Sony continues to impress us with its sophisticated image processing. The C3’s in-the-camera HDR does a great job of aligning three handheld exposures to capture a wider dynamic range than a single shot could. If you are not particularly steady, or if you’re shooting night scenes that require slow shutter speeds, it’s still a good idea to use a tripod to steady the camera when shooting in this mode.
While in some cases built-in HDR will yield images that look less than realistic, with the NEX-C3 we were typically able to adjust the number of stops (from 1 to 6 EV) in the bracket to yield nice-looking results. There’s an option for the camera to select the intensity of the HDR effect, but we found that in many instances the C3 tried to bracket too far, creating a fake look in the images.
Occasionally there was ghosting of moving objects in a scene, but that’s typical of any HDR. It pays to be aware of any elements, such as cars, that might move through the scene you’re shooting, and try to wait for a time when these are not moving or not evident in the frame at all.
The Handheld Twilight mode continues to do an admirable job of reducing noise in low-light shots by combining six exposures and omitting the noise in each to produce clean image data. Since most image noise is random, it will appear in different places in each image. So, among the six images captured, there will be a large portion of the image that has no noise.
Sony’s 3D Sweep Panorama creates interesting results if you have the means to view 3D images. If not, the regular Sweep Panorama mode makes it simple to create very wide or very tall images without having to stitch them on a computer. Of course, an array of scene modes is also available for fans of automated shooting.
Serious video shooters should know that the NEX-C3 can capture only up to 1280x720 30p video, so if you want Full HD, you’ll have to try the NEX-5 (if you want to stick with Sony’s system) or another ILC or DSLR.
For the majority of the photographers the C3 is aimed at, 720p video should be enough. The footage we shot looked very nice and we saw little in the way of video artifacts. With current HDTVs the difference between homemade 720 and 1080 footage is getting smaller than ever. We should also note that when editing the video with Adobe’s Premiere CS5, we encountered no problems with the MP4 file format.
Though Sony has addressed some of the interface issues that led to our cold reception of the first NEX bodies, the C3 still feels like it’s a step behind the competition. The body remains among the smallest you can find in an ILC (at least until Pentax’s tiny Q model hits the market this fall), but the big lenses negate much of this benefit.
Furthermore, the Micro Four Thirds system continues to offer a wider array of lenses. To its credit, Sony has added a 30mm f/3.5 macro lens with 1:1 magnification to the NEX system, as well as a more powerful flash with bounce capability, the HVL-F20S. Still, the company hasn’t been able to keep up with the aggressive lens introductions of both Panasonic and Olympus, the latter of which has also created some very innovative accessories for its system, such as the PenPal for wireless image sharing.
So while we can say that the Sony NEX-C3 can produce very fine images, Sony has a way to go if its fledgling ILC format is to compete against the Micro Four Thirds clan.
Imaging: 16.2MP effective, APS-C sized, Exmor CMOS sensor captures images at 4912x3264 pixels with 12 bits/color in RAW mode.
Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC, or Memory Stick PRO Duo/ PRO-HG Duo. Stores JPEG, ARW RAW, RAW + JPEG, and MPO (in 3D Sweep Panorama mode) files.
Video: Up to 1280x720 pixels at 30p fps in MP4 H.264 format; built-in stereo mic, no standard mic input; contrast detection AF with continuous AF.
Burst Rate: Full-sized JPEGs (Fine mode): 2.5 fps up to 14 shots. RAW (12-bit): 2.5 fps up to 6 shots.
AF system: TTL contrast detection with 25 focus points. Single-shot and continuous AF with tracking and face detection.
Shutter Speeds: 1/4000 to 30 sec, plus B (1/3-EV increments). Shutter life not rated.
Metering: TTL metering using 49-segment multi (evaluative), centerweighted, and spotmetering; 0–20 EV (at ISO 100, f/2.8).
ISO Range: ISO 200–12,800 (in 1-EV increments).
Flash: Comes with clip-on HVL-7S flash unit for use in the Smart Accessory Terminal, GN 23 (ISO 100, feet). Flash sync to 1/160 sec.
LCD: Tilting, 3-in. TFT with 921,600-dot resolution.
Output: Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and mini HDMI video.
Battery: Rechargeable NP-FW50 Li-ion, CIPA rating, 400 shots.
Size/weight: 4.4x2.4x1.3 in., 0.63 lb with a card and battery.
Street price: $600 with 16mm f/2.8 pancake lens; $650 with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 OSS zoom lens.