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

Olympus E-PL2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Samsung NX100 Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Sony Alpha NEX-5
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 14.6-megapixel CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 14.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS
17.3mmx13mm 17.3mmx13.0mm 23.4mmx15.6mm 23.5mmx15.6mm 23.4mmx15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 200 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 200 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 3.0fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
10 JPEG/ 3 raw
18 JPEG/ 6 raw
(5.5fps with fixed exposure)
unlimited JPEG/8 raw
(7fps with fixed exposure)
magnification/ effective magnification
Optional plug-in articulating EVF
1,440,000 dots
None Optional plug-in EVF
201,000 dots
(98 percent coverage)
None None
Autofocus 11-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 15-point contrast AF 25-point contrast AF 25-point contrast AF
Shutter speed 60-1/2,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60-1/4,000 sec; 1/160 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync
Metering 324 area 144 zone 247 segment 49 zone 40 segment
Flash Yes Yes No Included optional Included optional
Image stabilization Sensor shift Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video 720p Motion JPEG AVI 1080/60i/50i @ 17Mbps
720/60p @ 17Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 1080/60i AVCHD
Audio Mono; mic input Mono Mono Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed AMOLED
921,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 280 shots 320 shots 420 shots 400 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.5x2.8x1.6 4.2x2.6x1.3 4.7x2.8x1.4 4.4x2.4x0.9 4.4x2.4x1.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 12.7 9.3 12.2 10 10.2 (without flash); 10.9 (with flash)
Mfr. price n/a $499.95 (body only, est) n/a n/a n/a
$599.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 msc lens) $599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $499.99 (est, with 20-50mm f3.5-5.6 i-Function lens) $649.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens)
$799.00 (est, with 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses) $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) $599.00 (with 50-200mm lens) $599.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens) $649.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens)
Ship date January 2011 July 2011 October 2010 August 2011 July 2010

Overall, I enjoy shooting with the NEX-C3. It's thinner than its predecessor, with the same width and height, but because anything other than a small prime lens tends to overwhelm the tiny body, you generally have to hold the camera in your left hand under the lens. Because it's so narrow, it's a bit difficult to hold and shoot single-handed, despite the small grip.

Since I've always found the NEX interface a bit cumbersome and too menu-driven, I was pleased to see that Sony had added the ability to customize the buttons for quicker access to settings like ISO sensitivity, metering mode, and autofocus mode. To me, that makes a huge difference in usability. And Sony makes a tweak that addresses one of my pet peeves about cameras: when a setting is grayed out, it never tells you why. With the C3, you select it and up pops an explanation. The camera also adds peaking (edge highlighting), which makes manual focusing a lot easier. This next generation still doesn't have a built-in flash, but it ships with the same small add-on flash that uses the proprietary connector. The add-on microphone uses the same connector, but there's still no add-on EVF.

A lot of the NEX-C3's operation is still menu-driven.

Sony didn't, um, overwhelm the C3 with new features. There's a new Photo Creativity interface in its intelligent auto mode that provides friendlier ways of accessing advanced settings, such as background defocus, color vividness, and brightness, than we've seen in a lot of cameras. Sony also adds Picture Effects, with the same sort of filters we're used to seeing from other cameras, including selective-color R, Y, G, or B; toy camera (vignetting); and posterizing, pop art (vivid color), and retro (faded). You can layer the effects together before shooting, which is nice, but you can't adjust the quality or intensity of the effects like you can with Olympus' models, and I found the results rather ho-hum. It also pulls in the Soft Skin effect from the Cyber-shots.

Additionally, it retains almost all the features of its predecessor, including multishot modes like Auto HDR, Sweep panorama, and Handheld Twilight. The latest iteration of HHT mode automatically combines six exposures to obtain better exposures in low light than you might otherwise get. It does a nice job, and there's less performance overhead than the older algorithm, making it a lot more useful.

Compact and attractive, with a tilting LCD and excellent photo quality, the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 has some compelling aspects. But with the 18-55mm lens the camera becomes substantially less compact, there's no EVF option, and the video capabilities are more limited than I'd expect for the price. A lot of people will like the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 for its excellent photo quality and a now more usable design, but it can get unexpectedly heavy with the zoom E-mount lenses, and it's still a bit more expensive than many point-and-shoot upgraders will like.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3
Olympus PEN E-PL2
Sony Alpha NEX-C3
Sony Alpha NEX-5
Samsung NX100

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Aug 1, 2011
  • Optical Sensor Type Exmor APS HD CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 16.2 Megapixel
  • Lens 24mm F/2.8
  • Optical Sensor Size 15.6 x 23.5mm