When less is (just about) as much : a NEX 3N review.


Ok, since my SLT A-58 review was pretty well received around the net, and I just got the NEX 3N that is bound to be my camera until the NEX 7 successor becomes real, I thought I’d review this cam as well. After all, it is still fairly recent and though it has been reviewed by quite a bunch of websites yet, a real life based, genuine user review is always an asset when shopping for a specific cam, or just out of curiosity. Before I go further let me re-introduce myself for those of you who are not familiar with either this blog or my regular contribution to some popular boards like DPR. I’m a real individual (female) who’s a little untypical in that I pig on cameras when other girls shop for shoes and purses. So been there, done that, APS-C, FF, m4/3, I’ve even got the T-shirt for most of the models that existed in the past 12 years. For over 18 months now I’ve shot mirrorless cams (of all flavors) and have become a NEX addict. My favorite is the 7, but waiting for it’s replacement I decided to sell mine while prices still held a bit, and get a 3N to hang on until the next NEX APS-C flagship is released (or FF is announced, whatever comes first).

ColtJul13-15So before I start let me tell you WHY I chose that particular model of NEX to keep me company until Sony get their head outta their butt with the next high end version. After all, since I was a dedicated 7 user, downgrading all the way to the entry level doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense… Or does it ?

I briefly owned the C3 before. I truly loved it’s super compact size. I love very pure and spartian designs (reason why the NEX line works for me in the first place). I shoot mainly in Manual mode so I can directly impact my exposure via shutter speed (for any given aperture and ISO) without having to press a key first (the 7 is golden for that, you can impact or compensate each other at the turn of either top wheel in ALL modes. NO button pressing required. Great). If you look at the rear closely, you’ll see the 3N takes its design directly from the 7. It’s a stripped down, shrunken 7 with no EVF. But the built-in flash (which is genius in its tiltable feature) has remained, and that put the 3N well ahead of the more expensive 5R for me. The 180° rotating flip screen is actually useful for selfies (which I like to do with my kid since I’m the only photog in the house). The camera was available refurbished from Amazon warehouse, with free next day delivery (I’m an Amazon Prime member). It costs me 364€, with 16-50 powerzoom included, which will easily sell for 160 (probably a tad more, but let’s take a low estimate). Sony is offering a 100€ cashback, prodiving that I send in an old broken digital camera (which I have handy). So globally the 3N body end up costing about 100€. One hundred euros for a like new (truly, it came in totally new condition, accessories untouched), last gen body with among the best in class APS-C sensor ?? That’s just a little to good to be true.

VigneJul13So the camera came today, much later than I expected. The UPS man must haven chosen to change his usual route and finish his tour with our area rather than starting it, but it eventually arrived. I immediately fine tuned the menus (that I now know like the back of my hand and configure quickly and comfortably), cranked the ISO to 1600 (for testing purposes), and started shooting my kid indoor.

MarlaJul13-71It was a not so sunny day, with not much too do, and she rather bored of watching TV. This is in Auto WB, with a manual lens (either the OM 50/1.8 or PEN F 38/1.8, wide open).

MarlaJul13-69First facts : Auto WB works surprisingly well. The noise (NR set to Low) is well controlled and fine grained, with zero blotchiness. I’d say it’s slightly worse than the 5N/6, but pretty much on par with most units of 7 (one of the 3 I had was superior to the 2 others in this area, don’t ask me why). ALL samples in this post are from jpeg files.

TomatesJul13ISO 400, PEN F 38/1.8 wide open

MarlaJul13-76ISO 200, SEL 35.18 wide open.

Most complaints about the NEX system gravitate around three axes : the not so fast AF, the lack of lenses, and User Interface via controls and menus. Let put this last point to rest : given that the right clickable side of the thumbwheel (labelled “ISO”) can be turned into a 6 item menu, it’s really unlikely not to manage direct access to your favorite and most used functions. Personally my list goes like this : ISO, autofocus area, metering mode, Creative Styles, D-range, and quality. There is yet another soft key (bottom one) that can also be assigned to one function. On all my NEX bodies I use it to set and fine tune WB (as a strict jpeg shooter this is crucial to me). Hit the key one, and turn the wheel to navigate thru WB options. Hit it twice and access the two axis fine tuning grid. Really handy.

MarlaJul13-73In camera WB style, ISO 1600.

My two used Creative Styles are Landscape with Saturation set to -1,and Black&White with Contrast +1 and Sharpness +1. They both work well and need minimum further tweaking in PP.

MarlaJul13-681600 remains very, very usable.

MarlaJul13-70MarlaJul13-72Now, that’s better (the smile, that is).

There’s one small flaw linked to the screen’s tilt mecanism. Since it’s top hinged and rotates all the way up to allow self portraits, there is no way to tilt it downards, as exists on the 6 and 7. So no overhead shooting with this cam, unless, as suggested on another blog, you turned it upside down (which works perfectly, btw). The screen resolution is less than half that of the high end models, however I wasn’t able to see much difference. It’s bright, clear and glossy, with good detail. I can’t speak of sunny conditions yet but I have tried the Sunny Weather mode on my 7 before and it worked pretty well, even in Manual mode (where it’s crucial to judge proper exposure from the screen).

PêchesJul13PEN F 38, ISO 400, 1/30s

AF performance seems on par with earlier NEX models, 5R and 6 included, since the much touted PDAF never impressed me in any way. In quite dim light the AF assist gets to work, and I have yet to see the camera give up on finding focus. It does take a second or two at the worst, meaning it won’t work well for moving subjects in low light.

ColtJul13-18ColtJul13-16MarlaJul13-74Like other NEX I love the 3N for its ability to capture true to life images.

ColtJul13-14So despite being the lowest specified current model, the 3N does for me 90% of what the 7 did. Sure, the lack of EVF is a huge flaw for my use, but as a future back-up body, and temporary main cam, it’s perfectly acceptable, and even thoroughly enjoyable ! The IQ is there, sharpness, detail, DR, lack of noise, great colors, all the NEX assets are maintained. This is a well made, very compact body that fits in my purse paired with either its native kit zoom (Heaven forbid, I hate it) or the wonderful PEN 38, or even the excellent SEL35.

HuileJul13I read a short blog entry from a French culinary page a few days ago, hardly more than a few paragraphs and assorted (poor) pictures. The author, a DLSR shooting lady, stated that the 3N would be fine for stark beginners, but not suitable to intermediate shooters. Hmm, how pretentious is that 🙂 ?

MarlaJul13-77My truth is different. I think the best public for this camera is either P&S shooters who’ll take advantage of its all automated modes, and numerous gadgets (sweep pano, HDR, object framing, etc), OR quite proficient users who will overcome its physical limitations by putting its excellent qualities to optimum use.

MarlaJul13-75I for one do not feel limited one bit by this smart little fellow. I feel it’s up to me to put it to its best use and make it deliver the same kind of shots that its bigger brothers have. My only real concern is shooting outdoor in bright and contrasty conditions. The Sunny Weather setting proved useful before so I won’t hesitate using it again.

ColtJul13-17So would I recommend the NEX 3N ? Absolutely ! At its pricepoint it simply offers AMAZING bang for the buck. Sure, the 16-50 PZ it’s paired with is in my opinion a very poor lens, that I would never consider using myself, but put decent, or better yet good, glass on it, and it can sing and dance for you. One thing I absolutely do not commend Sony for though, is the petty lack of body or lens cap, and moreover the absence of external battery charger. The USB, in-camera charging scheme is hateful and simply stupid. I have multiple batteries and like to switch them at will, which is now useless. Shame on Sony for that decision.


About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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9 Responses to When less is (just about) as much : a NEX 3N review.

  1. Pingback: A real world NEX 3N user review

  2. Matthew Durr says:

    Good review overall, but the still-life of the peaches is fantastic.

  3. Ed Caggiani says:

    Nice review! I recently bought the NEX-3N and I love it. Great starter camera, great serious camera. As for the battery charging situation, I just purchased the Wasabi external charger for US$27.99, which comes with two extra batteries as well. Got it at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0049WBZEK/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0049WBZEK&linkCode=as2&tag=huellyhoriz-20

  4. Laurent says:

    I am seriously impressed you can manual focus this thing without an EVF…….I have to try one day!

  5. marla2008 says:

    You shouldn’t be !! Peaking is actually louder on the LCD (has always been, on all models), hence easier. In bright conditions though it gets tricky, but I got a lot of keepers with the Sunny Weather mode.

  6. Blue Bell Knoll says:

    Hello, as a NEX-6 user, I found your blog and I read your posts with interest.

    I’m actually searching for a lens in the 35mm focal length range.
    You seem to have both the PEN F 38 and the SEL35F18. The SEL is much more expansive. Can I ask you which of these two lenses has your preférence ? And do you think the SEL worth the price vs the Olympus ?

    • marla2008 says:

      Hello 🙂 It’s an excellent and very useful question. Optically, the PEN if definitely better. It’s sharper overall, very sharp wide open, it has very beautiful character, I mean by that an ever so slight vignetting that is never overwhelming of obvious but just give your images a wonderful vintage feel. The PEN peaks very well (at least the one unit I have) and the focus ring is a joy to use, perfectly dampened, smooth yet precise. It’s very pleasurable to manually focus. The SEL35 is the ONLY native E lens I actually like (but I never tried the CZ24 which I believe to me extremely good). What I really like about it is that, unexpectedly enough, it also does offer some nice character to the images, unlike most modern lenses, that can be boringly clinical in their rendering. The SEL35 has beautiful color rendition and good micro contrast. In good light the AF is as snappy as can be on the NEX bodies? It slows down considerably in lower light, to the point of not locking at all, ultimately, but that would be in extreme conditions. I do like both lenses a lot. The SEL sure brings the convenience of AF to the table, which is a huge asset with kids, which I shoot a lot of. However, depending on your manual focusing skills, the PEN can yield quite a bit of keepers, its focus throw being rather short. I’d be hard press to chose if I could keep only one ! I guess the SEL would win for the AF, but optically I definitely like the PEN better. I know it’s not much of a useful answer, but it’s a sincere one.

      • Blue Bell Knoll says:

        Thank you so much for your answer. Your personal feelings are much more precious to me than any clinical technical considerations. I’m a true newbie in manual shooting (and in photography in general) but I find it very interesting and I want to learn. It’s still a dilemma : Having all the modern automations (AF, stabilzation) or trying to play with these vintage lenses ans manual settings. I think I’m going the try the PEN if I find one in good condition and price which is quite difficult since all the NEX ans micro 4/3 users are now in the place and are searching for it.

  7. marla2008 says:

    Thanks for the kind words. If you have a bit of available free time, give a quick look at all the posts I made around September of last year. It was when I was discoveering the NEX system in depth and really getting to grips with the wonders (and pains, lol) of manual focusing. You’ll see that, in my case, the wonder very much outweighted the pain (and keep in mind I’m shooting a 4 yr old and a teenage dog, motion blur anyone ?). Manual focus with Peaking really IS doable. IF you give yourself time and LOTS of practice. I literally focus quicker now with my legacies in difficult lightning conditions that it would take my AF lenses to lock. But not all adapted lenses are created equal in that regard. Some have longer focus throws than other (the fabulous Navitron I’m reviewing just now is NOT for the faint hearted, or beginner at MF). The PEN is great as it peaks very well, and has a rather short focus throw. Clean ones for around 200$. Mine is even dearer to my heart since I bought if from a fellow NEX user who became a personal (albeit virtual) friend. I plan on selling it… Never 😉

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