Sony Alpha NEX-3N feels small, and a little cheap (hands on)

Some first impressions of the company's new compact, least expensive interchangeable-lens camera.

Lori Grunin

Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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4 min read

Shop for Sony Alpha NEX-3N (with 16-50mm PZ lens, black)

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Hands-on with Sony's smallest and cheapest interchangeable-lens camera
Watch this: Hands-on with Sony's smallest and cheapest interchangeable-lens camera

Editors' note, February 28, 2013: This is an expanded version of my First Take of February 25, 2013, based on a brief experience shooting with the camera.

As sad as it sounds, the most notable thing about Sony's new Alpha NEX-3N is the price: list of $500 for the kit with a power zoom lens. That's about $100 less than the list price of the camera it's replacing, the NEX-F3, and while it's not as low as I'd like for a model designed to appeal to potential point-and-shoot upgraders, it's certainly a step in the right direction in a generally overpriced field. And hopefully it means the street price will hit $399, which is the most that a lot of that target audience will want to pay, regardless of feature set.

Sony Alpha NEX-3N (hands-on, pictures)

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For that money, the 3N is a potentially nice camera. It uses the same sensor as the F3 with the usual another-generation algorithmic tweaks to improve noise reduction. That said, I didn't see a noticeable improvement in the quality at ISO 400 or higher, but can't state that definitively until I get substantial testing time with the camera.

The image quality of the 3N seems roughly the same as the F3's. Lori Grunin/CNET

The 3N also shaves about 0.2 inch off the F3's body in all dimensions, without losing any significant controls; in fact, it gains a zoom lever on the body, which works in conjunction with the 16-50mm power zoom kit lens for a more point-and-shoot-like experience. And that really feels like the most natural way to use a power zoom lens. I have mixed feelings about the changes in design. I love that the smaller battery compartment necessitated moving the SD card slot to the left side of the camera, but don't like that it makes the grip smaller. I felt like I was scrunching my hand to hold the camera, and the grip feels a little cheaply made. And cutting corners on the LCD means that it can flip up for shooting from below the waist and for self-portraits, but it can't tilt down for overhead shooting. The screen is also lower resolution than the F3 and it looks pretty coarse.

Like the other models in this generation, it gains the new Auto Object Framing mode, a more generalized version of the Auto Portrait Framing mode that debuted in the F3.

Here's some context for the 3N:

Olympus PEN E-PM2 Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Sony Alpha NEX-3N Sony Alpha NEX-5R
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.1MP Live MOS 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS
17.3mm x 13mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5 x 15.6mm 23.5 x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 200 - ISO 16000 ISO 200 - ISO 16000 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Continuous shooting 8fps (with AF/exposure fixed on first shot and IS off)
19 JPEG/15 raw
2.5 fps
18 JPEG/6 raw
(5.5fps with fixed exposure)
5 raw/9 JPEG
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder Optional bundled None None Optional
Autofocus 35-area contrast AF 25-point contrast AF 25-area contrast AF 99-point phase-detection, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering 324 area 1200 zone 1200 zone 1200 zone
Metering range 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Flash Included optional Yes Yes Included optional
Image stabilization Sensor shift Optical Optical Optical
Best video 1080/30p @ 20, 17Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV AVCHD
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/30p @ 12Mbps
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/ 24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo, mic input
LCD size 3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
460,800 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
Wireless file upload Optional Bluetooth None None Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) 360 shots 470 shots 480 shots 430 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3 4.6 x 2.6 x 1.6 4.3 x 2.4 x 1.4 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 9.5 (est) 11.1 7.4 (est) 9.7 (without flash)
Mfr. price $499.99 (est, body only) n/a n/a $599.99 (body only)
$549.99 (with 14-42 power lens) $599 (with 18-55mm lens) $499.99 (with 16-50mm PZ lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
n/a n/a n/a n/a
Ship date October 2012 June 2012 April 2013 October 2012

I hope once I get to do more extensive testing it will turn out that the noise reduction (and JPEG processing) improve over those of the F3, as that camera's photos displayed noticeable degradation jumping from ISO 200 to ISO 400. A lot of the camera's attractiveness will depend upon the street price; though I'm not a huge fan of the camera in general, you can get the Nikon 1 J1 with two lenses for less than $500, which makes it a formidable challenger if you're just looking for something with better size and speed than a snapshot camera.