SONY NEX-3 [Review]

SONY NEX-3 [Review]


A few days ago I could tell nobody about this newbie. I was under an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) from Sony. The Sony NEX-3 was a hot camera!

Sony NX 3 2.JPG

Sony NX 3 1.JPG

So Sony gave me a review unit of the Sony NEX-3 three days, explaining that they were so fearful of leaks that a Sony person would collect it from me when my time was up: “Can’t trust couriers — they’ve been known to open up boxes and leak the info to competitors!”

In the last six months it has been apparent that the Micro Four Thirds cameras have won great appeal in the market. Buyers have warmed to the smaller (than DSLR) form factor, light weight and interchangeable lens factor. And the price!

So Olympus and Panasonic have done very well. Now Samsung has entered the fray with its NX10: APS-C-sized sensor, small body, cheaper price.

While Sony has entered late, it has burst through the door with all guns blazing.

The camera currently in my hot, sweaty hands is the lesser of the pair: cheaper and slightly less featured but still highly specked.

The body is roughly similar to Olympus’ new PEN series: no eye level finder (although they are available as clip on accessories); no on board flash (accessory unit available); large 7.5cm LCD screen.

The major difference is the relatively large lenses that mount on this body. The review camera was loaned with an f3.5-5.6/18-55mm lens. The lens barrel was a huge 62mm in diameter. Why? Dunno!

Sony NX 3 7.jpg

The CMOS is much larger than the Micro Four Thirds sensor, leading to some major benefits: maximum image size is 4592×3056 pixels, or 39x26cm in print-speak. Note that a larger sensor leads to a more narrow depth of field, closer to that of a 35mm SLR.

It has two major and highly appealing features from the earlier, compact DSC-HX5V: an amazing panorama feature that can be used with the camera horizontally or vertically (you’ll love the rapid fire of the shutter as it shoots the sections!); high burst rate.

The Sony NEX-5 has one even better spec: AVCVHD movie shooting in Full HD: 1920×1080 pixels.

Sony NX 3 3.JPG

Sony NX 3 4.jpg

However, both models share an excellent tilting LCD screen — up by nearly 90 degrees from vertical, out and down by about 30 degrees. It’s also agreeably bright and sharp.

Sony NX 3 5.jpg

Sony NX 3 6.JPG

Sony NX3 9.jpg


The viewfinder menu is a stunner, resembling a computer screen in all its full colour, icon-splashed glory.

Expect to see a whole boatload of accessories and stunning lenses in the coming months.

Sony NX 3 8.jpg

Coming are accessories like a wide angle and fish-eye extender lenses; accessory flash; adapters for lenses made for the larger format Alpha lenses.

The camera’s face detection handles up to eight faces.

The optical stabiliser is built into the lens.

ISO Tests

NEX-3 ISO 200 f5 1:30 sec.jpg

NEX-3 ISO 800 f5 1:125 sec.JPG

Shots made at ISO 200 (pictured first above) and 800 (pictured directly above) indicate that this is a superior sensor and able to handle an extended sensitivity range.

NEX-3 ISO 1600 f5 1:320 sec.JPG

By ISO 1600 we’re still looking pretty good: definition still good, while noise is low.

NEX-3 ISO 3200 f5 1:640 sec.JPG
Now we’re at ISO 3200 definition is dropping a touch but noise and artefacts have yet to appear. A good setting for low light photography.

NEX-3 ISO 12800 f5 1:2000 sec.JPG
At ISO 12,800 we’re bumping our heads on the ceiling: definition is reasonable but noise and artefacts are visible.

With the right subject, still a useable setting!

Carousel horses 3 ISO 12800.JPG

This shot of carousel horses was made in soft light and ISO 12,800! Lens aperture: f5.5 and shutter speed of 1/1250 second. For me, a useable shot!


In two seconds from startup I could shoot my first shot; follow-ons came in as fast as I could hit the button. Good going.


Luna Park face 2.JPG

This is a significant camera and I figure it will turn the whole business of sensor size completely upside down.

The quality of images in terms of resolution, colour fidelity and low noise is little short of superb.

Why you would buy the Sony NEX-3: to enjoy a very small, high res camera; you want high quality images; you already have some

Alpha lenses.

Why you wouldn’t: you still want an optical pentaprism finder.

SONY NEX-3 Specifications

Image Sensor: 14.2 million effective pixels.
Metering: Multi pattern, centre-weighted and spot.
Sensor Size: APS-C-sized CMOS (23.4×15.6mm).
Lens: Sony E Series mount.
Shutter Speed: 30 to 1/4000 second. Flash sync: 1/160 sec.
Continuous Shooting: seven fps.
Memory: Memory Stick PRO Duo, PRO-HG Duo, SD, SDHC, SDXC cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4592×3056, 4592×2576, 3344×2224, 3344×1872, 2288×1520, 2288×1280.
Movies: 1280×720, 848×480, 640×480 at 30 fps.
Colour Space: sRGB, Adobe RGB.
LCD Screen: 7.5cm LCD (921,600 pixels).
File Formats: JPEG, RAW, JPEG+RAW, MPEG4.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 200 to 12,800.
Interface: USB 2.0, HDMNI, AV.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, DC input.
Dimensions: 117.2×62.6×33.4mm WHDmm.
Weight: 297 g (inc battery and card).
Price: Around AUD1000 for body and kit lens.

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Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

Some Older Comments

  • Nikon Baby November 30, 2011 03:06 am

    I want it. ^^

  • Kendall November 18, 2011 01:14 pm

    I was wondering would this camera be well for action shot? I am on yearbook and I am trying to get really good basketball and cheer photos for the pages this year.

  • Tsl lau November 6, 2011 01:50 pm

    Good for big ccd size and very light weight ! Good lens quality of Sony ! User interface not user friendly ! Good shutter response ! Mon is also good ! Close up of the kit lens also good ! It's image is attractive and better than micro four third ! Can be improved better in future !

  • Jay October 27, 2011 05:22 am

    Yap Awesome... I already bought one...

  • Gvidas October 17, 2011 07:52 pm

    ;) i think quality and size of this camer would satisf even James Bond. THUMBS UP FOR SONY

  • MarsBoundSoon July 30, 2011 09:44 am

    I have had my Nex 5 for about 6 months and it is a pretty good compact camera, but the Video has a major problem. The camera will overheat in less than one half hour and shut down when shooting continuos video. Also the HD Video must be converted to a MOV file in order to edit it. The reulting MOV file has poor resolution. About all you can do with HD video is watch it on a Sony HD television. Thus, the video feature in my opinion is poor.

  • russ March 31, 2011 02:44 am

    I have been using a Sony Alpha 700 for the last 2.5 years and have many lenses for same. I am still pleased with the equipment. But use point and shoot cameras for back packing and other activities where weight is important and damage is possible. So I purchased a Sony NEX 3 with a 16mm. I like it but found a great deal on a Sony NEX 5 with a 18X55mm zoom and built in image stablization.

    I find this combination a real winner. I also purchase a Sony adapter to take my Alpha mount lenses. It will autofocus with both SAM and SSM lenses. The SAM take a long time to autofocus and may not be in focus. The SSM lenses focus quickly and accuratly. Of course there is no immage stabliztion with either so a tripod is need for sharp telephoto immages. Over all the results are outstanding. see immage at address below.

  • russ March 31, 2011 02:29 am

    I have been using a Sony Allpha 700 for 2.5 years and like the results. I havd carried different point and shoot camera for back paking and and other activiies for a few years and found they have a short life span.

    I recently purchased a Sony NEX 3 and then a 5. I use them in place of the point and shoot models. I primarily use the 18-55mm zoom with lens stabliztion. It is an excellent lens.

    I have tried various Alpha mount lenses with the Sony adapter. The SAM lenses take too long to auto focus. Part of the time the focus is not sharp. However the SSM lenses focus fast and accurately.

    I shoot my grand daughters valley ball games with the NEX 5 in HD movie mode and available light with great results using the 18X55mm lens.

    I am selling the Sony NEX 3 with the 16mm lens as I don't find a real need for either. If I want a 16mm I use my Sony 16-105 with fine results.

    If you want a small versatile camera that you can use your lenses from Sony or Minolta AF, I highly reommend the Sony NEX 5 with the 18-55 augmented with the Alpha mount SSM lenses.

    The attached photo was taken with the 18-55

    [eimg url='undefined' title='undefined'][eimg url='' title='Backgrounds?authkey=Gv1sRgCO7pq-LKme--Bg#'][img]

  • Liz February 28, 2011 10:40 am



  • Barrie Smith February 28, 2011 07:22 am

    To liz:

    in answer, the camera is quite OK for graphics, however you will need to check the lens for suitability: even in store, you can aim the camera at a door frame and see if it shows barrel (wide end of zoom) or pincushion distortion (tele end of zoom). This will make the lens a bad choice fro shooting graphics.
    Many zooms have this problem.

  • Liz February 20, 2011 10:31 am

    for someone who doesn't really know anything about cameras can someone answer me this: is this a good camera to get for graphics? i am a student and will need to be able to blow the images up to poster size on a regular basis. i am really excited about the panorama option because this will save me literally hours in photoshop... but for me this will be an investment because i'm pretty broke. i need a camera that will take good quility images, small enough that i can carry around with me all the time, user friendly because like i said, i don't know much and lastly, affordable. this SOUNDS like the camera for me, but i am still hesitant... feedback much appreciated.

  • regan February 11, 2011 04:21 am

    Just for the record, I have had 2 Canon DSLR and 1 Pentax, and the Sony NEX exceeds all 3 cameras. Not by much, and I do miss the optical view finder, but sometimes you dont want to carry a big camera and lens.

  • regan February 11, 2011 04:19 am

    I note the comment with regard to who would give up a Nikon or Canon for a Sony NEX. I did. The image quality is better then the Canon 500d, so I sold the Canon and bought the Sony. The Sony is really responsive and the mage quality superb. Not keen on the menu, but will get used to this. I am really pleased with this camera. DSLR quality in a small camera, the market base for this has grown for a reason. Not keen on Sony compacts, but the NEX 5 is amazing.

  • Larry David January 22, 2011 05:51 pm

    I recently started using my new NEX 5 on a trip to the zoo. I must say that the more I use the camera, the more I like it. Most of the day I used a Leica 135mm lens (= about 200mm). I was most impressed with the images quality viewed on a 61" HDTV - haven't printed any images yet. I was a serious hobbiest back in the days of film and resisted the transition to digital. My father-in-law left his camera collection to his children - I got 3 Leica lenses - 35mm, 90 mm macro, and the 135mm. I also got a 200 mm Soligor zoom with a Leica mount. I also have a 50mm Nikkor from my previous film camera.
    I really like the articulating screen which I used like a twin lens viewfinder - the camera I learned on. I got several pictures of my wife and my son and his wife without them knowing. I am looking forward to trying the other lenses and to printing the pictures for comparison.

  • ved January 12, 2011 12:02 pm

    Hey I’m looking for user reviews. Can anybody here share their experiences with the NEX 5 camera? I’m looking forward to buy this camera so I’m checking all details. I saw some very nice sample photos posted by Sony India at
    Just wanted to check if your images are also this nice and clear. Please advice, as I’m thinking of buying this camera.

  • Izyan Mohamad October 31, 2010 04:02 pm

    ooh!!! alright will look up on this
    thank you very much!

  • Matthew Braney October 30, 2010 05:12 am

    Actually on ebay for like $20 to $40 you can get a Canon EF, M42, Minolta or Nikon To Sony NEX 3 mount so technically you can attach almost any lens to it....[eimg url='!B4OO2iQBGk~$(KGrHqEOKjcEyZzwOd,oBMpDYiwv3g~~_3.JPG' title='!B4OO2iQBGk~$(KGrHqEOKjcEyZzwOd,oBMpDYiwv3g~~_3.JPG']

  • Matthew Braney October 30, 2010 05:09 am

    Actually on ebay for like $20 to $40 you can get a Canon EF, M42, Minolta or Nikon To Sony NEX 3 mount so technically you can attach almost any lens to it....

  • Izyan Mohamad October 22, 2010 01:42 pm

    I got the NEX-3 last month and I have to say I am very pleased with it
    of course it's a major upgrade for me since my last camera was the SONY T2
    I am a noob in this whole photography thing
    got the cheapest one of the model...with only the pancake lens
    now kinda regretted for not getting the ones with the 18mm lens
    but that was my budget then
    I wonder if they will come with a more extensive range of lenses after this?
    I sure hope so
    the best thing about buying a SONY is the fact that
    they provide classes...even for the normal compact cameras
    I don't know about other brand
    thought of getting the PEN but price range was...way out of my budget
    so far as I am concern NEX-3 is an absolutely great camera to have
    especially for a noob like me...
    because it's user friendly and all the settings are amazingly simple to you
    and the background defocus setting in the auto mode is incredible
    fits perfectly fine in my hand bag...
    great colours (i got the one in red, eye catching!)
    NEX-5's grip is better than NEX-3 but nonetheless still great...
    like the SONY people say...NEX-3 is great for girls to show off their manicured nails...
    overall I am overwhelmed and it's totally love at first sight for me

  • LoU Welke October 14, 2010 05:12 am

    I really like this dslr camera and plan to buy it very soon because I have been tired having a full function camera that causes me to have back problems from bending forward all the time from the weight and then bouncing against my chest when I walk.
    Although this camera is still big it will fit in a smaller camera bag and be easier to carry in the field especially when you are a golden ager.

  • Carl Wong October 2, 2010 06:26 pm

    You get 7 fps if you lock focus and exposure on the first frame. Otherwise, you get 2.3fps.

  • lawrence_pro August 11, 2010 02:14 pm

    Sony NEX3 or NEX5 with APS_C sensor is a nice disign camera, There are some command wanted to share to all.
    its a under exposure setting (in AUTO Mode) need to probabe have to setting to +0.3 or more depand on the environment. lends segment using fisheye only can be fitting on on 16MM lens, using 18mm-55MM will be distortion. using E-mount for Alpha lens will be manually focus.

  • Tushar July 29, 2010 12:43 am

    Is that Luna Park in Australia? i visited there over summer! how small the world is :D i think ill buy this camera it looks AWESOME and im a sony fan boy so yeah go figure.

  • Dan Pope July 28, 2010 10:40 pm

    Is it worth buying this camera if i am not going to buy any of the extra lenses??
    Is it still a great quality without any added extras??

  • Canonboy June 29, 2010 05:50 am

    @Anrew gentle its 720p or 1080i on the nex 3! only on the nex 5 do you get full 1080p

  • wochomi May 28, 2010 04:45 pm

    Just last weekend I was fiddling strange looking camera at my bro-in-law's wedding. Was told that this has yet to hit the market. I was wondering how on earth you're going to fit that thing into your pocket? I mean the body is like a compact. The lens is like a 18-55mm dSLR. The whole thing looks weird.
    It was kinda awkward holding a thin body with a huge lens (relatively).

  • Minnesota Joe May 23, 2010 05:06 am

    Changing the names of the controls wouldn't make any more sense than changing the gas pedal's name to "Go fast pedal".

  • muzart May 18, 2010 06:50 pm

    damn that machine seems usefull how much is it and is it worth it?

  • Michael May 17, 2010 12:55 am

    Did you test out the macro capability of the camera? That's where these smaller sensors really shine. I'd also love to see video shot with it if you have any and are allowed to post.

  • tonylaw May 15, 2010 02:02 pm

    I am a total novince photographer. I think the current terms of photographic need to be changed in order not to block the interested people away.

    The depth of focus, aperture, focus length, ....scare us to hell.

    Why not simply change all the control term like Sony is trying to?
    Why not only "level of blackground blur" (instead of apperture); " level of subject motion"(instead of speed or ISO); "level of clearity"(instead of ISO). .....?

    Why people comment on a photo, they would say Wow, the picture is too

  • Mark May 15, 2010 11:18 am

    Wow! Can't believe it seven frames a second! Is it better than the PEN?

  • dvuk May 15, 2010 12:27 am

    @David: it's not a micro four-thirds, the comment is that they were the first new system to pair 'compact' bodies with interchangeable lenses and as such were very popular

    There's a closer look at how it performs here

  • HB May 15, 2010 12:25 am

    Lets hope Pentax bring out a similar camera and develops some of their pancake primes for it. Then it will be a truly small camera.

    Like a few have mentioned a small body with a large lens doesn't make a lot of sense, let alone how it all balances in the hand.

  • Rachel May 14, 2010 11:53 pm

    This looks like what I have been waiting for. I love photography but have back problems that restrict how much I can carry. Not fussed about compactness as long as the weight is reduced.

    I can see it won't suit everyone but I do believe there is a huge market for a camera like this. Depends on your perspective; for me photography is more about content than technical quality anyway.

  • yusran May 14, 2010 08:39 pm

    nex is of course not a dslr.. it is aimed for different market. and is no way going to compete with other dslr (nikon, canon). it is probably for those who wants dslr quality photo without having the bulk size of it. this is consistent with the theme "anytime, anywhere dslr quality". it is a new generation camera. not dlsr, not a micro 4/3, not even an EVIL camera.

    i'm a nikon user myself but i just don't understand why canikon people are always like in denial state when other brands like sony produce good cameras like this. it might not suitable for us but still it is a nice camera with excellent image quality.

    you should see the size of nex relative to one hand. the lens looks big because the body is ultra slim especially with nex-5. and bear in mind there is pancake prime lens which is much smaller than this 18-55.

    here is the photo comparing nex-5 with other micro 4/3 cameras at high iso:

    more in depth review of nex-5 here:

    in term of image quality it can match those of d5000 and 500d.. pretty impressive for a small camera like this.

  • Daryl May 14, 2010 02:54 pm

    It might interest me as a body only, with some fast primes, a good eye-level finder, and the ability to use off-camera flash.

  • David May 14, 2010 07:46 am

    I also have a larger sized DSLR which I sometimes leave behind because of its size. So I have also been considering a compact camera to put in my pocket. These newer type 4/3's started out looking great as small but versatile compacts, but now every new one comes out with a huge lens on it. "Compact" has gone out the window.

  • Lynn May 14, 2010 06:40 am

    I'm watching the four-thirds market right now as I might invest in a small digital camera to take on long holidays instead of my usual analog medium format equipment.
    This looks mostly great, except for one thing: it has no 1:1 aspect ratio, and I want to be able to shoot square. Without having to crop, please. I wonder why Sony neglected to incorporate it when it's a much appreciated feature in the Pens and the Lumix GF-1, as far as I can gather...

  • Mash May 14, 2010 06:27 am

    guys can we be a lil honest with each other, who the heck except Mr.Barrie Smith whose obviously getting paid to advertise for sony would put their (real) Nikon ,Canon etc. DSLRs away for this piece of crap?
    It's not as compact to be exact cause you still got that big lens in front so you can't put it in your pocket. Ok smaller body but at what price, crappy photos?? Naaah mate you gotta be kidding me no chance in hell I'd swap this with my Nikon D80, if you want smaller cameras go and buy Leica.
    it's like buying a 4wheel drive car to go off road then pimp it up for roads of-course it wouldn't give you a good ride on road and useless off road.
    sorry mate i don't buy this argue!!! this cam is in the middle of being DSLR and being a normal digital camera these guys trying to fuck up the consumer choice and market to make money.
    If you got no money to buy a DSLR then simply don't because this is not DSLR!!!!I repeat this is not DSLR!

  • Melanie May 14, 2010 06:06 am

    I wouldn't rate the carousel horse as a usable shot, honestly. There's too much noise and too much depth of field.

    This might appeal to the mommy blogger group but I can't see it being all that awesome for photographers (unless these test shots are not really showing what it can do).

  • Jason Collin Photography May 13, 2010 11:56 am

    Looks cool. How does it balance in the hand though with such a slender body and small hand grip but extended lens? Any f/2.8 lenses or faster for it?

    I think anyone coming from a higher end body with ample buttons (like my Nikon D300) would have to show patience at having a lack of buttons.

  • Chris May 12, 2010 10:21 am

    I don't like the lack of external controls, I don't like how it looks, I don't like how huge that 18-55mm lens is for such a small camera. For my "poor-man's Leica" I will stick with Micro 4/3 (for now at least), and if I need the marginally better image quality you can get from an APS-C sensor, I will get out my Nikon.

  • hfng May 12, 2010 07:34 am

    I am just going to wait until Canon comes out with one.

  • M May 12, 2010 07:06 am

    From what I understand it has some "smart" system for setting shutter/aperture. Is it possible to control these manually, bypassing the "smartness". I'd be really happy for an answer to that. Thanks for the review!

  • Raj Sarma May 12, 2010 07:06 am

    Panasonic & Olympus hit the right notes with m43 simply because it wasn't a shrunk up DSLR, but an entirely new and compact system. One of the reasons why 4/3s had mixed reviews was because it was able to offer small bodies but the lenses were never smaller, however, with m43 this was achieved.

    SONY seems to have made the same mistake with the NEX cameras; small bodies with huge lenses. There is no point to such a system; the entire system needs to be compact, not just parts of it.

  • Maureen May 12, 2010 04:48 am

    No IBS!? Why? The optical stabilization is built into the lens with this camera! What a shame! The existing Sony lenses don't have in lens stabilization. This is one of the main reasons I bought my a350.

  • Cesare Kim May 12, 2010 02:03 am

    Sorry for the dumb question but I bought an Alpha 100 a few years ago because I had Minolta lenses. Can I use them on this new camera as well?

  • KT May 12, 2010 01:55 am

    In two seconds from startup I could shoot my first shot, is this correct? Seems slow!!

  • KT May 12, 2010 01:54 am

    In two seconds from startup I could shoot my first shot

  • David May 12, 2010 01:39 am

    I am confused!! Easily done Granted!

    You start this article by referign to this camera as a Micro 4:3 camera yet in the spec detail you say it has a Sony E Series Mount!

  • Doctor May 12, 2010 01:12 am

    Excuse me while I put my Canon compact on Craigslist.

  • Teshi May 11, 2010 11:14 pm

    Right. Time to preorder. Looks like it will be a fantastic number. Something DSLR like with good High ISO abilities.

  • dreaming Artemis May 11, 2010 08:40 pm

    Oh man! Sony didn't just bust through the door guns blazing, it busted down the door, took names and will definitely start kicking and taking no prisoners!!!

    I had expensive the same ISO behavior from the Samsung NX10 but was sadly disappointed when I tried it out. Now this is what I had expected!

    Though I'm a bit surprised by the look, the lens actually looks bigger than the camera itself?!

  • Ben May 11, 2010 08:30 pm

    I would love to have something like that as a compact camera, but the huge lens kind of defeats the point of it being compact for me...

    I think I'll just stick with lugging my DSLR around instead.

  • Rob May 11, 2010 05:19 pm

    Note that a larger sensor leads to a more narrow depth of field, closer to that of a 35mm SLR.

    This can be misleading. In fact, smaller sensor = more narrow depth of field. For proof see

    However, in practice, if you were to get a lens of the equivalent focal length to a smaller sensor camera (or stand closer to the subject but this isn't always possible), the depth of field would end up being more narrow on this body due to the optics.

    This is because APS-C sensors usually have a crop factor of about 1.5x whereas on four thirds it's 2x. So to get 100mm equivalent (to 35mm format), the APS-C body would need a 67mm lens whereas the four thirds body only a 50mm lens.

    Of course, that comes at the cost of a larger lens, which can defeat the purpose of a small body camera.

  • Elias Lopez May 11, 2010 03:55 pm

    Hi ! Does it have manual exposure controls when recording video? or will this be covered in a future review ?

  • Serge Van Cauwenbergh May 11, 2010 03:33 pm

    I was looking to buy a micro four thirds camera from Panasonic but I'm now going to wait until the Sony Nex5 hits the market. I will read some reviews first as well. Seems like the 'pocket' camera I have been waiting for.

  • Andrew Gentle May 11, 2010 09:38 am

    You mentioned in the article that the camera offered Full HD 1920 x 1080 recording but in the specifications list the highest resolution listed is 720p. Which is the correct specification?

  • Chris May 11, 2010 09:25 am

    Daddy want.

  • izuddin.helmi May 11, 2010 09:23 am

    compact version of Sony a550?

  • Mark Olwick May 11, 2010 09:17 am

    SEVEN frames per second? Really? Wow.