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The NEX-C3 is the first of Sony's second generation of mirrorless cameras, following the introduction of the 14MP NEX-3 and NEX-5 in mid-2010. If these first two models showed how committed Sony is to offering APS-C capabilities in a compact form factor, the point is underlined by the arrival of the still-smaller C3.

Sony is one of the companies with most to gain from a widespread adoption of mirrorless cameras. The inroads it made into the conventional DSLR market were pretty modest compared to its ambition, and there's clearly an opportunity to combine its in-house expertise from its Cyber-shot compacts with the interchangeable lens know-how it gained when it bought Konica Minolta, back in 2006.

The NEX-C3, even more than its predecessors, underlines the company's desire to offer this blend of compact camera convenience with large sensor image quality. Despite its larger sensor, the C3 challenges the smallest Micro Four Thirds models in terms of size, with only its kit zoom limiting its compactness.

The big news, beyond the NEX-C3's reduced size, is the inclusion of a 16MP sensor. This isn't exactly the same sensor used to such great effect in the Sony A55 (amongst others), but a re-engineered version designed to offer improved power consumption, with the promise of lower image noise and improved temperature characteristics as a result.

Beyond the new sensor, however, the changes are modest. There are changes to the user interface - the addition of a distinctly Olympus-style outcome-orientated simple shooting mode is the most obvious revision. There's a touch more user customization available to shooters in the more user-controlled modes. In the NEX-C3, Sony has forgone labeling the left and right buttons on the control dial as they are now user selectable. The C3 also includes a selection of fun image processing filters (another feature it's hard not to associate with Olympus).

Sony has previously spoken of expanding the NEX range in two directions - in an easy-to-use direction for point-and-shoot upgraders, and towards offering greater manual control for enthusiasts - and it doesn't take extensive analysis to work out which of these the C3 is part of. Just as Panasonic has decided to shrink and simplify its G and GF-series cameras, Sony is clearly trying to attract customers who want DSLR quality but wouldn't consider lugging a big black lump of camera around, and who (quite reasonably) are more interested in taking good pictures than learning what f-numbers mean.

Sony NEX-C3 specification highlights

  • Revised 16.2MP CMOS sensor
  • ISO 200-12800
  • Creative Control results-orientated user interface
  • Picture Effects processing options
  • 720p30 HD movies in MPEG-4 format
The NEX-3 (left) isn't exactly excessively bulky, so it's impressive to see that Sony has managed to make the C3 still smaller - it's slightly smaller even than the NEX-5.

Compared to Panasonic DMC-GF3 and Olympus PEN E-PL3

The Sony Alpha NEX-C3 continues Sony's line of interchangeable lens cameras featuring an APS-C sensor in a remarkably small body. Its nearest competitors are the recently released Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 and the Olympus PEN E-PL3, both of which are based on the Micro 4/3 mount. Even with a larger sensor than both of its competitors Sony has managed to create a body on par with the svelte GF3. From the back it's easy to see the market segment that Sony is aiming for with the NEX-C3. The control layout mirrors most compacts with a single control dial and a pair of soft keys. The Panasonic GF series has become increasingly simpler with each iteration, approaching the minimalist design of the C3 and may now be it's closest competition. The E-PL3's control layout is aimed more towards enthusiast users, providing customizable manual controls as well as an external mode dial. The Panasonic GF3 includes a touchscreens that provides access to complementary controls like single point focus and shoot and review features. The biggest differentiation between these cameras top-side is how each manufacturer has dealt with incorporating a flash on such small cameras. Like the E-PL3 the NEX-C3 has no built in flash, but instead requires attaching an external flash. The GF3 includes a pop up flash, unfortunately this restricts you from upgrading to a more powerful flash. None of these cameras are large by any means, but the NEX-C3 maintains the status of Sony's NEX range as being some of the smallest interchangeable lens cameras available. The advent of the curious Pentax Q means that Sony's NEX range are no longer the smallest system cameras on the market, but considering the size of their APS-C format sensors, the degree of miniaturization that Sony has achieved is impressive.
Sony NEX-C3 Panasonic GF3 Olympus E-PL3
Sensor • 23.4 x 15.6 mm APS HD Exmor CMOS
• 16.5 MP total
• 16.2 MP effective
• 4/3" Live MOS sensor
• 13.1 MP total
• 12.3 MP effective
• 4/3" Live MOS sensor
• 13.1 MP total
• 12.3 MP effective
Image stabilization Lens • Lens • Sensor shift
• 3 stops (claimed)
Battery life
~400 shots ~300 shots • ~ 330 shots
Video mode • 720p 29.97fps (7 or 6 mbps) MP4 • 1080 60i (17mbps)
• 720 60p (17mbps)
• AVCHD & Motion JPEG
• 1080 60i (17mbps)
• 720 60p (17mbps)
• AVCHD & Motion JPEG
LCD screen • 3.0" LCD
• Articulating (80 degrees up / 45 degrees down)
• 921,600 dots
• 3.0" LCD
• 460,000 dots
• 3.0" OLED
• Touch panel
• 460,000 dots
Touch-screen • No • Yes • No
Viewfinder • None • None • Optional external
Metering modes • Multi-segment (49 point honeycomb pattern) • 144 zone multi-pattern sensing system • Digital ESP (324-area multi-pattern metering)
• Center-Weighted Average
• Spot (1%)
• Highlight based spot
• Shadow based spot
Flash • External • Yes (in-built) External
Dimensions 110 x 60 x 33mm • 107.7 x 67.1 x 32.5 mm / 4.24 x 2.64 x 1.28 in • 109mm (W) x 63.7mm (H) x 37.3mm (D) (excluding protrusions)
Weight (body only) • 225g • 264g 313g