With a tilting screen, arty effects and DSLR-sized sensor, the Sony NEX C3 is an excellent and versatile walk-around mirror-less interchangeable compact camera.
Sony’s NEX C3 is different from Sony’s larger digital SLR bodies, taking advantage of the smaller E Mount. Lenses have been available for this system since the first breed of NEX cameras were released in 2010.
A mirror-less interchangeable lens camera, the NEX C3 fits between the large bodied DSLRs and the smaller compact cameras Sony produces.
Inside the camera, Sony has installed a 16.2 megapixel APS-C sensor. This sensor class is the same sized sensor as that appears in many DSLR cameras, including models made by Nikon, Canon, Sony, and even the Samsung NX range of cameras.
A bigger sensor can lead to better image quality, regardless of how many megapixels it supports, usually because the larger sensor captures higher quality and produce less ISO noise. With a 16.2 megapixel sensor measuring 23.5×15.6mm – similar dimensions to the sensors found in Nikon digital SLR cameras – the NEX C3 is, on paper, already a good shooter.
The specs continue with an ISO range sitting at 100 to 12,800, support for RAW, video capture at 720p HD, creative filter modes, and manual camera modes for those who like to have a little bit more control.
A 3 inch tilting LCD screen can be found on the rear of the camera; it can be angled up and down, or positioned to sit flush with the body.
Several buttons sit on the back, including two buttons that change function based on the mode at the time, a scroll wheel with built-in a directional pad underneath, and a centre button. The top of the camera features a playback button, on and off switch surrounding the shutter, and a movie record button.
Ports are abundant on this camera, with all covered up by little plastic doors. You’ll find a mini-USB, and mini-HDMI port, as well as separate compartments on the bottom for the battery and SD card slot.
There’s no built-in flash on the C3, although an external unit with a screw mount is packaged in the box, able to be attached to the top of the camera. Also in the box are instruction manuals, software CD, battery, battery charger, power plug, lens hood, USB cable, and neck strap.
Like other entry-level interchangeable lens cameras, the Sony NEX C3 comes with a short general purpose lens 18–55mm lens.
The convention in camera design is to position the lens in the middle of the body, but Sony’s NEX locates its lens off-centre, to the right if you’re looking at it front-on. It reminds us of some of the first model Cybershot cameras, with their long and chunky built-in lenses.
Indeed, the lens included with the NEX is nearly as chunky as these early examples, exhibiting a dimensions and weight more in line with DSLR lenses.
Overall, this doesn’t feel bad, providing very strong ergonomics when held with either the left hand coupling the lens and body, or the right hand holding the grip. In fact, the comfort level from the NEX C3 is so strong that we found it easy to take pictures with one hand, provided no zooming required.
Night photography will require the use of a flash, although one isn’t included in the body of the C3. Instead, Sony has provided a small flash unit you can attach to the top of the camera.
The rear of the camera is mostly covered by the 3 inch LCD screen which can be pulled from the body and tilted, angling it down so you can shoot with the camera raised above your head, or angled up for looking straight down at the LCD.
To the right of the screen are two function buttons, the hybrid scroll-wheel and directional pad, and the enter button. Depending on which mode you’re in – auto, art, manual modes – the directions you select via the scroll wheel change functionality, such as switching ISO, white balance. Some of these functions won’t work in other modes, however, making the operation of the camera somewhat counterintuitive.
For instance, inside Manual mode, hitting the main button in the centre of the scroll wheel brings provides the option to change the Shoot mode, normally found in the menu. If you switch into Auto, the main scroll wheel button presents the Creative Art modes.
Shooting tips are also offered, providing text and small images to help you get the most out of common shooting scenarios. If you’ve just switched the camera on, tips will be provided for how to use the camera. If it’s dark, you’ll see information on shooting at night or in dark environments. If you’re zoomed into a small object, the camera will offer macro tips.
Autofocus is fairly fast and we managed some nice shots from our test excursion to the NSW Royal Botanic Gardens, even when we piled on the creative modes.
That’s one of the nicer features in the NEX C3, actually. Creative filters can be layered to create cool arty effects, such as a retro toy camera look, warmer colours, a higher brightness, and a shallow depth of field.
Overall, the image quality is good too, producing pictures with strong colours and sharp detail – provided the photo was focused to begin with. Low light even provides excellent results too, the 16 megapixel images mostly clear of obvious noise and artefacting at 3200 and 6400 ISO, with the obvious colour speckles of low light apparent only at the extreme 12,800 supported by the camera.
RAW quality plus JPEG is offered for all modes on the camera – including Intelligent Auto – but the moment you start playing with arty effects, it switches off, allowing JPEG capture only.
We’re not surprised that the art modes aren’t supported by the RAW format – RAW images are just what the camera sees in the highest quality the camera can muster – but to shoot nothing in RAW when this feature is active is just nuts.
Also a little weird is the absence of a Full HD recording mode. We suspect its 720p HD specification is to mark out a point of difference between it and the step-up NEX 5N. This uses a similar (if not the same) sensor but arrives with 1080p Full HD capture.
Likewise, that body features a touchscreen, something we’d like to see on the C3. We can make do with the scroll wheel on the C3, complete with a directional pad underneath, but a touchscreen would make it much easier to navigate Sony’s sometimes complicated menu structure.
This reviewer’s first choice for photography is a DSLR, but the compact Sony NEX C3 proved a delightful companion throughout our test period.
While the absence of 1080p video capture is an oversight, the C3 is an otherwise useful and capable shooter, with excellent art modes and strong low-light performance. Recommended.