Simplicity is often the most desired asset when buying a new camera. This is why it makes so much sense for brands like Sony to create models that deliver ease of use but keep the quality and control of a DSLR. The latest NEX-C3 model fits this bill perfectly, with its 16.2MP APS-C size sensor and numerous tools to help you take creative images.
Without a lens attached the NEX-C3 is no bigger than a pocket compact. In fact, it’s almost a shame to put a lens on it because this dramatically changes the feel of the camera. Obviously this is more pronounced with the whopping 18-55mm zoom lens than relatively diminutive 16mm f/2.8 pancake option that helps to keep the size down.
While the NEX-C3 doesn’t offer endless features, it does have a number of good things in its favour. For starters, there’s the 3in flip-out LCD screen that dominates the back of the body. This is a high quality panel that can be pulled out and tilted up or down but not left to right as it is hinged across the top. Video capture is included, as expected these days in most cameras. It is not Full HD, but is still a respectable 720p resolution.
The majority of this camera’s interesting features are to be found in the new Picture Effects, which are designed to give you a greater creative shooting range. Among the new options are Partial Color (see image far-right), Retro Photo, and Toy Camera.
Beyond these effects you have a range of other image capture features. Sweep Panorama is becoming a regular on Sony digital cameras, and it’s a quick and easy way of getting panoramics, with the camera doing all the hard work of joining the shots together. There’s a 3D option too, but you need a compatible 3D TV to view the results!
In the Photo Creativity mode (selected via Intelligent Auto), you can create professional images without needing to understand the photographic terminology. This includes elements like Background Defocus (depth-of-field control made simple), colour, vividness and brightness. A Soft Skin mode can be used to remove blemishes and even wrinkles from your portrait shots. There are three levels so you can control the amount of the effect applied. All these effects can be previewed on the camera’s LCD screen.
This camera lacks the SteadyShot INSIDE technology (Sony’s in-camera stabilisation system), but there is a mode called Anti Motion Blur for capturing shake-free images. When using it, the C3 takes a series of images and combines them to minimise the blur. This same principle is used in a Handheld Twilight mode that is found via Scene Selection, along with your usual auto scene modes like portrait, landscape and macro. Other familiar modes like Face Detection and Smile Shutter are also found on this latest NEX offering. And for all the budding film-makers out there, a large number of the camera’s creative elements can be utilised in moving image capture, as well as stills.
Picture effects are becoming a common feature on modern cameras. The Sony applies them pre-capture so the effect, such as the Pop Color shown here, can be viewed before you commit to pressing the shutter. You’ll find some more obvious than others, especially in bright sunlight! Effects worth playing around with include High Contrast Monochrome, Toy Camera, and High Key.
Being able to flip out the LCD screen from a camera body allows you to get a different perspective when composing your images. The NEX-C3 has a flip-out panel that means you can see over crowds, or get down low, without having to get your knees wet! It is, however, restricted to up and down tilting. The 3in screen is high quality and delivers great definition.
Handling & performance
It’s very easy to work through the C3’s menus thanks to that great LCD screen, impressive graphics, and an intuitive menu system. To the right of the rear screen sits a ‘press and rotate’ dial that is used in combination with the on-screen graphics to select the majority of the shooting modes and general settings. For anyone who’s not quite sure what they are doing, the on-screen descriptions of each function will make a huge difference. Some of the navigation to alter settings can be a little frustrating. For example, it would have been better to have shorter transitions through the menus for elements like changing the ISO sensitivity. Although frustrating, it’s hardly a disaster though, so handling is generally impressive.
The NEX-C3 is no slouch when it comes to performance, with a 5.5fps drive speed in Speed Priority Continuous. The camera has a good contrast AF system, with plenty of options for selecting focusing points. Although the camera is designed with point-and-shoot users in mind, it’s easy enough to set the camera manually if you want a more traditional approach. Focusing is fast and very accurate, but its tracking AF isn’t quite up to the standard we have seen from the latest Panasonic models.
The camera delivers some impressive metering, and we found the exposure compensation control to be one of the most intuitive we have used. This made it very easy to get well-exposed images, even in tricky lighting. The tonal range is good, even without the in-camera dynamic range enhancements activated. It gets even better when you select these options. Colours are very natural, but they can verge on the more saturated end of the scale.
The creative tools were also great fun to use, especially as they can be seen on-screen as you shoot. The fact that these can also be used in the video capture mode is an additional bonus. Incidentally, video is very easy to use on the C3, with a red-spotted press-to-record button located just to the rear of the shutter button.
There’s a wide sensitivity range on the NEX-C3, with the maximum offering being ISO 12,800. Noise levels are actually very well controlled but it’s at its best up to ISO 800. Beyond that image definition declines and colour loss becomes much more obvious. It’s not, however, a major decline, and even at ISO 12,800 the results are better than expected. But the advice is always to use the lowest ISO possible for better quality images.
Improve tonal range
Although this camera has a good tonal range as standard, there are always going to be times where HDR will prove useful. The C3’s Auto HDR mode has been designed for just this occasion. The camera takes three shots and then combines the files to give the best of each image in a single photo. It’s easy to use and works very well, but it’s not easy to find. It’s located within Brightness/Contrast settings, the same location as ISO and White Balance, but perhaps Picture Effects would have been a better home?
We weren’t immediate fans of Sony’s NEX products, but they are growing on us. The large lens fixed on a small body can look rather odd when you first see the combination. But the important thing is what’s going on inside, and we are very impressed by the images that this new CSC delivers. For the creative photographer who wants things made a bit easier, there are lots of fun tools to play with here. There is less for the serious photographer though, as the NEX-C3 lacks the familiar traditional dials and there’s no image stabilisation.
- Street price: Discontinued (Correct as of July 2016)
- Effective resolution: 16.2MP
- Sensor type: 23.5x15.6mm CMOS
- Lens mount: Sony NEX
- Focusing system: 25 point (selectable if required)
- Metering: 49-segment
- ISO range: 200-12,800
- Shooting speed: (max.) 5.5fps
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- LCD size: 3in flip-out screen
- Video HD: (720p)
- Live View: Yes
- Built-in stabilisation: No
- Body weight: 285g
- Visit: www.sony.co.uk
This review was first published in the September 2011 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.