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Sony Alpha NEX 3N review

Sabyasachi Biswas June 12 | Updated on June 11, 2013

Sony NEX 3N review

Sony NEX 3N review - The NEX 3N offers a screen that flips up vertically, but has no touchscreen capabilty.

Sony NEX 3N review - The kit lens offers good depth, but taking macros is difficult as the minimum focusing distance is a bit too much.

Sony NEX 3N review - The NEX 3N offers brilliant colour reproduction, and also keeps noise at bay even at ISO 1600

The sub-30k price bracket has a lot to offer from advanced point-and-shoots to entry-level DSLRs. But what makes a compact-system-camera like the NEX 3N stand out from the rest?

For someone upgrading from a basic point-and-shoot to any advanced camera, the sub-30k price range is always an attractive one. But what it also brings along is a lot of confusion. This price bracket offers a few entry-level DSLRs, some very advanced point-and-shoot cameras, and this compact-system-camera (CSC), Sony Alpha NEX 3N.

And yes, this got us curious enough to pick it up and see for ourselves why anyone should pick this petite cam over any of the bigger DSLRs and those powerful point-and-shoots.

Design and build

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the NEX 3N is sized just right to fit your hand. At 4.3-inches wide, 2.4-inches tall and 1.4-inches thick, its body is built to be around the same size as any regular compact point-and-shoot. It’s only when you slap on a lens to the E-mount you realise that this is much more than that.

Although the NEX 3N is an update of the old NEX 3, it feels much better to hold. In spite of its compact form factor, Sony has thrown in a small rubberised right-hand grip. It isn’t much in size, but definitely adds to a very confident grip.

On the back, buttons have been kept to a minimum, and there’s just one scroll-wheel-and-button array and two more buttons. These two additional buttons come without any markings as they are multi-functional, and their functions show up according to the mode selected. On the top panel, you get the power toggle, the zoom toggle and the playback, flash pop-up and record buttons.

What came across as a bit weird was the decision to house the memory card slot under the same flap as the USB and HDMI connectors, instead of being bunched along with the battery. The problem is that the flap which covers the card slot is a flimsy one. It is far from being adequately sealed and flips open very easily. Chances of dust getting in the card bay are high.

Monitor

Because of its compact size, the NEX 3N comes with just a viewfinder. Laid out in a 16:9 aspect ratio (we loved this aspect ratio while shooting videos), this screen can flip up to 180 degrees. Of course, we love a screen than can also flip outwards and sideways, but this isn’t too bad either.

But the camera’s resolution level is a bummer. While the NEX 3 had a brilliant 920k-dots resolution, this one is halved down to 460k. While colour reproduction is good enough, it gets very grainy in indoor lighting conditions and we missed the sharpness in images during playback.

And the flip out screen does come with a trick – once it’s flipped fully up, a 3-second timer is automatically activated, which, for reasons best known to the engineers who made this, cannot be turned off. While taking self-shots with a few friends, it was a bit awkward to keep holding a funny face for 3 whole seconds.

Specs and performance

The NEX 3N comes with an APS-C 23.5 x 15.6mm sensor that trumps all the advanced point-and-shoots. This “Exmor” APS HD sensor comes with a resolution of 16.1 million pixels. The shutter offers a very versatile shooting rate for a camera of this size – 1/4000 sec to 30 seconds and Bulb mode if you want. What we really didn’t like is a low continuous shooting rate of just 4 fps – Sony could’ve done a bit better.

For sensitivity, the NEX 3N offers ISO up to 16000 (though it is limited up to 3200 in Auto modes). And the noise performance startled us – even at ISO 1600, where many other CSCs and advanced point-and-shoots become very grainy, the NEX 3N remained practically noise free. Only at ISO 3200 and above did the images start getting grainy.

The sensor reproduces colours very efficiently, in all the modes, and while some low light images did lack sharpness, they retained enough character to pass up as good pictures on the big screen.

The AF is quite fast and responsive, though we would have loved to have a bit more control over manual focusing. A touch-screen would’ve been so much better. The kit 16-50 lens is the same hybrid one that we saw on the NEX 6, and lacks decent macro functionality. But the camera has a zoom toggle that makes one-handed functionality also easy.

Getting around the camera modes is also very simple. It takes some getting used to, but once we got the hang of it, we were clicking in all possible modes and getting the right settings quite fast. Not as quickly as in a DSLR, but not as slow as a point-and-shoot as well. We did miss the presence of a few fun filters.

We say

The big APS-C sensor on the NEX 3N produces images on par with all the entry-level DSLRs, and the low light performance is way better than any advanced point-and-shoot around. The controls and modes too are designed in such a way that you can quickly gain manual creative control over your images. It’s not a DSLR, but it is as good as one. If you are looking for a camera in the sub-30k range and also want a compact form factor, but want the flexibility to work with many lenses, the NEX 3N is your thing.

Rs 29,999

Love – Image quality, noise suppression

Hate – Average monitor, no filters

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

Published on June 11, 2013

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