Like its predecessors, the Sony NEX-C3 is generously endowed with features, including many that have 'trickled down' from Sony's SLT series, and up from its Cyber-shot point-and-shoot models. Not all are essential, but in general, as we'd expect from such a hybrid, the C3's feature set is both versatile and fun.

Photo Creativity mode

The big news in the NEX-C3 is the arrival of a results-orientated 'Photo Creativity' mode. This builds on the 'Bkground Defocus' mode offered in the existing NEX models, but adds the means to adjust many of the camera's shooting settings without having to learn about F-numbers, white balance and exposure compensation.

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The result is noticeably similar to the Live Guide mode Olympus introduced on its PEN E-PL1 model. There are six parameters that can be changed, with a seventh option to engage one of the other additions to the C3 - 'Picture Effects.' These too are remarkably like the art filters seen on the PEN series, which we've subsequently seen appear across most brands.

Our opinion of the Photo Creativity options is generally positive - they're readily comprehensible and easy to use. Unlike Olympus's implementation, multiple settings can be combined together which makes the system very flexible, and you can even go back and change the setting you've applied, by re-selecting it in the menu. Each filter is shown at the bottom of the screen as it's added. In general, like similar Olympus and Panasonic offerings, the C3's Photo Creativity filters are a good way of helping beginners gain access to more of the camera's capabilities without getting bogged down in technicalities.

The Photo Creativity mode gives you access to seven options:
1 - Bkground Defocus (Aperture)
2 - Brightness (Exposure Comp.)
3 - Color (White balance)
4 - Vividness (Saturation)
5 - Self-timer/Continuous Adv.
6 - Soft Skin Effect
7 - Picture Effect
Each option (such as Bkground Defocus, shown here), can be adjusted by rotating the control dial, with the effects immediately visible in the live view image.
More options can then be added (you can see them stacking up at the bottom left of this screen). You can even go back and adjust the settings of one of the filters you've already selected.
One of the options in the Photo Creativity section contains the 'Picture Effects' - a series of seven image processing effects. These effects cannot be modified (no intensity or color tolerance adjustments, for example), but can easily be combined with the other options such as brightness and Bkground Defocus.

Sadly, the problems we previously identified with Bkground Defocus in the NEX 3 and 5 are completely unchanged. It still implies that shooting at 18mm and f/3.5 will give a softer background than 55mm and f/5.6 with the kit lens - which it won't, and its encouragement of using an aperture of f/22-32 to give sharp images is unhelpful, since apart from anything else it guarantees a loss of pixel-level sharpness thanks to diffraction.

Picture Effects

The NEX-C3, along with the SLT-A35, gains a series of image processing options and special effects, called 'Picture Effects' in Sony parlance. These options are now available to NEX-3 and 5 owners through the v04 firmware update.

These sorts of pre-baked 'artistic' effects have become very popular in recent years. Olympus started the craze with its 'Art Filters' but it is unusual now to find a camera at this level that doesn't offer the option to degrade its image quality somehow in the name of creativity. The NEX-C3 offers seven Picture Effects:

Picture Effects
• Toy Camera
• High Contrast Monochrome
• High-Key
• Partial Color (Red, Green, Blue or Yellow)
• Retro
• Pop Color
• Posterization (Black & White or Color)
- exaggerated colors and darkened corners
- stark black and white image
- bright, washed-out tone curve
- leaves only a single color in the scene
- gives a faded color film look
- creates highly vivid colors
- produces a heavily stepped image with a reduced palette

Although easy to dismiss as rather gimmicky, we really like the option to capture images using effects like these simply because, although they're all relatively easy to recreate in post-processing, having the option when you're shooting tends to inspire 'in the moment' creativity.

Toy Camera Partial Color (Y) Partial Color (B) Partial Color (R) Partial Color (G)
High Key Retro Pop Color Posterization (B&W) Posterization (Color)

As is usual with these options, we prefer some more than others. Because there's no way of adjusting the selected tone (or tolerance of similar tones) in the Partial Color modes, their effectiveness often comes down to luck. Equally we're not particularly smitten with the Posterization options but, overall, Picture Effects are a welcome addition to the C3's feature set.

Sweep Panorama

Like the NEX cameras before it, the C3 includes a sweep panorama mode that automatically stitches a series of images taken together at a high shutter speed. The panorama can be shot in either Standard or Wide mode and the direction of pan can be set to Up, Down, Left or Right. It is possible to change the exposure when shooting panoramas using exposure compensation, but ISO, aperture and shutter speed are set by the camera.

Sweep Panorama - Wide mode. Approx 180 degree coverage. 12416 x 1856px
Sweep Panorama - Standard mode. Approx 120 degree coverage. 8192 x 1856px

Sweep Panorama works very well, and creates usefully high-resolution files compared to the same function in Sony's Cyber-shot models, which stitches panoramas together from the camera's video feed. The ease of use and automated stitching come at a price however. Stitching errors can be an issue - look at the ripples in the water of the lower example, above.

When creating a panorama of a scene with a large dynamic range it's best to start the shot in the darkest area. The exposure is retained from the first shutter press and if the first image is too bright, the panorama tends to not complete at all, especially if the sweeping motion is too fast or inconsistent.