Six months is a long time in the world of digital cameras. Indeed, it’s almost exactly six months to the day since we reviewed the Sony NEX-C3’s predecessor, the NEX-3. The NEX-3 was originally released alongside the NEX-5 in the summer of 2010 as a stripped back, slightly cheaper option of the flagship model. However, at the start of the year, barely eight months into its shelf-life Sony announced that it was discontinuing it before confirming its successor a few months later.
While our review of the NEX-5 awarded the flagship model a near perfect 9/10 (along with a coveted TR Awards 2010 – Overall Winner award) its lesser-featured sibling fell a bit short at 8/10. The chief flaws we identified in our review of the NEX-3 included an unfamiliar control button layout, an awkward menu system, a lack of 1080p Full HD movie recording abilities, and no built-in flash or viewfinder.
The new model does address some of these concerns and even adds a number of new features into the mix, including a range of digital filter effects. However it also sticks with quite a lot of what was found on the previous model, including a maximum movie recording setting of just 720p. Compared to the year-old NEX-5, the new NEX-C3 is still very much the junior partner, aimed more at casual photographers than enthusiasts.
Undoubtedly, the biggest change from the old model to the new one is the sensor. While the NEX-3 came with a 14.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS sensor, the NEX-C3 gets an all-new 16.2MP version that is based, at least in part, on the sensor that was used inside the Sony A55 SLT, which in turn was also used in both the Nikon D7000 and Pentax K-5 to such good effect.
As with its predecessor the NEX-C3 records in the sensor’s native 3:2 aspect, although you can also choose to shoot in 16:9. There are no 1:1 or 4:3 options though. Maximum output at the full resolution jumps to 4912 x 3264 pixels, which is plenty big enough for poster-sized prints.
Shooting mode options remain exactly the same as before, with the regular quartet of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and fully Manual modes all to hand. For those who’d rather let the camera do all the work there’s a fully automatic Intelligent Auto mode, along with eight individual Scene modes.
The Intelligent Auto mode has seen a bit of an overhaul and now comes with the addition of Photo Creativity options. While the camera remains fully automatic, these grant some control over saturation, brightness, colour temperature, skin tone and even depth-of-field using a simplified interface that shows the results in real-time on the LCD monitor. These can be layered on top of each other and it’s also possible to access the 11 Picture Effect digital filters (see below) from here. Point and shoot photographers who are reliant on Intelligent Auto mode will doubtless find the newly installed Photo Creativity options a real bonus and enjoy the extra creative freedom they offer.
As with the previous model the NEX-C3 offers Sony’s excellent Sweep Panorama mode, although we have to confess to being slightly disappointed that there’s no option to record these in high-resolution. Given that the option is present in some other recent Sony compacts with 1/2.3in sensors (we’re thinking specifically of the Sony HX9V here), we would have liked to have seen it here.
Along with the usual array of Creative Styles (colour profiles), Dynamic Range Optimisation and Automatic HDR options, all of which can be tweaked as you see fit, the NEX-C3 further benefits from a choice of 11 Picture Effect digital effects that include Toy Camera, Posterization, Pop Colour, Retro, and Partial Colour effects. Unlike the vast majority of digital cameras that offer digital effects, there’s no Miniaturisation option though.
Last but not least, the video capabilities of the NEX-C3 remain exactly as they were before, with 1080 x 720p at 30fps High-Definition being the top setting. At the highest settings movies are stored in the AVCHD format, with options to record lower-quality movies as MP4 files. Sound is recorded in stereo by default, and there’s no external microphone port.