Preview: Sony Alpha NEX-C3
Design & Handling
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It
On the NEX3/5, there are three unmarked "soft" buttons: two on the right of the LCD screen (soft keys A and B), and one in the center of the control wheel (soft key C). They perform different tasks depending on the context. While this arrangement worked well for the most part, for several months, many users found it cumbersome to have to always dive into the menu to change commonly used settings such as metering mode, ISO and white balance. But most of these grouses subsided after Sony issued a firmware v03 update in October last year that made it possible to customize functions to soft keys B and C.
If you thought that Sony would have added a couple more dedicated buttons this time round, you couldn’t be more wrong; the number of buttons on the C3 has remained unchanged. In fact, there are now even more unmarked controls. Previously, the four-way directional pad of the control wheel were hardcoded to control settings such as flash mode, exposure compensation, self-timer/drive mode, and cycling through the on-screen displays. Now, the left and right keys have become unmarked keys too. Of course, this means that both keys are now customizable. Settings that you can assign to each of them include shooting mode, shooting tips, drive mode, AF/MF select, AF mode, AF area, precision digital zoom, ISO, white balance, metering mode, DRO/Auto HDR, Creative Style, flash mode, flash compensation, and MF assist. While this move makes accessing key settings easier, it also means that before it becomes second nature, you’ve to remember what functions you’ve assigned to these keys.
But Sony is not done yet with customizable keys. On the NEX-3/5, you can assign up to three functions to soft key C (the one in the center of the wheel) for PASM shooting modes. On the NEX-C3, you can assign up to five. While it may sound a tad excessive, we actually find usability to be improved. On the NEX-3/5, you can’t tell at a glance what are the three functions after pressing the soft key; you’ve to press the left or right key to reveal each setting one after the other. On the NEX-C3 however, icons for the functions will appear along the bottom of the screen, hence making it easier for you to see what are available, and navigate to the designed setting quicker. Detractors may still prefer dedicated buttons; but it's clear by now that Sony aims to keep the number of buttons as few as possible in order to make the camera less intimating to the point-and-shoot crowd. So they've to be clever in order to satisfy the more advanced users who want to call up key settings swiftly. And this is what they've come up with.