The Sony Alpha NEX-3 is an interchangeable-lens camera with the sleek dimensions of a compact.

Like the Samsung NX100, Sony's Alpha NEX-3 boasts a 14.2Mp APS-C-sized sensor. Twinned with the dual lens kit we were sent - featuring both a 16mm f/2.8 fixed focal length pancake lens for those who want the most diminutive camera and lens combo, and a more all-encompassing 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom - this is a versatile starter package. For those who already own an Alpha DSLR or older Konica Minolta camera, the NEX-3 will also accept existing Alpha DSLR and older Konica Minolta lenses via a mount adaptor.

The one caveat is that, like Panasonic with its G-series models, Sony hasn't built anti-shake into the camera body, so it's worth attaching an image stabilised lens, such as the 18-55mm provided. The 16mm isn't stabilised, but as it's not a zoom this proves much less of an issue. However, with the zoom attached, the diminutive Sony Alpha NEX-3 becomes front-heavy. There's a handgrip to help hold the camera level and steady with zoom attached, but this being a compact camera, the grip is flattened rather than comfortably rounded.

The NEX-3 differs from the more expensive NEX-5 superficially; there's a plastic body rather than more rugged magnesium alloy shell, and it offers 1280x720 pixel resolution HD video clips in Mpeg4 format, rather than 1920x1080. Like the Olympus PEN E-PL2, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2, there's a one-touch video record button located top right of the backplate, but no built-in flash. This clips on to the camera via a top plate accessory port.

Pictures and video are composed via a wide angle ratio 3in, 921k-dot LCD screen at the back that can be angled up or down, but unfortunately not flipped out at right angles as on the DMC-GH2. Due to the aspect ratio, there's a choice of shooting JPEG or Raw files in 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratio rather than the more conventional 4:3.

Shooting with both lenses, we were able to gather an impressive degree of detail. We also got good results shooting up to ISO 3200.

Sony Alpha NEX-3: Specs

  • 14.2Mp APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 3in LCD screen
  • 16mm and 18-55mm lenses
  • wide-angle 16mm lens: f/2.8
  • 18-55mm zoom lens: f/3.5-5.6
  • shutter speed 1/4,000 - 30 seconds
  • sensor dust reduction
  • ISO 200-12800
  • 3x optical zoom
  • 10x digital zoom
  • USB
  • HDMI output
  • supports Memory Stick Duo, SD Memory Card, Memory Stick PRO Duo, SDXC Memory Card, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo HX, SDHC Memory Card, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo
  • 1,080mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • detachable flash
  • built-in microphone
  • 117x33x63mm
  • 239g
  • 14.2Mp APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 3in LCD screen
  • 16mm and 18-55mm lenses
  • wide-angle 16mm lens: f/2.8
  • 18-55mm zoom lens: f/3.5-5.6
  • shutter speed 1/4,000 - 30 seconds
  • sensor dust reduction
  • ISO 200-12800
  • 3x optical zoom
  • 10x digital zoom
  • USB
  • HDMI output
  • supports Memory Stick Duo, SD Memory Card, Memory Stick PRO Duo, SDXC Memory Card, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo HX, SDHC Memory Card, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo
  • 1,080mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • detachable flash
  • built-in microphone
  • 117x33x63mm
  • 239g

OUR VERDICT

The Sony Alpha NEX-3 is a good starter option, but both the second-generation Olympus PEN E-PL2 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 are more fully rounded packages.

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