Review: Sony NEX 3N

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N product photo (1 of 1)ISO 1601-200 sec at f - 2.0

Sony’s NEX 3N is in some ways, a large deviation away from the traditional NEX line but in many ways makes a lot of sense. A while back, we gave the camera our first impressions, and really liked it. Though the ergonomics were a bit out of the normal for us, after lots of use it started to make sense to us. And for what it’s worth, Sony is giving the entry level mirrorless camera user quite a bit of power.

 

Pros and Cons

Pros

– Excellent image quality

– Really nice video

– Light and very appealing feel to it

– People stepping up will love the zoom switch at the top

Cons

– Kit lens is poorly designed ergonomically

– Kit lens will vignette more than we’d like

– Sensor is noisier at high ISOs than we’ve previously seen

Gear Used

For this review, we used the Sony NEX 3N with the 16-50mm kit lens.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Adorama listing

  • Full HD 1080/60i/24p or 1080/30p MP4 movies: Record stunning high quality Full HD video4 in either 60i or 24p frames per second. Records in your choice of 60i/24p Blu-Ray quality AVCHD format, or in PC-friendly 1080/30p MP4 format.
  • Built-in flash built into compact body: Perfect when an extra burst of light is needed to get the shot, the built-in Guide Number 6 flash combines with high ISO sensitivity to enable shooting in just about any setting.
  • Up to ISO 16000 sensitivity: With a new Exmor sensor that features the same adaptive noise reduction technology from Sony’s flagship SLT-A99V, the NEX-3N easily offers a wide range of sensitivity from ISO 100 to ISO 16000.
  • Newly designed anti-slip grip: Perfect for self-portraits or casual snaps, the natural form ensures quick, comfortable handling and makes the camera easy to carry around. In addition, the textured grip prevents slipping even when shooting one-handed or when using exceptionally large lenses.
  • Picture Effect modes: The NEX-3N includes 15 effects that can be applied to photos or movies, giving you the means to vastly expand your artistic repertoire. The ability to view effects in real-time on the LCD screen before the shot lets you experiment with different looks until you are satisfied with the result.
  • Photo Creativity feature: NEX-3N provides easy access to most Picture Effect settings as well as controls for Background Defocus, Brightness, Color and Vividness. Just activate Photo Creativity, choose the appropriate item then adjust while viewing in real-time on the LCD screen.
  • Superior Auto mode: Use Superior Auto mode to shoot photos and movies with the ease of a compact digital camera. In this mode, the camera recognizes the current shooting environment then adjusts settings for optimal results.
  • Anti-Motion Blur mode: Corrects for subject movement to capture amazingly clean and sharp images in low light. The camera leverages the large, APS-C image sensor and captures six images in a fraction of a second. Combining the data from all six creates a single image that minimizes subject blur.
  • Hand-held Twilight Mode: Get cleaner and sharper nighttime pictures beyond the capability of traditional cameras without using flash or a tripod. The camera leverages the large, APS-C image sensor and captures six images in a fraction of a second.
  • Face Detection/Smile Shutter: Set NEX-3N to recognize faces and smiles. Face Detection locates up to eight faces in a composition then adjusts exposure, white balance and other settings based on these faces. Smile Shutter – adjustable in three levels – automatically takes a shot when smiles in the scene are at their brightest.
  • Creative Style: Tailor the look of photos and movies before shooting. Choose from one of six settings – Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset or Black & White – depending on the scene or your creative intent.
  • Speed Priority Continuous mode: Freeze fast-moving subjects by shooting at up to 4 fps. This is the ideal solution for photographing sports, children at play or other action.
  • Up to 480 Shots of battery life: Take up to 480 shots on a single charge with Sony lithium ion Stamina battery power. Sony’s InfoLITHIUM battery system enables you to see the percent of power remaining, so you can keep shooting in confidence.
  • PlayMemories Home supplied software: Free, easy-to-use PlayMemories Home image management software automatically installs onto Windows PC’s for Sony Digital Camera users. View, organize, edit, retouch, print, burn to disk, share or upload to social networking websites.

Ergonomics

Taken from our First Impressions

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N First Impressions product shots (1 of 8)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 4.0

The Sony NEX 3N is small, stylish, sleek, glossy, and really quite pretty. The front is nearly devoid of controls except for the lens release, an AF assist lamp, and the grip–which we found to be quite comfortable actually.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N First Impressions product shots (2 of 8)ISO 2001-320 sec at f - 4.0

The top of the camera features the pop-up flash dead center–which means there is no hot shoe at all. Next to this is the playback button, the on/off switch around the shutter, the zooming (W/T) slider around the shutter button, and of course–the shutter button.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N First Impressions product shots (7 of 8)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 5.6

The pop-up flash surely does come up very far in order to not hit a lens. The problem though is that it is quite weak in our tests. When trying to make it bounce off of a low ceiling by pointing it upward, it was a bit pathetic to say the least. But I’m willing to blame this on the pre-production unit.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N First Impressions product shots (8 of 8)ISO 2001-60 sec at f - 4.0

The back LCD screen pops up once again and in this case, it shows off Japanese characters. However, it does not tilt downwards like the 5Rdoes.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N First Impressions product shots (3 of 8)ISO 2001-320 sec at f - 4.0

The back of the NEX 3N has the LCD screen, flash pop-up button, two soft keys, navigational dial, and buttons along the dial to access various functions.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N First Impressions product shots (4 of 8)ISO 2001-320 sec at f - 5.6

On the side of the camera are the ports: in this case they are HDMI, USB, and an SD card slot. The sad thing is that the cover opens up a bit too easily for my personal liking.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N First Impressions product shots (5 of 8)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 5.6

One thing that someone cannot complain about though is the size–the camera overall is quite small in addition to being stylish and ergonomically pleasing.

Build Quality

The NEX 3N is, well, basically just as heavy as a tough point and shoot. But the overall feel is really quite solid. If you squeeze it, it won’t feel as if it is made of plastic or there is a hollow inside. Everything feels dense. However, that density is still overall quite lightweight.

Perhaps the cheapest feeling part of the camera is the screen–which tilts up but won’t tilt downward. We really wish that Sony kept that feature in.

Ease of Use

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (6 of 24)ISO 8001-1250 sec at f - 3.5

The user that this camera is targeted at will most likely leave the thing in auto and shoot away all day. And for that user, this camera will do everything you need and more. But for the first time user, the interface and navigating the menus will be tough. Since the start of the system and to this day, the NEX system requires lots of familiarity but once you have it, you truly appreciate how good it really is.

For the advanced user, you’ll want to leave this camera in aperture priority and just shoot away. Putting the camera in manual mode requires you to press a button and then change your settings vs the direct control that many higher end users are more familiar with.

If you’re shooting video though, it’s not so bad. You’re bound to have your ISO and shutter speed locked into one setting. While recording you might change your aperture control the way we did–but even then you’re not even guaranteed to do so.

Autofocusing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (23 of 24)ISO 32001-20 sec at f - 3.5

Autofocusing is perhaps the NEX 3N’s strongest feature. Based on our composition of the scenes that we were photographing, it always nailed exactly what we wanted. I never needed to manually set a point or use the center and recompose. And for that, the pros and higher end users will be jealous beyond belief.

The only time I manually focused was when shooting video–for obvious reasons of course. And when shooting video, you can enable Sony’s very good focus peaking feature. To date, Sony is doing this the best in the game and better than anyone else out there.

Focusing in low light was also a near non-existant issue. At times, it might take a tad longer to autofocus but the overall experience didn’t feel like getting your teeth pulled.

Metering

In a Sunny 16 test, the NEX 3N performed perfectly according to Sunny 16 standards. However, when put into the automatic metering modes, the camera tended to do its own thing. If you’re shooting RAW, who honestly cares? You’ll be able to push and pull the RAW files quite a bit.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (9 of 15)ISO 2001-100 sec at f - 4.5

Something that really can’t be complained about is the Sony NEX 3N’s image quality. Though the higher ISO output can be noisy, the RAW file versatility more than compensates for the performance. Sony’s colors have always also been extremely wonderful, though we’ve overall still experienced better colors with the company’s prime lenses–and to that end we also need to vouch for Rokinon’s lenses for the system.

For the person stepping up to a mirrorless camera, they’ll be more than satisfied with the image quality–so you can put down that DSLR now and stop looking clueless and compensating for it by shooting in Auto. The image quality is in part thanks to the APS-C sized sensor–which is the same size as those in DSLRs and even bigger than some of those. However, we really believe that Sony should bundle their 20mm f2.8 lens as a kit option and at the time of publishing this review, they don’t. It would make the overall package much smaller and the consumer would benefit from the obvious image quality boosts that a prime lens can deliver, such as bokeh.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Corner vignetting (1 of 3)ISO 20001-60 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Corner vignetting (2 of 3)ISO 2001-640 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Corner vignetting (3 of 3)ISO 2001-4000 sec at f - 3.5

Something else that we once again need to point out is the vignetting in the corners with this lens. Sometimes it made me wonder if the lens covered the entire sensor area. But then I tried the lens with an NEX 7 and didn’t get the problems. The edited versions of these images are later on in the article.

High ISO Performance

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (13 of 15)ISO 64001-13 sec at f - 4.0

The NEX 3N exhibited more noise than we’d really like to see in the RAW files, but the images remained quite crisp with detail still. To that end, we also saw color noise and ISO 6400 and anything above that we personally deemed as overkill unless you plan on converting the images to black and white or working with the files a lot in post-production software.

RAW File Versatility

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (16 of 24)ISO 2001-3200 sec at f - 5.6

Edited Image

Original

Original

Getting the image to the final state as shown above wasn’t really an easy feat. In order to do the best job I could, I needed to convert the color profile to black and white in Lightroom and then convert it back into color. Though these raw files are extremely versatile in software, they’re not the most intuitive to edit–which is a big deviation away from what Sony’s raw files always were before.

We applied VSCO Film Pack 3 to the images though, and we really liked the way that the presets affected the images.

Video Quality

Sony’s NEX cameras have always had great quality to their video if you don’t plan on doing lots of editing. When you start to step into that stage, the devices that are primarily meant to be still cameras aren’t always the greatest for that application unless you can really make it work and get everything right in the camera.

Extra Image Samples

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Corner vignetting (1 of 3)ISO 20001-60 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Corner vignetting (2 of 3)ISO 2001-640 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Corner vignetting (3 of 3)ISO 2001-4000 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (1 of 15)ISO 2001-320 sec at f - 14

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (2 of 15)ISO 2001-4000 sec at f - 5.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (3 of 15)ISO 2001-3200 sec at f - 5.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (4 of 15)ISO 32001-50 sec at f - 4.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (24 of 24)ISO 32001-13 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (22 of 24)ISO 2001-100 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (21 of 24)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (20 of 24)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (19 of 24)ISO 2001-2000 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (18 of 24)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (17 of 24)ISO 2001-800 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (15 of 24)ISO 2001-800 sec at f - 4.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (14 of 24)ISO 2001-4000 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (13 of 24)ISO 8001-50 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (12 of 24)ISO 8001-200 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (11 of 24)ISO 8001-250 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (10 of 24)ISO 8001-160 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (9 of 24)ISO 8001-320 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (8 of 24)ISO 8001-500 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (7 of 24)ISO 8001-3200 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (5 of 24)ISO 4001-4000 sec at f - 5.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (4 of 24)ISO 4001-800 sec at f - 5.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (3 of 24)ISO 4001-320 sec at f - 5.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (2 of 24)ISO 4001-640 sec at f - 5.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N sample images (1 of 24)ISO 20001-60 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (15 of 15)ISO 64001-5 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (14 of 15)ISO 64001-8 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (12 of 15)ISO 32001-25 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (11 of 15)ISO 5001-60 sec at f - 3.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (10 of 15)ISO 16001-60 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (8 of 15)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 4.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (7 of 15)ISO 2001-640 sec at f - 4.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (6 of 15)ISO 32001-60 sec at f - 4.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony NEX 3N Review Extra Images (5 of 15)ISO 12501-60 sec at f - 4.5

Conclusions

Editor's-Choice-Sony-NEX-3N

For the person getting into the mirrorless camera world, the NEX 3N is perhaps the best choice. Not only are the controls simple for the person who would use this camera, but the image quality is also really, really good except at the higher ISOs. But those people won’t mind them that much. The ergonomics and build quality also add to the camera–though higher end users may not like the zoom rocker, complete amateurs will totally digg it.

That, and the camera is just purely quite sexy. We highly recommend it and the NEX 3N is the winner of the Phoblographer’s Editor’s Choice for entry level mirrorless cameras.

You can purchase the Sony NEX 3N from Amazon, Adorama and B&H Photo.

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