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Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review

Joshua Waller reviews the new Sony Alpha NEX-C3 with 18-55mm OSS kit lens.

| Sony NEX-C3 in Mirrorless Cameras

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Sony NEX-C3 Front

The Sony NEX-C3 is the new entry level NEX camera from Sony, replaces the NEX-3, and compliments the new Sony NEX-5N. Both the 5N, and the C3 feature a 16 megapixel APS-C sized sensor, however, the 5N features a touch screen, small metal body, 10fps shooting, and full HD video, while the C3 features a larger plastic body, 5.5fps shooting, 720p video, and does not offer a touch screen. Nb. Due to similarities, sections of this review are based on the Sony NEX-5 review with updated firmware.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Sony NEX-C3 Lens off

Sony NEX-C3 Features

The Sony NEX-C3 features a large APS-C CMOS sensor, the same size that you find in nearly all Digital SLRs (unless you go to full frame). This gives it the ability to offer theoretically the same excellent image quality as Digital SLRs, but with a significantly smaller body.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Sony NEX-C3 Front

The NEX-C3 improves over the NEX-3 with improved battery life, a 16.2 megapixel sensor, a smaller body, and Picture Effects such as Toy Camera, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow highlight, Pop Colour and more, as well as the the ability to set the Peaking level and colour in MF. These additional features (excluding the sensor, and redesigned body) are available for the NEX-3 and NEX-5 as a firmware upgrade.

Key Features

  • 16.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • Sony E Mount
  • 3 inch tilting screen, 921k dots (16:9)
  • Plastic body
  • Seperate mini flash (included)
  • 5.5fps continuous shooting
  • 25 focus points
  • Dust removal
  • ISO200 - ISO12800
  • 720p video, stereo mics

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Sony NEX-C3 Back

Sony NEX-C3 Handling

The Sony NEX-C3 (NEX-3, and 5 also) are probably the mirrorless cameras with the least number of buttons and controls, especially considering they do not feature touch screens, however the NEX-5N does feature a touch screen. The Panasonic Lumix GF3 has fewer buttons, but the GF3 tries to make up for this with a touch screen.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Sony NEX-C3 Angled Screen

The camera is very small - however, as soon as you add a lens to the camera, you realise that the DSLR sized sensor, also means that the camera has DSLR sized lenses, and this significantly increases the weight and bulk of the camera. There are a few options to keep the size down, either use the 16mm pancake lens, or use an adapter to use an alternative old lens. Sony have not yet released or announced any additional pancake lenses.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Sony NEX-C3 Top

Menus: You can press the middle button on the back to change the shooting mode, and with the scroll wheel this is quite easy. Alternatively press the menu button and you get a choice of 6 options: shooting mode, camera options, image size, brightness / colour options, playback and setup. The brightness / colour options are where you can also find exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, metering, flash compensation, DRO / HDR, and creative style (colour options such as vivid, standard, black and white etc), which is not where I expected the options to be. Image size is where you set the image size for still, 3D, and panoramic shots, as well as video size. Camera options are where you can set the drive mode, flash setting, AF/MF, Face detection etc. Setup is where you can customise the buttons you use, as well as set further shooting options, main settings, and memory card tools. Finding your way around these menus does get easier over time.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Sony NEX-C3 Bottom
Repositioned memory card slot. You can't open the memory card slot and the battery cover at the same time.

Battery Life: Rated at 400 shots, we were able to take over 480 photos before the battery was exhausted. The camera uses an Info-lithium ion rechargeable battery these are brilliant as they tell you precisely how many minutes are left before the battery will go flat.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Sony NEX-C3 Flash

Speed - we tested the Sony NEX-C3 and compared it to the Panasonic Lumix GF3 and Samsung NX11. You can also compare the results to the new Panasonic Lumix G3, and Olympus PEN E-P3 as well.

Sony NEX-C3
Panasonic GF3 Samsung NX11
Shutter Response 0.1
<0.05 0.1
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.35 0.2* 0.3
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response 0.35 0.2* 0.3
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 1.0 0.9 1.3
Shot to Shot (without flash) 0.7 (1.5 with AF)
0.6 1.0
Shot to Shot with Flash 1.8 1.3 1.1
Continuous Shooting
(shots before slow down)
5.5fps (13 shots) 4fps (13 shots) 3fps (15 shots)
Continuous Shooting (flash) 2fps N/A 2fps (infinite shots)
Continuous Shooting (RAW) 6fps (6 shots) 4fps (6 shots) 3fps (5 shots)

* 14-42mm Olympus M Zuiko 14-42mm II R lens used for the GF3 camera, tested with the new Samsung Class 10 memory card.

Performance was good with quick focusing, shutter response, and excellent shot to shot time. Continuous shooting is excellent at 5.5fps, and the using a high speed card it's possible to take 13 shots before slow down when shooting JPEG.

Sony NEX-C3 Performance

Sample photos from the Sony NEX-C3 and the E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS (Optical Steady Shot) lens can be seen below, with additional sample photos in the equipment database.

Sony NEX-C3 Lens test images

The photos taken outdoors show good levels of detail and colour, with very little purple fringing, although some chromatic abberation is visible it wasn't too high. Images are slightly soft but nothing too concerning. With the provided lens hood flare was well controlled and ghosting was not noticed. Barrel and pincushion distortion are also low, although slight pincushion distortion is visible at the telephoto end of the lens. The kit lens gives good macro performance with the subject 25cm away from the lens, using the full telephoto zoom.

Sony NEX-C3 Sample Photos

The camera has excellent colour - with bright saturated reds and blues. The camera also deals with highlights well, maintaining detail in the sky, and where the sky is overly bright, the HDR mode does an excellent job expanding the dynamic range without creating an artificial looking HDR image. The provided flash performs well with very low red-eye.

Sony NEX-C3 White-balance test images

White Balance Performance:
The camera struggled under tungsten light but auto white balance was fine under fluorescent lighting, and the camera's presets have helped improve results, particularly under tungsten light. Nice sharp images - slightly more detail and clarity compared to the NEX-5 - as would be expected from a higher resolution sensor.

Sony NEX-C3 ISO test images

ISO Noise Performance: At ISO200 all the way to ISO1600 noise is very low. At ISO3200 noise starts to become visible, and images become slightly softer. ISO6400 shows more noise, but detail is still good and the results are very usable. Although at ISO12800 noise is the most prominant, and images may be best used resized on the web or processed further to reduce noise more. Noise has increased since the NEX-5 with 14 megapixels instead of 16, and for colour quality the lower resolution NEX-5 performs better at the highest ISO settings.


Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Wide 1/250 sec | f/11.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200
Wide 1/250 sec | f/11.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review: Standard 1/250 sec | f/11.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200
Standard 1/250 sec | f/11.0 | 18.0 mm | ISO 200

The NEX-C3 allows both vertical and horizontal panoramics. Options are wide or standard, depending on how much you want to capture. You can also shoot 3D panoramics.

Sony NEX-C3 Digital filters

Digital Filters - Picture Effect gives you 11 creative modes that let you alter your photos when you take them. The Red/Yellow/Blue/Green highlight modes work best on strong shades of each colour (needing quite bold colours).

The camera features 8 scene modes, including a handheld twilight mode that takes a number of shots in quick succession and combines them for a better shot.

Lenses available: there are seven lenses currently available (16mm, 18-55 OSS, 18-200 OSS, 30mm Macro lens, 24mm Carl Zeiss, 50mm Portrait, and 55-210mm telephoto). There are also wide-angle and fisheye converter add-on lenses available for the 16mm lens as well. Adapters to use Sony Alpha / Konica Minolta Alpha lenses are also available.


The NEX-C3 gives you 720p video with stereo sound. The picture effects can be used on videos with very little or no noticeable drop in frame rate. The video options are: 720p Fine, Standard, and VGA.

Value for Money

The Sony NEX-C3 is available for £410 with the 18-55 kit lens with OIS, or £499 with the both the 18-55mm and 16mm pancake lens (without OIS) making it very good value for money. Alternatively you can find the Sony NEX-5 with full HD for around £389 with 18-55 kit lens, or the newer NEX-5N is available for £599 with kit lens.

Alternatives include the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3, E-P3, Panasonic Lumix G3, Panasonic Lumix GF3, Samsung NX11, as well as earlier models, the Panasonic Lumix GF2, and Olympus PEN EPL2. Of these, the Olympus PEN cameras feature a built in anti-shake sensor, and both the Panasonic and Olympus models use the micro four thirds mount, with the largest range of lenses available. 

Sony NEX-C3 Verdict

Like the Sony NEX-5, the NEX-C3 has an over-reliance on the menus, and it can be a little time consuming trying to find some of the more advanced options. The NEX-C3 is a compact mirrorless camera, although the current lenses don't make the most of the small body as they are quite large. The recent addition of three new lenses is a welcome addition. The buttons on the back can be customised making the camera easier to control for some of the functions. The Sony NEX-C3 produces DSLR image quality with extremely low noise, and performance is impressive with 5.5fps shooting. The improved resolution of the sensor, going from 14 to 16 megapixels doesn't appear to have had any negative effect on image quality, except for slightly higher noise at the highest ISO settings.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Compact System Camera Review:
The Sony NEX-C3 is a great camera capable of producing excellent photos with great colour and low noise.

Sony NEX-C3 Pros

Very low noise right upto ISO1600/3200+
Accurate battery life information (Infolithium)
Small camera... (but large lenses)
High resolution tilting screen
HDR mode works really well
5.5fps continuous shooting
Good build quality
Great colour

Sony NEX-C3 Cons

Softer images than the competition
Non-standard flash socket
Menu system / controls (no touchscreen to make up for the lack of buttons)
Very few buttons on the camera (more on Cybershots)
Large lenses - No new pancake lenses announced yet
Lacks full HD Video


Sony NEX-C3 Specifications

Image Sensor
Pixels16.2Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)4912
Pixels (H)3264
Sensor TypeExmor CMOS
Sensor SizeAPS-C
Sensor Size (width)23.4mm
Sensor Size (height)15.6mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 3:2
  • 16:9
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution921k dots
Touch ScreenNo
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Multi
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/4000sec
Shutter speeds longest30sec
Bulb modeYes
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • A
  • Shutter-Priority
    ISO sensitivity200 - 12800
    White balance
    • Auto
    • Manual
    • Outdoors/Daylight
    • Cloudy
    • Incandescent
    • Fluorescent
    • Shade
    • Flash
    Exposure CompNo Data
    Viewfinder ResolutionNo Data
    MagnificationNo Data
    Shooting Options
    Continuous shooting5.5fps
    Movie modeYes
    Video Resolution
    • 1280x720 HD 720p
    Video FPS30
    Stereo SoundYes
    Optical Zoom with VideoYes
    Other Features
    Image StabilisationNo
    USBUSB 2
    Wi-FiNo Data
    Card Type
    • SD
    • SDHC
    • Memory Stick (Sony)
    File Type
    • RAW
    • JPG
    • RAW + JPG
    Power Source
    Battery TypeLithium Ion
    Battery Life (CIPA rating)400shots
    Box Contents
    Box ContentsNo Data

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    Photographs taken using the Sony NEX-C3

    St Cuthberts CoffinKings Cross station LondonHare KrishnaEgyptDorset coastMill pond reflectionGround levelWaveWoodland findThe PackLunch for Mr.HyenaLookout HyenaThe Maned Lion

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