Sony Alpha NEX-C3 review: Sony Alpha NEX-C3

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Very nice to use and hold. Excellent LCD screen. Very good image and video quality. Fun and useful picture effects.

The Bad Larger lenses can overwhelm the small body. Kit lens doesn't deliver the most from the sensor. Need to fiddle and delve in the menus to make the most of manual modes.

The Bottom Line 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.

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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.

NEX-C3

The screen on the NEX-C3 can do some pretty funky things. (Credit: CBSi)

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.

Menu options

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.

NEX-C3 menu

The main menu interface of the NEX-C3. (Credit: CBSi)

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.

NEX-C3 picture effects

A selection of the picture effects on the NEX-C3. (Credit: CBSi)

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.

Compared to

GF3 comparison
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)
AU$899 AU$849 AU$799 AU$899

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Time to first shot
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • Sony NEX-C31.21.10.90.5
  • Panasonic Lumix GF30.91.50.90.2
  • 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

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Where to Buy

Sony Alpha NEX-C3

Part Number: CNETSony Alpha NEX-C3

Typical Price: $849.00

See manufacturer website for availability.