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Steve's SnapShot
Thumbnail image for Sony-NEX-3N_wSELP1650_zoom_out.jpg
  • 16.1-Megapixel, APS-C sized Imaging Sensor
  • 3.0-Inch, 460,800 dot Tilting LCD Screen
  • Sony E-Mount lenses
  • Bionz Image Processor
  • Dedicated Video Record Button
  • Superior and Intelligent Auto shooting modes
  • 1080p HD video recording
  • Sweep Panorama
  • Pop-up Flash
  • Can survive drops from 5 ft.
  • Kit features compact 16-50mm power zoom lens
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC and MS Duo memory card compatible
Pros
  • All auto modes work with excellent results
  • Dedicated Video Capture Button is always ready to record
  • Zoom controls on the camera give a compact camera feel when using a compatible lens
  • Excellent image quality at the lower and mid ISO levels
  • Optical SteadyShot keeps images sharp in low-light situations (when offered by the lens being used)
  • Bright 3.0-inch tilting LCD is easy to see in all lighting conditions and allows for easy composition of self-portraits
  • Decent shooting performance
  • Amazing Battery Life
  • Competitively priced
Cons
  • No hot shoe for external flash or audio accessories
  • Very noisy at higher ISO settings
  • No built-in WiFi as found on most new models
  • Confusing menu system (at first)
  • No viewfinder, electronic or optical
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 2.4 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 2/10 to 4/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 0.84 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 1.42 seconds
  • Continuous burst =  2.86fps 
  • Continuous Speed Priority Burst = 4.55fps for 10 images, then slows to accommodate buffer
  • All tests were taken using an SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-1, 8GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, ISO auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
The Sony NEX-3N is an affordable and capable Interchangeable Lens Camera featuring an APS-C sized 16.1-Megapixel imaging sensor, powerful BIONZ image processor and the Sony E-mount with its fantastic collection of lenses. This camera is easy enough for anyone to use while still offering all the features needed for a more advanced photographer.
Pick This Up If...
You are looking for an affordable transition from a compact camera to a more powerful model, or to replace a larger dSLR. This is an excellent camera for anyone in the family.
The Sony Alpha NEX-3N is the newest and most affordable model in Sony's popular NEX line-up. Falling in between their Alpha dSLR and point-n-shoot cameras, the NEX line combines the best of both worlds, giving you a powerful and high quality camera in a much smaller and easy to use body. The NEX-3N features a 16.1-Megapixel, APS-C sized imaging sensor, which is the same sized sensor that you will find in most dSLR cameras. The lack of a mirror in the camera, a viewfinder, hot shoe and Sony's specially designed E-mount lenses keep this camera down to a fraction of the size of a dSLR; making it much easier to carry without the lack of quality. Along with the sensor, the camera features a 3.0-inch tilting LCD screen, popup flash unit, several incredibly powerful automatic shooting modes and the ability to capture full 1080p HD video at the touch of a button.

Sony's E-mount system was designed to be smaller and more compact, and to specifically work with the APS-C sized imaging sensors that they use in the cameras. This allows for the best image quality and low-light performance possible in a camera this size. To assist with the low-light shooting, many of the E-mount lenses include Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilization. Sony has a fantastic collection of NEX (E-mount) lenses that should take care of just about any situation you will find yourself in, including a few Carl Zeiss lenses. For those who already have A-mount glass, an adapter is available that allows you to use any of your existing Sony Alpha or Minolta Legacy lenses with the NEX-3N. 

Handling the NEX-3N is easy and comfortable. While it is one of the smallest ILCs (interchangeable lens cameras) on the market (labeled the smallest in the World as of 2/2013), we found that the size of the NEX-3N was very easy to handle. A large finger grip on the right side fits very well into most sized hands giving you comfort and control, allowing you to use the other hand to zoom and or focus the lens. The body of the camera has been kept very simple and unintimidating, allowing even people without any photography experience to use it without too much worry.

The simple camera body does make Sony's menu system a little more complicated than some of the others, but with a little patience and searching, it does not take too long to learn where things are and how to quickly navigate the menu system. The large, bright 3.0-inch tilting LCD is what makes menu navigation, as well as framing and viewing your images possible. The screen is very reflective, but the adjustable brightness levels make it easy to see in most lighting conditions. If glare becomes a problem, tilting it is an easy way to remove the glare.

Performance from the NEX-3N is pretty good for an ILC, capturing its first image within 2.4 seconds of being turned on. When the camera is focused, the shutter lag is almost instantaneous, shooting in less than 1/10 of a second. It took between 2/10 and 4/10 of a second what allowing the AF system to work. In single shot mode the shot-to-shot delay is 0.84 seconds or 1.42 seconds when shooting with the flash. Shooting in continuous mode allows the camera to capture images at 2.86fps continuously. Speed Priority Continuous increases it to 4.55fps but the buffer will fill after 10 images; in which the rate will slow but continue shooting. Switching the camera into RAW shooting mode does not change the performance much, except for reducing the number of images the camera can capture before filling the buffer. All of our tests were completed using a SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-1 (95MB/s) 8GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, flash off, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. 

Looking at our outdoor image samples, we were very pleased with the final results. Shooting in both Program and Superior Auto, both modes worked very well, giving us an excellent exposure and realistic colors. The Superior Auto mode gives slightly more vivid colors and contrast, but it also works to assist you in keeping your images sharp, especially in low-light. Our samples were sharp from edge to edge with no major or noticeable flaws in the images. Even noise in the dark and shadow areas is non-existent at the lower ISO settings. The ability to compose your images depends on the lens that you are currently shooting with, and Sony has provided its customers with an excellent selection of high quality lenses. Our sample kit included the 16-50mm Retractable Zoom Lens, which is compact and sports motorized zoom controls to allow the one ring around the lens to work zoom or focus.

Our indoor sample images show a clear, sharp image form edge to edge with excellent exposure and color reproduction. The compact lens system did give us a slightly shallower depth of field than we expected shooting at f/8.0, but this is common with ILCs. ISO 200 through 1600 produced excellent results, keeping all of the fine details sharp within our image. After that the small details start to disappear quickly but the ISO settings are good until 6400. Once you get here, noise has taken over the image and the results are not acceptable. The small pop-up flash unit assists you with your low-light photography. This small unit is not very powerful but can be a help when the camera is kept close to the subject. The lack of a hot shoe to add an external flash unit is a little disappointing. 

Shooting portraits with the NEX-3N is incredibly simple as the face detection software on the camera works in most of the automatic shooting modes. The camera is able to detect and follow most faces within the frame quickly and easily, only struggling slightly with faces in the background or ones that come in late. The camera will select a main face that it will base the exposure settings on, any other faces that are found are considered and taken care of to the best of the camera's ability but they will not throw off the main face. Our samples, shot in Portrait Scene mode, show excellent exposure, color and focus for the faces that were detected in the frame. Everything looks good in the image except for the slight redness in the eyes of our subjects which comes from the camera's built-in flash. While the camera does handle low-light situations pretty well, when it comes to your portrait images, you will need to use the flash it to keep the ISO settings in an acceptable range.

One of Sony's most popular features, their Sweep Panorama shooting mode, is one of the most convenient shooting modes on this camera. The ease of use with this mode is just as easy as any other automatic mode on the camera. The only tricky part is getting used to the correct panning speed for the camera. Once you have that down, it is incredibly easy to capture panoramic images with just the push of the shutter release. After that the camera takes care of everything else. When it is done, you have a perfectly stitched and seamless image. These final images are much smaller than if you were to take each image individually and stitch them together yourself on a PC/Mac, but if you are not planning on large prints this will be more than enough. If you do make your own panoramic images, this feature can be a great tool, allowing you to quickly and easily capture preview or scouting images without all of the work that goes into the final image.

Home movie capture with the NEX-3N is incredibly easy, as the camera is always ready thanks to the dedicated video recording button. This button will start recording full 1080p HD video just by pressing it, no matter what shooting mode the camera is currently in. This is perfect for the situation that you were unprepared for that can be captured better with video than just a single image. If you are prepared to capture video, the NEX-3N has an advanced video shooting mode that gives you plenty of options to choose from. This mode also allows you to capture still images simultaneously while capturing video without any interruption. Our sample movie shows a very sharp and smoothly playing video that is very pleasing to watch. The camera did an excellent job of keeping the subject in focus, and the powered lens offers smooth zooming while recording. Audio is captured by a built-in stereo microphone that is small and very sensitive. This mic will pick up all the audio surrounding the camera, not necessarily the audio from your subject, especially if it is away from the camera. With no port or listed external microphone there is no easy way to increase the audio quality of your movies.

Powering the NEX-3N is a 7.2V, 1080mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. Sony claims that this battery is capable of capturing up to 480 images on a single charge, and while completing our tests, we were able to easily capture over 150 images and videos (several in burst modes) while the camera still shows 75% battery power remaining. This is a very good battery life, especially for a camera without a viewfinder. Even though the camera does have an excellent battery life, a spare battery is always a great idea, and in this case so is the optional battery charger as it will make it much easier to keep both batteries charged and ready at all times. It is a little harder with the included USB adapter, but not impossible.

Bottom Line - The Sony Alpha NEX-3N is a very compact and feature rich Interchangeable Lens Camera. It is a great option for anyone looking to move up from a compact point-n-shoot camera or for someone looking for a smaller camera to carry with the options and abilities of a larger dSLR. Image quality and performance rival most entry-level dSLR cameras at just a fraction of the size and at a great price.  As one of the easiest ILC's on the market to use, and having a great selection of available lenses, there are no real draw drawbacks to this camera with a MSRP of US $499.99. If you like this camera but are looking for a few more features like built-in WiFi, then you may want to look at the NEX-5T or NEX-6.


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