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Sony NEX-C3: Small but perfectly formed?

14 Jul Posted by Matt in News, Reviews |
Sony NEX-C3: Small but perfectly formed?

Sony Logo

The Sony NEX-C3 is the latest in Sony’s line of NEX cameras, following on from the NEX-3 and NEX-5 that were released a year ago. The C, apparently, stands for compact, and in the accompanying press material the NEX-C3 is described as the world’s smallest, lightest interchangeable lens camera with APS-C sized sensor.

Sony NEX-C3That’s actually quite a specific claim, and one to be taken slightly cautiously because only Sony and Samsung make compact system cameras with an APS-C sized sensor (the smallest of all the interchangeable lens cameras currently available is actually the Pentax Q). Nonetheless, we have to give it to Sony that this latest offering is very small and sleek.

What’s new with the NEX-C3?

When we looked at the Best Compact System Camera for Beginners in our group test at the end of last year, it was the NEX-5 that represented Sony in our shoot-out.  We praised that camera for its size and image quality, but criticised the over-fiddly proprietary flash, lack of availability for the E-mount lenses, and the slightly convoluted menus.

Sony NEX-C3So, what have Sony done to address these concerns?  To start off, the image sensor in the NEX-C3 boosts the resolution to 16.2 megapixels (up from 14.2 megapixels in the NEX-3 and NEX-5).  It’s a sensor that has a lot of pedigree too, being virtually identical to that used in the more hardcore Sony Alpha 55, and being the basis for the sensors used in both the Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000. Image quality, it seems, should not be a problem for this camera.

Sadly the flash on the C3 is still the same calamity as what we experienced with the previous models; an external affair that uses an especially fiddly connector, ironically branded as the Smart Accessory Terminal.  No doubt Sony chose to keep the flash external in order to maintain the small form-factor, but in real life carrying the included flash around separately is a bit of a pain.

There’s better news on the E-mount lens front mind, with new options being added steadily to the range.  Sony have confirmed that 10 E-mount lenses will be available by the end of 2012, though currently there are still just four.  Perhaps more excitingly, as we reported earlier this year Sony have ‘open-sourced’ the E-mount lens system, which should make way for the likes of Tamron and Sigma to start selling lenses for the NEX system shortly.

The other good news is that despite the NEX-C3 being the smallest NEX camera to date, it manages to increase battery life by 20%. The C3 claims a battery life of 400 shots, which is around the ball park of a typical full-size consumer DSLR.

More advanced photographers will also appreciate the fully-customisable buttons, a marked improvement over the two previous models which only offered limited customisation.

Sony NEX-C3Sony NEX-C3 Key Specs:

  • Ultra-compact slimline body
  • 16.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 720p HD movie recording
  • 3-inch tilting LCD
  • iAuto (Intelligent Auto) mode
  • Program, Manual, Shutter & Aperture Priority Modes
  • Face detection and Smile Shutter
  • 5.5 fps continuous shooting
  • Sweep Panorama modes
  • Shooting tips and help guide
  • Soft skin mode, ideal for portraits
  • Artistic picture effects


Like most compact system cameras, the NEX-C3 is clearly targeted at those looking to make the leap from a compact point-and-shoot model to a more capable and better quality camera. Certainly the image quality of the C3 will not disappoint, and will offer an enormous upgrade over most compact cameras.

Sony NEX-C3 with Long LensWith the pancake lens attached the NEX-C3 is an extremely slimline offering, and unsurprisingly this is how Sony usually choose to show off all their NEX series of cameras.

At some point though, even the least demanding of photographers is going to tire of every shot being taken with a 16mm wide-angle lens. Whilst this issue isn’t unique to the Sony model reviewed here, potential buyers should consider how much bulk they will actually save if they foresee using telephoto lenses regularly.

The 70-200mm lens pictured on the NEX-C3 here clearly dwarfs the camera body. In fairness it would dwarf any other compact system camera too, but whilst it’s admirable how small Sony have made this camera body there is a serious point here in that unless lens technology moves forward the benefits of a small body are somewhat undermined.

Whilst the above picture did make me laugh, it would be unfair to hold it against Sony for offering long E-mount lenses for the NEX series.

If you’re in the market for a slimline interchangeable lens camera then the NEX-C3 is an excellent choice, offering a level of image quality not usually seen in compact system cameras.

The silly bolt-on flash and slightly fiddly menus are a price you’ll have to pay for a camera this small, so if size isn’t your primary concern you might consider a traditional DSLR. That’s not to say enthusiasts should discount the NEX-C3, as it’s clearly a very capable camera.

The NEX-C3 is an interesting camera, as whilst the image sensor and picture quality appear to surpass that of both the NEX-3 and NEX-5, in many ways the C3 sits below the NEX-5 in terms of specs.  For starters the C3 is plastic bodied rather than magnesium, and whilst the older range-topper can record movies in Full HD this latest model can only manage 720p.

No doubt a replacement for the NEX-5, perhaps a NEX-C5, will be along before long to address the ambiguity in which camera is actually the best in the Sony NEX range.

Sony NEX-C3 Big Flash


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