DigitalCameraReview.com
Sony NEX-3N First Look: Hands-On in NYC
by Laura Hicks -  3/1/2013

Compact, lightweight and easy to use, the NEX-3N is designed for first time users of Interchangeable Lens Cameras. It has a 16.1-megapixel APS-C sensor, ISO sensitivities up to 16,000, a 180 degree tiltable LCD screen and a built-in pop-up flash. The NEX-3N is shipped complete with a 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 motorized zoom lens. The NEX-3N is powered by a new processor, the Bionz, which offers the same noise reduction algorithm as the Sony A99.

Overview

30% smaller than the Sony NEX-3F, the NEX-3N is now the world's smallest and lightest ILC on the market. Although the camera has been reduced in size, many of the same features for the other Sony NEX cameras can be found on the 3N. A 3-inch LCD screen is tiltable to 180 degrees and encompasses a large part of the back of the camera. The NEX-3N comes equipped with a hand grip, albeit a bit small, this is a feature that many companies are currently forgoing.  An on-body zoom lever has been added for convenience for those stepping up to an ILC camera after using point-and-shoot cameras. However, Sony has not forgotten those users that still require more control over their camera's functionality. Direct access to ISO is easily adjusted via a 4 way control dial housed on the back of the camera.

Sony has even improved image quality. With the addition of the Bionz processor, areas such as flat surfaces, edges and textures will all see enhanced quality over previous models. In addition, several auto shooting options are now available on the NEX-3N. Auto Object Framing, Auto Portrait Framing, Auto Macro Framing and Auto Tracking Framing are all included to help your images reach that "next level." Imagine taking a picture, but allowing the camera to do all the work when it comes to properly cropping and framing your subjects. That's what the Sony NEX-3N can do in these auto modes. The camera uses basic "rules" of photography to correctly crop an image for the most pleasing results. But don't fret; the camera will still keep a file of your original image. Finally, the NEX-3N offers full HD video so you won't miss a beat.

Our First Impression
At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like the NEX-3N. Although it is a popular trend to make cameras smaller and more compact, I tend to prefer a little more "meat" on my cameras. When Sony announced that the NEX-3N was the smallest ILC on the market, by a whopping 30%, I was worried that they would be sacrificing image quality and ergonomics for a small, lightweight body. 

The body of the camera is indeed small, lightweight and easy to manage. The NEX-3N is shipped with a 16-50mm (24-75mm equivalent) motorized zoom lens that works in tandem with a familiar point-and-shoot camera feature - the zoom toggle switch that resides snugly around the shutter release. This is a new feature for the NEX 3-series, but Sony hopes the placement of the zoom toggle will entice point-and-shoot users to try out the ILC and quickly become at-ease with the toggle while learning the nuances of a motorized zoom ring. The NEX-3N has a small hand grip. It was acceptable, but after continuous use I could see that your hand could get tired. Most new ILC users will probably not have an issue with its size especially when using a neck or wrist strap.

 

  

In order to keep the cost down, phase-detection autofocus and a hot shoe are not present on this model. Users do not have a viewfinder, nor can you add one. On the other hand, Sony has included a built-in pop-up flash and a flip-up, rotating LCD screen.

Images from this camera were better than I expected, but it should be noted that I was able to use the incredible Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS lens for most of my shooting. The images were sharp and generally well exposed. The white balance was set on auto and was very accurate. The lighting in the butterfly exhibit was either very bright or very dark. I photographed with both auto and manual modes. Yet, I mostly used auto as there is no direct access to the manual settings through a mode dial. There is a mode menu that can be access on the main screen as seen on the middle, right side of the LCD screen.

As a professional photographer, the Sony NEX-3N will not be your first choice for a compact interchangeable lens camera. The Sony NEX-6 or the Olympus OM-D E-M5 will retain that stronghold. But this camera was not designed for professional, it was created for new users to the ILC market. I believe it does a good job of bridging the gap between point-and-shoots and ILCs. It was able to produce strong enough images to please ILC newbies and even those that have been around the block a time or two. Check out the images below and let me know what you think by weighing in on the forum.

Once I have a review unit in my hands I will take it outside and let you know if the camera can hold its own when photographing movement, macro, wide angles and keeping up with kids.

The NEX-3N will be available for $500 in April.