The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 is the electronics giant’s latest mirrorless interchangeable-lens compact system camera. Like its predecessors, Sony stuffed the NEX-C3 with a big sensor, a 16.2 megapixel APS-C beast very similar to that found in many popular consumer dSLRs, so the image quality is simply excellent. But at just a half-pound and 1.3 inches thick, the NEX-C3 is much, much smaller than any dSLR, and seems to be the world’s smallest interchangeable-lens camera, period, edging out the Panasonic GF2 by a tiny margin. It’s still a bit too large to fit into a pocket, and the 18-55mm kit lens is enormous compared to similar lenses from Panasonic and especially Olympus, so it isn’t exactly a revolutionary design. But it is striking to see such high-quality shots come from a tiny camera.
Mirrorless cameras like the NEX-C3 tend to attract camera enthusiasts who like to be the first with the newest gear. Lately, as the genre has matured, more hobbyists and even casual shooters are turning to mirrorless shooters instead of traditional dSLRs as their “step-up” models. It makes sense: Mirrorless cameras cost about the same as entry-level dSLRs, the image quality is equally great, and they can still swap lenses. They aren’t quite as fast as dSLRs and they usually don’t have viewfinders, but they are much smaller and more convenient to carry around. Perhaps most importantly, the interface is streamlined and user friendly, more in common with a point-and-shoot than a dSLR.
The NEX-C3 aims to make its interface even more inviting to new users. Like any mirrorless camera, it offers plenty of hands-on exposure control, including PASM modes, but replaces more technical photography terms with supposedly more intuitive nomenclature like “background defocus,” “color,” and “brightness.” (Experienced users can disable this naming feature, thankfully.) It also comes with a number of built-in effects and filters.
Other noteworthy specs include a 400-shot lithium-ion battery (that’s impressive!), a 3-inch tilting LCD, 720p HD video, and a bunch of in-camera multi-shot modes, like noise reduction and high-dynamic range (HDR) stacking.
All told, the NEX-C3 looks like a serviceable update to last year’s NEX-3, and a solid competitor to the latest mirrorless models on the market. Its biggest advantage is the APS-C sensor, which is notably larger than the Four Thirds sensor used in Panasonic and Olympus mirrorless cameras. If there’s a weak spot, it’s lens selection. Its E-style mount doesn’t support A-mount lenses, so Alpha aficionados will have to start from scratch. Even at that, it lacks the lens selection of the Micro Four Thirds format.