Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Sony NEX 3N and why it should be your next Digital Camera

I still remember my first digital compact camera.
It was a Canon IXUS 2MP and I thought it was the best thing ever.
How times have changed.

For most people, the compact digital camera seems to rarely leave the house thanks to the rise in (perceived) better quality smartphone cameras.

I recently found myself in the situation where my third or fourth (whatever the hell it is I'm up to now) IXUS has started to fall apart and was really struggling with purchasing another compact digital camera.

Enter the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC).
Yes - that acronym sucks.

Anyway, MILC's are awesome - and from a value perspective, none is more awesome than the Sony Nex 3N.

A MILC is much like a compact digital in that it is (relatively) small and portable.
The difference however is that it packs most of the features of a full-blown SLR into a package less than half the size.

The key elements that set a MILC apart from your tired old digital compact are:

  • Big Sensor - More Light and Bigger Angles
Inside every digital photography device is a little shimmering square window called a sensor.
This is the interface between your camera and the real world that is essentially the digital equivalent of a frame on a roll of film.

Generally speaking, the sensors inside most compact digital cameras are tiny.
This isn't a problem really during the day but when it comes to dusk or night-time  photography, they simply can't hack it.

Move up to a MILC or SLR and the body now has the room to cram in a sensor of varying sizes.
I'm not a pro photographer by any means but the simple rule is bigger is better when it comes to sensor size and quality.

A great little diagram that shows this exists over at Wikipedia.

While researching MILC's, I found that the Sony NEX line of cameras (whether it be the entry level NEX 3N or the featured-out NEX 6) use an APS-C sensor which for me addresses the main gripe I had with my old IXUS in that it used to take absolutely horrible night time and dusk photos that were more noise than photo.

The bigger sensor also means that you can put a bigger angle lens on your camera and get much more in every shot when zoomed out.

I demonstrated this to one of my co-workers (Dave - the king of SAP) at work the other day in a NEX3 vs Galaxy S4 test and he really was surprised at the difference in the two resulting photos (the Galaxy S4 picture started at least two whole metres further back than the NEX 3N).

  • Most of the Goodness of an SLR without the Weight and Bulk

Well, after carrying this thing around my neck for 5 1/2 weeks, I think I'm 

  • Interchangeable Compact High-Quality Lenses
One big difference you'll notice straight away looking at the camera is that you can change lenses.

That means you can use lenses with fantastic glass for any situation, whether it be a prime (non zoom) for ultra clear portraits, a 15-50 for day to day shots or a 50-250 for high zoom work.

No more being limited by the tiny fixed lens with crap aperture and horrible angles.

    • RAW Image Format
    RAW is the file format used to store your images in pure untouched "what the sensor sees" quality.

    The file sizes are huge - but for good reason.
    Typically cheap compact digital cameras force you into saving files as JPG.
    This sorta sucks as JPG is compressed to start with so you immediately lose some quality.

    JPEG also has a limitation into the gradients of brightness so you really do cop big jumps which actually become noticeable when saving in this format.

    Shooting as RAW leaves you with a photo you will want to retouch.

    If only someone posted an article about how to pickup Adobe Photoshop CS2 for free...

    • Why I chose the 3N over 5R, 6 etc.
    For my needs, the 3N was the best choice as it was cheap and practical (and my first step into proper camera land).

    Sony really does a fine balancing act with the features across their Nex line.

    They really did excel at being able to make sure each model except the very top end was missing a feature (which keeps the price down).

    I was seriously leaning towards the 5R for a short period of time (as it included WiFi and remote control support through an IR remote or a smartphone app over WiFi) however the 3N had an advantage (in terms of convenience anyway) that it has a built in pop-up flash (the 5 requires an add-on using the hot-shoe adapter - which the 3N doesn't have).

    The 5R also had the disadvantage that when you can't use the flash when you flick the screen up in self portrait mode (as it physically gets in the way of the screen).

    Also, the 3N was basically half the cost of the 5R clearance discount price.

    External Reviews

    Engadget - Sony Nex 3N - Superior Shooting on the Cheap

    Photography Blog

    Wrapping Up

    Without getting into too much detail, MILC cameras have slotted themselves into a price bracket that essentially makes them a far smarter choice over a compact digital.

    The lenses are re-usable which is fantastic news as essentially you can just replace the body over time as higher resolution sensors come to market without wasting a perfectly good lens everytime you upgrade.

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