Sony’s diminutive NEX-3N combines a thin body with a new 16-50mm kit lens that collapses to an incredibly small footprint. Sony’s NEX-series mirrorless cameras have been great values for the last couple of years, but with the new NEX-3N they’ve finally hit a headline-worthy low: MSRP $499.99 with the 16-50mm powered zoom kit lens attached. With a very thin body, plenty of manual control, large APS-C image sensor, and interchangeable lenses, the NEX-3N is a full-featured package at a price point that’s generally the last bastion of discontinued products on their way out to pasture. With the point-and-shoot category on the downturn, Sony is clearly positioning the NEX-3N as the model of choice for those who want to step up to an interchangeable lens camera without having to learn (or spend) too much. Manufacturers have certainly offered camera and lens combinations for under $500 before, but the NEX-3N is one of the few to debut at that price. Is this the product of cutting corners, or has Sony simply pushed their cost-cutting methods further than before?
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Sony's diminutive NEX-3N combines a thin body with a new 16-50mm kit lens that collapses to an incredibly small footprint.
While we can’t make any official proclamations about image quality, the sample we used had “final” image quality and shots up to ISO 3200 seemed perfectly viable for small to medium-sized prints.
Beginning with the original NEX-3, Sony’s entry-level mirrorless cameras have been among the thinnest system camera bodies on the market, and they’ve come close to being the thinnest overall (sometimes with the caveat of “thinnest with a built-in flash”). Their larger APS-C image sensors have had a trickle-down effect on lens sizes, as larger sensors require larger lenses to cover the increased area. While APS-C sensors are great for image quality, the result is often a camera that has a thin body, thick lens, and no hope of fitting in your pocket. Sony’s NEX-3N once again aims to be the skinniest body on the retail shelf, but has the added benefit of a newly-designed 16-50mm powered zoom kit lens. The new lens has a motorized zoom and collapses inward (much like the kit lenses found on many Micro Four Thirds cameras) to offer a complete, compact package that can easily slot into your jacket pocket. It's certainly not perfect, but it's a big improvement over the standard 18-55mm kit lens that accompanies most previous NEX cameras. The new powered zoom lens has also allowed Sony to implement a new control feature: a powered zoom lever around the NEX-3N’s shutter button. This lets you zoom in and out without touching the lens, a mechanism that should be instantaneously familiar to every point-and-shoot user ever. It’s a nice addition for beginners, and also allows for smooth zoom during video recording. In my time with the camera I found myself suffering from a bit of cognitive dissonance, struggling with the idea of using a powered zoom lens on a system camera. Still, we’ve heard complaints from point-and-shoot users that had a hard time adjusting to lens zoom rings, so maybe Sony’s onto something here. Shooting with the NEX-3N is otherwise quite enjoyable. The grip may be a little slim for some, but it provided plenty of stability for one-handed shooting with the 16-50mm lens. The contrast-based focus system was not the best in low light—it frequently hunted and took two or three attempts to lock onto a stationary object—but was more than usable in bright conditions. While we can’t make any official proclamations about image quality, the sample we used had “final” image quality and shots up to ISO 3200 seemed perfectly viable for small to medium-sized prints. Color noise and splotchy noise reduction will likely rule out larger prints and higher ISO settings without significant post-processing work. While the NEX-3N may be one of the cheapest system cameras on the market, the feature set is actually quite robust. At $499.99 with a kit lens, the NEX-3N looks to be one of the best values on the market. Of course, in camera parlance "value" often is synonymous with "featureless," as camera companies have a nasty habit of stripping out options for the simple purpose of differentiating between models. The NEX-3N escapes this predicament, however, as Sony hasn't really subtracted anything from last year's NEX-F3—except about $100 from the MSRP.
Camera companies have a nasty habit of stripping out options for the simple purpose of differentiating models, but the NEX-3N escapes this predicament.
The NEX-3N is a very competitive little shooter, with plenty of advanced features: an articulated rear LCD, 4fps continuous shooting, a built-in flash, full manual control, Sony’s usual array of automatic and scene modes, 1080/60i videos, and a 16.1-megapixel APS-C image sensor. On the other hand, it does miss out on a few features from Sony’s higher-end NEX models, like touchscreen control, phase-detection AF, a hot shoe accessory port, and 1080/60p video recording. While the phase detect AF would’ve been nice, the other features are mostly things you can live without at such a low price point. The image sensor in particular should be a highlight for an entry-level camera. Though you can expect a heavy dose of noise reduction at the highest settings, The NEX-3N is capable of an ISO range of 100-16000—right in line with what previous NEX cameras can do. We're not expecting any great leaps in quality given that this is Sony's entry-level model, but given the sensor it likely won't be any worse than previous NEX models that we've reviewed. There's nothing revolutionary here, but there's plenty to like.
Fair warning to the competition: The new price target for entry-level system cameras is sub-$500.
For the last couple years, manufacturers have targeted a sub-$1,000 price point for beginner-level system cameras. With the NEX-3N, Sony has turned that paradigm on its ear. Fair warning to the competiton: The new target is sub-$500. It’s a very low entry-point that will surely entice plenty of camera shoppers to finally step up, enjoying the benefits of interchangeable lenses and APS-C image sensors without breaking the bank. As you’d expect given the low price point, there’s nothing about the NEX-3N that’s all that revolutionary. If anything, it’s shocking how little cost-cutting seems to have been done to the NEX-3N. Economies of scale surely helped out, but there aren’t many features the NEX-3N lacks compared to higher-end NEX models. A 16-megapixel APS-C sensor, 180-degree articulating LCD, compact body, and built-in flash for $499.99 with a kit lens is usually the kind of deal you’d previously only see at the end of a product life cycle, rather than the beginning. Nothing on the NEX-3N feels cheap or chintzy. It’s a well-built camera that closely follows the design of other NEX models. Advanced shooters will probably be happier with something a little further up the NEX hierarchy, but the 3N should be a great option for people who want to learn at their own pace. We enjoyed our short time with the NEX-3N, and It’ll be exciting to see how the camera performs once we get it into our labs. If the newest NEX performs as well as its predecessors suggest it will, it’s clearly positioned to be one of the better values on the system camera market.

Meet the tester

TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

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