Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

Sony NEX-C3, 18-55mm - £390

Putting the 'compact' into compact-style, the Sony C3 body is remarkably slimline, especially considering its oversized APS-C sensor, which has a class-leading resolution of 16.2MP. The tightness of the package is maintained if you fit Sony's E-mount 16mm pancake lens, at a cost of £200, but the body is dwarfed by the kit 18-55mm lens.

With most of the package being 'out in front', the camera has odd looks and strange handling. Indeed, shooting with the Sony NEX-C3 feels a bit like you're holding the lens and just using the body as an attached shutter button. The minimalist control panel adds to the effect. All you get around the back is a circular jog dial that encircles a main selection button, although it also acts as a four-way pad with customisable right and left buttons. A pair of additional context-sensitive buttons has varying functions, but the net result is that you're heavily dependent on menus.

The menu system is colourful and self-explanatory. Shooting modes include 'intelligent auto' for automatic scene selection, as well as regular scene modes, picture effects and trick modes like anti-motion blur, sweep panorama and 3D sweep panorama (compatible with 3D TVs).

Performance

In the absence of an electronic viewfinder, one redeeming feature is the LCD, which has a class-leading resolution of 921k pixels and is very easy on the eye. It also has a tilt facility, which is good for shooting from very high or low angles.

Image quality is good overall, and the optical image stabilisation does well to fend off camera shake. Pictures can look a little bland in standard mode but scene modes can improve results. Despite its comparatively large APS-C sensor, noise is quite noticeable at high ISOs, although dynamic range is pretty good.

Outdoor image test

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

As with the Nikon J1, the default exposure is rather on the bright side, but in this case, there's a slight loss of highlight detail in the sky.

Resolution test

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

ISO 200

The C3's high pixel-count sensor doesn't bring any noticeable advantage to detail resolution, even at lower sensitivity settings.

Noise

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

ISO 200

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

ISO 1600

There's a good compromise between sharpness and noise suppression up to ISO 3200, but higher settings are best for emergency use only.

Colour error

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

The Sony has made a good job of this test chart but, in everyday shooting, colours can look a bit bland and insipid.

Image test verdict

Many of our test shots were overly bright and, with a slight lack of saturation, images can look faded. High-sensitivity results are good up to ISO 3200.

Read the full Sony NEX-C3 review