The Sony NEX-3 is the NEX-5's younger bro. It's made of plastic, shoots 720p high-definition videos as opposed to 1080i flicks, and is 1mm thicker. It's also about £100 cheaper than the NEX-5, so penny-pinching photographers might be wondering if this camera is the better deal.
You can get the NEX-3 in more than one kit configuration. The cheapest comes with Sony's 16mm fixed-focal-length pancake lens and is available for around £400. The next step up is an 18-55mm, 3x zoom lens, which will set you back around £440. That's got to be the best option all-round, even though it does practically double the camera's front-to-back size. If you can't make your mind up, you can get both in a twin-lens kit for around £570, and it will still work out at about the same price as a NEX-5 with the 18-55mm lens only.
Punch for your pound
Apart from the differences in their movie-recording capability and bodies, the NEX-3 and NEX-5 are effectively the same. That makes the NEX-3 rather good value for money. You get the same 14.2-megapixel sensor, the same 7-frames-per-second continuous-shooting mode and the same '3D sweep panorama' feature, although you'll need a 3D Bravia TV and a pair of £100 specs to see the effect.
The control layout's the same, the features are the same and the crazy, what-were-they-thinking clip-on flash is the same. It slots into a connector on the top that will also accommodate a stereo mic if you decide to get into serious film-making.
The 920,000-pixel, 76mm (3-inch), tilting LCD display is also the same as the NEX-5's, and the controls have the same metallic precision. Honestly, why would you pay the extra?
Sweet pancake lens
Okay, so it's made of plastic and it shoots 720p movies, but, otherwise, the NEX-3 is so similar to the NEX-5 that you wonder why Sony bothered making two cameras.
The 18-55mm kit lens doesn't do any better on this camera than the NEX-5, either. Conventional digital SLR lenses are compromised by having to allow a big space between the back of the lens and the sensor to make room for the mirror. This lens doesn't have to do that, so it ought to be smaller and better. But no -- as kit lenses go, it's in the middle of the range for quality, with some pretty obvious distortion and chromatic aberration.
The 16mm pancake lens is pretty sweet, but then it's an odd decision to offer it. A fixed-focal-length, 24mm-equivalent lens is both wide and pretty specialised. A pro or an enthusiast might love it, but it's not something a beginner would rush out and buy, and Sony does seem to be aiming specifically at beginners with these cameras.
Then there's the interface. Working the NEX-3 is like using a phone. All the pieces are there, but everything takes longer and is slightly harder than you expected.
The Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5 combine startling innovation with cutting-edge technology, but they behave liked bigged-up compacts, not slimmed-down digital SLRs. They're great for novices, but pro shooters will find them frustrating. What the NEX-3 does offer, though, is clear value for money.
Edited by Charles Kloet