Sony NEX-3n & 20 f/2.8 Lens Quick Real World Review by Steve Huff


Sony NEX-3n & 20 f/2.8 Lens Quick Review by Steve Huff

This is one of the best deals in the mirrorless photo world right now, as of this writing (May 2013). For under $450 you can have an APS-C NEX camera with a decent  and compact 16-50 Zoom lens included. Great buy. 

This NEX-3n is an older release as it arrived a couple of months ago but I asked Sony to send it to me as this site has a history of reviewing ALL of the NEX cameras and I have had yet to even hold the newest version of the “3”, the slick little 3n. I have tried them all from the very 1st revolutionary NEX-3 and 5 to the latest NEX cameras and now this NEX-3n. I have heard rumors of a NEX-7 replacement coming soon, and many think it will be huge AND full frame. Will it? Maybe, hope so..but no one really knows what is to come just yet.

If Sony goes full frame with a NEX camera there will be some things that are not so great, like the fact that all NEX lenses released to date are for a crop sensor, not full frame. So this would mean all new lenses for an all new camera and we know how slow Sony is at releasing quality glass! A full frame will require QUALITY glass. Sony knows this as the lens on the full frame RX1 is astounding, and one of the best 35mm lenses around.

For now though, those of you who want a quality APS-C camera can indeed find one for not so much cashola in the NEX-3N and the IQ is just as you would expect, the same as previous NEX cameras. It even shares the same sensor as the previous NEX-3F but what is different this time around is the body shape, which is different from the previous NEX-3. Also, this new one makes a perfect setup for beginners looking to step into higher quality without having to buy into a large bulky DSLR.

Using the newer 20 2.8 Sony lens on some yellow flowers. The color is intense but gorgeous. 


The NEX-3N is the latest in the “3” line and while it does not feel the best in the hand of all of the previous “3’s” it can indeed take a quality image. The 3N feels light, hollow, “plastic” and not as formed to the hand as my fave NEX cameras the 5N and 6/7. But how can I complain? Sony is packing some cool tech in this thing and at under $450 for the camera AND the new 16-50 Zoom lens they are making a price point statement. Finally, a camera that is not overpriced but priced RIGHT. Wow. $450 for the set and you will have a highly capable little APS-C shooter. The 16-50 Zoom alone sells for $350 so in reality you are getting the camera for $100!

While not as exotic or cool as the Fuji X100s or the Sony RX1 or the Olympus E-P5, the NEX-3N is for those who want to get started in the mirrorless world with quality output without spending thousands of dollars.

The only bummer is that I am now so used to using an internal Viewfinder that it would be so cool for this camera to have one. At the same time, I understand that at this price and size, it really is not possible so it is all good. The external EVF is NOT compatible with the 3N, so no option for that at all.

The NEX-3N has a built in Flash but no hot shoe for the Sony EVF – it’s all about conpactness 


Sony should have a commercial for this camera using a TV pitchman..I can see it now:

“Act now and this NEX-3N will not cost you $1500, not even $1000, not even $500! The next 50 callers will get the APS-C NEX-3N with Kit Zoom for the ridiculously low price of $449!”

There is not much I can say really besides to tell you about the specs and the experience shooting it because I have said it all many times before in my past NEX reviews. See “Mirrorless Central” in the Sony section here for all past NEX review on this site. The basic idea of the NEX series has always been “small size but huge quality” and the 3N delivers great images just as past NEX cameras did.

Testing the 3-2-1 Self Portrait mode where the LCD faces you and counts down the shot, photo booth style


The new NEX-3N has a more boxy appearance but is still VERY small. The buttons feel a little cheaper than previous NEX cameras but again, $450 with lens is a steal of a deal for those wanting APS-C quality and interchangeable lens capability. At the price it is hard  to NOT recommend.

But what about the new 20 f/2.8 lens? I will post my thoughts on the lens after listing the specs of the 3N:

16.1MP Exmor APS-C CMOS Sensor – Same as  the previous NEX-3F

BIONZ Image Processor – Makes its way to the starter NEX

Sony E-Mount

16-50mm (35mm Equiv: 24-75mm) PZ Lens – The newer smaller zoom 

3.0″ 460.8k-Dot 180-deg Tilting LCD – Can even tilt all the way up for easy self portrait, as with the previous NEX-3F

Full HD 1080i Video at 60fps

ISO 100-16000

Intelligent AF System

Auto Object Framing – This is a new intelligent feature that will automatically frame your subject in the most appealing way. This is for newbies. 

Photo Creativity Feature for Effects

IMO, this is the most impressive bang for the buck NEX to date and while not anything new, it comes in with some small improvements and makes a perfect setup for beginners looking to get the best results with minimal effort.

While not perfect and not much different and really the same old same old in a new body with some slight changes, it is still a capable little thing

Menu is the same, settings are the same, and the camera behaves like most previous NEX series cameras. The AF is not blazing fast and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 focuses faster and feels more responsive but that camera is about a grand. The NEX-3N is under $500 with lens, so for what it is and what you pay it is a superb deal and you can not argue with the large APS-C sensor inside.

 The NEX-3N does B&W as well as color 🙂 The Sony 20 2.8 lens at 2.8


The Sony 20MM F/2.8 Lens


Sony has released yet another lens in the “standard” area of primes. This 20 f/2.8 will give you a 30mm equivalent focal length so this is Sonys answer to nice walk around 30mm that will not break the bank. This is the lens Sony should have made when the NEX series started. Back then they gave us the 16 2.8 which was soft, flat and dull with colors. It was not horrible but it was not the best lens to showcase a new APS-C system. I did like that little 16 when shooting the old NEX-5 at ISO 6400 and B&W. Gave a nice field of view with some grit and I did not have to worry about its shortcomings. The new 20 2.8 is small and delivers better performance across the board but is $100 more than the old 16mm.

In use it will not feel like a blazing fast lens in regards to AF because it is not. It is also not an incredible WOW lens. What it is indeed is a very good 30mm equivalent with a semi fast 2.8 aperture in a small package and a decent price tag of $348.

I can indeed state that the new 20 2.8 is an improvement over the old 16, fact. It is sharper and gets pin sharp at f/4 and this time around we get much sharper corners. This is considered a “pancake” lens and is pretty small on the camera, which is batter than those huge fat lenses for this system. I believe with a NEX system which focuses on size that all lenses should also be kept small. The 20 2.8 fits that perfectly so Sony is once again on the right track.

The 20 2.8 lens on the NEX-3n provides good color, sharpness and detail and the usual Sony NEX colors



So a NEX-3N with 16-50 Kit Zoom and the 20 2.8 would set  you back about $800 but you would then have a pretty capable starter kit that will bring you DSLR results and all in a small compact size that would fit easily in a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 🙂 If you already own a NEX camera the 20 2.8 may be a lens you can get into. If you want a small walk around 35mm equivalent and do not mind the 2.8 aperture speed, it is a good choice. Three more examples below with some explanations…

Up close and personal. When shooting close the 20 2.8 can indeed show some distortion. Remember, this is still a 20mm lens and will distort like a 20mm giving human subjects “Big Nose Syndrome” when in close quarters. 


The B&W rendering looks deliciously good with the NEX 3N and 20 2.8 – Shot through a shop window, they had no clue I took the pic.


The Bokeh is smooth from the 20 2.8 so do not be afraid of it 🙂 This lens is a fantastic all around performer when used in the real world.


When I see output like this from a $450 camera and $350 lens I sit and wonder why I pay so much for my other gear. Well, I know the reasons why and my other gear IS indeed better but is it THOUSANDS of dollars better? THAT is the question. There are many things we go through today with camera, gear, etc that is mostly psychological and while each and every camera made today is different, all are quite capable. What we get out of them is equal to what we put into them and it is you who will make the photo’s that come out of the camera.

Full Size File from RAW

Below is a file shot at f/5.6 with the 20 2.8 lens on the NEX-3n. Click it for full size. 


If you click the image above you will see the full size file from RAW and it was shot at f/5.6 without any lens corrections on. When shooting JPEG the camera corrects for the distortion and faults in the lens which I see Sony doing alot of these days. Where a lens made by Leica is distortion free from the get go, it seems Sony lenses are designed and have plenty of distortion but they are now counting on in camera software to fix these distortions in JPEGS. 98% of what you see here are RAW files without correction but I do wish Sony would concentrate more on designing lenses with minimal distortion out of the box.

Where to Buy the NEX-3N and 20 2.8 Lens?

I would buy from the same shops I have been buying from for years and years with never a single issue.

B&H Photo sells the NEX-3N and 16-50 Kit Zoom HERE – Also in WHITE

B&H Photo sells the 20 2.8 Lens HERE

Amazon also sells the NEX-3N HERE in black and also in WHITE, and the 20 2.8 Lens HERE

My final thoughts on the NEX system and the NEX-3N

It’s all about usability and output for me and the NEX-3N has OK usability and great output. Without a viewfinder or the option for one and the slowish operation when focusing and firing it is not the most fun camera to use but I can not argue with the cost or the output, which is what it is all about. I much prefer the NEX-6 and 7 but those cost much more and are for more advanced users.

Until Sony releases the next big thing in the NEX line this is about all I can write when the camera is not much different than the previous version. The NEX-3N has the same menu system, same control system and mostly the same features as the previous NEX-3 cameras. Not much has changed besides the body style, SD card compartment (now on the side, not with the battery) and the slimmer grip. The camera still has an APS-C sensor capable of superb output and it can take some great lenses such as Leica lenses, Zeiss E mount lenses and every other lens that every other NEX can take. It is a NEX through and through and while I am more of a fan of the 5 and 7 series, the 3 still has its place as the entry level affordable APS-C little pack of dynamite that it is.

The NEX-3N can put out some very pleasing results without question but it is still a body style and design set up for those who do not want total control. It is lacking control dials like the NEX-6 and NEX-7 so if you want a more advanced NEX, those are the bodies to look at. As for high ISO, in rel shooting I did not see any difference between this and the 3F. In fact, this camera felt like the 3F in use, with a different style grip.

For those starting out in this mirrorless camera world and are blinded by the many choices the NEX-3N is a wonderful choice if you want to get in on the ground floor of the NEX system. Oh and  if you want to see more about the kit zoom, the 16-50, you can read about that lens in my NEX-6 1st look HERE.

Bottom line, if you want quality DSLR like photos without the bulk, check out the NEX line. You can read all of my NEX reviews in “Mirrorless Central”






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  1. I have SONY NEX 3N. Do you think it’s worth to get 35mm f1.8 lens since 3N is only a camera for beginner?

  2. First time reader love the reviews! Just purchased the NEX-3N for my wife, only ever owned a point and shoot. The 20mm lens will be her first upgrade and hopefully not the last. P.S. The camara and lens only set me back $350 Cnd. Just waiting for the lens to go on sale!

  3. Seems like a nice compact walk around lens for my NEX-7 although I’m not impressed by its optical performance. Is it me or is the full size photo a little soft on the right side? Found a typo “…which is batter than those huge fat…”

  4. Steve, nice review. I am looking for a full frame digital camera that I can use my Leica M lenses. I like Leica M 240 but is too expensive. Can you give me some help?

    • Four suggestions:

      NEX-6 with Leica M adapter (Novoflex, Voigtlander, or Metabones), better performance wide angle lenses than the NEX-7

      Ricoh GXR with M-Mount modules… APS-C Sensor

      Olympus E-P5, micro-four thirds, 2x crop factor compared to the NEX or GXR (Panasonic Leica M to micro-fourthirds adapter

      Used Leica M-8. Must use a IR filter with the lens.

      • note: there is no full frame sensor camera that can accept M mount lenses other than the Leica M, ME, and M9.

        The only budget options APS-C or smaller sensors

  5. Steve, how would you compare the image quality of the NEX3 with kit lens versus the image quality of the RX100?

    • Well, it is better but will be slower to AF, The RX100 is fast to use and that make sit enjoyable as well. IQ wise the NEX has the larger sensor so less noise, better color, etc.

  6. I note in your overview of the Nex 3N that you mention that the Sony EVF can be used with the camera. I do not think the 3N has the smart accessory port. In it’s place there is a pop-up flash.

    The EVF can be attached to the F3, 5N, and 5R.

  7. Thanks for the review. This is an exciting time. It is crazy how much IQ we can get for a reasonable price. I’m a focus peaking convert. I recently bought the Pentax K-0-1 with the 40mm for a very good price, and I love using it with prime lenses and tubes for macro shots. The focus peaking makes critical focus possible. The NEX-3n would be great for that, too.

    I can see that the power zoom would be a great help in certain situations. I have a friend who has no functional use of his left arm due to an accident. The power zoom might be very convenient for him.

  8. If they sold the 3N + 20mm as a kit I’d be interested, but spending $800 to get these two makes no sense and I don’t want that zoom. They should at least sell the 3N body separately.

  9. @MikeD800 if you are a Wall-Street player, financial considerations do not really matter, but the rest of us have to ask ourselves some value questions before we commit to a bank account-busting new FF format:
    How much more can I do with an RX1-type camera vs a Nex F3 or 3N? Can I take photographs with the RX1 which are 6 or 7 (!!) times better to reflect the price differential?
    How big/expensive should my monitor be to tell the difference? How big should I start printing?

    Enjoy your D800; I too enjoy my 1DsMkII from the hazy days of 2004 :-), but I (and my back) can certainly see the benefit of having a NEX for nights out and for holidays. I hope it stays small, light and cheap; Sony have scored big with these beasties and I think consumers are starting to notice.

  10. I’ve been wanting to see photos from the 20mm for the longest time. Think your shots are the best ones I’ve seen so far, keep up the good work! 🙂

  11. Steve,

    Love the site and thanks for your review. I purchased the original NEX-3 a few years ago as a way to get into photography. I love that camera – since then I’ve purchased several more lenses and upgraded to the NEX-7 ( which I also love ) and have the 3 as a backup.

    Now I’m considering buying the new pancake zoom, but hell, I may just buy the package deal for an extra $100 or so and also get a new great camera! The old 3 I can give to my daughter who is staring to show some interest in photography.

  12. The Nex F3 (and the 3N) are absolute beasts in terms of value for money. The flip up screen is shockingly useful (not the gimmick I first thought), they take proper batteries (mine went on for 5 days in NY) and they produce really decent RAWs.
    I cannot stop singing the praises of the Sigmas – the 19mm is my most used lens on this system and (2nd hand) it’s no more than the price of a decent dinner with wine (in London, anyway).
    I still cannot get used to the absence of a PASM dial, but overall I think Sony are making a whole lot of compacts and m43 cameras redundant.
    Also, a small plea for sanity: I’ve asked this before and I’m asking it again – where is the demand for full frame coming from (outside from PR offices)? How many thousands of pounds/dollars is anyone willing to spend on a FF “pocket” camera (which will need to have ninja-like AF to cope with short DOF and it will never really fit in your pocket anyway) and new lenses (with premium prices to engineer them small, light and bright)?! What sort of innovative photos will people be able to shoot with this chimera of a camera?
    If you are really longing for some FF goodness, you can get a Canon A-1 or a Nikon F2 with some killer 28mm, 35mm and 50mm lenses for about 10% of a price of an RX1. Darn it, you could even add a GA645 to your collection for some lovely medium format negatives and you’ll still be at around 20% of the price of an RX1.
    A (good) vintage camera shop in London was selling the Fuji GW 6×9 for £550 the other day! Now this is what I call big “sensor” 🙂

    • People (uhmm; me) want full frame. We don’t compromise. So it’s D800 and a variety of old slr’s, until Nikon comes along with the dreamlike ff digital FM2n.

      • I’m with Anton. Sure, lots of people want full frame, and for them there are some terrific cameras like the D800. But who needs a full frame NEX? It’s a system that already lacks enough quality lenses that work properly with an APS-C sensor. Who really wants a full frame NEX without any lenses? I suppose Zeiss may have engineered those costly Touit lenses to also work with a ff sensor, but overall there just aren’t any interesting lens choices for NEX. I like my Nikon 1 lenses better than what Sony has put out (except for the price on that CX portrait lens. $900? What was Nikon thinking?)

        But the 3N is amazing at that price. I can’t stand the grip and the build quality is very Motel 6, but at that price it is simply amazing. Olympus can’t come close. Nikon either. The Panasonic GF6 is spiffy, but not with that kit lens. They need to start shipping their cameras with the little 14-42mm PZ to compete properly with Sony. A little camera with a big lens does not work.

  13. Hi Steve,
    Between SEL 35/1.8 and SEL 20/2.8, which one do you suggest best to take for a walk around?
    Which one has better IQ?

  14. YES you banned me but now is not necessary to have a wordpress account and that is because people are talking about it in wordpress twitter

    • That has nothing to do with being banned here. When I ban, I ban IP address and you can not even see the site, at all. You would not see this article/post if you were banned. It has nothing to do with your username or password.

  15. Hi Steve

    How close can the 20mm focus? How do you find the macro feature of the 3N and the 20mm for common shots like flowers / insects?


      • How does the E20mm work with the NEX-7. As you have reported in the past, rangefinder wide angles (like the Voigtlander 21mm f4) have severe color shifts to Magenta in the corners when used with the NEX-7. How does the new 20mm Sony perform with the NEX-7?

  16. I like the Self Portrait picture .You banned my wordpress account but well i am still here

  17. Samyang but did not have to make AF lenses for sony nex?
    what happened?
    I’m waiting for a 85mm 1.8…

  18. Nice review as usual. Thanks. I thought that the crop factor of sony nex was 1.5.. The 20 mm should then give 30mm equivalent not 35 ? (“This 20 f/2.8 will give you a 35mm equivalent focal length”)

    • Yes, you are correct. I fixed that in the review. For some reason I thought it was a 35mm. My brain must have been slow last night 🙂

  19. would you consider the 3n with 20 2.8 to be in the realm of pocketable?
    Considering getting one of these when I need something a bit more low profile than my rather flashy xe-1….

    • Well, I am wearing Pajamas right now 🙂 BUT it easily fit in my front pocket with lens attached. Tighter jeans, no. Loose fitting pants? Yes.

  20. Very cool location for photography. I was amazed by that church, and the house that is hidden by you, Steve, in the second image 🙂

    • Lol, never saw a cop wear Juliet’s in my lifetime. Aviators, yes. Juliet’s, no. But I won several sunglasses, wear different ones every day 🙂

      • Yeah good enough for Tom Cruise and cyclops in X-men!
        However….X-Squared model is much cooler looking IMHO! Juliets are a close second though

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