The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 is a prime example of how the definition of entry-level camera has changed. Sure, it’s the smallest and most affordable model in the NEX line of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras but, like its siblings, the 16.2Mp Alpha NEX-C3 is no slouch when it comes to features. In fact, the camera offers many of its siblings’ strengths, such as a full complement of exposure modes, a built-in help guide, and a number of Sony specialty options - like Sweep Panorama - but with a lower price tag.

Bundled with an 18-55mm, f/3.5-5.6 lens (or a 16mm lens) and a tiny, detachable flash, the C3 is available in black, silver or pink. Sony, as well as third-party manufacturers offer a number of compatible lenses.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3: Design and operation

Although it's the smallest of Sony’s Alpha NEX series, the 109.6x60x33mm NEX-C3 is only a hair thinner than its nearest neighbour, the NEX-5N. It weighs about 225g. But the camera’s compact size and weight is somewhat negated when the 18-55mm lens is attached. The camera is fairly well balanced with this combination, but the lens adds some bulk and weight.

The Sony Alpha NEX-C3's high-resolution (921,600-pixel) 3in tiltable LCD offers flexibility when shooting and works well under all lighting conditions. There’s no built-in viewfinder, though. See Photo Advisor.

Since the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 doesn’t have a built-in flash, Sony bundles a small flash with the camera. It has a proprietary connection, which is a little difficult to attach. It’s good for illuminating subjects that are relatively close but don’t expect it to light up a room.

Operating the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 is menu-intensive, especially since external controls have been pared down to the basics. In addition to the playback button, shutter button, on/off switch, and dedicated movie button on the top deck, the camera is equipped with user programmable soft keys and a control wheel. The only three dedicated functions are menu, display, and exposure compensation.

The Sony Alpha NEX-C3's menu system can be confusing but each group, represented by an icon, shows a pop-up list of the settings that are available within. The menus are easier to navigate once you get used to where all the different features and functions are located on the camera. See Photo editor reviews.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3: Features and performance

The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 has most of the same features as the higher-end models - automatic, manual and semi-manual exposure controls, and a selection of scene modes, such as the standard portrait, landscape, sports and macro, as well as sunset and Handheld Twilight. The latter, which works fairly well, captures and combines a series of images to ensure a blur-free final image. Sweep Panorama is available in standard and 3D modes for effortlessly creating broad panoramas in-camera. Auto HDR/DRO (High Dynamic Range/Dynamic Range Optimization) and an excellent built-in shooting tips guide are a couple of other bonus features.

The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 offers a Special Effects shooting mode that offers some extra-easy creative options, including Toy Camera, Posterization (colour or black and white), Pop Color, Retro, High Key, High Contrast Monochrome, and a handful of Partial Color options (red, green, blue, yellow). For portraits, the camera also has a special Soft Skin Effect that softens skin and reduces blemishes so your subjects look their best.

An interesting - and useful - feature for DMF (direct manual focus, the ability to manually fine-tune the AF) and full manual focus is Peaking. In brief, peaking uses a coloured edge to outline what's in focus so you can make more accurate adjustments.

The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 offers only Mpeg4 video at 720p (fine and standard), which is disappointing. For Web and email, there’s a VGA option, too. The good news is that Mpeg4 video is much more user accessible and editable than the more common AVCHD.

Performance is quite good with fast start-up, minimal shutter lag, and fast shot-to-shot times. Autofocus, at least in still images, is responsive in bright and low light. Continuous shooting at full resolution isn’t anything special at 2.5fps. The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 also has a 5.5fps high-speed option, although it locks exposure and focus at the first frame.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3: Image quality

Image quality is above-average, with nicely saturated colours and accurate exposures across the board. Sharpness is also very good and, although at wide-angle, the 18-55mm lens shows some distortion, the Sony Alpha NEX-C3's kit lens generally delivered crisply focused and well-detailed images.

Although the Sony Alpha NEX-C3’s sensor offers a jump of a couple of megapixels from its predecessor, the NEX-3, the physically larger sensor can handle the extra pixels even at higher ISOs. Users can shoot comfortably up to about ISO 800 for the best results, but images captured at ISO 1,600 and even 3,200 aren’t bad.

The Sony Alpha NEX-C3’s video quality is pretty good for 720p, especially in good light, although clips are probably best viewed on smaller screens. However, autofocus isn’t the fastest (or consistently accurate), but colour rendition is realistic and friends and family will be happy watching your movies.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3: Specs

  • 16.2Mp Exmor APS-C HD CMOS sensor
  • 18-55mm zoom lens
  • 4912x3264 maximum resolution
  • 3in tilt-angle TruBlack LCD
  • E-mount interchangeable-lens system
  • Jpeg/Raw+Jpeg
  • 720p Mpeg4 video recording
  • 5.5fps burst mode
  • 3D Sweep Panorama
  • Photo Creativity interface
  • ISO 200 to 12,800
  • anti-dust system
  • 25-point autofocus
  • 1/4,000 secs shutter speed
  • Live View
  • HDMI
  • USB 2.0
  • 400-shot battery life
  • 109.6x60x33mm
  • 225g
  • 16.2Mp Exmor APS-C HD CMOS sensor
  • 18-55mm zoom lens
  • 4912x3264 maximum resolution
  • 3in tilt-angle TruBlack LCD
  • E-mount interchangeable-lens system
  • Jpeg/Raw+Jpeg
  • 720p Mpeg4 video recording
  • 5.5fps burst mode
  • 3D Sweep Panorama
  • Photo Creativity interface
  • ISO 200 to 12,800
  • anti-dust system
  • 25-point autofocus
  • 1/4,000 secs shutter speed
  • Live View
  • HDMI
  • USB 2.0
  • 400-shot battery life
  • 109.6x60x33mm
  • 225g

OUR VERDICT

The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 is a solid option for photographers who want a compact interchangeable-lens camera with a good feature set and above average-image quality. It has most of the same features as the higher-end NEX cameras, so you'll get good value for your money.

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