The Sony Nex-3 is a cross between a digital camera and a Digital SLR. It has the picture quality and features you associate with a Digital SLR including the ability to change lenses and the body size of a digital camera.
The Nex-3 has 14 megapixels. Sony have released three different coloured versions: red, black and silver. It is compatible with lenses with the Sony E mount.
Without a lens attached the camera is only a shade more than 33mm wide.
Why Buy The Sony NEX-3
If you are put off buying a Digital SLR owing to its size, but you would still like the features and picture quality then the Nex-3 could be the ideal camera for you.
117 x 62 x 33mm
Memory Stick PRO Duo SD/SDHC/SDXC
Sony have set up the Nex-3 with a set of features similar to those you would expect to find on a consumer level Digital SLR. There are also one or two features such as a fast burst mode and 3D Sweep Panoramas that you would not expect to find on an entry level Digital SLR.
Megapixels and LCD screen
The Nex-3 has 14 megapixels. The LCD screen is 3 inches in size. The screen is made up of 921,600 dots. If you are comparing the Nex-3 against a digital camera the number of dots that make up the screen are considerably more than you will find on most digital cameras. This gives you a crisper looking image on the screen.
How a Fast Burst Mode Can Help You
Fast burst modes come into their own if you are shooting fast moving action. The Nex-3 is capable of capture still images at a speed of up to 7 frames per second. This compares very well against typical entry level Digital SLRs.
For focusing the Nex-3 has a 25 point auto focus system. There is also a manual focus setting, as well as focus lock. Cameras can find focusing in lowlight tricky. To help combat this problem Sony have equipped the Nex-3 with an AF Illuminator. This transmits a small beam of light onto the subject to help the camera focus. If you are using an 18 -55mm lens the illuminator has a maximum range of 3m.
A further focusing option allows you to throw background out of focus. This helps to highlight the main subject of your photos.
Increasing Detail in Your Photos of High Contrast Scenes
As you can see from the burst mode mentioned previously the Nex-3 is able to operate at high speed. This has enabled Sony to add a High Dynamic Range mode. This fires off three shots at different exposure settings. The three photos are them merged onto one photo. This should give your photos an increased level of detail showing in the lightest and darkest areas of a photo. Traditionally it has been difficult for digital cameras to produce high levels of detail in these are areas.
Improving the Quality of Your Lowlight Shots
A similar technique has been used to improve the overall quality of shots taken in lowlight. Sony have named this feature Handheld Twilight mode. The main advantage of this mode is the reduction of noise and therefore increased clarity in your lowlight shots. In this mode the Nex-3 will take six shots and merge them together.
Manual Expose Controls Increase Your Creativity Options
If you are an experienced photographer or if you would like to experiment and learn the basics of photography the Nex-3 has a full set of manual controls to help you. These include fully manual exposure, aperture priority and shutter priority.
Capture Your Special Moments With High Definition Movies
The Nex-3 is capable of shooting High Definition movies. Stereo sound can be recorded to accompany your movie footage.
3D Panoramic Photos
3D technology is relatively new to digital photography. With the Nex-3, Sony have included a feature that allows you to create 3D panoramas. To capture a 3D panorama all you need to do is select the Sweep Panorama mode, press down the shutter button and sweep the camera round in an arc.
Increase Your Post Production Options
Images can be stored in Jpeg and Raw. Shooting in Jpeg saves space on your memory card as the images are smaller. The advantage of shooting in Raw is that higher levels of image detail are stored. This increases the scope you have if you plan to fine tune your images with a package such as Adobe Photoshop.
Keeping the Sensor Clean
Sony have built in automatic sensor cleaning to keep your camera sensor free from dust spots.
Buying Lenses With the Camera Body
You can buy the Nex-3 either as just the camera body or with a lens or two. When you buy the camera body with lenses this is known as buying a kit. Sony have made three different kits available. The first has an 18 -55mm wide angle lens. This is ideal for squeezing extra width into your shots. The second kit consists of a 16mm prime lens. This is a fixed length lens, so you cannot zoom in or out. If the Nex-3 is your first venture into more advanced camera this can be a tough lens to start with and master. The third kit option includes both lenses.
Longer Zoom Lens Available
At the time of producing this review there is only one more lens available from Sony that is compatible with the E mount. This lens offers much greater flexibility with a focal length of 18 - 200mm or roughly 11x zoom.
Increasing Your Lens Options
There is a way you can increase the range of lenses you can use with the Nex-3. This is by buying a lens adapter. The adapter changes the E mount into a Sony A mount. This makes the Nex-3 compatible with the full range of Sony Digital SLR lenses. In addition to Sony A mount lenses you can also use a number of older Minolta lenses that are available on the second hand market.
The downside to buying the lens adapter is the cost. It is available at over £100.
There may only be a small number of lenses available that are directly compatible with the Nex-3. The good news is that they are of a high standard. They compare well against lenses that are sold as part of entry level Digital SLR kits.
The Nex-3 handles more like a digital camera than a Digital SLR. The camera has very few dials and buttons. Therefore to make changes to settings will often require accessing the menu system.
The build quality is good and the camera has a solid feel to it. Sony have introduced a camera that is more or less identical in terms of features to the Nex-3. This is the Sony Nex-5. That camera has the edge over this one when it comes to build quality.
Using the LCD screen
You can pull the LCD screen up at an angle. This can help you move the screen out of direct sunlight or make the viewing angle better if you are shooting a subject where you need to hold the camera low down. One niggle I had with the LCD screen was that it became smeary quite easily. This can happen when you adjust the angle of the screen.
Shutter delay times are one area where you may experience a degree of disappointment. The time to take a single photo was longer than a lot of good quality digital cameras manage. This was true with the flash turned on and off. Subsequent photos are captured quickly, although this can slow down if you turn on picture review.
The shutter delay tests were carried out using the 18 - 55mm kit lens.
Top of Camera Controls
On the top of the camera are three main controls. These are the on / off switch, shutter button and a button to place the camera in review mode. There is also a hidden socket for connecting accessories such as the flash unit. Attaching the flash unit can require a bit of patience. You need to screw the flash unit into the connection socket. This is a particularly fiddly job.
Controls on the Back of the Camera
Most of the camera's controls are accessed by three buttons on the back of the camera. The usage of each button can change depending on the mode you have placed the camera in. The main role of the top button is to give you access to the menu system. The central button is mainly used to change the shooting mode. The bottom button gives you tips for how to get the most out of the camera.
There is a wheel on the back of the camera as well. You turn the wheel to make selections. If you press different areas on the wheel you get access to four further controls. These are the self timer, changing the information displayed on the LCD screen, setting flash or choosing exposure compensation.
The E lens mount is good quality. You should find lenses glide into place smoothly and quickly. You may find attaching lenses using the A mount adapter is not quite such a smooth process.
This is one area where the Nex-3 tends to mimic a digital cameras rather than a Digital SLR. The battery can run down relatively quickly and it may pay you to consider having a spare battery handy.
Image Quality - See Sample Images Below
Just with a Digital SLR the quality of the lens you use plays a significant part in the quality of the photos you take.
For these tests the 18 - 55mm kit lens was used along with an older 25 - 85mm Minolta lens. The Minolta lens is of average to good quality.
Outdoor Scenic Shot 1
From the first test shot you can see the Nex-3 is capable of producing pin sharp shots. The level of sharpness will leave most digital cameras standing. There is very little fall off in sharpness as you move away from the centre of the shot.
In addition to the overall sharpness of the shot the way the camera handles the light areas such as the boats really stands out. The level of detail the sensor is able to retain is a clear step up on that managed by a typical digital camera. Detail in more shady areas is also very good.
Outdoor Scenic Shot 2
This is another example of how this type of camera is able to outperform a typical digital camera. Most of the reason for this is down to the quality of the lens. It ensures that bit of extra sharpness in the shot. This says a lot for the quality of the kit lens.
Outdoor Scenic Shot 3
With this shot you can see how the larger sensor size plays a key role in boosting the quality of the image. This is highlighted by the level of fine detail that shows in the shot. The smaller sensor of a digital camera is unable to capture the same level of detail. It also shows the difference a bit of extra lens quality makes. This gives you improved all round picture sharpness.
This is a bright colourful image. The level of detail is good once again. The darker shady areas of this scene pose the Nex-3 a tougher challenge and some of the shady areas of the building do not quite show that same crisp definition.
In this test shot some of the light areas of the photo are very bright. This is to the level that suggests a slight over exposure of the picture. This means that you do lose some of the detail from the shot.
Indoor Portrait With Flash
Once you manage to get the flash unit attached and working you are rewarded once again by that bit of extra quality. The lighting produced has a very subtle quality. You should be able to use flash to fill in shadows while being confident that it will not over power your photos.
Indoor Portrait Without Flash
With noise well under control the level of detail showing in the shot is impressive. This level of camera gives you additional options when it comes to working indoors and in situations where light is imperfect.
Macro shots are a real lens tester. So the quality of this shot is more down to the quality of the lens than anything else. Again the sharpness of the shot is noticeably better than that produced by a standard digital camera.
Colour reproduction is both accurate and adds an eye catching quality to your photos. Perhaps here and there reds are a touch heavy, but it is not likely to be to a level that is particularly noticeable.
One of the big advantages of moving up to a camera with a larger sensor size is the reduction in noise levels. There is virtually no evidence of noise with the Nex-3 at lower ISO levels. You should be able to produce usable pictures at up to ISO 3200.
Picture Quality Summary
Picture quality is impressive. It certainly compares well against that delivered by entry level Digital SLRs and lenses supplied as part of a kit.
Optional Accessories to Buy
To improve sound quality for your movies you can buy an external microphone. This is connected via the connection socket on the top of the Nex-3.
According to the Sony specification a viewfinder is available, but it is only compatible with the 16mm prime lens. This is also connected via the connection socket on the top of the Nex-3.
Shutter Lag Times
Single Shot With Flash
Five Shots With Flash
Turn on Time
Ease of Use
Ease of use depends on how you plan to use the Nex-3. It has a range of features and if you are planning to make the most of the camera then it will take you a while to get up to speed and work out where to find them all. If you are planning to use the camera more as a simple point and shoot there is very little you need to learn to get started.
Points I Like
Small size - clarity of pictures - build quality
Where it Could Improve
Fiddly flash unit - limited range of compatible lenses with E mount - can overexpose photos
The Sony Nex-3 is not a cheap option, but it is a quality option. You can pick up the majority of features this camera has with an entry level Digital SLR and pay less if you prefer to. The main attractions are its picture quality and a portability that a Digital SLR simply cannot match. Overall The Nex-3 is an impressive camera.
Sony Nex-3 Comparison with the Sony Nex-5
The Sony Nex-3 and Sony Nex-5 are more or less identical cameras. If you use the same lens and same settings you should not see any difference in picture quality whatsoever. The differences are the Nex-3 has a lower price, lower resolution movie mode and the body is made out of a different material that does not quite match up to the build quality of the Nex-5.
Further information: Sony Nex 5 Review
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