The Sony NEX-3 differs from the pricier NEX-5 in the fact that not only is it slightly larger - 25.4mm in depth as opposed to 24.2mm for example - and sports a plastic body to its sibling's magnesium alloy build, but also in features, offering up 1280x720p MPEG-4 format video clips to its siblings' Full HD 1920x1080i in AVCHD format.
Like the Olympus Pen E-P1 and EP2, neither Sony model features a built-in flash nor optical viewfinder, though like its Olympus CSC rivals both attach via an accessory port (here a 'smart accessory terminal' rather than a standard hotshoe) as does an optional stereo microphone, though the body integral microphones also offer stereo sound. The flash is provided out of the box, a viewfinder isn't. The accessory port on the Sony, rather than being located above the LCD as on the Panasonic G-series and Olympus Pens, is instead hidden under a plastic-y top plate flap where you feel (and hope) on initial inspection that a pop-up flash might otherwise lie hiding. A one-touch video record button features top right of the backplate where it falls readily under the thumb as the camera is gripped in the palm of the right hand.
Either with or without lens, the NEX series is slightly odd looking, a bit 'basic' even, though the build is of the usual Sony high standard so it doesn't feel like the NEX-3 will disintegrate without tender loving care. It resembles a prototype that's been fast tracked to the shelves of your local camera emporium; its no-nonsense utilitarian appearance matched only by Ricoh's GXR modular system in that respect. Placed next to it, the Panasonic GF and Olympus Pen series certainly look both more appealing and more obviously camera like. One area where this is felt acutely is the hand grip, which although finished in an easy-grip rough texture, is flat and fairly unsupportive, making one handed operation difficult.
For those who want to get creative with their framing and compositional angles Sony has a slight advantage over the aforementioned models in that it features a tilting 3-inch LCD screen at the back. It can only be angled up or down however, and only a small amount as well. It cannot be flipped out at 90Â° to the body, nor turned to face in to face the body when inactive for added protection, as on the likes of Canon's PowerShot G12 or Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 for example. Though preferable to a completely fixed screen, it's a little stiff and inflexible so leaves plenty of room for improvement on future models.
Mirroring the wide angle aspect ratio of the back screen, the Sony shoots JPEG or Raw stills in a choice of 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratios rather than the standard digital camera 4:3, so, in comparison, you end up with a slightly elongated image. Its maker suggests the LCD's TruBlack technology allows for easier viewing in all shooting conditions and certainly, when we were using the NEX-3 outdoors with the sun almost directly overhead, we didn't experience visibility problems. We didn't get a chance to try the, FDA-SV1, viewfinder option, but considering it costs around Â£140 we don't think many people will even consider it, no matter its merits.
Although there's mini HDMI output via a port on the slide and USB 2.0 connectivity also, Sony has omitted standard AV output alongside it, obviously hoping its customers don't use such archaic technologies. Another nod to modernism comes courtesy the 3D Sweep Panorama mode, which you will only be able to watch in its full stereoscopic 3D glory on a 3D TV.