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					Sony Alpha NEX-C3 review

Traditionally known as DSLRs, interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) have always promised
excellent image quality, speed, and versatility. But their enormous size and weight, lofty
price tags, and intimidating design have forced casual photographers to focus on compact
and superzoom point-and-shoot cameras instead, often leaving those bulky, confusing
monstrosities to the pros. Enter mirrorless models, which scrap an optical viewfinder in
favor of shrinking both body size and price tag, have provided the rest of us with a
welcome mat to the world of powerful sensors, high-speed shooting, and swappable lenses -
- with relatively little sacrifice along the way.



The 16-megapixel Alpha NEX-C3 builds upon the successes of its predecessor -- the NEX-3
-- sporting a slimmer body and redesigned APS-C sensor. It also adds a reported 20-
percent boost in battery life, improved low light performance, and a slimmer, more
attractive design. We spent well over a month using the NEX-C3 as our primary camera
for product shoots, trade shows, hands-on videos, and vacations, and were blown away by
its performance as both a versatile still snapper and a powerful video camera. It's
important to note that while the C3 does capture 720p video, it can't shoot in 1080p, so
you'll need to look elsewhere if you need full HD. Like all mirrorless cameras, there's also
no optical viewfinder, nor is there a traditional hot shoe. Instead, Sony included the same
propriety connector found on the NEX-3 and NEX-5, enabling connectivity with a
dedicated external microphone and a limited variety of external flashes, including the
compact strobe that ships in the box. While some photographers may find the NEX-C3
inadequate for their needs, we absolutely loved shooting with it, and we think you will too.
Jump past the break to see why.

Sony NEX-C3 review



Hardware



If you currently own an NEX-3 or NEX-5, there really isn't any need to upgrade to the
NEX-C3. As can be expected after a year on the market, the NEX series is now more
polished, though most of these improvements are cosmetic. To say that the NEX-C3 looks
awkward at first glance would be a bit of an understatement. The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit
lens ($649, with body) appears gigantic when contrasted against the relatively petite
camera, though it's still smaller than a DSLR equivalent. Popping on the 16mm f/2.8 kit
lens ($599, with body) makes the C3 appear significantly better proportioned, but that
fixed optic isn't quite as versatile as its zoom-enabled sibling, though it should work just
fine for casual outings. Once you get past this initial awkwardness -- and trust us, you will
get past it -- both lenses will feel just right.
Diving beyond the lens, you'll notice some cosmetic differences from the NEX-3. Sony
constructed the body of three panels, which allowed it to shrink and reposition some of the
components, as well as shake things up with two-tone coloring. The C3 is available in black,
pink and silver, and all three versions include a magnesium alloy top panel, which houses
the power slider, shutter and playback buttons, and video record control. You'll also find
the proprietary hot shoe mount, AF-assist light, and stereo microphones, which have been
repositioned from the top of the body (on the C3) to the front, located just to the left and
right of the lens. This new placement presents an obvious advantage, since you'll be able to
capture audio directly from your source in front of the lens.




Moving down the back of the camera, you'll find the same articulating 3-inch (921,000-
pixel) display that Sony included with the NEX-3. The mount itself has been redesigned,
however, allowing for the LCD to rest flush with the bottom and sides when in its docked
position. You can also tilt it up at about an 85-degree angle, or down at 45 degrees, letting
short folks like us capture overhead shots at, say, a concert, or in Times Square on New
Year's Eve. Sony elected to exclude touch functionality, which seems reasonable for a high-
end camera -- after all, this kind of photographer is more interested in having dedicated
controls they can fine-tune on the fly, as opposed to a touchscreen that requires more
patience, drains battery life, and picks up fingerprints. To the right of the display, there's a
pair of variable buttons, toggling different menu options depending on the mode. There's
also a multipurpose selection ring surrounding a four-way selector, with dedicated controls
for display and exposure. And that's about it -- most of the buttons perform different
functions as you switch through shooting and playback modes, with the onscreen menu
clearly identifying each button's role.




On the right side there's an extended grip positioned towards the front, and a shoulder
strap hook. On the left, you'll find a duplicate strap connector flanked by mini USB and
mini-HDMI ports. Sony switched things up a bit on the bottom of the camera, separating
the SD card and battery compartments -- necessary to cut back on the body's width. The
dedicated SD card slot is located to the right of the tripod connector. A flashing red LED
indicates activity, so you won't accidentally pop out your card while the camera is writing
to memory. The battery compartment houses the same 1080mAh NP-FW50 battery that's
used in the NEX-3, and includes a small cord pass-through, should you want to use a
dedicated AC adapter ($120) instead.



Performance and battery life



Photographers choose to shoot with ILCs not only because of the obvious flexibility they
provide in the lens department, but also due to their speed, manual control capabilities,
and large, high-quality image sensors. The NEX-C3 doesn't disappoint on any of these
counts, offering compatibility with several E-mount lenses, snapping frame after frame
with minimal delay, and capturing some of the sharpest, most vibrant images we've seen
come out of any interchangeable lens camera, including higher-end DSLRs. The camera's
image sensor is just one part of the equation -- you also need to have some serious, multi-
element, high-quality glass. We don't see a need for current NEX owners to upgrade,
however. Sure, the C3's 16-megapixel sensor offers a 14 percent boost over the NEX-3's 14-
megapixels, but with the majority of images bound for the web these days, the only
difference you're likely to see after upgrading is that your memory cards will fill up more
quickly. Both cameras perform well in low light (at up to ISO 6400), and have an equally
obnoxious amount of noise when shooting at ISO 12,800.




Because timing is key in photography, the camera's speed is critical to its overall
performance -- an area where the C3 does just fine, especially considering its size. You can
select between Single-shot Advance, Continuous Advance, or Speed Priority Continuous. In
the first mode, the camera powers on and captures its first image in 1.8 seconds. Since
we're only shooting individual images in that mode, you'll need to flip to continuous to fire
multiples, at three frames-per-second. Jumping to the even faster Speed Priority
Continuous mode, which fixes focus and exposure from the first shot, lets you shoot full-
size images at six frames-per-second -- not too shabby for a compact mirrorless camera. In
video mode, we were shooting in 720p at 29.97fps within less than a second of pressing the
dedicated record button.
As we already mentioned, there's no 1080p video, as there is with last year's NEX-5, but
that camera only offers one HD mode -- 1080p -- so we're happy to settle for 720p,
considering that the majority of videos we shoot go directly to the web. We realize that
some of you need to shoot 1080p, though, so it's unfortunate that this camera cannot. The
HD video that we did shoot was sharp, vibrant, and properly exposed. Audio sounded crisp
and clear, even in some very noisy environments. We also used Sony's external Compact
Stereo Microphone ($130) when shooting in particularly noisy environments, which seemed
to be particularly helpful, as long as we weren't trying to narrate from behind the cam (the
mic can capture audio within a 120-degree field, which unfortunately excludes a
photographer standing 180-degrees behind it).




We were pleasantly surprised by the camera's battery life, especially considering that the
C3 uses the exact same battery as its predecessor. Still, Sony claims that it was able to boost
longevity by 20-percent. We brought the camera on a four-day vacation, and were nearly
able to get through the entire trip without a recharge. Our testing didn't necessarily
represent typical usage, either, considering that we shot over 450 still images, including
several dozen extended exposures of at least ten seconds each, passed the camera around
many times to demo shooting modes, reviewed nearly every image onscreen at least once,
and captured about ten minutes of 720p video. Overall, we'd feel confident using the C3
through several consecutive days of heavy shooting without bringing along a second
battery (though they are available to purchase for $80).

				
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posted:7/25/2011
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