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Verdict & ratings
|The Sony NEX-3 sells for £399 with the 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens and £439 with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom.|
In case you have not noticed, there is a new breed of camera about. The compact system camera, or mirrorless DSLR, or electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens (EVIL) is big news with cameras such as the Panasonic G-series, Samsung NX10 and Olympus PEN series doing very well in the shops. Their ranks were swelled recently by Sony's two NEX cameras, the NEX-3 and the NEX-5. It is the NEX-3 that we try out here.
The attractions of this type of camera depends on the user's background. If you are a compact camera user, a system camera gives the option of interchangeable lenses while the use of a larger sensor means that you get excellent noise performance at higher ISO settings Most compacts are okay at ISO 400 but not that great beyond.
To the exisiting true interchangeable lens DSLR user, the system camera gives the same sort of quality level and usability that they are used to but in a much more compact form. It means now that if the experienced photographer wants a high quality but portable camera, they have the option of a system camera rather than a top-end compact like the Canon G11.
Sony NEX-3: Features
There is so much, it is difficult to know where to start, but I reckon the 14.2-megapixel sensor is probably top of the list. It is an Exmor APS-C-sized HD sensor measuring 23.4x15.6mm so it is much larger than a typical compact camera sensor. The benefits are excellent noise performance at high ISO settings and the brilliant capture of fine detail - just like a typical modern DSLR. By the way, the ISO tops out at an impressive 12,800, so comparable to the pro level Nikon D3S and Canon EOS 1D mk IV DSLRs.
The large sensor also enables the shooting of detail-rich video footage too. While I know many photographers have no use for movie modes in their cameras, but I also know many who are discovering and enjoying its usefuless. The top model, the NEX-5, gives full HD resolution (1920x1080i) and stereo sound, but the NEX-3 tested here shoots lower resolution 720p video as MPEG4 files that are suitable for web use.
One feature that is sure to appeal to scenic photographers is the innovative sweep panorama mode. Originally, this technology was first seen on Sony's latest H-series Cyber-shot compacts and in these cameras the final panorama image was sourced from video footage. This meant that while panoramas were easy to produce, the resolution was not that wonderful. In the NEX-series the sweep panorama mode is much more useful to experienced photographers.
Sony NEX-3: Performance
The Sony NEX-3 handled a very wide of lighting situations very well with little help from me. I just pointed and shot for the vast majority of the time, good exposures were delivered. I used progam and aperture-priority most of the time, but also dabbled with manual.
With such rapid advances in digital sensor performance it is very easy to get very blase about ISO sensivity and the freedom that usuable high speeds bring.
The NEX-3 has selectable ISO speeds from ISO 200 to 12,800 in full EV steps. By the way, the 12,800 speed is quoted as a true ISO, not an H+ setting or similar. To be honest, the image quality at that speed is poor with plenty of noise and weak colour satuation. It is quite impressive, though, in that detail is recorded well even at this extreme speed. If needs must, then this speed is perfectly usable.
Obviously, going to slower ISO speeds yields better quality but you do not have to go down too far to get impressive images. I think ISO 800 and ISO 1600 are perfectly good enough in terms of digital noise and even colour saturation is good. Of course, the images do have a roughness but that can look fine with the right subject.
In sum, for critical applications stick with ISO 200 and 400 but do not worry too much if you have to venture into the higher ISO speeds because the NEX-3's noise levels are acceptable to most people.
|Sony NEX-3 ISO studio comparison test: click on the ISO values below to view high resolution images|
|ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1600|
|ISO 3200||ISO 6400|
Sweep panorama mode
This mode first appeared on the top models in Sony Cyber-shot H-series and has been heavily advertised on the television. On the HX-5 and H-55, the sweep panorama mode works by extracting a still image from video footage. Because of this, the resulting panoramas are not outstanding quality but it is easy to use. More importantly, though, it works and will encourage non-photographers to explore the world in panorama mode.
On the NEX series, the sweep panorama mode works by shooting a number of high resolution still images. This means you have to be more accurate with the sweep but the image quality is much better than the equivalent mode in the Cyber-shot cameras.
Set the sweep mode by selecting it in the Shoot Mode menu first, and then enter the Camera menu to pick which way you want to sweep. It seems odd you choose sweep mode first, then the camera exits the menu system and you have to re-enter the system to choose sweep direction. Surely, you want to do both at the same time. It is a minor handling niggle and the menu system could be more user-friendly.
With the sweep mode set, do a dry run of your panorama to make sure you include what you want to include - that said, it is still easily possible not to get the crop you want. Press the shutter button once and the camera shoots away. I counted between 20-26 individual shots during sweeps. There is a guide on the monitor to give you an idea of progress. A few seconds later the finished panorama is on show. In my test, I got good complete panoramas many times, but often I did have to try several times to get one I was totally happy with. I am sure it becomes easier with practice.
One thing to take care of is exposure. Sweep from a dark area into a brighter area and you will get overexposure, and vice versa. Just use the exposure compensation feature to adjust exposure so that the most important part of the scene is accurately exposed.
|The NEX-3's sweep mode is not infallible so you may have to try several times - and watch exposure too. I tried sweeping this scene upwards and downwards. The best attempt (bottom right) was done by sweeping downwards.|
|Sweep panorama mode test: click on the thumbnail to view high resolution image|
|Get the sweep right and you can produce lovely images that are high resolution enough for top quality prints.|
The NEX-3 has single-frame advance and two continuous shooting modes. Normal continuous advance shooting mode gives about three frames-per-second
In JPEG format, with the Lexar 4GB 133x card I used, you can shoot in continuous mode until the card is full. In Raw, you get 10 consecutive frames before the camera buffers and if you keep your finger on the shutter release, the camera continues shooting at about one fps. In simultaneous Raw plus JPEG mode, you get eight shots before the camera slows down.
Should you want a faster shooting rate set Speed Priority Continuous mode. In this mode, you get a burst of six or seven frames in a second, in both Raw and Raw plus JPEG, before the camera buffers. In Fine JPEG only, the camera can continue at seven fps until the card is full.
In sum, there is no problem with this camera if you want to tackle fast-moving action, although you will be better off shooting in JPEG quality mode if you want to lots of pictures.
The NEX-3 has a fast, silent AF system. I left the camera in its multi-zone AF system for this test and it did a great job and face detection was accurate too. The other two AF sensor options are centre and flexible spot.
In terms of actual AF operation, there is AF and manual focusing but there is an extra mode called DMF. This is autofocus but you have the option of manually tweaking focus should you want to. If you find that the camera cannot quite get accurate AF, manually rotate the focusing barrel to help and a section of the scene is enlarged on the monitor to make very precise adjustments very easy.
Generally, I found the system sure-footed and responsive, so no problems here.
Sony NEX-3 Handling
Generally, the NEX-3's handling is sound but not outstanding, especially with the 18-55mm zoom fitted when the combination become a lens with a camera fitted and it is no longer pocketable. With the panacke lens attached, you can just about slip it into a spacious pocket.
The pancake lens is lovely and combines well with the NEX-3 in terms of balance, size and weight. The combination is not compact size but it is a lightweight enough to be carried around all day without being exhausting. Add the 18-55mm zoom and in terms of handling the combination becomes more of a lens with a camera attached. The camera is front heavy and it does means that you left hand needs to lend the camera some support to ensure sharp images.
My biggest beef is with the menu system. The first thing I did was turn off the Help Guide Display that gives a line of explanation for each feature. I appreciate many people will enjoy its help whereas I thought it just got in the way.
|Click on the thumbnails to view high resolution images|
|The menu system looks pretty (and you can change the colour) and it is informative but usability could be better.|
I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time exploring the menu items. In the Setup menu I counted 35 options as you scroll down. Admittedly, many of those items are rarely visited but even Format - a feature I use every time I put in a card - was the 29th item down. There is no quick way of accessing Format, for example, so each time you have to scroll through a load of options. Not only that, but each time you exit a menu, when you go back into it again you have to start from the top. I just did not find it user-friendly, though it should be said that few people will want to shoot at every ISO setting or at every white-balance setting.
On a point of asethetics, the silver lens on a black body, as pictured in this review, looks really cool. The silver lens on a silver colour might be too much. but that is just my opinion. Other body colour options are available: silver and red as well as black.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Sony NEX-3.
Sony NEX-3: Verdict and ratings
The Sony NEX-3 is a fine camera capable of lovely results. It is good with digital noise, the exposure system is reliable in most situations and the sweep panorama mode is excellent - I loved playing with that even if it did not always do a perfect job. My personal gripe is just with the menu system which could be improved to make changing settings and experimenting more pleasureable.
All in all, the NEX-3 is a very welcome addition to the ranks of the compact system camera and it is sure to find many fans.
|Sony NEX-3: Pros|
|Sweep panorama mode|
|18-55 lens allows excellent grip|
|Sony NEX-3: Cons|
|Lens release button could be more accessible|
|Menu system could be much better|
|Some aspects of handling|
Sony NEX-3: Specifications
|Price (inc. 18-55mm)||£399 with 16mm f/2.8 lens. £439 with 18-55mm zoom lens|
|Sensor size||23.4x15.6mm APS-C|
|Sensor type||APS HD CMOS|
|Max. Image size||4592x3056|
|Aspect ratio||3:2, 16:9|
|Focusing system||Contrast detection AF|
|Focus type||Multi, centre, flexible spot|
|Crop factor||1.5x, 18-55mm is an effective 27-83mm in 35mm format|
|Lens mount||Sony E mount|
|File types||Raw, JPEG|
|Metering system||49-zone metering|
|Metering types||Multi, centre, spot|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments|
|Shutter speed range||30sec - 1/4000sec & bulb|
|Flash sync speed||1/160sec|
|Image stabilisation||Lens based|
|Monitor||3in Xtra fine 921,000 dots|
|Media type||MemoryStick, SD, SDHC, SDXC|
|Power||Li-Ion battery NP-FW50|
|Weight||493g inc 18-55m lens battery and cardm, 300g body only|
The Sony NEX-3 and 18-55mm lens costs £439 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony NEX-3 & 18-55mm lens
The Sony NEX-3 and 16mm lens costs £399 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony NEX-3 & 16mm lens
The Sony NEX-3 and 16mm lens and 18-55mm costs £519 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony NEX-3, 16mm lens and 18-55mm lenses
Prices for the new NEX-3 and NEX-5 have been confirmed with the NEX-5 and 18-55mm lens comes out at £589 while the younger brother NEX-3 is £100 less at £489 with the same lens. If you decided to opt for the rather lovely 16mm pancake lens instead, the price is £40 less. These prices are very competitive and should guarantee a promising start for the new system.
ePHOTOzine joined Sony and other journalists for the launch of the Sony NEX range including the NEX-5 pictured left fitted with the 16mm pancake lens and the 18-55mm lens next to it.
It seems that everyone wants a piece of the cake that is the small/micro/hybrid style market and Sony are the next to grab a slice. The NEX-3 & NEX-5 are two ultra small digital compact bodies with an APS-C sensor and interchangeable lenses.
Aimed at challenging the Micro Four Thirds popularity, when Sony launched the camera officially, ePHOTOzine were there to see one of the most talked about unveilings of the year.
Sony NEX-5 & NEX-3: Features
With a 14.2Mp EXMOR CMOS sensor, the image quality is promising to be the same as an Alpha DSLR but while Sony want the camera to perform in the same way, they don't want it to be categorised as such. In fact, they're trying to distance the NEX range from Alpha in subtle ways so that consumers don't get worried that they'll be overwhelmed with jargon.
I had a day with the NEX-5 and tried to test as many functions and features as I could. Despite being a pre-production model, the results are promising. It's easy-to-use but that's another category that Sony don't want the NEX range labelled with. Paul Genge, Sony Product Manager for Sony UK said: “the NEX range are easy-to-use, but we want people to look at them as being accessible more than easy.” That's why there's minimal buttons on the back of the unit and hardly any writing. It's also the reason behind the new defocus mode which you can use when you're in the new intelligent auto mode. Well, it's not new to Sony but the NEX range are the first Alpha models to feature the mode.
The Sony certainly keeps up its promise of being the smallest system camera available.
Depth is roughly the same but width is a little less than the Olympus. The lenses are much bigger though.
Defocus works by showing a small curved dial that will alter as you spin the wheel on the back. The display says “crisp” or “defocus” and simply alters the aperture to throw the background out which is great for macro or portraits. It's designed to be easier to understand the concept of apertures but does this mean that there's a possibility that with features such as this that photography is at the risk of being "dumbed down"? Not so, says Toru Katsumoto, Senior General Manager Imaging Division 3. "That kind of argument always happens" he said. "Look at autofocus and manual focus, anti-shake and no anti-shake. Everynody was saying that manual focusshould be the artistic way to take photographs but today everybody uses it. Technology is always chasing the best way of shooting pictures and of course even with this camera, you can still do it the same way as a DSLR so the people who like to study that kind of thing can study."
With the amount of DSLR features available on the camera, it's difficult to remember that it's geared more towards the consumer with a current digital compact who's looking to upgrade but doesn't know any lingo such as apertures and depth-of-field but they want the versatility and image quality.
Sony NEX-5 & NEX-3: Performance
Picture quality from the Sony is excellent thanks to the large APS-C sensor, the pictures that I got are full of detail and rich in colour. I found that the flash has a tendency to over expose and I had to constantly work with it at around one stop under to get balanced results. It's worth bearing in mind that the cameras we got to play with were pre-production and so the flash issue could be resolved but it's worth looking for and Sony are happy enough for me to allow large images for download.
Noise is handled extremely well by the NEX-5 which is what the larger sensor is all about. Even at ISO12800, salt & pepper noise is present as are the purple and green blobs but they're being well controlled and shouldn't pose much of a problem. As the settings get lower, Sony noise reduction keeps the problems at bay. It's at ISO1600 that noise begins being an issue but I'd be happy to shoot at ISO1600 and I hate noisy photographs.
|Sony NEX-5 Noise test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
Below is a selection of images taken on the Sony NEX-5. There are so many modes and options, it will keep you busy for a while. To help you along, the NEX range has a built-in shooting tips guide which is accessed by pressing the bottom button. While this is a decent idea and aids newcomers to photography to increase their understanding and skill levels, once it's been used, the button is then obsolete. It would be a good idea for Sony to make this button more like a programmable function button that can have its dedication changed in the main menu. Then a dedicated ISO button would be available which is really the only problem I can see with the camera at the moment.
Sony NEX-5 & NEX-3: Summary
Sony are really showing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. The DSLRs they make produce good results and I'm impressed with the NEX cameras from the testing I managed to do at the press launch. It needs closer inspection in controlled lighting and sunnier conditions but from what I've seen so far, it looks pretty good.
The price is great and looking at comparable models such as the Panasonic GF1 which was £749 when it first came out and the Olympus E-P2 which was £899, the Sony NEX-5 is brilliantly priced.
|Sony NEX-5 & NEX-3: Pros|
|Sony NEX-5 & NEX-3: Cons|
|Over-exposure on automatic flash|
|Lack of dedicated button for ISO or White-balance|
|Shooting tips dedicated button will be obsolete once it's been read|
Sony NEX-5 & NEX-3: Specifications
|Sony NEX-5||Sony NEX-3|
|Price (inc. 18-55mm)||£589||£489|
|Sensor size||23.4x15.6mm APS-C||23.4x15.6mm APS-C|
|Sensor type||APS HD CMOS||APS HD CMOS|
|Max. Image size||4592x3056||4592x3056|
|Aspect ratio||3:2, 16:9||3:2, 16:9|
|Focusing system||Contrast detection AF||Contrast detection AF|
|Focus type||Multi, centre, flexible spot||Multi, centre, flexible spot|
|Lens mount||Sony E mount||Sony E mount|
|File types||Raw, JPEG||Raw, JPEG|
|Metering system||49-zone metering||49-zone metering|
|Metering types||Multi, centre, spot||Multi, centre, spot|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments||+/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments|
|Shutter speed range||30sec - 1/4000sec & bulb||30sec - 1/4000sec & bulb|
|Frames-per-second||7fps max||7fps max|
|Flash sync speed||1/160sec||1/160sec|
|Image stabilisation||Lens based||Lens based|
|Viewfinder||Optional optical||Optional optical|
|Monitor||3in TFT Xtra fine 921,000 dots||3in Xtra fine 921,000 dots|
|Media type||MemoryStick, SD, SDHC, SDXC||MemoryStick, SD, SDHC, SDXC|
|Interface||USB 2.0||USB 2.0|
|Power||Li-Ion battery NP-FW50||Li-Ion battery NP-FW50|
|Weight||287g inc battery and card||297g inc battery and card|
The Sony NEX-5 and 18-55mm lens costs £589 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony NEX-5 & 18-55mm lens
The Sony NEX-5 and 16mm lens costs £549 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony NEX-5 & 16mm lens
The Sony NEX-3 and 18-55mm lens costs £489 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony NEX-3 & 18-55mm lens
The Sony NEX-3 and 16mm lens costs £449 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Sony NEX-3 & 16mm lens