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1st Impressions of Sony NEX-C3, Point of View of Olympus m4/3rds User, Chapter 1


TalkEmount Rookie
Feb 23, 2013
Warning--this post is LONG, very long. You have been warned. This is more of an article, I guess, than a post.

I don't know if this post will be of any help or is just a form of me "writing in my diary" as it were. I figured maybe it would help somebody considering NEX after using Olympus m4/3rds, the 12mp technology models, as that is the case with me.

You hear a lot of opinions regarding things such as the NEX's awful ergonomics, Olympus' great JPEGs, the lenses on NEX dwarfing the camera body so how portable will the package be, "focus peaking," Olympus' IBIS image-stabilization being flaky (except in the OM-D/E-M5 where it's great), many things. Hopefully this post will help give some insight into these sorts of things and help someone considering the migration. I hope to provide certain micro-level details you don't often hear about otherwise.

Understand--this post comes from someone who has only had the camera 24 hours and fooled around with it a little bit, taking a few "see how it works" shots etc. I haven't really put it through its paces in terms of going out & finding some suitable material to photograph in the form of landscapes, the REAL acid test, or also taking portraits with manual-focus 50mm primes or using the Sony 50mm 1.8 OSS. Once I've done that, I will either add to the end of this or do another post altogether and link back to this one.

First Of All, Who Am I?
I am a 44 year old hobbyist photographer, I learned how to operate 35mm SLRs like the Pentax K1000 as a 13 year old, got a Nikon EM in January 1983. Fast-forward to now: I'm still "just a hobbyst," landscapes are my main thing but of course since having 2 kids I also try to take quality shots of them. SLRs have always been the tool of choice for me, but of course m4/3rds appealed to me in terms of having quality in a smaller "always with you" package (more on that later). Shots such as these are ones I've taken over the years (I hope the way I'm showcasing my shots is the best way for this forum--I initially had them "localize for reference" but they weren't showing up once posted, so I just made them direct links period).

2005, Nikon D50 Kit, straight out-of-camera (SOOC) JPEG (this will come up later)

2009, Nikon D40 kit, my father-in-law and my nieces/nephews (his grand-kids by my sister) fishing:

2013, Nikon D5100/18-105mm VR, Ozarks of Arkansas

Those are D-SLR shots. Here are some I've taken with my Olympus E-PL1 and E-PM1 the past year:

2013, Olympus E-PM1 kit, railroad track at 7 a.m. on foggy day

One of my favorites ever, Olympus E-PL1 kit with polarizer, Ozarks of ARK, SOOC JPEG (not an edit whatsoever)

There are so many more I could show you, but the 5-attachment limit is the friend of brevity, ha ha.

Olympus Was Great, But Now It's Time to Update
As I mentioned in my 1st post here, when I got Olympus m4/3rds last year, the idea was landscapes without so much RAW processing hassle, and having a smaller camera that could be with you everywhere & was of DSLR image quality, even if this would be 2009 12mp DSLR quality (think Nikon D300/D90/D5000) instead of 2012 DSLR quality (Nikon D7000/D5100). The 2 shots which book-ended this post illustrate this perfectly--great landscape shots, and I didn't even have to post-process them. Both (2005 Nikon D50 and 2012 Olympus E-PL1) were straight out of the camera.

The Olympus did this for me beautifully. As for controls, I could change ISO, image quality/size, WB, active AF point etc very easily, especially on the E-PM1. The super control panel is your friend. (Those of you who have used Olympus PENs know what I'm taking about, all of the crucial shot-to-shot settings, and then some, are all on 1 screen for you to see & change as needed.) However, some of the landscape shots challenged its dynamic range. With such shots it came up very lacking versus my Nikon D5100 (although probably competent vs older DSLRs such as the Nikon D80 or maybe the D90). It was time to upgrade to the E-PL5 or E-PM2 which inherited the image quality improvements of the OM-D/E-M5 but with the PEN form factor.

However, when that time came last week, despite a massive tax refund, I was hesitant, largely because part of what helped me to be so at-ease carrying the PENs around was I didn't pay much for them, $200-250 for the kit. The E-PM2 still was selling for the full $500 price. It's kind of unsettling carrying a camera of that price range everywhere you go. Also, I would have to spend $80-100 more on software, because Lightroom 3.5 wouldn't process the new RAW files.

But I still wanted to upgrade the sensor technology.

So when I saw a Sony NEX-C3 kit selling for $330 last week, I decided to try it out. This was perfect--it wasn't one with the older 14mp sensor (NEX-3 and NEX-5) its sensor would match up well against my D5100 DSLR or what the E-PM2 would've been. At $330 I could be pretty well at ease. Also, I wouldn't have to upgrade LR3.5 to LR4.

So, Here We Go
It arrived yesterday, I fooled around with it a bit, here are my impressions.

(1) Would it be small enough? Yes! My first concern--I've heard how the 18-55mm dwarfs the body, would this fit in the case I've carried my E-PM1 in for months? This case is a Lowepro Apex 60 AW which I can in fact fasten to a belt or my fanny pack & just wear it everywhere I go, versus having to carry the camera on my shoulder etc. I was delighted to see that the NEX-C3 fit, absolutely delighted. Had it failed this test, it probably would've been an on-the-spot deal breaker.

(2) Get a tripod-mounted bubble/spirit level. There is no hot-shoe for mounting a bubble level, a must for me with landscapes (why it's so hard for me to shoot a level landscape is beyond me). Thankfully sometime back, anticipating that I may need one, I bought a bubble-level you can screw into your tripod socket, a Joby GP2-41EN. It cost me like $4 at B&H. Using a hot-shoe mounted device on the Olympus is quicker & easier, but this one isn't awful. I keep it in the case with a dime for attachment/removal. Once I trek out with it, I'll know how it works for me, but that the NEX-C3 passed test #1 (fits in hip-mounted case easily) is huge right off the bat.

(Don't you love how I document even to the point of knowing the model number etc of the case & bubble level I use?)

(3) Assigning of soft-buttons/ergonomics. Having read the reviews & downloaded the owner's manual I knew about the ability to assign parameters to the soft-buttons. This would be VERY important, as I have my Olympus & Nikon D5100 set-up to give me quick access to 2 biggies--ISO and active AF point. I would need to do likewise here. I typically shoot in aperture-priority mode, by the way. Here is how I assigned the buttons:

Right--White Balance
B---- MF Assist (manual focus mode) active AF point (AF mode)
C---- Custom:
(1) AF/MF mode
(2) AF Mode (center only, multi-spot auto-selection, "flexible spot" mode)
(3) Creative Style (I think I may change this setting later to something else)
(4) DRO (I don't know that I will use this)
(5) Drive (maybe this should be slot #3?)

(I had a hard time remembering which button was which with B & C. It helped to say B=bottom button, C=center button.)

I never changed JPEG processing presets on my SLRs or Olympus, so I'm not sure why I initially setup slot #3 for the center button to have those settings. Ditto DRO. I'm thinking I will end up shuffling the order to where drive is #3.

With that setup done, when autofocusing, I can change the active point with the bottom-button (AF mode typically is to "flexible spot") and change ISO with the left-button, those are the 2 biggies along with exposure compensation and f-stop/shutter speed combination. The jog dial of course lets me quickly shift the f-stop-shutter speed numbers (I usually shoot in aperture priority) and exposure compensation is right there.

Criticisms so far (and they are mostly criticisms, but usually minor ones):

  • When selecting the active AF point in "flexible spot," I wish you could use the jog dial, not just the arrow buttons, to specify where to focus. I like how the Olympus does this MUCH better, and that might would go double with what an E-PM2 would give me in terms of touch-to-focus capability. (Again, when I really put the camera through its paces, I'll find out how little or how much effect it has in real-world shooting.) On the other hand, during shooting the point is more visible to me on-screen than with the Olympus, which "downplays" it too much once you've specified which one.
  • I wish you could assign image-quality/size to a button, I change this a lot. For "casual/silly" shots I turn JPEG quality down to "standard" or "normal". For better shots I will either shoot "Fine" (or Superfine on the Olympus) or RAW. (My Nikon D5100 I always shoot RAW and Basic/Small JPEG every single time.)
  • I'd also like to be able to assign OSS (super-steady shot) to a button or one of the custom items.
  • Image-playback--this is really hard for me to get used to. On my Olympus, the "jog" dial zooms-in immediately (you navigate image-to-image via left-right), it is hard to get used to pressing OK/Center first to zoom-in, I keep skipping to the next image when I'm meaning to zoom-in to check focusing. I'm also not used to it zooming in to 10x or whatever immediately. I'm used to it zooming it gradually as I spin the wheel, not zooming out and then back in etc. Otherwise, playback is fine.
  • ISO is in full 1 EV steps, not 1/3. Oh well. (F-stops & shutter speeds etc are in 1/3 steps.)

(4) Manual-focusing--like "peaking," do NOT like "magnify" initiating automatically with E-mount lenses. If you have MF assist enabled, so that you can zoom-in to check details when manually-focusing, then when using E-mount lenses (NOT when using legacy lenses via an adapter), the camera automatically zooms-in when you turn the focusing ring, as opposed to letting you do so yourself. You have to zoom back out, and if you turn the ring again, it zooms right back in. The only way to prevent this is to turn off MF assist altogether, at which point you now don't have the option at all. (Again, I'm told with legacy lenses this doesn't happen.)

I don't like that setup any, as I mentioned in a separate post earlier. On my Olympus, you manual-focus at "normal" view and if you wish to zoom-in (magnify) for finer detail, a button does this for you (I re-assign the movie button to doing this instead of movies). This is also how the Sony will do with manual lenses they tell me (I can't yet mount my old 1980 Nikkor to it, waiting for the adapter to arrive), but when goofing around with the 18-55mm, I did NOT like how it behaved that way. Magnifying against my will before I told it to was ticking me off pretty seriously. (The Olympus can also be programmed to auto-magnify, but it can also be turned OFF to where it only does so when you TELL it to.)

I don't anticipate this being MUCH of a problem, because most of my manual focusing on my Olympus was with my Nikkor 50mm 1.8 anyway, but it is a problem with macros of, say, a flower against a background where the camera wants to focus on the background. I like to focus to where I can tell it's not focusing on the background, but I can still see how the shot is framed and when I decide to zoom-in to check details I want to press a button to do this. I don't want the camera doing it for me.

On the other hand, focus peaking--I think I'm going to LOVE that. I tried it and it nailed it with the 18-55mm. It makes me wonder if I am going to more enjoy using that on my Nikkor or if I'd do better to get the Sony 50mm 1.8 OSS and autofocus.

(5) Out of camera JPEGs. The Sony JPEGs don't have the "Olympus magic" to them but they don't look as "flat" as others I've seen (Nikon DSLRs especially). Maybe with some tweaking I could get them to look that way, but not so far. This, so far anyway, is a strong Olympus advantage (again, think the 1st & last shots I showed off) if you're wanting to not have "grunt" post-processing work with every shot later.

(6) Image stabilization. Many complain that image-stabilization (known as IBIS) with the Olympus models, other than perhaps the expensive OM-D/E-M5, it hit or miss. Some say it even makes the shot worse. My experience--it seems unreliable with the 14-42mm unless I also engage "delayed release" (available in the drive settings) which is basically mirror lockup. I don't know if Olympus IBIS is faulty as some say, but it has been a challenge at times preventing hand-held shake even when using IBIS well within 1-2 f-stops below the 1/effective focal length shutter speed parameters.

OSS on the 18-55 seems to work better than IBIS with the 14-42mm on the Olympus. (Again, people rave about IBIS on the OM-D/E-M5, and some say the new PENs are better than the old ones.) I took a shot at 1/8 and even 1/4 second at 18mm and it looked just fine. 1/25 second at 55mm looked fine. The Olympus IBIS with my manual-focus 50mm Nikkor seemed pretty good, but based on what I saw today, if I ever get the Sony 50mm 1.8 OSS, it may be better.

Of course the disadvantage is that I won't have OSS when using legacy lenses, but then, for portraits, I'd probably need a shutter speed of 1/100 second (or more) anyway for any subtle subject movements etc. It may be more of an issue if I, say, acquire the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 & try to shoot low-light with it.

(7) Focusing speed. My Olympus E-PM1 seemed to focus faster, but the C3 wasn't bad, it was at least as fast as my old E-PL1 I owned earlier, which usually was fine for me (with the newer kit lens, the old kit lens on the Olympus is very slow). I am sure people will tell me the newer Sonys (NEX-6 etc) focus faster.

More to Come Later

I have a Nikon to NEX adapter, 49mm filters (CPL and UV) and a spare battery on the way. I'm looking forward to taking this for a spin at a good spot for landscapes, and trying portraits with my 1980-era Nikkor 50mm 1.8 when the adapter arrives. Then I can really know if I will like this. So far, I think I do. It ROCKS having this level of quality on my hip at all times. I've just got to get used to the ergonomics, and either get used to shooting RAW again or experimenting with JPEG settings that can at least SORT OF give me the option of not having to post-process every single landscape for it to look half-decent.

Once I have usually used this in earnest, I'll post a follow-up "Chapter 2" as it were and link to it here. Meanwhile, I hope this helps anybody, and I hope I'm not discovering any horrible typos later.


Super Moderator
Aug 20, 2011
Fountain Hills, AZ
Real Name
Nice thoughts. I first bought my 3, when there was only a 3 and 5.

Recently upgraded to the F3 for the main purpose of having the built in flash. The advances in each generation keep the NEX getting better and better.

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