Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Camera Review
Sony has added the NEX-C3 to its range of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. The C3 features the same 16.2MP seen in the SLT A35, again promising improved battery life. The latest model is directly aimed at offering a compact-camera-like experience to users looking to upgrade to a large-sensor camera. It also features the 'Picture Effects' processing filters that will be available to NEX-3 and NEX-5 owners as a firmware update.
Sony NEX-C3 specification highlights:
- Revised 16.2MP CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-12800
- Creative Control results-orientated user interface
- Picture Effects processing options
- 720p30 HD movies in MPEG-4 format
- 921k-dot, tilt-angle LCD
- Detachable flash unit included
- 25-area AF system
- 49-segment metering
- 1/4000th - 30 sec exposure
- ‘Peaking' function for manual focus assist
- Manual, Auto+ and Photo Creativity control
- Enhanced battery life (400 shots per charge)
Sony NEX-C3 Camera Size and Lenses:
The C3 is the smallest NEX camera body yet, and NEX cameras are the smallest interchangeable lens cameras available – even smaller than Micro Four Thirds. This is the case even though the NEX sensor is full APS-C sized, the same as in mainstream DSLRs.
But though the body size of NEX cameras is positively tiny (as small as some pocket digicams), the lenses are constrained by the laws of optics because they must cover such a large sensor. In other words, though Sony has done their best to slim down NEX lens barrels, and uses very elegant-looking stainless steel construction, these are still largeish lenses, especially when compared to Micro Four Thirds.
To make the C3 even smaller Sony has made a few design changes, not all of which I think are for the good. The SD card slot no longer shares the battery compartment, having its own bottom panel door. This is fine as far as it goes, but it does mean that if the camera is on a tripod or a mount accessory is attached, it will have to be removed.
The more cramped grip of the C3 as compared to the NEX-5 means that one is forced to hold the camera more tightly, and I constantly found myself accidentally pressing the bottom soft key with my palm, something that never happened with the NEX-5. Plainly put, I feel that in its pursuit of making NEX cameras smaller, with the C3 Sony have gone too far and compromised hand-holdability.
Sony NEX-C3 Lens / Size / Aperture Quandary:
The NEX bodies are very small. But as already mentioned the lenses are still APS-C sized. To keep them within reason in terms of size they have modest maximum apertures. Even the pancake 16mm is just an f/2.8.
Of course the C3 has a 16MP sensor, and the NEX's sensor is also significant larger, which means better image quality. Right? Well, yes, but....
The but is that when working in anything but bright outdoor conditions one is going to have to shoot the C3 at a higher ISO, because the lens is slower. A full two to three stops slower. So indoors, instead of ISO 400, for example, the C3 would have to shot at ISO1600 to ISO 3200, thus cutting its larger sensor advantage considerably.
Sony NEX-C3 User Interface:
I expressed dissatisfaction with the original NEX user interface, as did virtually every other reviewer. Sony was pretty quick to try and address these complaints with a firmware update, but in my view it still didn't solve the main problem, and that's one of overall usability.
The concept behind the NEX cameras was to produce a camera that provided advanced user features, but aimed at the point-and-shoot user moving up. To accomplish this the number of external controls was reduced to a bare minimum, and various control selections made accessible behind pretty icon-based menus.
Regrettably, that had the effect of placing various selections and controls in six different icon accessed sections, each separated from the other by one having to navigate through a central menu screen. Every time a change is made to a function the user is dropped back to the central menu. Want to experiment, and try things a couple of different ways? Back through the main menu each time. Annoying and frustrating!
Overall I find the NEX interface to be the least friendly and most unintuitive of any current camera. It neither aids the beginner not comforts the more advanced user.
Sony NEX-C3 Peaking:
One of the most interesting new features on the C3 is the addition of "Peaking" when a manual focus lens on an adaptor is mounted. The peaking controls are found on the Setup menu, and include the choice of edge colour (Red, White and Yellow), and level of sensitivity, (Off / Low / Medium and High). Peaking, if you're unfamiliar with it from the video world, shows a shimmering outline on the parts of the image that are in sharpest focus.
Also, as an aid to focusing with non-AF lenses, when a lens adaptor is attached the bottom soft key automatically changes to MF Assist, and screen magnifications to assist focusing of 7.5X and 15X are available. This combined with Peaking provides the best focus assist capability that I've yet seen on a new generation camera.
Sony NEX-C3 Firmware:
There's good news. The new firmware found on the C3 will be available as an update for current NEX-3 and NEX-5 owners, so if you are keen to have Peaking this will be available for your previous NEX camera around the same time that the NEX C-3 is announced.
Sony NEX-C3 Picture Effects:
This mode allows users who aren't interested in working on the images with a computer to create a number of interesting effects, including ones named Retro, Pop, Posterized B&W, Posterized Color, Toy, Hi Contrast B&W, Hi Key, and Partial Red, Blue, Green and Yellow.
These later effects are well done, with just objects in those colours being displayed in colour, and the rest of the image in B&W.
Sony NEX-C3 ClearViewer:
I've made no secret of the fact that I really dislike working with cameras without eye-level viewfinders. Optical, reflex, electronic – I don't that much care – as long as there's something that I can use so as to shoot with the camera up to my eye, rather than at arm's length with an LCD screen.
The Hoodman Hoodloupe can theoretically do the job, but its much too large for use with a camera as small as a NEX C3, and it requires annoying rubber straps to attach. But there is a solution. It's small, relatively inexpensive, and works well enough that it should be provided by Sony with every NEX camera sold (at least until they get around to providing an accessory EVF).
The Clearviewer is the best solution that I have found. It looks a bit Rube Goldbergish but it works surprisingly well, and folds out of the way when not needed. The only time that it fails is outdoors when the sun is at 90 degrees and washes out the screen. But moving ones hand a bit to block the sun works fine. The ClearViewer is a simple yet brilliant solution. Highly recommended.
Be aware though that because the C3's SD card slot has been moved from its spot inside the battery compartment to a separate one close to the tripod socket, unlike on the NEX-3 and NEX-5 the Clearviewer needs to be removed to charge cards.
Sony NEX-C3 Image Quality:
I know that this will annoy a lot of people, but I'm going to take a pass on shooting high ISO noise and other test images for the article. The truth of the matter is that this sensor is Sony's latest; the same one found in their new A35, as well as the Pentax K5, Nikon D7000 and Sony A580, all highly regarded when it comes to image quality.
Sony NEX-C3 Review Summary:
The Sony NEX-C3 continues the move toward smaller and smaller compact system cameras, with a build and software design that works well.