Sony NEX-C3 review
Sony NEX-C3 review - Performance
In use the NEX-C3 doesn't eradicate all user experience issues from the first generation models, as outlined by the lack of a quick menu options and excess menu digging required for some mode adjustments. Finding your way around takes a little getting used to but even when accustomed the sudden realisation that an undesireable mode has been left on, such as ‘Self Timer' for example, can be a hangover from previous use. On another level, of course, existing NEX users will find the function button improvements most welcome in an already familiar menu layout.
The NEX-C3's focusing speed is swift off the mark, and whether using continuous (AF-C) or single (AF-S) autofocus there are three focus area types available: Flexible Spot for a user-positioned square around the screen (bar a small border to the edge); Multi that utilises 25-areas and automatically selects the focus area; and Center which, as the name suggests, is a centre-only focus. There isn't a subject tracking mode as per many other models, though a separate Face Detection option can be activated for the camera to prioritise faces for focus. While single autofocus speeds into position, continuous autofocus can encounter issues and ‘pulse' between two focal planes in a back and forth motion. Although this doesn't stop a picture being taken, this was an action seen in the pre-production model that doesn't seem to have been entirely ironed out.
As well as autofocus the C3 offers a decent stable of manual focus options too, including manual focus assist and a new focus assist function called ‘Peaking Level'. This oddly named mode shows the in-focus area on screen as highlights - either red, yellow or white, based on user selection - and gives real-time feedback that's even aperture-accurate. The only issue here is when manually exposing for a darker shot or shooting in low light where the darker areas on the screen's preview can incorrectly ‘find focus' as represented by flickering highlight points. A few tweaks, and a way of smoothing out the rather rugged presentation and this mode will prove a valuable mode for many - not least given that it works with any attached lens, so those with lens adaptors will also reap the benefits.
With the provided 16mm f/2.8 lens it's not possible to focuscloser than 24cm from the lens and due to the wide angle of view this will limit close-up shooting possibilities unless using another E-mount lens.
While the C3 doesn't offer a physical mode dial its virtual equivalent can be controlled using the rear rotational d-pad to access the variety of shooting options. As well as full manual controls there's access to the likes of Sweep Panorama (including a 3D version). Anyone familiar with this mode from other Sony camera products will be aware of its ability to move in real time through a rotation and automatically stitch shots together in camera for one final panoramic shot. It's a bit noisy in use due to the shutter snapping open a shut so many times, but results are successful if you have a steady hand. Where the mode falters is if there's excess vertical movement during the (horizontal) sweep as this can cause objects, in particular ones isolated or closer to camera, to have ‘juddered' edges.
Unlike Sony's Alpha DSLR and SLT models, the NEX-C3 doesn't possess any form of in-camera SteadyShot image stabilisation. Instead you'll need to find stabilised lenses to reap the benefit of anti-shake. Not a major gripe, particularly as the inclusion of a sensor-based system would have drawn more power when activated.
And speaking of power the C3's battery is now able to fire off more shots per charge. Although the battery is the same as that found in the NEX-3 or NEX-5, the C3's inner workings have been refined to make them less power consumptive which is passed on as more shots in a single charge. There may be a small difference here, and although we like the percentage indicator's accurate readout, the battery life does deplete quickly.
While every area of the NEX-C3 feels like an improvement, there is one feature that takes a cut: the 5.5fps burst mode isn't as speedy as the NEX-3's Speed Priority 7fps, presumably due to the C3's rise in resolution causing larger files and more significant amounts of data handling.