Sony has redefined its most junior NEX proposition with the NEX-3N, the smallest compact system camera to offer an APS-C sensor. Matt Golowczynski puts it to the test
Sony NEX-3N at a glance
- 16.1-million-pixel APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
- E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens
- 3in tiltable LCD screen
- Full HD video recording
- ISO 200-16000
- Street price £400
- View the sample image gallery
Sony NEX-3N review – Introduction
Sony may not have been quite as prolific as Panasonic or Olympus with its NEX compact system camera (CSC) offerings, but the company has still managed to develop a system that appeals to novices as much as it does to enthusiasts.
While models at the higher end of the spectrum have high-resolution sensors, excellent electronic viewfinders and DSLR-like operation to recommend them, at the other extreme Sony has focused on squeezing a raft of clever functionality into simple compact bodies largely devoid of physical controls.
The previous model that sat at the bottom of the series, the NEX-F3, was something of a departure from this, with its bulky body making it decidedly less compact than some may have liked. Yet now, Sony appears to have reverted to its original intentions with its previous NEX-C3, delivering a replacement with portability very much in mind. Indeed, Sony claims it is the smallest CSC with an APS-C-sized sensor to date.
Perhaps more significantly, the model is also the first from Sony to include a dedicated control for operating the Power Zoom function incorporated into two of its current lenses, one of which being the E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS supplied with the camera as its standard kit option.
Sony NEX-3N review – Features
The Power Zoom control is positioned around the camera’s shutter-release button, in precisely the same way as it would be on a compact camera. The result is a compact-like shooting experience, where the camera can be held and have its zoom operated with just one hand.
The only other lens currently available that would work with this function is the video-oriented E PZ 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, although at a weight of 649g it would be considerably more difficult to use without both hands.
In addition to its compact proportions and Power Zoom control, the Sony NEX-3N’s other major draw is its tiltable LCD screen. This can be pulled around a 180° angle to face the front, to facilitate self and group shots.
The 3in display has a resolution of 460,800 dots, which is the lowest display resolution yet for an NEX-series model. The camera isn’t alone in offering this, though, with the similarly-priced Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 and Olympus E-PM2 also making do with the same resolution.
The Sony NEX-3N’s sensor offers the same 16.1-million-pixel resolution as the more senior NEX-5R model, although here there are no phase-detection pixels incorporated into the sensor to provide a hybrid phase/contrast-detection system. Focus is therefore achieved solely through the more standard contrast-detect method, with 25 points on the default multi-area option.
Images can be captured in both raw and JPEG formats, with Sony’s proprietary ARW format used as the raw file type, while videos can be recorded to 50i/25p in full HD (1920×1080) quality.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment is the lack of the accessory port that graced previous models. This means the camera cannot mount any additional flashguns, nor can it accept a viewfinder of any sort.
Also, and somewhat bizarrely, while a small indicator lamp is found next to the memory-card door (to prevent the card being removed while data is being written), this cannot be seen from the back of the camera. There is, therefore, no convenient way of checking whether the camera is still processing images while shooting, which can be problematic when capturing images in quick succession.
Elsewhere, however, there are a number of redeeming features. The memory-card slot is now at the side of the camera rather than at the bottom, which means it can be removed and replaced while the camera is mounted on a tripod.
The battery is also charged through the camera’s USB port rather than through a separate charger, so it can simply be plugged into computer’s USB port as required.
Furthermore, given the Sony NEX-3N’s entry-level billing it’s welcome to find an exhaustive list of shooting tips directly accessible from the main shooting screen, which cover everything from basic holding to capturing panoramas, and even capturing movies with consistent colour balance. None of the tips goes into too much detail, but as an inspirational guide for those getting started it can’t be faulted.