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
Compared to the Sony NEX-F3
In the hand
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.
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.
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 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.
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|