Sony NEX 3 Review

Sony NEX 3 Review

A camera model rarely comes alone at Sony. So the consumer electronics giant has also added a somewhat simpler model to the NEX-5 CSC (Compact System Camera) with the Sony NEX 3. With the Sony NEX 3, you have to make do with a plastic case, and it doesn’t record films in the contemporary AVCHD format.

We have already tested the Sony NEX 5 and also compared the NEX 3 with the NEX 5

Our test report clarifies how the modifications decided by Sony will further affect the inner and outer values of the Sony NEX 3 – and once again casts a spotlight on the special features of the NEX system.

Sony NEX 3 Pros And Cons

Pros

  • Excellent display (foldable)
  • Useful special functions (HDR, NR multiple exposure, panorama)
  • Very compact, lightweight housing
  • High image quality (but with the set lens, only average)

Cons

  • Weak battery performance
  • Altogether cumbersome operation
  • Slightly limited range of functions
  • Very limited range of accessories (lenses, flashes, etcetera)

sony nex 3

Sony NEX 3 with 16 mm 2.8 lens [Photo: Sony]

 

sony nex 3

Sony NEX 3.5-5.6 18-55mm OSS [Photo: Sony]

Ergonomics and Workmanship

The Sony NEX 3 is a touch larger than its noble sister NEX-5 (which we have already tested extensively, see link). But this increase in volume is so small that you have to place both cameras next to each other to even notice it. More noticeable are the differences in the appearance of the housing – the Sony NEX 3 is made of plastic.

However, this polymer does not look like cheap plastic at all and leaves little doubt about the robustness of the camera.

Probably to distinguish the Sony NEX 3 from the NEX-5 on the outside, Sony has shaped the handle a bit differently: it is flatter but grows wider. This design variation does not affect the ergonomics, and the Sony NEX 3 also sits well in the hand. At least as good as it is possible with the extremely compact housing dimensions.

Equipped with the very light set lens 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 OSS, with which we mainly tested the camera, the Sony NEX 3 can still be held relatively securely with one hand. But if only a Minolta 50/1.4 is used via the LA-EA1 “e-Mount” adapter, the whole construction becomes very top-heavy.

Usually, you need a second hand to support the camera/lens combination. The amazingly small camera body is also unable to really show off its compactness during transport.

If the Sony NEX 3 solo (or equipped with the very flat 16/2.8) still fits nicely in a jacket pocket, it will fill up so much space with most lenses that a small photo bag is necessary. After all, the Sony NEX 3 in combination with the set lens is a lightweight that weighs less than 500 grams when ready to use.

sony nex 3

sony nex 3

On the back of the Sony NEX 3, an excellent 16:9 format monitor takes up almost the entire surface. This leaves little space for buttons and switches.

Sony has tried to solve this problem in a rather unconventional way: Next to the display there is a dial that can take on a wide variety of functions. The parameters to be set are then displayed to the left of this wheel. As long as you only want to change the basic functions of the camera, this concept works. For example, pressing the “SET” button followed by a short turn of the wheel is sufficient to change from “A” mode (aperture priority) to “P” (program priority).

But woe betide the photographer if he wants to change a special setting, such as the ISO number! Only now is it necessary to go through the menu to assign the desired function to the dial.

To complicate matters, the Sony NEX 3 (as well as the NEX 5) will not display the last selected menu item when the menu is called up again. Instead, the journey starts again in the main menu, from where one has to laboriously navigate again to the desired menu item.

How much easier the operation could be if the settings shown on the display could be selected and changed directly by pressing the Fn key (or with a finger on a touch screen)! Just as Sony has done with the larger Alpha cameras.

sony nex 3

sony nex 3It seems that Sony was looking for a control concept in the NEX cameras that would suit the occasional snapshot photographer – and therefore banished all “confusing” setting options to the depths of the menus.

For photo novices, the Sony NEX 3 lists a number of photo tips (the feature can be turned off). There are also sample images that illustrate the effect of the most important settings. But even experienced photographers are sometimes confronted with the message “This function is currently disabled” without knowing the reason.

The bottom line is that the Sony NEX 3 is refreshingly easy to use, as long as you only want to adjust the basic functions. One of the reasons for this is that Sony manages with very few switches and buttons thanks to the “virtual” dial, making the slim case of the Sony NEX 3 look very tidy.

At least there was enough space for a separate button for video recording. Apart from the flaw in the settings, the Sony NEX 3 hardly has any weaknesses when it comes to “ergonomics”: The 3-inch display has an extremely fine resolution of a good 900,000 pixels and can be swiveled by almost 90 degrees up and 45 degrees down.

The covers for the various connection sockets look quite robust. In the optical axis, there is a tripod connection made of solid metal. Only the battery is a little weak on the chest. According to the CIPA measuring method, it holds out for about 330 exposures – which would just about be acceptable.

In practice, however, when recordings are viewed in more detail or a video clip is recorded, the energy storage system runs out of breath after only about 200 recordings.

sony nex 3

Equipment And Features

The Sony NEX 3 is neatly equipped, richer in any case than a first look at the case would suggest. It scores particularly well with the automatic functions: For example, if you want to leave the technical design of your photos entirely up to the camera, you can set the “intelligent automatic” function.

It ensures that the camera automatically selects a subject program that best suits the subject. It is commendable that the Sony NEX 3 uses a small symbol to indicate which subject program it has chosen. The aperture (and thus the automatically set depth of field) can be overridden.

“Background defocus” is what Sony calls this function, which is simply controlled with the dial. In contrast, exposure compensation is not possible in “iAUTO” mode. And it gets even more annoying: All items in the menu “Brightness/Color” are disabled when the camera is in the intelligent automatic mode.

This also applies when the photographer manually selects the desired scene mode (such as the landscape mode).

For example, to preselect ISO sensitivity, the Sony NEX 3 must be operated as a semi-automatic camera (aperture or shutter speed), leave exposure control to the P program, or set aperture and time manually in M mode. And it’s only in the latter modes that you can benefit from the Sony NEX 3’s extremely useful HDR automatic: Here, the camera takes three differently exposed images in rapid succession, which it then computes into one image with perfect contrast.

This camera easily masters scenes whose contrast range would be far too high for a single shot, such as a portrait against the light. This function, introduced for the first time with the Alpha 500/550, does its job perfectly – even scene movements or a shift of the camera between shots barely distract the HDR-automatic. And because Sony is obviously so good at calculating multiple shots, the Sony NEX 3, like its bigger sister, has been given another handy feature called “anti-motion blur”.

Once this program is set, the Sony NEX 3 takes six photos at a very fast shutter speed (by 1/250 second at 55 millimeters focal length). To achieve this fast shutter speed, the NEX raises the ISO number without hesitation. There is no doubt about it because after the six photos are taken, their noise components are subtracted from each other. The result is an image that is much less noisy than the selected ISO level would suggest.

It’s a pity that “Anti-motion blur” can’t be combined with other modes – for example, with aperture pre-selected in Aperture Priority (the Sony NEX 3 always selects the widest possible aperture). Only the newly introduced Alpha 33 and 55 can do this – in their case, the function has moved to the ISO setting menu.

sony nex 3

There may be a simple reason why Sony has equipped the Sony NEX 3, like the NEX-5, with such a wealth of features to handle difficult lighting situations: The cameras do not have a built-in flash.

Instead, there is a system flash port into which the supplied external mini flash can be plugged if required. It is about the size of a praline and with a guide number of 8 it is not exactly one of the brightest of its kind.

People like to use the HDR function or “anti-motion blur” and do without flash – especially since there are currently no alternative flash units for the NEX system. Although Sony’s Alpha logo is emblazoned on the camera, the Sony NEX 3’s system socket is proper, and flashes from Sony or Minolta cannot be connected.

After all, this system connector accepts the SST1 stereo microphone. Whether there will also be a video searcher in the future is currently unclear.

A corresponding formulation in the manual for the LA-EA1 lens adapter indicates this, but it could also refer to future NEX cameras. This adapter is the somewhat laborious attempt to build a bridge between the NEX system and the A bayonet of the Alpha DSLRs still inherited from Minolta.

With its help, Sony and Minolta lenses can be attached to the NEX, but with one crucial catch: autofocus is not available with adapted lenses, not even those with SSM or SAM drive. This leaves only the possibility of manual focusing, which fortunately is facilitated by the Sony NEX 3’s excellent “viewfinder magnification” (7x or 14x magnification). Another positive aspect is that the aperture control works via an “e-mount adapter”, open aperture measurement with adapted lenses is thus possible.

sony nex 3

So if you want to take full advantage of the autofocus comfort on the NEX, you will need lenses with the new E bayonet. The offer is still thin at the moment: Besides a 16/2.8 and the 18-55/3.5-5.6 (both of which are available as a “double kit” with the Sony NEX 3), an 18-200/3.5-6.3 “superzoom” is now added.

Our test camera was equipped with the 18-55/3.5-5.6, (decided by the local distributor) which made a good impression. Although it is made of plastic except for the bayonet, the “kit lens” does not get rickety at all. By the way, this is the first Sony lens to be stabilized – NEX cameras do not have anti-blur protection via “sensor shift” – there was simply no room for this in the slim housing.

 

sony nex 3

Compared to the NEX-5, Sony has cut back on the video function on the Sony NEX 3. The Sony NEX 3 only records movies in a size of 1,280 x 720 pixels (720p), but still stores the recordings in MP4 format with H.264 encoding.

Accordingly, the camera delivers a very good video quality. The autofocus can be switched off for video recording, but no aperture can be preselected – the Sony NEX 3 always films at open aperture.

Two tiny microphones provide the good stereo sound for the film, which do their job convincingly. Due to the system, the Sony NEX 3 can only be used for manual zooming (if a zoom lens is attached), while the set lens will introduce a slight scraping noise into the shot. Video enthusiasts will be interested in the possibilities offered by the Sony NEX 3 in combination with a fast lens. For example, a 50/1.4 can be used to take pictures with a very shallow depth of field, which is hardly possible with a conventional camcorder.

Image Quality Of The Sony NEX 3

As small and compact as the housing of the Sony NEX 3 is, its heart is big: Sony has managed to plant an APS-C size image sensor in the camera. This, of course, raises high expectations for image quality, as the Sony NEX 3, together with its sister, is the smallest system camera with the largest sensor.

In fact, the image quality of the Sony NEX 3 can be impressive – at least in many important aspects. For example, the Sony NEX 3’s engineers have taken excellent control of image noise – once a poor relation of Sony’s – and are now able to reduce it. Up to high ISO 3.200 the noise curve is almost linear smooth – you rarely see that! Beyond ISO 3,200, the noise increases, but even up to ISO 12,800, the Sony NEX 3 hardly shows the much more annoying color noise.

However, the camera buys this excellent noise behavior with an increasing loss of detail. Up to ISO 1.600, it can still be used without restrictions. ISO 6.400 is then still good for prints up to about 13 x 18 centimeters.

If you shoot in RAW (which the Sony NEX 3 can also do), you can get some more details out of the images (tested with Adobe Camera RAW 6.2 RC) than the somewhat smooth JPEGs show.

 

sony nex 3

sony nex 3Also outstanding is the dynamic range that the Sony NEX 3 can handle: It ranges from a very good 8.6 f-stops (EV) at ISO 200 to an outstanding 8.2 EV at ISO 3.200.

The shots, typical for Sony, impress with their high dynamic range: where many other cameras only show white areas in the lights, the NEX still shows drawing. In practice, however, the light meter has proven to be a bit too bold – the Sony NEX 3 tends to overexpose slightly in case of doubt.

The tonal value reproduction is somewhat crisply tuned. This creates a vivid picture impression, but especially in the depths, details get lost, while the mids appear quite contrasty. Unfortunately, there is no way to reduce the contrast.

Thus, those who attach importance to a restrained tonal value curve should better record in RAW format. There is little reason for criticism when it comes to camera-internal sharpening, only horizontal edges show slight overshoots.

 

sony nex 3

So as long as no lens comes into play, everything is fine. Less pleasing, however, are the measured values, to which the 18-55/3.5-5.6 set lens makes a decisive contribution.

Especially the edge drop in the resolution is high, in the wide-angle area even frighteningly high. Even stopping down only slightly reduces the problem; the lens does not reach more than 60 percent of the theoretically possible resolution at the edges.

The lens does not look good in terms of distortion either, especially in the wide-angle range it shows a pronounced barrel distortion. It looks a little better in terms of “vignetting”, only with open aperture and at the “short end”, there is a noticeable edge darkening.

Fortunately, the set lens is less susceptible to color fringes; the Bokeh is also surprisingly good for a lens in this price range. The reaction speed of the Sony NEX 3 is also hardly a cause for criticism: It takes just under 0.5 seconds to focus and release – that’s good mid-range. Pre-focused, an image is already in the box after a tenth of a second.

 

sony nex 3

Conclusion: Is The Sony NEX 3

With the Sony NEX 3, Sony demonstrates in an impressive way the high image quality that even a very compact camera can deliver – especially in terms of “noise” and “resolution”.

However, this requires the right glass – and that is exactly what is currently lacking. The set lens will be sufficient for those who want to upgrade from a compact camera, but it does not exploit the full potential of the Sony NEX 3.

For owners of an Alpha DSLR, it is also annoying that the NEX cameras only integrate into the Alpha system to a very limited extent: Lenses with A bayonet can only be focused manually, the flash mount is proprietary.

The ergonomics of the Sony NEX 3 also leave a mixed impression: the most important basic functions are called up in a flash, but it is all the more complicated to configure the camera in detail for the respective shooting situation.

The video function of the Sony NEX 3, on the other hand, shows hardly any weaknesses, but if you want to record videos in FullHD, you have to resort to the NEX 5. The bottom line is that the Sony NEX 3 is a very compact system camera that is particularly impressive for its image quality.

 

sony nex 3

Firmware Updates for the Sony NEX 3, NEX 5 and NEX C3: Lens Adapter Support

Sony is providing a new firmware update for the Sony NEX 3, NEX-5 and NEX-C3. Version 05 for the Sony NEX 3 and NEX-5 and version 02 for the NEX-C3 bring support for the LA-EA2 lens adapter to the cameras, but Sony says there are no further improvements.

The updates can be downloaded from Sony’s support website, where an updated guide can also be found so that the user can install the update himself. If you don’t think you can do this, you should ask your dealer or Sony support for assistance.

Profile

Profile
Manufacturer Sony
Model Sony NEX 3
Price approx. 550* dollars at market launch
Sensor Resolution 14.2 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 4.592 x 3.056
(aspect ratio) (3:2)
Lens 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 OSS
Filter thread 49 mm
Viewfinder
Field of view
Enlargement
Dioptre compensation
LCD monitor 3″
Resolution 921.600
rotatable
swiveling yes
as Viewfinder yes
Video output HDMI
Automatic programming yes
Automatic aperture control yes
Automatic timer yes
manual exposure yes
BULB long time exposure yes
Scene modes
Portrait yes
Children/baby
Landscape yes
Macro yes
Sports/action yes
More 4 additional scene modes available
Exposure metering Multi-field, center-weighted Integral, Spot
Flash yes (attachable)
Guide number 8.1 (measurement)
Flash connection Special flash shoe
Remote release Infrared (optional)
Interval recording
Storage medium SD/SDHC, Memory Stick
Video mode
Format MP4
Codec H.264/AVC
Resolution (max.) 1.280 x 720
Frame rate (max.) 30
Sensitivity
automatically ISO 200-1,600
manually ISO 200-12,800
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Incandescent lamp yes
Miscellaneous Shadow, flash, manual color temperature selection
Manually yes
Autofocus
Number of measurement fields 25
AF auxiliary light orange
Speed approx. 0,5 s
Languages English
More 15 additional languages
Weight
(Ready for operation)
approx. 297 g (housing only) Approx. 500 g (with lens*)
Zoom
Zoom adjustment at the lens
Zoom levels infinitely variable
One-hand operation
(zoom and shutter release)
Trip during
.Saving possible.
yes
Battery life approx. 330 pictures (according to CIPA)
– = “not applicable” or “not available
* with lens Sony 18-55 mm 3.5-5.6 OSS

Brief assessment

Pros

  • Excellent display (foldable)
  • Useful special functions (HDR, NR multiple exposure, panorama)
  • Very compact, lightweight housing
  • High image quality (but with set lens only average)

Cons

  • Weak battery performance
  • Altogether cumbersome operation
  • Slightly limited range of functions
  • Very limited range of accessories (lenses, flashes etc.)

Sony NEX 3 Datasheet

Electronics

Sensor CMOS sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5) 14.6 megapixels (physical) and 14.2 megapixels (effective)
Pixelpitch 5.1 µm
Photo resolution
4.592 x 3.056 pixels (3:2)
3.344 x 2.224 pixels (3:2)
2.228 x 1.520 pixels (3:2)
Image formats JPG, RAW
Metadata Exif (version 2.21), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 30 p
640 x 480 (4:3) 30 p
Video format
MPG4 [codec MPEG-4]

Lens

Lens mount
Sony E

Focus

Autofocus functions Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, AF Assist Light
Sharpness control Depth of Field Control

Viewfinder and Display

Display 3.0″ TFT LCD monitor with 921,600 pixels

Exposure Of The Sony Nex 3

Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 49 fields, spot measurement
Exposure times 1/4,000 to 30 s (Automatic) Bulb function
Exposure control Programmed automatic, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual
Exposure bracketing function Exposure bracketing function with a maximum of 3 shots, step size from 0.3 to 0.7 EV, HDR function
Exposure Compensation -2.0 to +2.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV
Photosensitivity ISO 200 to ISO 1,600 (automatic
)ISO 200 to ISO 12,800 (manual)
Scene modes Auto, Landscape, Macro, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Portrait, and Sports/Action,
Picture effects five creative styles
White balance Automatic, Clouds, Sun, Shadow, Flash, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Manual
Color space Adobe RGB, sRGB
Continuous shooting Continuous shooting function max. 2.3 fps with highest resolution and max. 14 stored photos, max. 7 fps with focus on the first image, max. 14 images JPEG, max 7 images RAW
Self-timer Self-timer with 2 s interval, special features: or 10 s (optional)
Recording functions Live histogram

Flashgun Of The Sony NEX 3

Flash no built-in flash available – Shoe: Sony NEX
Flash functions Auto, fill-flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, flash on second shutter curtain, red-eye reduction

Equipment And Features

Image stabilizer no optical image stabilizer
Memory
SD
Memory stick
GPS function GPS internal
Microphone Stereo
Playback functions Highlights / Shadow warning, image index
Face recognition Face recognition, smile recognition
Image parameters Sharpness, contrast
Connections Data interfaces: USB USB type:USB 2.0 High Speed
AV Connections AV output: HDMI output mini (type C)
Supported direct printing methods PictBridge
Tripod thread 1/4″
Special features and miscellaneous BIONZ image processorDynamic
Range Optimizer (1-5 steps)
Long-term noise reduction selectable from 1 secondNoise reduction
from ISO 1,600 and morewith
priority selection)
Contrast, sharpness and saturation changeable in /-3 stepsFinder magnifier
6x and 12x for manual focusingMPEG-4
video recordingPtP transmission protocolMagnesium die-cast housingPrecise percentagebattery capacity displayAutomatic
brightness adjustment of the screen, additional sunlight adjustment

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 117 x 63 x 33 mm
Weight 297 g (ready for operation)

Miscellaneous

standard accessory Sony BC-VW1 Special Battery ChargerSony
NP-FW50 Special Battery Connection CableSlip-on FlashHVL-FS7RiserBeltPictureEditing SoftwarePicture Motion Browser for Windows
additional accessories Sony GPS-CS3KA Universal ProductSony
NP-FW50 Special Battery Power SupplyPower SupplyAC-PW20

 

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Peter Dench
I am Peter Dench. Digital Photographer, born in London 1972, currently living in Deerfield, near Chicago. I have numerous photography expositions and also working in model photography. In this website, PhotoPoint, I usually review cameras provided by local dealers in Illinois and by the manufacturers. Sometimes I, Peter Dench, review lenses too, but only when I have a suitable camera for them. Please let me know in the comments if I can improve any of these articles.