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Sony's interchangeable-lens Alpha NEX-3

The Alpha NEX-3, the smallest interchangeable-lens model to date, represents Sony's entry-level model in the company's first generation of products in that market.

The entry-level model in Sony's duo of interchangeable-lens debuts ranks as the smallest model in its class to date. Nearly identical to its slightly more expensive sibling, they have two primary differences: slightly different body designs, with the higher-end NEX-5 composed of magnesium alloy compared to the NEX-3's polycarbonate, and the NEX-5 offers full HD AVCHD video recording. For those perks you pay about $100 more. Both cameras are slated to ship in July and will come in kits with either an 18-55mm or 16mm pancake prime lens. (Read my hands-on with the NEX-5 for a description of the features, lens and menu system.)

As an aside, Sony also indicated that it's working an interchangeable lens camcorder with APS-C HD CMOS sensor that will use the same lens mount on a more traditional camcorder design. There are no real details as yet.

At its lower price, these are the models against which the NEX-3 will compete and how its specs stack up:

  Sony Alpha NEX-3 Olympus E-PL1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10
Sensor (effective resolution) 14.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS
23.4mm x 15.6mm 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm
Sensitivity range ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2x 2x
Continuous shooting 2.3 fps
unlimited JPEG/8 raw
3.0 fps
3.2 fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
Viewfinder None Optional plug-in articulating EVF EVF
1,440,000 dots
0.7x magnification
Autofocus 25-point contrast AF 11-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF
Metering 40 segment 324 area 144 zone
Shutter 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync 60-1/2000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes
Flash Yes Yes Yes
LCD 3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
2.7-inch fixed
230,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Optical
Video (max resolution at 30fps) 1440x1080/30p H.264 MPEG-4 720p Motion JPEG AVI 720p Motion JPEG MOV
Audio I/O Mic Mic None
Battery life (CIPA rating) 330 shots 290 shots 380 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 4.9 x 3.3 x 2.9
Body weight with battery and card (ounces) 10 (est) 12.4 13.9
Mfr. Price n/a $499 (est) n/a
$599.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens) $599.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$549.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens) $599.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)
$599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)

As with the NEX-5, I think the lack of an EVF option is a mistake, though the tilting LCD gives it a different sort of advantage over its competitors, and the 18-55mm kit lens feels better but doesn't perform geometrically as well as Panasonic's equivalent. Still, its compact size is a definite attraction, as is the potentially superior video quality. And if its photo quality matches that of the NEX-5, it should have high ISO performance to rival or best Olympus. We'll let you know once we've gotten a chance to test it.