on June 21, 2013
I am a long-time, diehard Canon enthusiast who was in search of a large sensor compact system camera (CSC). To give some background, I've owned the following: S400, SD700, S90, XTi, XSi, T2i, 60D, and S95, with the latter three being in my current arsenal. The S95 is compact, but I've grown weary of its noise levels in low light and the fact that pictures from it still possess a point-and-shoot feeling. The T2i has excellent IQ and I love it, but it's on the edge of what I find convenient for travel. To that end, what I desired most was DSLR quality in a more compact form.
To fill this gap, there are Micro Four Thirds, 1" sensors, and a host of small body mirrorless APS-C variants. I also had a budget of $700 or less, because as technologies improve and become less expensive each year, I really didn't feel like spending a grand or so on today's camera tech. Having read, researched, and tested some models in my local B&M, I whittled down my candidates to the RX100, EOS M, and NEX-6 (though the 6 was getting out of budget). The RX100 was very attractive and highly acclaimed in the media, but at $650, it was pricey for essentially a P&S. Bearing a styling birthed from Canon's S90+ series, I had lingering doubts about getting yet another high end P&S which costs over twice as much as the S90+ series!. If I lowered the weighting of cost, then this was definitely on the top of my list. The EOS M was attractive as well since I was very familiar with Canon's crop sensor DSLR line, but the new EOS M mount has such a limited supply of lenses and I wasn't planning on spending an extra $150 for the M mount adapter. Rated battery life of 230 CIPA for the EOS M was very disappointing too. Last, I investigated and liked what I saw from the NEX line as an alternative to the RX100.
With APS-C sized sensors, the NEX mirrorless CSCs were starting to check off all my requirements, one by one. Though I liked the NEX-6, it was out of my budget, but it was at this point that I stumbled upon the NEX-3N, the current entry-level NEX from Sony. The 3N was released just months ago and was so new that professional reviews were sparse compared to the amount of literature on the RX100, for instance. As another reviewer summarized, the 3N gives you all the core features of the 6 at nearly half the price! Bonus features are stripped: wifi, EVF, high res LCD, and dedicated mode dial, all not present on the 3N. But look - same APS-C sensor, same IQ, same kit lens (16-50), same core features as the 6, but nearly half the price! This was compelling.
So, it became a duel between the NEX-3N and RX100. In favor of the NEX-3N were:
* cost ($500 vs $650)
* APS-C sensor vs 1"
* tilting lcd screen for self-portraits and tough shooting angles
* battery life (480 vs 330 CIPA)
* wider starting focal length of 24mm vs 28mm
While the RX100 has a faster lens, it's only faster at the wide angle start of the zoom range. Furthermore, the larger APS-C sensor of the NEX-3N can match the faster lens of the RX100 as it relates to depth of field.
Finally, here's a list of miscellaneous tips and things of note:
* because of the low res LCD screen, don't use it to pixel peep to check for sharpness (countless times, I've had doubts whether I had accurately focused, but upon import of the pics to my iMac, I was pleasantly surprised with the results, with a very high hit rate of sharp keepers)
* use focus peaking and coloration to focus along with DMF; use the LCD screen for framing
* if you come from a Canon background, the Sony menu system takes some time to get accustomed to
* looking for the perfect case? check out Lowepro's Dashpoint 20... fits the NEX-3N like a glove
* use the bounce flash to beautifully light up your subject
* get a 40.5mm UV filter and forget the lens cap
* the camera software has a tendency to quickly bump up the ISO in low light situations and favors high ISO vs slower shutter speeds... because you cannot limit or cap the ISO when it is in Auto ISO mode (unlike Canons), your only alternative is to hard set it to a lower ISO to force a slower shutter speed and reduce the noise... also, ISO configurability is only available in PASM
* some bemoan the lack of an external charger, but I found it convenient to use the same charging systems as those for my phone and tablets, plus, the battery does indeed last a very long time
* it's compatible with Eye-Fi cards
* videos are beautiful, zoomable, and auto-focus
* three ways to zoom provide great flexibility
* I don't use the camera strap; instead, I use a BlackRapid Metro sling which works beautifully
Sony made the right design choices in their quest to distill the bare essentials of the NEX line down to the core and achieve their MSRP of $500. So new and underrated, but so good. It's the sleeper hit of 2013.
The NEX-3N is not perfect, but for me, it exceeds my needs.