Relatively speaking, Sony has been making compact system cameras (CSCs) for quite some time now, and after a few years of experimentation it seems to have really hit the nail on the head with its latest crop of cameras.
We were very impressed by the Sony NEX-5R, and the Sony NEX-3N seems to be a budget version of that. Gone is the clunky design of the Sony NEX-F3, replaced with this sleek and attractive offering that is the world's smallest APS-C sensored interchangeable lens camera.
Although it can be a little frustrating to use for more advanced photographers, it's clear that Sony is aiming this camera at the audience stepping up from a phone camera or compact camera. It's got quite a few things to attract that type of consumer, such as the tilting screen (perfect for self-portraits) and the fun Picture Effects.
It's a great shame, however, not to see a touchscreen implemented here. Those stepping up from a cameraphone would surely appreciate this method for making changes, while it also has its uses when making changes to parameters such as autofocus point.
There's plenty to like about the Sony NEX-3N, but we've been particularly impressed by image quality. Image detail, colour and noise control is excellent, giving you a camera with which you can enter a variety of different situations and be assured of high quality images.
As time progresses we get more and more disappointed when a camera doesn't include a touchscreen, especially when it's produced by an electronics giant such as Sony, which already has expertise in this arena. It surely can't be too long before a touchscreen is de rigueur, rather than an exciting "extra".
The Sony NEX-3N is not a camera for advanced photographers looking for something to replace or sit alongside their DSLRs. Luckily, Sony already has cameras that meet that brief in its lineup.
Instead, what we have here is something that anybody can pick up and be assured of great image quality. It's a shame that there are a few small bugbears along the way with operability - most notably in the frustration encountered when needing to switch off raw format shooting to use so many of the different functions - but overall this is a very competent compact system camera.
This camera is also a good option for those looking to learn a little more about photography, since you do have fully manual controls and the ability to shoot in raw format. Sony still doesn't have the best operation when it comes to what can and can't be shot in raw format, requiring annoying menu diving when you want to use some of the features. We can but hope that Sony works on this either via a firmware upgrade or for the next iteration of cameras.
Perhaps most importantly, image quality is superb. This camera offers one of the best outputs of all the compact system cameras on the market, and joins the NEX-5R, NEX-6 and NEX-7 as a camera that performs very well in a variety of conditions, including low light.
Sony doesn't quite have the same range of proprietary optics as the Micro Four Thirds system, but there is still a good choice available, with third-party manufacturers also making optics for the brand. There's certainly a much wider choice than what is currently available for rival CSCs such as the Olympus PEN Mini, Nikon 1 J3 and Panasonic GF5.