The NEX-C3 follows much the same design cues as its predecessor, but is noticeably smaller and with a less pronounced finger grip. Indeed, overall the NEX-C3 is fractionally smaller than all of its main miniaturised mirrorless rivals: the Panasonic Lumix GF3 (c£430), Olympus E-PL3 (c.£520) and Samsung NX100 (c.£350).
With the 16mm f/2.8 lens attached the NEX-C3 is perfectly jacket-pocket friendly and also quite discreet, making it ideal for street photography where a big camera can often cause unwanted attention. With the brushed aluminium 16mm lens matching the camera’s lens mount, we think the whole package looks rather stylish too, in a kind of future-minimalist kind of way.
With the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom attached however, the overall package feels a bit lopsided and lens-heavy. Pocketability flies out of the window too, meaning you’re going to need a dedicated carry-pouch or bag if you want to carry it around with you all day. Weighing in at 478 grams with the 18-55mm attached, 350 grams with the 16mm attached or 225 grams body only (inc. battery and card), it isn’t particularly heavy, indeed it’s lighter than any of the rival models named above.
One area where Sony does appear to have missed a trick, is in its failure to fully redesign the NEX-C3’s menu system. One criticism we had with the NEX-3 was its unintuitive menu layout, whereby some regularly-accessed settings, for example ISO, are listed under different sub-menus from other, equally popular, settings such as AF mode. Sadly, Sony has stuck with pretty much the same system for the NEX-C3, and as such ISO remains in the Brightness/Colour sub-menu rather than in the Camera sub-menu where it would undoubtedly fit better.
The back of the NEX-3 is kitted out with exactly the same 3in, 921k-dirt TruBlack monitor that was found on the NEX-3. One small gripe we have with this is that because it offers a 19:9 aspect rather than the sensor’s default 3:2, the live feed displays smaller than it would be had the monitor’s aspect directly matched that of the sensor. It seems that the push to make the NEX-C3 as small as possible has directly compromised the size of the monitor. On the plus side, it still tilts up by 80 degrees and down by 45 degrees, making it much easier to shoot from the hip or from overhead.Thankfully, Sony has decided to leave the left and right buttons on the directional-pad blank. On the old model these were assigned to Flash (left) and Drive mode (right) with the accompanying illustration for each printed onto the camera. The NEX-C3, however, allows you to assign these buttons to what you like, with a wide range of choices available. Up still toggles through Display options while Down accesses the EV Compensation function. This element of customisation is a nice touch, and something we wish we saw more often on digital cameras from all manufacturers.
Elsewhere, the configuration of rotating wheel/directional-pad, centre button and two function buttons remains the same as it was on the NEX-3, even though the two function buttons are now elongated rather than circular. Another similarly minor cosmetic change is the placement of the stereo microphones on the front of the camera rather than the top.
We don’t mind admitting that we’re also slightly disappointed that the new model doesn’t house a pop-up flash. While we’re sympathetic to the design challenges caused by trying to cram everything in such a diminutive body, the supplied flash attachment is a somewhat awkward solution that remains fiddly to attach. Even when it is screwed into place it still doesn’t feel particularly robust, and the little plastic cover could all too easily be snapped off.
In terms of performance, the NEX-C3 is virtually identical to its predecessor. Start-up time is around the two-second mark, which although not as fast as a DSLR, it should be sufficient for most purposes. Thanks to the increase in resolution, continuous shooting speed does take a bit of a knock, with the NEX-C3 managing a top burst rate of 5.5fps, which it can maintain for approximately 14 full-res JPEGs before slowing down. Recording in Raw, or indeed in Raw and JPEG simultaneously this drops to about six frames.
This being a Sony camera, it’s no surprise to discover that the 25-point contrast-detect Autofocus module is super speedy, locking focus almost instantaneously in good light and only really showing any significant signs of slowdown when light levels are especially low. Beyond this, an AF Assist light on the front of the body is able to help out.
Battery performance is much improved from the NEX-3, with the new model we were able to shoot well over 400 images on a single charge. We also like how the NEX-C3 displays remaining battery power as a percentage, rather than just a graphic.