Now in its second generation, the NEX line has proven to be popular; I generally liked the NEX-5 (we never reviewed the NEX-3) thanks to excellent photo quality and an attractive, compact design, though I still think the line is a bit expensive for people seeking to upgrade from a point-and-shoot.
The C3 incorporates an unnecessarily higher-resolution sensor than both the earlier models, bumping from about 14 megapixels to 16. It's not, however, the same 16-megapixel sensor that's in older models like the SLT-A55. At least the photo quality doesn't suffer from the resolution increase, and given the different sensors in the C3 and the NEX-5, the photos look surprisingly similar, even at high ISO sensitivities.
The camera's noise profile is quite good up through ISO 400. Photos still look clean at ISO 800, though you can start to see some mottling from the noise-reduction algorithms; by ISO 1600, detail degradation becomes visible and hot pixels start to appear. It does a solid job at ISO 3200--not clean, but still usable in many circumstances. (Since I'm still waiting for software raw support, I can only comment on the camera's built-in noise reduction.)
It delivers a very nice tonality and tonal range right out of the camera, and renders very good color, even in its default settings, which tend to push the saturation a bit. I remain peeved that Sony doesn't offer any neutral alternatives to its Standard Creative Style, though. Notably, the camera does an excellent job with reds; though the hues may be slightly off (which is common in digital cameras), it retains exceptionally good detail rendering in high-saturation, bright exposures. Sony balances the default sharpness settings very well. Even fine details don't look oversharpened, but the overall JPEGs come out of the camera sharp enough to go straight to prints.
My comment on the lens from the NEX-5 review still holds: "At its widest angle, the 18-55mm kit lens displays some of the worst barrel distortion we've seen for a nonsnapshot camera in a while. Goodbye, straight lines." And the lens' chromatic aberration is quite noticeable. For all its other flaws, the kit lens renders soft, smooth out-of-focus highlights.
Its performance is pretty good as well--almost identical to the NEX-5--but it's still not quite as fast as the GF3. It powers on, focuses, and shoots in slightly less than 0.7 second. It can focus and shoot in 0.4 second under good light, which increases to a modest 0.8 second in low-contrast light. It takes the same 0.8 second to take two sequential shots, regardless of image format. Typical burst performance is pretty lackluster at 2.5 frames per second. It does have a faster continuous-shooting mode (Speed Priority) which fixes exposure at the first shot, but this isn't a camera you buy to shoot action. It should be fast enough to keep up with kids and pets, as long as they're not too hyperactive.
Video support drops to 720p MPEG-4 recording from the NEX-3's faux HD of 1,440x1,080 pixels. That doesn't bother me so much. The video quality is fine for typical consumer recording, and the lack of manual exposure controls doesn't encourage experimentation anyway. There are no serious artifacts like rolling shutter, but the low-resolution video doesn't look great scaled up on a large TV screen. In more recent tests I didn't have as much of a problem with wandering autofocus as I did during my early experience with the camera, but I did have a lot of trouble telling if it was actually focusing on the subject, especially outdoors in bright sunlight. And since it turned out that it hadn't focused accurately, that's a nontrivial problem.