Sony NEX 3N Hands-on Preview

Sony NEX-3N Hands-on Preview

Preview based on a production NEX-3N with firmware v1.00

The Sony NEX 3N is the company's ninth e-mount stills camera since it launched the system less than three years ago, and its fourth entry-level model. The entry-level 3-series is specifically aimed at compact camera users looking for better image quality but hoping to avoid the bulk and perceived complexity of a DSLR. This market was one of the founding aims of the NEX system and the NEX-3N is the most obvious attempt yet at fulfilling it.

The NEX-3N builds on the feature-set of the F3 but adds two features that will be very attractive to this target market. The first is the inclusion of Sony's 16-50mm retractable power zoom lens, which offers an unusually-wideangle view (24-75mm equivalent) and optical image stabilization. This combines with the 3N's status as the smallest mirrorless camera to include an APS-C sensor, to make a usefully small (albeit still not pocketable) package. The other change is the inclusion of a zoom lever on the camera body (around the shutter button). This not only makes use of the power zoom's capabilities but also makes the camera's behavior considerably more compact-camera-like.

The 3N has a revised flip-up screen - it rotates up by 180 degrees to make self-portraits easier. The new articulated cradle is simpler than the one featured on the previous mode - it simply hinges upwards, rather than pulling out and hinging, as the previous one did. The result feels rather more secure than the F3's did. Another small change sees the SD card slot repositioned from the bottom of the camera to the accessory port panel on the side of the camera.

As time goes by, Sony is trying to make its different model lines more distinct - a key consideration now there are four NEX lines. As such, and in keeping with its affordable intentions, the 3N misses out on the faster on-sensor phase-detection autofocus seen on the 5R. To an extent this is an understandable piece of product differentiation - putting clear differences between models - but also removing one of the features that would be the biggest benefits at this end of the market. One of the best features on Nikon's 1 system cameras has been the implementation of its hybrid autofocus system, that does a better job of tracking subjects than any other camera in this class.

As such, the 3N won't offer much as much of an improvement over a compact when it comes to photographing running children as might have been possible. The camera also makes do without the touchscreen or Wi-Fi functions offered by the 5R, and forgoes the accessory port the F3 had, so there's no way of attaching an external viewfinder.

Compared to the Olympus PEN E-PM2

Despite having a larger sensor, the NEX 3N is very similar in size to the Olympus PEN E-PM2
From the top you find it's actually smaller. The Sony manages to find room for a built-in flash, and the power zoom lens retracts to a smaller size than Olympus' manually retractable lens. In return the E-PM2 has a hot shoe for an external flash, an accessory port for an electronic viewfinder, and in-body image stabilization which works with all lenses. 

Compared to the Sony NEX-F3

Compared with its predecessor, the 3N has been made much smaller, despite including most of the same technologies.
And that size advantage is equally true when you look from above, even before you consider the size of the respective kit lenses. But this does come at the cost of the accessory port seen on previous NEX models, meaning there's no facility to add an external flash or viewfinder.  

In the hand

Despite its down-sizing, the NEX-3N fits pretty well in the hand. A textured rubber lump on the front of the camera and a thumb pad on its rear corner provide something to grasp the camera with. The small and smooth zoom lever is a little subtle but can still be operated without any great difficulty.

E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS Power Zoom lens

The Sony 16-50mm power zoom is probably our favorite retractable power zoom lens - not because of its optical properties, but mainly because it offers both a zoom slider on its barrel and a zoom ring around the front of the lens. Both control mechanisms operate the zoom's motor rather than giving direct mechanical control, but the zoom ring allows faster, more responsive control over the lens, more like a conventional mechanical lens, whereas the slider provides slow, subtle zooming for video work. This is a great improvement over Panasonic's X Vario 14-42mm power zoom lens, that tries to use a jog switch to fulfill both needs. The Sony's lens also allows you to re-dedicate the function of the lens ring to control manual focus. Despite having to wait for the lens to extend before you can shoot, the camera can fire off its first shot less than 2 seconds after hitting the power switch.

The 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS Power Zoom provides two methods for zooming the lens. A slider on the lens barrel offers slow zooming that's appropriate for movie shooting, while a ring around the front of the lens offers more conventional behavior.

Alternatively, the front ring can be re-purposed to control manual focus.

Interestingly, the NEX-3N's default settings assume that you will want to make use of the camera's 'Clear Image Zoom' digital magnification, and turning the zoom ring very easily rushes into the digital zoom region. The results haven't been bad in previous models, but we've seen little advantage of it over a simple upscaling in Photoshop, so we're not sure it should be so easy to use unintentionally.

Body Elements

The most significant addition to the NEX-3N is its zoom lever.

While this might not sound like the most important change that could be made, in combination with the 16-50mm Power Zoom it allows the 3N to give a much more compact-camera-like shooting experience.
Despite losing a lot of size, compared to the F3, the 3N retains a small pop-up flash.
It also continues to offer the screen that flips up by 180 degrees. Unlike the more expensive 5R, the 3N's screen isn't touch sensitive.
The 3N finally gets an easily accessible SD card slot - along with the ports on its left flank.

The two ports are a micro HDMI socket at the bottom, along with a micro USB socket at the top, which also acts as the primary means of recharging the camera's batteries.
The NEX-3N uses the same NP-FW50 battery that has appeared in all NEX models so far. It's a 7.3Wh battery that Sony says will give around 480 shots, when tested using CIPA's standard method.

However, we have to assume that test doesn't include use of the power zoom lens, which we suspect will see the traditionally rather short NEX battery life get exhausted even faster than usual.

NEX Interface

The NEX-3N has the latest iteration of the interface Sony created for the NEX series. Its intent is still beginner-focused but five generations of redevelopment later, it's become rather convoluted, with icons littering the screen but no obvious way of interacting with them. However, the results-orientated 'Photo Creativity' system for taking a bit of control over the automatic modes is pretty good - a couple of button presses make it easy to adjust the brightness, warmth or vividness of an image. These options are available both in the camera's Intelligent Auto mode and the Superior Auto mode that will make use of the cameras multi-shot modes if it thinks they're needed.

The NEX 3N's default screen is a fairly conventional one. Oddly, though, none of the buttons you press allow you to change any of the settings represented by the icons on the left.

Pressing the downwards button gets you in to 'Photo Creativity' mode...
...which allows you to change five key camera parameters, based on outcome.

In this shot, we're adjusting 'warmth' (a proxy for White Balance).

The NEX-3N also builds on the Auto Portrait Framing mode introduced in the last generation of Sonys, gaining what is now called Auto Object Framing. The essential difference is that the camera will now attempt to re-crop images to concentrate on what it interprets as the subject of the subject, even if it hasn't recognized faces in the scene. Now, as well as portraits, the camera will re-crop Macro subjects or anything identified by the camera's new object tracking focus mode. As before, the camera saves the original image as well as demonstrating the crop it's choosing.

Samples gallery

The initial 15 shots in this gallery were all taken using the camera's Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto modes, with the camera choosing all settings.

Sony NEX-3N preview samples gallery - published 25th February 2013
I own it
I want it
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Discuss in the forums


Total comments: 51
By babyphotog (4 months ago)

So currently I have a sony cybershot point and shoot, nothing fancy. I'm in the process of starting a blog and YouTube focusing on fashion and life, and I'm really in the market for a better camera. I was thinking about this one, but video quality and auto-focus tracking is important to me and I was wondering how good or bad the video quality is in order to produce good quality videos, I have good content I just need the quality. I was just going to go with the shoot with what you have method but I'm not sure if that'll be effective. I'm not really in the market for a dslr or a camcorder either, but if you have reasonably priced suggestions for either that would be helpful. So basically I'm asking if this would be good for making YouTube videos and if not what other cameras in the price range would be better. Thanks!

By maccam (6 months ago)

Why do you think the shutter sound is fake? It has a mechanical shutter. Have you ever watched videos of a news conference with all of the big guns with FAKE shutter sound going off? It's not fake. It is real.


By Strikeroot (6 months ago)

Would love for DPreview to do a story on the fake mechanical shutter sound that Sony has snuck in with no option to turn off. Publicity around this may be the only way to convince Sony to release a firmware update.

Harvey E. Morse
By Harvey E. Morse (8 months ago)

Just purchased the 3N from B+H for $100 off, ($399) which is available through the end of the month. (August 2013) Easy decision! I am very impressed with the camera and Sony's commitment into the digital photo market. I also own an Alpha A-77 for my more "professional" use, and am awaiting the newest version of the Nex7 when and if it ever arrives. The 3N seems to be a perfect travel camera. I did order a regular charger and a few extra batteries, as I do not like charging the batteries within the camera body. $27 for 2 spares plus a charger is pretty good insurance!

Comment edited 28 seconds after posting
1 upvote
By Daniba (11 months ago)

Ok guys, I bought it, tested it, and returned the thing. A lot of the pictures I took were wrong focused. Around 25-30%, with both lenses tested. The DOF is a lot of times terribly small: a picture of my son has super sharp focus on the collar of his T-shirt but his face was allready out of focus. The loss of PASM wheel was'nt a big problem, but every change of other settings require you to go deep into the menu. Multiple actions for the little settings weel, or even the lens, proved to be a step to much. For fun, try zooming in a bit, then manual focus with 9.6 magnification: you will need a third hand...
Every 3 pictures I had to clean the screen, it smudges so easily. In sunlight it is hard to see what's on screen, even with the brightness turned op to the maximum.
But most of all: the wrong focussing. When it is sharp, pictures are razor-sharp. But sadly enough there is to much chance of coming home with wrong focussed pictures...
Dear Sony: the Nikon D3200 is on my list...

By pixel_colorado (11 months ago)

Thank you for saving me a bunch of time. ;-)

1 upvote
By zoranT (11 months ago)

Focussing is the photographer's job, not the camera's. Above description has to do with dof, not with a particular camera fault.
Wrong camera for wrong photographer.

By tjwaggoner (11 months ago)

You bought a camera that you obviously have absolutely no idea how to operate. The DOF in a given picture is dependent on a lot of things. Aperture used, focal length, sensor size. You have to know where to focus the camera and how to, if you think the 3200 is going to be different youre mistaken.
A shallow DOF isnt a "flaw" in a camera. Its a flaw in a photograph.

By Robdizz (7 months ago)

Sounds as if you a Point-n-Shoot would be a more suitable camera for you.

By Daniba (6 months ago)

Hi guys, me again. I bought the Nikon D3200, took 1000 shots to get used to it. Guess what? No more wrong focussed pictures, no more problems with the DOF. I decide what the camera must do. Was it a fault in the nex camera or lens? I don't know. But don't judge me. You should have been standing next to me at the time I took the pictures. Then you should have noticed there was something wrong with it.
I liked the Nex for it's small weight and size, great ISO range and the 18-55 lens. I disliked it for the way they crippled this product. My D3200 gives me much more control over it's features but on the other hand there's the size and weight... Remember: the d3200 was my second choice.
Dear tjwaggoner and zoranT, take your nex3 camera's and i'll send you on some missions. Then you will experience the problems I encountered. I can only hope you guys are happy nex3 users.

1 upvote
By Rainer2022 (5 months ago)

I wanted to set the aperture with the thumb wheel. Very often I pressed (ISO) by mistake: the thumb wheel is a four-way-controller the same time.

How to do manual focusing? Maybe going deept into the menu...

After 2 hrs of charging, I could only fire 15 shots before the "Lo Batt" symbol popped off... --> I sent it back.

But there are good things: Very compact cam, ISO 16.000 (!) and it's usable!

I think it's the ultimate cam for someone who just wants to point and shoot and doesn't care for manual settings or even aperture or shutter speed priority mode.

By SteveC50 (Apr 22, 2013)

To Lorrainem:
The instructions included with the camera indicate that you can download Sony Image Data (RAW) Converter for free. What mfr would put a RAW capable camera on the market without ANY capability to process the images? Yes, it is surprising that it comes with NO software in the box, but the software is ultimately provided.

I have been using the 3N for a week or so now and I absolutely love it. I'm also a DSLR user. The IQ is fabulous, and the wide end and overall size of the 16-50 kit lens make it a VERY usable camera for serious photographers. I miss having an eye-level viewfinder & hot shoe, so I'm thinking would I be better off with the NEX-6? Are those 2 things worth another $400? Rhetorical question; not seeking answers.

1 upvote
By americanclassic (11 months ago)

Hey! Just jumped on the 3N. I spent like a month deciding what MILC I wanted--did I want to sacrifice size for quality, or quality for size? cost? kit lens performance? etc. Finally settled on the 3N because of the sensor size and IQ, but I'm miffed by the lack of PASM wheel and all the cluttered gimmicky features though.. Efficiency is key, it better not take me five minutes to tweak the appropriate settings lol.

After having it for a month, how do you feel about it? I'm going on vacation twice this summer wherein I can't carry my DSLR gear--didn't want to spend too much, but wanted good IQ in a compact size. 3N was the only thing I could think of that fit the bill. I want to use some adapted lenses, but I've never shot one without a viewfinder before lol.

1 upvote
By shadowz (Apr 17, 2013)

Quick naevi menu would have been nice .....and fitted in well with the paucity of hard buttons...

1 upvote
Franka T.L.
By Franka T.L. (Mar 24, 2013)

So what does that new Zoom lever do if I put on a fix focal lens or a zoom that do not support power zoom , this is not really clear when I read the Sony product page, but I would say it would be advantageous to be able to customize this 2nd electronic input selector, it would be able to function as 2nd control wheel ( except it do not revolve around ) or it might be programmed to work with the main control dial to fashion quick selection of parameters and changing them ... now Sony, let's go about it

By wiredau (Apr 2, 2013)

The zoom lever is actually on the E PZ 16-50mm lens, not the camera body.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
Erdal Fine
By Erdal Fine (Apr 3, 2013)

No, it's on the body. Look at the pictures and read the text.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Erdal Fine
By Erdal Fine (Apr 3, 2013)

So, what do you expect the lever to do? Nothing, what else? And this is definitely not that category of camera, which is suppose to feature customizable knobs...

By Raymoendo (Feb 27, 2013)

This is the camera I was waiting for, for a long time!!

Aps-c sensor, built in flash, retractable lens and very veryyy SMALL :)

This is my new camera for sure! Bye bye Canon S100...

By Rambazamba (Feb 28, 2013)

What was so bad with the Canon S100 (besides the video)?
At least it fits in any pocket, 24mm and it has CHDK.
If a Camera won`t fit in my pocket I can as well bring my big DLSR (which I don`t most of the time)

Do you want to sell your S100 ?

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 7 minutes after posting
1 upvote
The Jacal
By The Jacal (Mar 18, 2013)

I think you missed the bit about APS-C sensor....

By Borgward7 (Apr 17, 2013)

Nothing's wrong with the Canon. I had an S95. Nice camera. But the APS-C sensor of the Nex dwarfs the Canon sensor, and so the Sony photos are just much better. I just got a 3N on Friday, and it's light enough that I actually take it with me, unlike my D600. As the poet hath said, you can't take photos if you don't have a camera with you Yes, there's lots NOT to like about the 3N -- but the size and the sensor are the key points.

1 upvote
By domina (Feb 27, 2013)

I've the NEX-F3 for nightclub & social photography with friends and I love it for it's self-portrait screen and its popup flash :-) it's the perfect camera for capturing memories. The combination of the built-in flash and the accessory port and the self-portrait screen makes F3 an awesome camera which I always have with me.

NEX-3N seems good but it clearly targets P&S upgraders: it lacks an accessory port (for viewfinder etc) and its screen is lower resolution than F3. It sells with a good lens though and it's as small as it can get. Its size is the main advantage over F3, and the lack of the accessory pot its main disadvantage.

I hope they continue development of the F3 though, or add a pop-up flash to the successor of 5R.

By americanclassic (11 months ago)

I don't like the gimmicky point-and-shoot features, but ehh it fits the bill for my budget. a hotshoe and a PASM wheel aren't worth the $400 upgrade to the NEX-6 imo

1 upvote
By vdalto (7 months ago)

That´s exactly what I thought ...

By abolit66 (Feb 26, 2013)

another piece of....

Tahir Hashmi
By Tahir Hashmi (Mar 9, 2013)

... brilliant market research and engineering.

By kelownadon (Feb 26, 2013)

Hi. My first post. Hopefully I get it right. I just bought the Sony Nex- F3 and am wondering whether I should return it and wait to buy the 3N in a month or so. I have two questions. First is the new lens as good as the previous. It looks to me like the new lens will only be available on the 3 series and not the 5 series and above. Is this true? Secondly how much of an issue will the lower resoultion on the screen of the 3N be to me? Thanks for any input that I may get.

By Jaxzon1822 (Feb 27, 2013)

Hi kelownadon,
I've done quite a bit of research on cameras lately (particularly Sony) so I believe I can accurately answer your questions. First of, the lens. The NEX-F3 is equipped with the 18-55mm kit lens while the 3N has the 16-50mm power zoom. The advantages of the power zoom are that it has faster auto focus, better stabilization, sharper optics, and a more compact body than the kit lens. And as for the screen, a lower resolution on a smaller screen will not be as big of a deal as that on a larger. In my personal opinion, I think that unless you absolutely need the accessory shoe and the higher rez screen, the NEX-3N would be the better buy.

1 upvote
By Rambazamba (Feb 28, 2013)

If you walk around with only the camera and one lens I would change to the 3N. If on the other hand you carry around a camera bag with further lenses (e.g. primes) I would keep the F3.

1 upvote
By kelownadon (Feb 28, 2013)

Thanks guys. Looks like I will be returning my F3 today. I do only carry the one camera and lens around with me and the smaller size of the 3N is a huge selling point as long as it will take the same quality pictures and it looks like it will.

Newton Whale
By Newton Whale (Feb 28, 2013)

The 3N has a better sensor than the F3.
(I just confirmed with Sony by phone).

It has the same sensor and processor as in the Nex-5R.

According to DxO, "On a technical level, the NEX-5R’s 16Mpix CMOS sensor has evolved by integrating phase detectors that allow the camera’s autofocus to function like that of a DSLR, thus improving subject tracking."

That was not available on the F3, and the new sensor beats out the sensor in the F3:

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
By kelownadon (Mar 1, 2013)

Well I returned the F3 today and I found a new 5N (last one) at another store for $499, the same price as the new 3N. So I bought the 5N given that I think the 5N will make me happier in the long run. Anyway, I have another 2 weeks to take it back in case I change my mind again, but I doubt I will. Thanks again for all the help.

By wendal (Mar 5, 2013)

"...the 3N misses out on the faster on-sensor phase-detection autofocus seen on the 5R."

1 upvote
By ngc894 (7 months ago)

The NEX-3N ranks just above the out-going NEX-F3 model but the sensor doesn’t quite match that of last year’s NEX-5N
Still a good choice IMHO

By JEROME NOLAS (Feb 26, 2013)

First Sony I would buy...

By RussellInCincinnati (Feb 26, 2013)

Lots of information, with humanistic context as to its significance. A lucid, carefully and well-written article, thanks.

By xinn3r (Feb 25, 2013)

"the 3N misses out on the faster on-sensor phase-detection autofocus seen on the 5N"

I assume you mean the 5R, as the 5N does not have on-sensor phase-detection.

"It also continues to offer the screen that flips up by 180 degrees. Unlike the more expensive 5N, the 3N's screen isn't touch sensitive."

Again, here I assume you mean the 5R, because the 5N does not have a flip screen.

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting
By simon65 (Feb 25, 2013)

Good grief as soon as Phil Askey leaves the whole place goes to pieces.

By Mescalamba (Feb 25, 2013)

Damn, I didnt notice he left. :(

Tho frankly Sony NEX and Alpha system has tiny bit too much bodies to easily remember which is which. While its good to offer something for "everyone", I think maybe some model reduction wouldnt be bad.

By jimr (Feb 25, 2013)

They missed mentioning the new to the NEX line, but available in the Sony FF camera the advanced special area linked NR system.

1 upvote
By DFPanno (Feb 25, 2013)


By Mescalamba (Feb 25, 2013)


By digifan (Feb 25, 2013)

I'm sorry but the E-PM2 does have an accessory port AND a flash socket, you could have mentioned that.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
By Timmbits (Feb 26, 2013)

If only the EPM2 was an APSC... that would settle the matter! ;-)

By zapatista (Feb 27, 2013)

Well, the E-PM2 also has a crap fixed LCD and ineffective IBIS.

Comment edited 16 seconds after posting
By kolew (Mar 12, 2013)

what is the video, if you have the manual controls

By Lorrainem (Mar 18, 2013)

Using the NEX in the wild over the weekend and major observations are the noise of the shutter, I won't be sneaking shots with this camera for sure..note to PIs out there...this is not one for you!
Also, the lack of support by both Adobe and Sony has been very disappointing as I have been told by both to "just wait a little while as the camera is new and hasn't gained support yet." That's nice, I spent $500 on a camer and can't process my pictures because I choose to shoot in raw...or .arw as Sony chooses to call it.
Camera otherwise seems great and has been quite a lesson in futility. I have early adopted before and never came across this lack of compatibility issue. I may be late to this party, but someone really needs to step up on this.

Bottom line: As of today, if I were using film, one hour photo would be faster.

Comment edited 54 seconds after posting
By Manuso (Apr 3, 2013)

THis NEX have focus peaking?

1 upvote
By parson (10 months ago)

I regularly use either my Nikon D4 or D700 for my primary photography. Wanted something to carry to Disney World with me that would give good quality and ease of use. Bought the NEX 3n and it was GREAT! Picture quality was excellent, even at ISO 3200; controls were easy to use; focus was spot on; auto white balance was extremely accurate and it was generally a fun camera to use. Looking for something to build a pro business on? Get something else. Looking for an easy to carry, simple to use camera for candid shots with great quality? Consider the 3n. I now carry it everywhere I go and love using it. And, just for the record, I've pulled off some pretty great scenic shots with it that I'd be more than pleased to frame and put my name on!

1 upvote
By ngc894 (7 months ago)

I bought it one week ago and I just love this camera. The build quality is very good and I'm just impresed by the IQ. I wanted to have a little camera for BW pictures with nice DOF and this litle beast delivers.

Total comments: 51