Small is powerful
YOU have to hand it to Sony - in spite of having an APS-C sized sensor in its mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) the new models get ever smaller.
The Alpha NEX-C3 is the latest iteration of the NEX-3 and if anything, Sony has made it even smaller yet packing in even more into the camera.
In the box
No surprises in the NEX-C3 box - you get the camera, a charger, battery, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens and clip-on flash.
As is usual in the NEX series, the camera has a proprietary connector for the flash, which means you can't fit any other standard hotshoe flash or flashguns made for the Alpha DSLR series.
The SD card slot of the camera sits right at the bottom inside its own compartment - the problem is that this door is right next to the tripod mount, which means that if you have the camera attached to a tripod, you won't be able to open the SD card door at all.
The camera is surprisingly compact, with a body that is seriously no bigger than most compact digicams.
On the back, it's fairly minimalist in design with only two buttons, and a combo scroll wheel and push button.
Most of the back of the camera is taken up by the 3in LCD panel - even here, Sony has integrated a tiltable panel for high- or low-angle viewing.
Unfortunately for people who like to take pictures of themselves, the tilt is only upwards or downwards, though, so there is no option to have the screen facing forwards.
The two buttons right next to the screen are context-sensitive, so it changes depending on what you're doing.
The bigger loss here is that the NEX-C3, like its siblings, gives up easy access of important features in favour of a more simplified button array.
Moreover some settings, such as ISO, seem to be situated in funny places. You would think that the ISO setting would be under the Camera menu, but it's actually in the Brightness/Colour menu. While that's not a totally unexpected place for it to be in, it certainly isn't the first menu I would think of.
Having said that, there are a couple of features which elevate this camera from a mere point-and-shoot - for one, there's RAW image support.
The other interesting feature is that the NEX-C3 can show "peaking levels" in the display.
Sounds technical, but what it actually does is highlight areas which the camera sees as being in-focus.
Having the camera highlight in-focus areas is actually extremely useful when manually focusing the lens as it very clearly highlights areas that are in-focus without you having to zoom into the image in the LCD display to visually confirm focus.
For some reason, you tend to expect that a camera the size of a compact would produce results similar to one.
Of course, thanks to the 16.2-megapixel APS-C sensor on the NEX-C3, nothing could be further from the truth. It performs like a DSLR with an APS-C sensor, with very similar levels of detail and noise at higher ISO settings.
At the base ISO of 200, the NEX-C3 produces sharp, well exposed and practically noiseless shots.
This pretty good ISO performance went all the way up to ISO 1,600, where noise reduction kicked in but still produced very good quality images with good levels of detail.
From ISO 3,200 to 6,400 noise was still well controlled but at the expense of some fine detail.
By the time you reach ISO 12,800, of course, the noise reduction has smoothed out a lot of detail in its effort to control noise.
As for video quality, the NEX-C3 shoots video at a maximum resolution of 720p at 30fps (frames per second) in MPEG4 format, with stereo audio recording via a pair of built-in microphones facing the front.
Video quality is reasonably good, if not particularly outstanding.
Conclusion When it comes down to picture quality, the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 is the Little Engine That Could – you easily get image quality on par with most of the DSLRs out there in a much smaller package.
If you use it like a point-and-shoot, then you'll probably like the simplicity of design and the ease of use.
However, if you're used to more control in your cameras, the NEX-C3 might not be for you even though Sony has made the menu system quite simple to use, it nevertheless requires quite a few button clicks to change some basic settings.
Pros: Small for an APS-C sensor camera; very good image quality.
Cons: Some basic settings buried in menus.
Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
SENSOR: 16.2-megapixels APS-C Exmor HD CMOS sensor (4,912 x 3,264-pixels)
VIEWFINDER: 3.0in LCD (921,600-pixels) LENS: 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, optical image stabilisation
SHUTTER SPEED: 30sec – 1/4,000sec ISO RANGE: 200 to 12,800
SHOOTING MODES: Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority, Manual, Intelligent Auto, 3D Sweep Panorama, Sweep Panorama, Anti Motion Blur, Picture Effect, 8 Scene modes VIDEO MODE FORMAT: 720p MPEG4 at 30fps
BATTERY: 1,080mAh lithium-ion battery STORAGE: SD/SDHC memory card, Memory Stick Pro Duo/Pro-HG Duo INTERFACE: USB 2.0
OTHER FEATURES: Image stabilisation, face detection, smile detection, articulated
LCD DIMENSIONS (W x H x D): 110 x 60 x 33mm
WEIGHT: 283g (without lens)
PRICE: RM2,199 (with 18-55mm kit lens)
Review unit courtesy of Sony Malaysia Sdn Bhd, 1-300-88-1233