Review: Sony NEX-3N

Sony's NEX-3N is a 'hybrid' digital camera: an interchangeable-lens camera with the size, design and ease-of-use you'd expect from a compact.

NameHybrid Digital Camera: Sony NEX-3N
At a glance:Light weight and compact form factor,Lovely images from the big sensor,Simple yet effective controls
Summary:This is a lot of camera for the money. It’s quite advanced yet simple to operate and the images are gorgeous.
RRP:$899 (single lens)

At first glance, Sony’s NEX-3N seemed to be missing something. After a few moments, I registered that compared to the other cameras we tested in our April 2013 roundup, the NEX-3N is light on external controls. This is a deliberate choice on Sony’s part – when it comes to user friendliness, less is often more.

To assist users transitioning from a point and shoot camera, the NEX-3N has a familiar control layout, right down to the zoom toggle in front of the shutter button. Any missing controls are replaced by the clean and colourful menu system, and there’s still a full rear dial and a few buttons, so functionality isn’t compromised.

From a size perspective, the NEX-3N’s body is the smallest and lightest in the group (and in its class according to Sony) but because there’s a big APS-C sensor in there, the lenses and mount are large, so the overall package size is about the same as the Canon G1X or the Panasonic GX1.

The review unit was fitted with Sony’s chunky, image stabilised 16-50mm F3.5- 5.6 OSS Power Zoom lens. This lens has a small zoom lever on the side, but the front ring also acts as a high-speed zoom control, much like the zoom ring on a DSLR lens. For a small-bodied camera, the NEX-3N is still comfortable to hold, thanks to the decent size handgrip. The tilting 460,000-dot, 3-inch LCD is much like the rest of its type, but this one tilts through 180 degrees, magically becoming a self-portrait screen, complete with a three second delay and automatic capture of both portrait and landscape images on the same shot.

The overall responses are good, with only the occasional bit of hunting back and forth from the autofocus system. However, start up speed is the NEX-3N’s weak spot – it’s not painfully slow, but by the time the lens has extended itself and the camera is ready, the Nikon D3200 or Panasonic DMC-GX1 will have long been shooting.

Despite the simplified layout, this camera is remarkably easy to use in manual mode, thanks to the cunning arrangement of the manual controls.

With that large sensor carrying only 16.1MP, the NEX-3N has the lowest pixel density on the test, which allows it to produce crisp, noise-free photos that’ll impress far and wide. They’re not as defined as the Nikon at low ISO settings, but there’s a cinematic quality to the Sony’s images that I really liked, with deep colours, softly blurred backgrounds and beautifully defined edges that seem totally unaffected by softening unless I used silly ISO levels.

The NEX-3N’s video output, while respectable, isn’t quite as impressive as its sterling still images but it’s still up with the rest of the group. Sonically, there’s more zoom noise from the power zoom lens than expected, and the microphones aren’t that adept at picking up quiet sounds.

As the cheapest, smallest and simplest camera in the test, Sony’s NEX-3N is the least intimidating of the bunch, and that will win it some admirers. The superb images and user-friendliness should win over the rest.

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Ashley Kramer

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