Sony Alpha NEX-C3 review
Sony’s new baby features improved performance over its predecessor, and the best image quality of any mirrorless system camera we've seen
The NEX-C3 is a true hybrid of DSLR and compact camera. It looks like a point-and-shoot camera, but its 16-megapixel sensor is very similar to the one in the Sony A580, and the two cameras share many aspects of operation.
These include clever shooting modes that go beyond the usual scene presets and creative filters. It can stitch a panorama together from a burst of frames, and even create a 3D panorama, capitalising on the gradual displacement of the camera as it’s rotated. Another mode captures six frames, then aligns and merges them to reduce noise in very low light.
Standard scene presets are well presented, with sample photos and short, clear descriptions to explain their function. When adjusting settings in Auto mode, the camera uses expressions such as “brightness” and “background defocus” rather than more conventional terms.
These features and the sparseness of buttons mean the NEX-C3 might appeal to point-and-shoot users more than experienced photographers. However, switching to program, aperture priority, shutter priority or manual mode transforms the controls into more conventional fare. Adjusting settings is initially laborious, but shortcuts can be assigned for quick access to up to eight settings.
It’s worth the effort, as the NEX-C3’s Auto mode doesn’t make the most of its sensor’s low noise performance. Automatic exposures are limited to ISO 1600, but the camera is capable of good results all the way up to 6400. The flash unit is detachable – and is likely to stay in the box – so indoor shots often demand very fast ISO speeds. The only way to access them is to venture away from Auto mode and adjust ISO manually.
The NEX-C3’s performance is a big improvement on the NEX-3, which kept us waiting for almost three seconds between shots on standard settings. The NEX-C3 gets this down to under a second. Continuous performance remains impressive at 5.5fps, with enough buffer for 17 JPEGs or six RAW shots before performance falls to the speed of the card.
Autofocus speed is still weak, though. It’s hard for a contrast detect system such as this to compete with phase detect autofocus used in DSLRs, but Panasonic’s G Series manages it. The NEX-C3 is pedestrian by comparison, and in fully automatic mode, quite a few shots focused on the background, rather than our intended subject.
Otherwise, image quality is consistently excellent. Noise levels are as low as the best DSLRs at this price, and colours are rich and flattering. Photos from the 18-55mm lens aren’t quite as sharp as we'd like, though.
Neither could the 720p videos compete with the 1080p footage from Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GF3. The lens focused smoothly and silently – giving superior results to any DSLR – but the lack of control over the focus point for videos proved frustrating. We also noticed swirling moiré interference on dense, repeating patterns such as bricks and clothing.
It’s tough choosing between the NEX-C3 and the Panasonic DMC-GF3. The NEX-C3 takes superior photos in low light, while the DMC-GF3’s controls and videos are better. If push came to shove, though, we’d choose the Sony.
|Camera megapixel rating||16.0mp|
|Camera screen size||3.0in|
|Camera optical zoom range||3x|
|Camera maximum resolution||4,912 x 3,264|
|Camera optical image stabilisation||in kit lens|
Weight and dimensions
|Dimensions||115 x 100 x 60mm (WDH)|
|Battery type included||Lithium-ion|
|Battery life (CIPA standard)||400 shots|
|Aperture range||f3.5 - f5.6|
|Camera minimum focus distance||0.25m|
|Shortest focal length (35mm equivalent)||27|
|Longest focal length (35mm equivalent)||83|
|Minimum (fastest) shutter speed||1/4,000|
|Maximum (slowest) shutter speed||30s|
|Bulb exposure mode?||yes|
|RAW recording mode?||yes|
|Exposure compensation range||+/- 2EV|
|ISO range||200 - 12800|
|Selectable white balance settings?||yes|
|Manual/user preset white balane?||yes|
|Progam auto mode?||yes|
|Shutter priority mode?||yes|
|Aperture priority mode?||yes|
|Fully auto mode?||yes|
|Burst frame rate||5.5fps|
|Memory-card type||SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo|
|Secondary LCD display?||no|
|Tripod mounting thread?||yes|
|Data connector type||Mini-USB|
Manual, software and accessories
|Full printed manual?||no|
|Software supplied||Image Data Converter SR, Image Data Lightbox SR, PMB|
|Accessories supplied||external flash|