World's lightest and most compact interchangeable lens camera reaches its second generation with the Sony NEX-C3
The Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5 models of summer 2010 were the manufacturer’s first mirror-less compact system cameras (or ‘CSC’s), following the lead set by Panasonic with its Lumix G series, and Olympus with its digital ‘Pen’ camera family. The pitch for all three brands was professional-grade, digital SLR-quality images from a compact camera on which the lens could be swapped. That same premise carries over to the new interchangeable lens NEX-C3. It replaces the year-old NEX-3, and, given its predecessor’s success, is logically more refinement rather than wholesale re-imagining.
This new Sony sports a resolution of 16.2 effective megapixels – which is two million more than the original. That’s also a higher spec than Panasonic or Olympus currently offers, dwarfed only by Sony’s own 24.3 megapixel NEX-7, the new flagship model in the NEX range. By contrast, the NEX-C3 is the ‘baby’ of the family, its selling point being its more slender proportions of just 33mm in depth and the fact that it is 6% lighter than its predecessor at 225g. On launch Sony was making a claim for it being the world’s lightest and smallest in its class. However, with supplied 18-55mm zoom lens attached which extends a good 3.5 inches from the body, it’s a solid feel proposition and still a fair squeeze for even the most voluminous of jacket pockets. As the body is so slim, this also makes the camera look distinctly front-end heavy.
But the Sony NEX-C3 currently retails for £499 with our test lens, which is some £40-50 cheaper than Olympus Pen E-PL3 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 rivals with their own basic lens bundles.
Sony NEX-C3: Controls
The control layout remains much the same as that of the original NEX-3, with on/off switch encircling the prominent shutter release button, and adjacent playback button all falling below the top of the forefinger when gripping the camera in the right hand. Resting under the thumb at the back are an unmarked round button for summoning up newly included digital effects, such as background defocus, soft skin, toy camera and retro look options. These are now de rigeur among compact system cameras, so although fun it’s no surprise to find them included here.
This button is encircled by a scroll wheel for faster navigation of the on screen features, although you can alternatively also use the edges of the wheel to tab up or down like you would on a standard control pad. Flanking this control are two unmarked buttons. This is because their functions change dependent on what you have selected on screen at the time, but more often than not are for calling up the menu options or built-in shooting tips.
Sony NEX-C3: Screen
Though the fact that there are few actual buttons suggests this might be a touch screen camera, it isn’t. Like the Olympus E-PL3 that we recently reviewed and of which the Sony NEX-C3 is a direct rival, it does comes with an angle adjustable LCD screen though. This means the backplate monitor can be tilted up or down, to a limited degree, that nevertheless allows easier framing when holding the camera at arm’s length over the heads of a crowd or down low to the ground.
The screen also presents a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio rather than the standard 4:3 image ratio of most digital cameras. This obviously proves a boon for recording video clips as no image cropping is required. When shooting stills a 3:2 aspect ratio is presented, which leaves a black band at the right hand side of the screen onto which function settings are overlaid. The Sony NEX-C3’s screen is three inches in size, offers a whopping 921k dot resolution that puts it on a par with many DSLRs, and helped us to be able to use it even under the midday such without distracting reflections.
Sony NEX-C3: Speed
Flick the Sony NEX-C3’s on/off switch and within two seconds your forefinger has already half squeezed the shutter release button and the camera’s auto focus point/s have appeared on screen with a bleep of affirmation. Squeeze down fully to take a 16-megapixel resolution photo, and without noticeable shutter lag it’s committed to memory in three seconds. Not the fastest ever, but certainly on a par with its compact competitors.
Hit the video record button on the Sony and filming immediately commences, the shot briefly blurring before snapping very quickly back into focus as the camera finds its subject; so no complaints there either. Likewise we found that the camera responded immediately to each button press and faster still if we were to apply the thumb and swivel the back plate scroll wheel.
Sony NEX-C3: Battery
The Sony NEX-C3 is powered by an NP-FW50 rechargeable lithium ion pack, which slots into the base of the camera, with an entirely separate SD media card compartment ranged alongside it. A separate charger is provided which plugs into the mains, so the battery is removed for charging rather than being left in the camera.
Sony claims the power performance is 20% better than the year-old NEX-3, the battery lasting for 400 shots, which is better than average (the average being 300 to 350 pictures).
Sony NEX-C3: Pictures and video
With the supplied kit lens bolted on the front, all but the most trained of eyes will fail to spot any difference between the output of this camera and an entry level DSLR from the Sony Alpha range. Shots are marginally softer, at a pinch, and there is the familiar bugbear of pixel fringing between areas of high contrast – but only really noticeable if you’re placing the images under a microscope. This being a Sony colours are warm and vivid straight out of the camera, and exposures commendably even in terms of retaining highlight and shadow detail too. This all means that you won’t have to do much, if anything, to the images straight out the camera.
The NEX-C3 falls short of offering Full HD video; in fact it offers 1280x720 pixel clips albeit at a smooth 30 frames per second, plus in regularly accessible MPEG4 format rather than the more highly compressed (and newer) AVCHD. For most of us this should be good enough however – and images via the supplied lens are sharp, colourful and clear – even if there’s the sneaking suspicion that Sony didn’t offer Full HD only to differentiate this from more grown up, pricier models in the NEX range. It seems a bit of a shame when even £200 pocket compacts are now offering Full HD as standard.
Sony NEX-C3 Verdict
Sony clearly decided that it didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater when moving up from the NEX-3 to NEX-C3, so existing owners should not feel a compulsion to upgrade. However, for newly interested parties there’s the appeal of a couple of million extra pixels in terms of still image quality, better battery life, digital effects filters, marginally more lightweight/compact body, and, um, that’s about it.
Still, the NEX-C3 is a very capable camera for anyone trading up from a pocket point and shoot, wanting better pictures and who is not put off by the rather utilitarian body design and the (by comparison) overly large kit zoom threaded onto the front. Though more refinement than revolution, this is a camera that is easy to admire with its steely competency, if, ultimately, less easy to love than say the more obvious retro cool of an Olympus Pen.
Availability: Out now
- Sensor: 16.2 effective megapixels, APS-C sized CMOS sensor
- Lens:18-55mm zoom lens supplied in bundle on test
- Video resolution: HD 1280x720 at 30 frames per second
- Battery: Rechargeable lithium (up to 400 photos per charge)
- Storage (card and internal): SD, SDHC or SDXC or Sony Pro Duo Memory Stick
- Connections: USB 2.0 and standard AV output plus mini HDMI port
- Dimensions/Weight: 109.6x60x33mm, 225g (body only)