. The NEX-3 is available for AU$849 in a single lens kit (18-55mm) and AU$999 for a twin lens kit (16mm f/2.8 and 18-55mm). Sony also announced a new 30mm f/3.5 macro lens, which will cost AU$399.