First Look: Sony Alpha NEX-C3
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First Look: Sony Alpha NEX-C3

4:53 /

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.

Hi! I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor for CNET, and this is the Sony Alpha NEX-C3. Now in its second generation, the NEX line has proven to be popular; I generally liked the NEX-5 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 up to 16. It's not, however, the same 16-megapixel sensor that's in older models like the SLT-A55, and 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 pretty clean at ISO 800, though you can start to see some mottling from the noise-reduction algorithms.; by ISO 1600, though detailed degradation becomes visible and hot pixels start to appear. The camera 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. Sony also balances the default sharpness settings very well. Even fine details don't look oversharpened, but the overall JPEGs that come out of the camera sharpen enough to go straight to prints. C3's performance is pretty good too. It's almost identical to the NEX-5 but it's still not quite as fast as Panasonic's GF3. Typical burst performance is pretty lackluster at 2.5 frames per second, but it does have a faster continuous-shooting mode called Speed Priority which fixes the exposure at the first shot. But all things considered, this is not 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 recording drops to 720p MPEG-4. That doesn't bother me so much. The video quality is fine for your typical recordings and the lack of manual exposure controls really won't be missed because the camera doesn't really encourage experimentation anyway. There are no serious artifacts like rolling shutter in the video, but its low-resolution, it doesn't look great scaled up on a large TV screen. Overall, I enjoy shooting with the camera. It's thinner than its predecessor, with the same width and height, but anything other than a small prime lens tends to overwhelm the tiny body. 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, and autofocus. To me, that makes a huge difference in usability. Sony also makes a tweak that addresses one of my pet peeves about cameras: when a setting is grayed out, they rarely tell you why. But in the C3, you select the grayed out setting and up pops an explanation. The camera also adds peaking which is edge highlighting. That makes manual focusing a lot easier. This 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 support. Sony didn't introduce a lot of new features for this model. There's a new Photo Creativity interface in its intelligent auto mode which 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. 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 so, so. And of course, it retains almost all of the features of its predecessor, including multishot modes like autoHDR, Sweep panorama and Handheld Twilight. The latest iteration of Handheld Twilight 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 which makes 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 to 55 mm kit 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. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Sony Alpha NEX-C3.

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