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Sony Alpha NEX-C3 review

Verdict

Sony’s new baby features improved performance over its predecessor, and the best image quality of any mirrorless system camera we've seen

Review Date: 24 Nov 2011

Reviewed By: Ben Pitt

Price when reviewed: £358 (£429 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £336
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
3 stars out of 6

Image Quality
5 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

The NEX-C3 is a true hybrid of DSLR and compact camera. It looks like a point-and-shoot camera, but its 16-megapixel sensor is very similar to the one in the Sony A580, and the two cameras share many aspects of operation.

These include clever shooting modes that go beyond the usual scene presets and creative filters. It can stitch a panorama together from a burst of frames, and even create a 3D panorama, capitalising on the gradual displacement of the camera as it’s rotated. Another mode captures six frames, then aligns and merges them to reduce noise in very low light.

Standard scene presets are well presented, with sample photos and short, clear descriptions to explain their function. When adjusting settings in Auto mode, the camera uses expressions such as “brightness” and “background defocus” rather than more conventional terms.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 - back

These features and the sparseness of buttons mean the NEX-C3 might appeal to point-and-shoot users more than experienced photographers. However, switching to program, aperture priority, shutter priority or manual mode transforms the controls into more conventional fare. Adjusting settings is initially laborious, but shortcuts can be assigned for quick access to up to eight settings.

It’s worth the effort, as the NEX-C3’s Auto mode doesn’t make the most of its sensor’s low noise performance. Automatic exposures are limited to ISO 1600, but the camera is capable of good results all the way up to 6400. The flash unit is detachable – and is likely to stay in the box – so indoor shots often demand very fast ISO speeds. The only way to access them is to venture away from Auto mode and adjust ISO manually.

The NEX-C3’s performance is a big improvement on the NEX-3, which kept us waiting for almost three seconds between shots on standard settings. The NEX-C3 gets this down to under a second. Continuous performance remains impressive at 5.5fps, with enough buffer for 17 JPEGs or six RAW shots before performance falls to the speed of the card.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 - front

Autofocus speed is still weak, though. It’s hard for a contrast detect system such as this to compete with phase detect autofocus used in DSLRs, but Panasonic’s G Series manages it. The NEX-C3 is pedestrian by comparison, and in fully automatic mode, quite a few shots focused on the background, rather than our intended subject.

Otherwise, image quality is consistently excellent. Noise levels are as low as the best DSLRs at this price, and colours are rich and flattering. Photos from the 18-55mm lens aren’t quite as sharp as we'd like, though.

Neither could the 720p videos compete with the 1080p footage from Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GF3. The lens focused smoothly and silently – giving superior results to any DSLR – but the lack of control over the focus point for videos proved frustrating. We also noticed swirling moiré interference on dense, repeating patterns such as bricks and clothing.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 - sample

It’s tough choosing between the NEX-C3 and the Panasonic DMC-GF3. The NEX-C3 takes superior photos in low light, while the DMC-GF3’s controls and videos are better. If push came to shove, though, we’d choose the Sony.

Author: Ben Pitt

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User comments

Design Award?

How can this win a design award when it doesn't have a viewfinder? Major flaw here on the part of the designers and the awarders.

By bygwyg on 1 Dec 2011

Excellent Review.

My goodness! A well written, balanced, informed and informative camera review on PC Pro - whatever next? I've got this camera myself and (I think for the first time ever) find myself in complete agreement with just about everything Ben Pitt says about it. I hope I don't sound arrogant, but while I greatly respect PC PRO's computer hardware and software reviews, the camera reviews frequently leave me seething when I have first hand experience of the camera being reviewed, but not this time.

@bygwyg: no the NEX-C3 doesn't have a viewfinder (although you can buy one as an expensive add on if you want) but its target market is not professional DSLR users, its compact users who want to 'move up' to something with vastly better image quality. As nearly all compacts these days don't have viewfinders, they will arguably feel more at home with the NEX-C3 without a viewfinder than with. Fact is that even without a viewfinder, its an exceptionally well designed camera in my opinion. The only 'improvements' I would have personally liked are a few more buttons, but then that would most likely have put off the target 'point and shoot' brigade.

By kenfield3 on 1 Dec 2011

Why cameras?

Could someone from PC Pro please answer the question... Why is a computer magazine reviewing cameras?

I know you will say they are a computer peripheral. They are not. Cameras are devices in their own right, and have existed since 1817. First freely programmable computer, arrived in 1936 and it wasn't exactly personal. The first practical reflex camera was the Franke & Heidecke Rolleiflex medium format TLR of 1928. Definitely a camera suitable for personal use.

The first"personal computer" arrived in the USA, In the March, 1974, issue of QST magazine there appeared the first advertisement for a "personal computer." It was called the Scelbi (SCientific, ELectronic and BIological) and designed by the Scelbi Computer Consulting Company of Milford, Connecticut. Based on Intel's 8008.

I can connect my TV to my computer in many ways, but I don't see you reviewing legions of televisions, so what's the justification for cameras?

Surely the camera magazines that exist, in what seems like hundreds, have got this specialist market more than covered.

Surely there are enough computer peripherals out there to keep your various reviewers busy, so, why do you duplicate the work of those who know more on the subject than you do.

I don't suppose you would expect to see laptop reviews in a gardening magazine, no matter how many gardeners my use online services and ebooks to further their hobby.

Get back behind that line, and stick to computers and their peripherals, please.

By fundraised on 3 Dec 2011

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