Sony Alpha NEX-C3
The NEX-C3 offers excellent image quality, superior low-light performance and a handy tilt screen in a tiny footprint.
|The good||Excellent image quality; superior noise performance; handy tilt screen.|
|The bad||In-camera menu interface could be more intuitive; can be bulky paired with the 18-55mm kit lens.|
CNET Editors' rating
Design And FeaturesFrom the front, the camera looks elegant with a groove-like pattern on the front and with clean lines. Sony has also redesigned the snapper's chassis to be more rounded at the sides, giving it a sleeker and more attractive look. Weighing only 225g, the new camera is slightly slimmer than the older NEX-5. Also, compared with the NEX-5's blockier and protruding handgrip, the NEX-C3 sports one that is more recessed. While this contributes to its slimmer profile, users with larger hands might have issues getting a good grip.
Top view comparison between the NEX-5 (top) and the NEX-C3 (bottom). (Credit: Shawn Low/CNETAsia)
Along the top of the camera, little has changed except for the relocation of the shutter button from the grip (on the NEX-5) to the top panel of the NEX-C3 and the shifting of the stereo mic to the front. Similar to the older model, the NEX-C3 does not have inbuilt flash, but it comes as a bundled accessory that can be attached via its accessory terminal. However, we did find connecting flash via the terminal rather fiddly and it took us some time to actually attach it securely on the camera. It could be an issue if one is trying to keep things compact, as the flash does make the camera a little bigger.
Different viewing angles of the tiltable LCD display. (Credit: Shawn Low/CNET Asia)
Its rear layout doesn't appear to have changed much as well. The new camera features the same 3-inch, 921k-dot titltable display and a similar button layout as its predecessors. However, framing and viewing our images was a joy. We enjoyed previewing our images with great detail, and reflections weren't a major issue even under bright sunlight. Of course, we can attribute that to its to its high resolution 921k-dot resolution compared with counterparts in its class that typically have 460k-dot screens. Users should also find the titlting display handy for those over-the-head or low-level shots, which can give images more unique perspectives.
Shutterbugs used to cameras with quick access buttons might be surprised with the NEX-C3's minimalistic button design consisting of only two tabs alongside the LCD with a four-way scroll wheel at the side. We think Sony was trying to keep things simple for its target audience--newcomers to interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs)--without making the layout too complicated. However, having fewer dedicated buttons occasionally made handling less intuitive, with us having to navigate through tiers of menu just to locate a setting.
The good thing is that the company had improved its firmware which allows users to customize soft keys to frequently used settings such as ISO, metering modes and autofocusing mode. Despite the customizable keys, we found the multi-tiered menu interface troublesome--having to press "Back" just to change some settings--for users who need to quickly change settings on the fly.
Another useful feature we liked was the "peaking" mode which will prove useful for those who prefer manual focusing or third-party manual lenses. We tested the camera with the SLR Magic 35mm F1.7 for instance, and found focusing to be tricky when using an LCD instead of an electronic viewfinder. Some cameras do offer a magnified view or a magnified visual aid to help in focusing, but we found that by zooming in to focus usually took too long. In comparison, the "peaking" mode took out the guesswork in focusing by highlighting the edges of a subject that are in focus, enabling us to acquire focus faster than we could with our naked eye.
(Click for larger image)
A sample of a sunset panorama shot using the Sweep Panorama mode. (Shawn Low/CNET Asia)
Shutterbugs who enjoy shooting landscapes will like the NEX-C3's Sweep Panorama mode that captures panoramas easily in a single sweep by panning the camera from left to right. We were quite impressed with its ease of use without getting any "error alignment" issues or having to stitch them together manually. We could get panorama shots in-camera that can be shared quickly without needing adjustments in post-processing. For those who enjoy shooting in low-light and dislike carrying heavy tripods, the Handheld Twilight mode can create cleaner images with less noise by capturing a consecutive, high-speed burst of six frames and then combining them into a single image.
Sony has also introduced a new "Picture Effect" function which allows users to add creative filters such as Partial Color, Toy Camera or Retro to their images with real-time playback. Users now have the option to preview their selected options instantly. This useful feature not only applies to still images but to HD video recordings as well. Also, its Photo Creativity mode has been made more beginner-friendly with settings like exposure and white balance renamed as "brightness" and "color". This makes adjusting in-camera settings easier for first-time users. Users will also notice that the shooter comes with an in-camera guide that can help beginners capture certain genres of photography.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3||Sony Alpha NEX-C3||Sony Alpha NEX-5|
|Dimensions (W x H x D)||115 x 84 x 47mm||110 x 60 x 33mm||111 x 59 x 38mm|
|Weight (body only)||336g||225g||287g|
|Sensor resolution (effective pixels)||16-megapixel||16.2-megapixel||14.2-megapixel|
|Sensor type||Live MOS||Exmor CMOS||Exmor CMOS|
|Shutter speed||60 to 1/4000 sec, Bulb||30 to 1/4000 sec, Bulb||30 to 1/4000 sec, Bulb|
|Sensitivity range||Auto ISO, Intelligent ISO, ISO 160 to 6,400||Auto ISO, ISO 200 to 12,800||Auto ISO, ISO 200 to 12,800|
|Continuous shooting||4fps||2.5fps (5.5 fps with fixed exposure)||2.3fps (7fps with fixed exposure)|
|LCD display||3-inch, 460k dots resolution, articulated touchscreen||3-inch, 921k dots resolution, tiltscreen||3-inch, 921k dots resolution, tiltscreen|
|Flash||Pop-up flash||Bundled external flash||Bundled external flash|
|Audio||Stereo microphone||Stereo microphone||Stereo microphone|
|Video||Full-HD, 1920 x 1080, 60i recording||HD, 1280 x 720, 30 fps||Full-HD, 1920 x 1080, 60 fps|
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||270 images||400 images||330 images|
|Price||S$1099 (with 18-55mm kit lens)||S$999 (with 18-55mm kit lens)||S$1,199 (with 18-55mm kit lens)|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
Sony Alpha NEX-C3
Time to first shot
Sony Alpha NEX-5
Time to first shot
Continuous shooting speed
Frames per second
Sony Alpha NEX-C3
Sony Alpha NEX-5
In terms of autofocus, we liked how the NEX-C3 started focusing even before we initiated the half-press of the shutter button. This helps in increasing autofocus speed where one only needs to half-press the shutter button to shift focus to specific parts of a scene.
According to specifications, the battery is supposed to last 400 images on a single charge. From our testing over a weekend, we shot well over 300 images inclusive of a handful of panoramas, lots of "chimping" (previewing images on the LCD) and a couple of video clips before the battery was depleted. Unlike other cameras that displayed their battery life in blocks, we liked how Sony implemented a battery percentage instead, similar on some smartphones. This gives shutterbugs a clearer and more reliable means of determining battery life instead of trying to figure out what a block represents.
Image QualityWe found that the NEX-C3 produced accurate and vibrant color. Even under indoor incandescent lighting, colors in images were not biased toward the yellows. Also, we found the 18-55mm kit lens to exhibit good sharpness at most focal lengths, despite having noticeable barrel distortion at the wide end.
Shutterbugs who love bokeh (quality of background blur) will like the NEX-C3. With its larger APS-C sensor, users can achieve shallower depth-of-field and capture images with more pleasing defocused backgrounds compared with smaller Micro Four Thirds sensors.
ISO comparison between 200 and 12,800. Credit: Shawn Low/CNETAsia)
From our test shots of varying ISO settings, we found that ISO 200 to 800 yielded the best quality. The image at ISO 1,600 looked clean overall with no visible noise though there was a slight softening of edge detail. At ISO 3,200, there was a hint of noise with a slight drop in contrast. From ISO 6400, there is an overall loss of saturation coupled with slight fuzziness. At its maximum ISO of 12,800, the image is scattered with color speckles and artifacts, while details are further softened.
Frankly, we were quite impressed with the snapper's low-light performance, where images shot between ISO 3,200 and 6,400 displayed little noise and still retained image detail. We suspect this has to do with its APS-C sensor, which has a lower pixel density that equates to cleaner images at higher ISOs. For those wondering if ISO 12,800 is really useful, we think that it could be a lifesaver in situations where a noisy image is better than no image at all.
Going a step further, we conducted a high ISO test to compare the NEX-C3's image quality at ISO 3,200 with the Canon EOS 600D and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3. Although the 600D is not in the same category as ILCs, we have decided to pit it against the NEX-C3 in order to see how good the image quality is compared with an entry-level dSLR. Similarly, while the G3 isn't comparable in terms of sensor size, we found it a suitable candidate for comparison due to its similar resolution sensor (16 megapixels) and product class as the NEX-C3.
(Left to right: Canon EOS 600D, Sony Alpha NEX-C3, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3, all shot at F11 and ISO 3,200 on a tripod.)
(Credit: Shawn Low/CNETAsia)
In terms of noise performance, the G3's image showed the most noise. While the 600D and NEX-C3 appeared comparable with some noise, those cameras still delivered cleaner images. In terms of image quality, the G3 appeared softer (especially in the word "HENKELL"), although the image still retained a good amount of detail. For the 600D and NEX-C3, both cameras retained slightly more image detail, with the 600D looking to be slightly sharper (possibly due to its higher resolution sensor). To sum up, the NEX-C3 has an edge over the G3 at ISO 3,200 and trails very closely behind the 600D with the 600D being a tad sharper.
Video QualityThe NEX-C3's video performance is good with sharp and vibrant colors in good lighting. However, in low-light conditions, one may find the videos suffering from grain and slight color speckles due to the use of higher ISO settings. The autofocus response was good, with the lens already focusing before we could half-press the shutter button, where a half-press quickly locks the lens into focus.
We enjoyed using the snapper's Partial Color feature found in its Picture Effect mode to selectively desaturate one of four colors in our video clip (as seen below). In this case, green was selected as the primary color, while all other colors were rendered in black and white. The lens' Optical SteadyShot mode found in the 18-55mm kit lens provided image stabilization which helped us capture steadier videos--which is especially useful in low-light situations or for prolonged video-recording without a tripod.
ConclusionOverall, the NEX-C3 offers excellent image quality and superior noise performance at high ISO settings. Our tests show that it compares favorably with even entry-level dSLRs which are typically regarded as having better image quality than ILCs.
Despite the 18-55mm lens adding a little bulk to the setup, we found the NEX-C3 to be an attractive compact ILC when paired with the 16mm F2.8 pancake lens. While the minimalistic button layout is meant to keep things simple for beginners, some users may find it less than intuitive when trying to access certain commonly used settings. Also, the tilt screen is handy for getting shots from unique angles. This is why we decided to present the NEX-C3 with the coveted CNET Asia Editors' Choice award.
With its beginner-friendly features and simple user interface, we think the NEX-C3 is a good entry-level option for first-time users who want something light and portable. In addition, seasoned users who are sticklers for image quality but are hesitant about making the move to ILCs may find this camera a worthy purchase.
About the author
Fueled by his passion for all things photography, Shawn decided that a writer's position reviewing cameras is the perfect job.
He now does reviews, how-to guides, and scours far and wide to cover anything camera-related under the sun. When he's not behind the desk, the former freelance photographer enjoys wandering about documenting his life with his beloved medium format film cameras.
The RMIT business graduate ventures to work every day with camera in one hand, and laptop in another, taking over the Internet one review at a time.