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CNET First Look
Sony Alpha NEX-C3Sony's new entry-level interchangeable-lens camera delivers some nice enhancements in a more compact body.
Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, senior editor with CNET, and this is the Sony Alpha NEX-C3. In august, Sony will be replacing its NEX-3 interchangeable lens camera with the smaller, but not tremendously different NEX-C3. It's thinner than its predecessor, with the same width and height, but because anything other than small prime lens to overwhelm the tiny body, you generally have to hold the camera on you 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. The user interface has changed slightly as well. Incorporating a bit more press and rotate. There is not photo creativity UI and its intelligent auto mode. That gives you friendlier ways of accessing advanced setting such as background defocus, color vividness and brightness. Sony also has picture effects. With the same bundles of options that we're used to see from other cameras including things like red, yellow, green, or blue color highlighting, toy camera, posterizing, pop, and retro. You can add the effects together before shooting, which is nice, but you can adjust the quality or intensity of the effects like you can with the Olympus' models. It also pulls in the soft skin effect from the cyber shots if you wanna take beauty shots. Since I've always found the NEX interface a bit cumbersome, too menu driven, I was actually pleased to see that Sony had added the ability to customize the buttons for quicker access to settings like ISO sensitivity, metering mode and auto focus mode. To me, that makes a huge difference in usability. Another thing that Sony does right, which is something I've complained about in lot of cameras is that when some is grade out, you never really know why it's grade out. Well, in this camera, if you select it, it tells you why it's grade out. It says that you just need to turn something on or you need to turn something off. Now, one step further that I like is that it actually brought you to the place where you can make those changes, but frankly as long as it tells you what you need to do, I think that's a great step forward. The camera also adds picking, which makes manual focusing a lot easier especially in bright sunlight because all you have is the LCD. It's still a tilting LCD, which I like, but there's still no electronic view finder. This generation still doesn't have a built in flash, but it does shift with the same small add on flash that uses the proprietary connector. You can also use an external microphone via that same connector. The camera retains almost all of the features of its predecessor including multi shot modes like Auto HDR, Hand-held Twilight and Sweep Panorama. The most notable change here is video support. It actually drops to 720p for recording from the NEX-3's full HD of 1440 x 1080. That really doesn't bother me a lot. The video quality if fine for typical consumer recording, although the continuous auto focus seems to get distracted a little more than I like during capture. The C3 incorporates unnecessarily higher resolution sensor than both the earlier models pumping from about 14-megapixel to 16. It's not however the same 16-megapixel sensor that's an older model like the A55, and Sony claims it improved noise performance. At least, the photo quality doesn't seem to suffer from the increase and given the different sensors in the C3 and the NEX-5, photos look surprisingly similar even at ISO's. Overall, the JPEG photo quality is quite good, though the noise reduction introduces some hot pixels at about ISO 1600. I have to reserve final judgement on the photo quality until I can get to process the raw files, but the JPEG shooters should be pretty happy in the interim. Its performance is pretty good as well. It's almost identical to the NEX-5, which is a pretty zippy camera for its class plus it's got improved battery life. The NEX-5 will be a year old in September and I suspect Sony delayed shipping the C3 for a few months until it's ready to announce the replacement for that model. Because based on my preliminary testing, the C3 is cheaper, but similar in option that would cannibalize the sales of the older model before Sony is ready. On other hand, unless you really want the thinner body, or 1080/60i video, there's no real reason to wait for it to shift either. I'm Lori Grunin, and this is the Sony Alpha NEX-C3.