304 of 319 people found the following review helpful
Great photos. Charging quirks. Display quirks outdoors. Excellent auto mode,
This review is from: Sony NEX-3NL/B Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera Kit (Black) (Electronics)
I bought this last week at Best Buy after reading tons of reviews of various NEX and Micro 4/3 cams. I have previously owned a Canon D20 full-size DSLR, a Canon S100 semi-pro compact, and another Canon "Elph" compact. The S100 is the Camera which I have previously used the most. It has a bigger sensor than most compacts of that 2009-era, and a fast lens. I have rarely used my DSLR because it is too large and you look like a wanna-be camera geek dragging it around.
The photos from this Sony are impressive. Color is great. Exposure is spot-on. It takes decent shots even at high ISOs (up to 1600 look very sharp). Movies look incredible. It records truly DSLR-grade photos. My DSLR is dated. It won't sound like much saying that it takes better photos than my Canon D20, but, wow. It has twice the pixels as the D20 but takes in just as much light. What an amazing upgrade.
Honestly, I expected quality photos. I have read enough pro reviews of other NEX cameras with the same sensor to know that this camera is great at recording beautiful images. What I did not expect is how great the "auto" modes on this camera are. This camera's skill at automatically choosing the right settings for you is why you should buy it.
I never studied photography in school, but I have read enough, and have enough consumer experience to know how to balance aperture, speed, and ISO to get great shots. Because I'm not an experienced or pro photographer, setting everything on the camera has always been a bit trial-and-error. I've forced myself to do this chore because I always end up with better shots than most camera's "auto" modes. Well, if you're an amateur like me you may find yourself proudly turning the mode dial to the "superior auto" mode on this Sony. Unless you're a pro, this camera is great at quickly analyzing a scene and choosing the ideal settings. I still love to tinker when I have time, but it is invaluable to be able to turn the mode to "auto" and know your images will be brilliant.
I have only taken this camera out twice. Both times I needed to have the camera ready in a hurry for a few shots and just switched it to "superior auto." The shots have been nothing short of amazing in some very difficult lighting. The camera's "superior auto" mode doesn't just jack up the ISO to take in enough light, like most dumb cameras I've owned. It does all sorts of crazy tricks (like merging multiple exposures) and delivers breathtaking results. Today I photographed a couple who were forced to stand in the shade so we could get a landmark framed just-right in the background. The landmark was in bright sunlight. Looking at the final photo, there is no hint of anything but perfect lighting in both the foreground and background. All I did was point the camera. It even recorded a full-res' copy of the photo cropped much better than I had framed it. It is completely nuts how smart this camera is. It gives you all of this brilliant help without doing anything. On the images where the camera provided its own crop, it recorded both my framing and its own version of the image. It must have upscaled the images it automatically cropped, because they are not missing any flippin' pixels. The quality looks just as good as the wider-framed version I composed. Wow.
Shooting indoors sans-flash is just as great as you would expect when using a camera with a big sensor. It gathers tons of light, even in dim rooms. The slow kit lens will force the camera into ISO 3200 if shooting via lamplight and you will see noise in some indoor shots, but it is far superior to any point and shoot. True SLR quality in a compact-ish body. Shooting in "intelligent auto" mode delivers pro results. The camera doesn't intimidate subjects like SLRs tend to do. It's feather-light and easy to keep at your side. I'm completely in love with this camera!
The largest compliant that I saw when reading professional reviews of this camera, were about difficulty accessing settings vs a real DSLR. It's true that every setting is accessed using camera menus, but I have found the layout and ease of access to controls very impressive. It is more intuitive than the menu system on my Canon cameras. The main reason that I bought the camera at a store was so I could mess around with the menus and settings to see if the all-digital controls would be a deal-breaker for me. The fact that I could easily access and control everything quickly without having even read the manual was the thing that pushed me over the edge to make the purchase. I find the control menus to be really good and I would not want to trade this camera's small body for a bunch of dials which only occasionally save me a half-second button press. Having used the camera, the "superior auto" mode is much better than lots of easily accessible dials when you need to take a quick shot anyhow.
The included strap is too short to wear across your body if you're a bigger guy like me. It's fine if you wear it only around your neck but I hate carrying a camera like that. I find it easier to carry the camera at my side with the strap across my body. I had to buy a better strap. I highly recommend the BlackRapid RS10SC-1AO Metro Camera Strap (Black), even though it is overpriced. It is slim enough that it is a great match for the little sony NEX, and it has solid reliable-looking metal hardware.
Another minor complaint is the lack of a viewfinder or accessory port, which the other Sony NEX cameras have. I would really like to have a viewfinder, and because this camera lacks the accessory port, adding one is not an option. I haven't had great difficulty framing my shots using the screen on the rear of the cam, but I'm just old fashioned and miss having a viewfinder.
Lowered review to four stars for a few reasons:
I have run into a few situations where the display was too dim to frame shots properly in bright sunlight. There is a setting to put the display in "sunlight" mode which helps, but it is buried in the setup menu. The fact that this is not an automatic setting is absurd. Perhaps I'm spoiled by my phone and tablet, which do an admirable job of adjusting the display to light conditions, but the tech isn't groundbreaking and would be a huge asset to a camera where the display is the only option when framing shots. The lack of viewfinder, even as an add-on option, is the biggest shortcoming of this camera. After my last use, I have started to keep the camera in "sunlight" mode just to guarantee that I can use it easily outdoors when needed.
Several of the pro reviews and a few amateur reviews complain that the battery charges in the camera rather than in an external charger. I like in-camera charging and it is better than trying to remember to carry an external charger like my Canon cameras. I have a few micro USB chargers around for charging other devices (like my headphones and my Kindle). The problem is that the camera charges very very slowly. I was charging in my car on a three hour drive a few days ago and it was not able to fill the battery in this time. Also, it is very sensitive to charge faults. If you just plug it in and forget about it, you may find that the battery failed to charge at all. You should check the camera to insure the charge light is not flashing after it has been plugged in for a while (flashing indicates a charging problem). If you have a charge problem, you must unplug it and try again. Most of the time you must remove and re-insert the battery. It often requires several tries to get it to begin charging. This is a major inconvenience.
In the IAuto+ mode that I love so much, white balance is sometimes off. It can be severe when shooting indoors with incandescent light (very yellow cast). It can be corrected if shooting raw, but it's a pain. Shooting in raw mode also reduces the effectiveness of the exposure tricks it plays in intelligent auto mode. It's too bad that Sony doesn't allow adjusting white balance in the auto modes. The best solution for accurate white balance shooting indoors, without flash and without using raw, is to use aperture priority mode, shoot wide open, and set the proper white balance yourself.
I use a Mac. As of this writing (4/30/13), Apple's Aperture and iPhoto software do not support raw images from this camera. Sony provides a decent simple image editor called "Image Data Converter" for the Mac which works well. It is very straightforward and basic, but it gives lots of options for adjusting RAW images and doesn't have unnecessary BS trying to sell you prints and calendars. It's just a plain-Jane image tweaker for fine tuning and exporting RAW images as JPG. Apple is pretty regular about updating their software and I expect support soon, but the 3N is brand new and not supported in Aperture/iPhoto.
Update 6/3/13: Apple updated OSX with raw support for the NEX 3N. Raw images work in Preview, iPhoto, and Aperture.
Note about lens upgrade experiences:
I purchased the Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN- Sony E 330965 lens to supplement the kit lens. It does give a slight advantage shooting indoors. At 30mm (45mm equiv), the kit lens is f5 and the Sigma is 2.8. This gives about 1-1/2 stops of light gathering ability. In real-life, it only gives about a half-stop (handleld) because the kit lens is stabilized, allowing you to shoot a slower shutter speeds. I wish I had spent a bit more and bought the Sony SEL35F18 35mm f/1.8 Prime Fixed Lens instead. It's two full stops faster and includes image stabilization. it is more than twice as expensive as the Sigma, but offers a much greater advantage in real world use compared to the kit lens on this camera.
Conclusion after using it 5-6 times and a month of ownership:
The cam is compact and takes great shots. The kit lens is slow but acceptable in good light. If you have any doubts about not having a viewfinder and money is no object, spend a bit more and get an NEX 6 or 7. All NEX cams are compact. This one is more compact but you aren't going to get this thing in your pocket anyhow. Considering how much I have complained about not having a viewfinder, I would still buy the 3N again simply because of the low price compared the the rest of the NEX line. $450-$500 is a lot of money to me. The NEX six and seven are double the price. Remember, there are SLR options with optical viewfinders for similar pricing, but they are too large for everyday carry in my opinion. You really should go to a camera store to compare several cameras side by side. Personally, if money were no issue my ideal setup would be the NEX 6 body and the Sony 35mm f1.8 lens for a total of about $1200. The 3N is HALF the price of the 6 with the exact same kit lens, and 1/3 of the price of my "ideal" camera example.
This camera isn't perfect but it is hard to beat for the money.
Tracked by 4 customers
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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 16, 2013 4:30:40 AM PDT
Blu-ray fan says:
Hi thx for the review of the NEX 3N...you mentioned in your review that you had read several professional reviews for this camera...but I have been searching for several weeks and have not found any yet- only previews...could you pls let me know where these pro reviews are? Thx again.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 16, 2013 11:30:36 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 16, 2013 11:33:25 AM PDT
Yea. Lots of previews but good coverage of the overall design and ergonomics at dpreview and a few YouTube videos. You can read about the kit glass in reviews for the 6 (it's compact but is soft at the edges). The sensor performance can be taken from the many reviews of the previous model and the other NEX cameras which share this sensor (low noise and great in low light). The complaints about the lack of dials and controls were on a YouTube review. I'd definitely recommend that you go to a store to play with it if you have reservations about the compact form factor. I found them to be a good trade for portability but everyone is different.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 17, 2013 11:32:49 AM PDT
Blu-ray fan says:
Thank you for the reply- I appreciate it very much.
Posted on Jun 18, 2013 9:49:06 AM PDT
Does the 3 series have a touch screen? It's a featuree I love on one of my Panasonics, for the ability to compose shots quickly and choose (unusual) focsal points. I have been looking at the 5n. The newer models are tempting but pricey. This is an excellent price for a camera of this wuality, but I do not want to give up the touch screen (and have not seen any comments oin same). Thank you
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 18, 2013 10:36:58 AM PDT
No touch screen. No way to force focus on an odd area.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 19, 2013 10:07:44 AM PDT
Thanks for your help. I like using the screen to compose enough that I likely will go with the 5 series, or look for a7 discounted. Otherwise looks like a fantastic camera for the price. Thanks again.
Posted on Jun 20, 2013 5:06:13 PM PDT
A Forest Fan says:
Currently using an $85 Nikon camera. Thanks for helping me decide on the "next" step up.
Posted on Jul 5, 2013 7:32:09 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 5, 2013 7:32:39 PM PDT
Hi Jeffery, I'm just a mom wanting decent pics of my kids. Currently we have a Cannon Elph SD1300 IS. My main desire in our next camera is one that takes better photos indoors then the Elph. I'm not looking for perfect miracle professional looking shots, just something that doesn't make it look like we live in cave. How would you say this one compares specifically to the Elph? We would likely keep it in the auto mode most of the time.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 5, 2013 9:49:26 PM PDT
I just glanced at the specs of the sd1300. It is very similar to my old sd800. The Canon lens is faster (its iris opens further) but the sensor is much smaller on the canon, so it gathers much less light. The larger DSLR-grade sensor on the Sony means that it will have less-grainy images at higher sensitivities. When you shoot indoors in low light, it forces a camera to increase the sensor sensitivity (this is the ISO).
You are going to gain a couple "stops" on paper because the Sony at ISO 1600 is similar to the Canon Elph at ISO 400.
In reality, this camera (wearing any lens under $500) is going to shoot at ISO 3200 in dim indoor light. It will play some tricks and has a great sensor, so the photos will be decent at that ISO for smallish (4x6) prints or email. If you want to make larger prints the images shot at ISO 3200 will have lots of "noise" and not be very sharp. Also, even with state-of-the-art photo processing in the camera, the whie balance will not always be right (same as the Canon). You can manually select the white balance, but not in the I-auto mode. If you shoot using raw, you can repair white balance perfectly, but you lose some of Sony's multi-exposure magic tricks (shooting raw isn't even an option on the Elph).
In summary, yes, your dimly-lit indoor photos will look a bit better on the Sony. If you want to make larger prints, or just love closely-inspecting digital photos, you're going to be forced to use the flash in dim light. Both the Sony and the Canon Elph will record great shots with a flash. IMO, if you're taking flash photos in dim light you aren't going to get a great benefit.
In good indoor light, the Sony will shoot ISO 800. ISO 800 shots on the Sony are brilliant (as good as 100-200 on a compact).
I love the outdoor shots I've made on the Sony, but I have owned a couple Canon cams and know that they take great shots in sunlight too.
The last thing to consider is size. If you're comparing this Sony to a DSLR with the same capability, it's tiny. If you compare it to your Canon, it's going to feel pretty large. You will not be tucking an NEX camera into your pocket.
It would be hard for me to recommend it to you unless you have $500 burning a hole in your pocket. It will take better shots than the Canon, but not dramatically better in good light or when using a flash.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 5, 2013 9:58:20 PM PDT
One other big point to make about this Sony vs the Canon Elph p&s:
This camera gives you the option of total control. You have almost zero control with the Canon Elph. If you think that it will be fun to learn about photography and take some creative shots, this thing will open a whole new world for you.
Buy a copy of "The Digital Photography Book" by Scott Kelby. You can learn to take better shots with your Canon and learn about some advantages to taking more control of your shots with a Camera's manual settings. I'd be surprised if its more than ten or fifteen dollars.