We're big fans of Sony's line of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. Sony Europe just announced NEX-3N, the latest update to the starter NEX camera. We loved last year's NEX-F3, and, really, we should be elated that Sony has made it considerably smaller and lighter to make it more appealing to entry-level customers. Alas, we've got mixed feelings.
So first, the good: The camera's body is a lot smaller—Sony says it's the smallest in its class. At 4.33 x 2.44 x 1.38 inches and 9.5 ounces, it's lost a few fractions of an inch in all three dimensions as well as an ounce and a half of heft.
The core specs of the camera look pretty familiar. It's got a 16.1-megapixel APS sensor, the same size as sensors in comparatively bulky entry-level DSLRs. It shoots 1080p video at bunches standard frame rates (including the elusive 1080/60i mode). Hell, the listed 480 shot battery life is downright impressive.
As before, the 3N has an impressive maximum sensitivity of ISO 16000. That's pretty ridiculous for a camera that's probably going to cost in the $500-$600 range when and if it comes to the states. But in our tests with the F3, we found that it was best to stay below ISO 3200 unless conditions were so dark or fast-moving that you couldn't get a reasonable shot without juicing the sensitivity.
Though it might be unfair to expect it at the entry-level right away, the snazzy, faster autofocus that came with the NEX-5R and NEX-6 released last fall isn't included.
So if this is just a teenier version of the NEX-F3, what the heck are we so bummed about? Well, it's that Sony swapped out the 18-55mm kit lens that's traditionally bundled with the NEX 3 for the 16-50mm lens introduced in the fall as a kit for the $1000 NEX-6. Sure, this lens is considerably more compact than the 18-55—it's just that it really sucks. In our tests, the lens caused pretty intense and unnatural vignetting around the edges of photos, which completely ruined photos. You might not think that the kit lens matters that much, because this is an interchangeable-lens camera. Just remember that this is the beginner in the line. The lens it ships with is the lens the person who buys it is going to be stuck with it for a while.
Sony will also be putting out an upgrade to its mid-low range DSLR option. The A58 will replace the A57 in the company's line-up of affordable and excellent single-lens translucent mirror cameras. The new camera has a higher resolution 20.1-megapixel APS image sensor compared to the A57's 16.1-megapixel chip.