Sony’s latest mirrorless not only breaks size barriers, it is also quite inexpensive.
The Sony Alpha NEX-3N is an update of the NEX-F3, which was an update of the NEX-C3, which was an update of the NEX-3. Confused? You are not alone. But painful naming conventions aside, Sony’s entry-level mirrorless camera has definitely come a long way.
In fact, it is in this fourth generation that the entry-level NEX seems to seriously come of age. Not necessarily in terms of features—even the older models have been feature packed—but in a design philosophy that truly identifies its target audience, and yet remains compelling to others.
The NEX cameras have been shrinking with every iteration, but the kit lens has always been disproportionately big… this would make the camera front-heavy and the lens would cause a shadow when using the on-camera flash. All that changes with the NEX-3N. Its l6-50mm OSS lens is not only small, but also stabilised and is one of the rare kit lenses that go as wide as 24mm.
The features are largely similar to what we have come to expect from NEX cameras. So we have the same 16.1MP sensor that is seen in the NEX-6, which performs really well at high ISO settings. Images are easily usable at ISO 6400, which is excellent, considering that the NEX-3N costs so little.
The usual Picture Effects and Sweep Panorama modes found in Sony cameras are there, as is the provision of shooting Full HD AVC HD video. But despite a wide range of bit rate options, stunning quality and focus peaking, the NEX-3N isn’t a serious video device—there is no mic input.
Some of the other features that have been omitted make it clear that Sony is primarily targeting a lay audience that just wants a compact-camera feel, with far better image quality So there is no hot shoe, no wireless flash control and instead, the emphasis is on a flip-up LCD screen that works great for self portraits and group shots. But the LCD’s resolution is only 460k dots. This is disappointing, as the old NEX-F3 had a sharper, 920k dot screen. The flip-up mechanism has one terrible flaw—no extra hinge for overhead photographs.
And while the self-portrait functionality is great, if this was truly aimed as a social camera, it should really have had WiFi. The average compact camera user is spoilt by his phone’s capability to share instantly, and any camera that targets a similar audience ought to take WiFi seriously.
Look! The NEX Has Shrunk!
The power zoom makes a huge difference in overall size and portability… when retracted, it is half the length of the older kit lens, thus making the overall package 30% smaller than the old NEX-F3. In fact, the NEX-3N kit is smaller than the Olympus E-PM2 kit as well, despite having a larger sensor and an in-built (as opposed to a clip-on option) flash.
Despite its diminutive size, the NEX-3N handles very well. In fact, its shape was more reminiscent of the RX100, rather than that of the older NEX cameras. The lens can be zoomed in, manually and via the power zoom mechanism as well.
The missing hot shoe and accessory port helps make the camera thinner. And while it is a major loss of feature, one may argue that most compact camera users, who simply want better quality, may not care to use a large external flashgun anyway.
The LCD is neither touchscreen, nor is it as high- resolution as some of the DSLRs found in this price range. You ought to customise the various soft-press buttons wisely. Leaving them at their default may just need you to enter the convoluted menu way too much.
Now, this is where things get interesting. Over the years, the Sony NEX cameras have taken on a different-from-others design philosophy, which makes the handling a bit of a mixed bag. The NEX menus and interface continue to be clunky and frustrating, but thankfully, if you spend some time customising the physical buttons carefully, you will rarely need to enter this GUI.
I have always been a power zoom skeptic as these lenses usually take time to change focal length, but the l6-50mm does not pose any such problems. One can activate the power zoom from the side of the lens barrel, or from the rocker around the shutter-release button, or simply turn the ring manually to activate manual zoom!
The memory card slot being shifted near the accessory ports seemed a little strange to me at first, but it is a great idea! Unlike the predecessor, now it is possible to change cards while the camera is on a tripod.
Battery life is surprisingly good, as long as you do not use the Sweep Panorama option. The NEX-3N is more power efficient than some of the early NEX cameras, and appreciably, there is an indicator that tells you the exact % of battery left (and not a vague symbol, like on most other cameras).
As expected, the sensor is excellent— the only camera that matches the quality at this price point is the much bulkier Nikon D3200.
The quality of the new lens is not too bad, though it shows a tendency to flare a bit while shooting into the light. Focusing is quick, metering is accurate, the flash has a decent coverage area and there are no nasty surprises that hamper regular operation.
There is a lot to like about the Sony NEX-3N. If image quality is your prime concern, it is difficult to find a more pleasing camera at a sub-Rs. 30,000 price point. Serious photographers on a budget should look closely at this camera too.
It does not have a few obvious features and functionality (for which one may need to look at a DSLR or the slightly pricier RX100 compact camera), but it has a lot of quality packed into an inexpensive, tiny body!
Sony Alpha NEX-3N
Rs. 29,990 (with 16-50mm f/3.5- 5.6 OSS kit lens)
16.1MP, 4912 x 3266 pixels
Sensor size, type
Autofocus,Direct Manual Focus, Manual Focus
Multi Point, Flexible Spot, Center-weighted
Shutter speed range
+/- 3 EV, at 1/3 stops
Colour space sRGB, Adobe RGB
Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Flash, White Set 1 & 2, Kelvin
Yes, Sync Speed: 1/160sec
Flash Off, Auto flash, Fill-flash, Slow Sync, Rear Sync
3-inch, 180° flip-up
JPEG, RAW AVC HD, MP4
Optical with kit lens: Yes
10 or 2sec delay selectable; 10 sec delay, three or five exposures selectable
AVC HD: 1920 x 1080 (60i/24Mbps/FX, 60i/17Mbps/ FH, 24p/24Mbps/FX, 24p/17Mbps/FH)
MP4: 1440 x 1080 (30fps/12Mbps)
Environmentally sealed No
Yes, mini HDMI
Rechargeable Li-ion NP-FW50
Dimensions (W x H x D)
109.9 x 62mm x 34.6mm
Sweep Panorama, focus peaking, no WiFi or NFC, APS-C sensor, no wireless flash control
Excellent image quality especially at high ISOs, good video, decent battery life
Plastic body with a decent grip
Beautifully balanced lens, two customisable buttons, LCD flips up but does not arch back
Warranty & Support
Three year warranty with limited service network
No hot shoe
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
• NEX-3N body
• 16-50mm lens
• Sony 4GB SDHC memory card
• USB Charger
• Lens cap
• Body cap
• Camera strap
• Software CD
Who should buy it? Compact camera users who want far better image quality, but don’t need pro features.
Why? High-end functionality is missing, but for day-to-day photography, the NEX-3N not only handles well, but also produces excellent images in every light condition.
Value for Money 4*