Sony NEX-3N Review: Stepping up to Mirrorless

by Reads (26,183)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 7
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 7.60
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


  • Pros

    • Excellent image quality
    • User interface is perfect for consumers stepping up from P&S digital cameras
    • Fast and accurate AF
  • Cons

    • No hot shoe
    • Poor placement of zoom slider on lens barrel

Quick Take

Designed for photographers who want to step up from a point and shoot camera, the Sony NEX-3N has a lot of offer in a very compact device.

Consumers have shown, over the last few years, that they love compact digital cameras with interchangeable lenses that combine the ease of use and convenience of a point and shoot camera with DSLR features like larger sensors, improved performance, better image quality, and interchangeable lenses. Sony’s new NEX-3N’s list price is $500–for the camera and a 16mm-50mm/f3.5-f5.6 zoom. That’s roughly $100 less than the list price of the NEX-F3–the camera the NEX-3N is replacing–and that should result in a street price of the camera to about $400.00. That brings the NEX-3N into the same price range as upper tier P&S digital cameras and cheaper than top tier P&S digital cameras like the Canon G16. The NEX-3N is a MILC (mirrorless interchangeable lens camera) and a great choice for consumers because Sony’s cheapest interchangeable lens camera is actually much more like a P&S digital camera that can change lenses than it is like a DSLR with a selection of popular P&S digital camera features. The NEX-3N is aimed directly at P&S digital camera users who want to move up to a reasonably priced camera that provides more control, better image quality, and interchangeable lenses without any significant increase in size or operational complexity. 

Build and Design
The NEX-3N doesn’t look particularly retro, but it does seem to be built to old-school standards. The metal alloy/polycarbonate body feels substantial and well constructed, but it doesn’t feel heavy. Weather seals and dust-proofing appear to be more than adequate. The NEX-3N also doesn’t look like a compact point-and-shoot digital camera and it doesn’t look much like a DSLR either. The body is about the same size as a standard P&S digital camera, but the NEX-3N offers DSLR features like a real handgrip and a zoom lens that is larger and obviously more substantial than the flimsy looking telescoping zoom lenses customarily found on P&S digital cameras. Sony eschewed hot button features like a capacitive touchscreen LCD, a GPS receiver, and built-in Wi-Fi to hold costs down–so if you want those cell phone features on your camera you’ll have to look elsewhere –and pay more. While the NEX-3N is noticeably smaller than its predecessor, under the hood the two cameras are remarkably similar – with almost identical specifications. The NEX-3N is pocketable –as long as you are referring to a jacket pocket, but this camera isn’t going to slip into the back pocket of your favorite jeans. In my opinion, the NEX-3N is tough enough to go just about anywhere including extreme environments – like shooting winter sports or trekking through canyon country in the desert southwest.

Ergonomics and Controls
Many veteran photographers prefer larger cameras because ergonomics are generally better. Bigger cameras provide larger buttons, a better grip, and more stable handling. I’ve always loved small cameras and while the NEX-3N may be considered a bit small and too minimalist in the controls department by some, I really liked the like well thought out control array that features only a few essential buttons.  Everything that a photographer needs is included. There are some differences –the NEX-3N’s review button is not on the back of the camera, but on the top deck and the exposure compensation function is on the compass switch, directly connected to an easy to use scale that is controlled by the compass switch’s rotary jog dial and (very important) the NEX-3N forgets all exposure compensation settings the moment the camera is turned off –so no ugly surprises the next day–it’s the best exposure compensation arrangement that I’ve seen to date.

What I consider the NEX-3N’s single worst design misstep is the slider switch used to adjust the zoom on the lens barrel. The switch is located exactly where the typical photographer holds the lens with his/her left hand while using the right hand for the grip and shutter button. The problem with this arrangement is that it neutralizes both of the other zoom controls–neither will work if you have your hand on the zoom slider switch. In the NEX3’s future incarnations, this switch should be moved to the bottom of the lens barrel. In addition to the poorly placed zoom slider switch, the NEX-3N also features a standard point and shoot zoom toggle surrounding the shutter button and a zoom control ring on the lens. The zoom control ring (which also functions as the focusing ring in manual focus mode) is a by-wire control, which means that it won’t respond immediately to your touch –there will always be a bit of lag time–which makes this zoom control slower and less precise. 

Menus and Modes
Camera menu systems are often criticized for being too complex or for being unintuitive and difficult to navigate–neither of those criticisms can be directed at the NEX-3N, which has an astonishingly simple, remarkably effective, and absolutely intuitive menu system. Push the NEX-3N’s menu button and the screen shows six icons: Shooting mode–which leads to a virtual mode dial, Camera–which leads to the basic camera menu, Image Size, Brightness/Color, Playback, and Set-Up. Kudos to the folks at Sony for the best menu system I have seen to date and here’s a piece of advice for Sony’s competitors–steal this menu system.  Below is a breakdown of the NEX-3N’s shooting modes.

Auto: In keeping with its upscale P&S digital camera secret identity the NEX-3N offers two auto modes: Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto.
Scene: the NEX-3N allows users to match the camera’s auto exposure system to the scene mode that?s most suitable for the subject.
Program: Auto exposure with limited user input. 
Aperture priority: Users select the aperture and the camera selects an appropriate shutter speed. 
Shutter priority: Users select shutter speed and the camera selects an appropriate aperture. 
Manual: Users select all exposure parameters. 
Sweep Panorama: The NEX-3N allows users to automatically shoot panoramic images.
Movie: The NEX-3N records HD video at a maximum resolution of 1440x1080p @ 25fps.

The NEX-3N features a large bright 3.0-inch LCD monitor with 460K resolution. The wide-viewing angle TFT LCD monitor is sharp, bright, hue accurate, and fluid. The default info display provides all the information this camera’s target audience is likely to need. The LCD gains up (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting and brightness can also be adjusted to the individual shooter’s preferences. Finally, the NEX-3N’s LCD flips up to face the front–flip the screen up, hold the camera at arm?s length in your left hand (with your left thumb on the shutter button), use the LCD to fine tune your pose and then press the shutter button. The LCD doesn’t tilt or swivel, so this feature is only useful to folks who like to take pictures of themselves.

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