Sony Alpha NEX-3 review

The new firmware makes a remarkable difference and the NEX-3 produces identical image quality to the NEX-5. It’s £110 cheaper and that makes it mighty attractive.

11 Nov 2010
Our Rating 
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23.4x15.6mm 14.2-megapixel sensor, 3.1x zoom (27-83mm equivalent), 287g (without lens)

The tweaks made in the new firmware aren’t huge, but they make a remarkable difference to how the camera handles. The biggest change is that the central and lower ‘soft’ buttons on the back can now be customised. Sony calls the lower button ‘Soft key B’ and the central button ‘Soft key C’ and their functions can be set in the Setup menu.

Sony NEX3 Back display

Soft key B can be set to one of ten functions, which include important functions like ISO, White Balance and MF Assist (which magnifies the Live View to aid manual focusing). Soft key C, on the other hand, can either be used for its default virtual mode dial or be given up to three functions from a list of seven.

These include Auto Focus Area, ISO, White Balance and DRO/Auto HDR. There’s also the option to select ‘Not set’ for any of the three custom options, meaning you only need to cycle through the functions that you want while using the camera.

Choosing these functions carefully meant we very rarely needed to delve into the camera’s menu system to change important settings. We found that the best combination was to set Soft key B to MF Assist (or ISO if you don’t use manual focusing at all) and Soft key C to ISO, White Balance and DRO/Auto HDR. If MF Assist isn’t useful for you and you instead opt for ISO control on Soft key B, set the third Soft key C function to Auto Focus Area.

Sony NEX3 Side

Overall, while the new firmware makes a remarkable difference to the NEX-3’s – and by extension NEX-5’s – usability, the NEX-3 didn’t give us the same joy as its smaller sibling. Of course, it’s £110 cheaper than the NEX-5 and it produces images of the same calibre, which carries a lot of weight, and makes it one of the cheapest compact system cameras out there. If it was our money, we’d recommend saving that little bit longer to get the NEX-5, but the NEX-3 is a great option for those looking for DSLR-like image quality but don’t want the bulk.

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