Sony NEX-3 Review
Sony NEX-3 Optical Viewfinder Accessory
Among the concessions made in the name of attaining the Sony's NEX-3 extraordinarily compact size was the elimination of any form of built-in viewfinder, with the LCD display serving as the sole method of framing and reviewing images. Of course, like any other single-lens direct view camera, the absence of a mirror box negates the possibility of providing a through-the-lens optical viewfinder. Some competing cameras have included a built-in electronic viewfinder in place of the optical finder, and with the higher-resolution displays now available, these can serve as a fairly useful replacement. They also increase the size of the camera itself, diluting the main advantage that SLDs hold over their SLR brethren -- and that would hardly fit with Sony's design ethos for the NEX-series cameras. The only acceptable option for providing a viewfinder eyepiece was to do so externally, and here Sony faced two choice: an optical, or an electronic viewfinder accessory. Both paths have already been trodden by Micro Four Thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Electronic viewfinder accessories allow not only framing of images without parallax error, but also allow review, and even preview of how zoom, white balance, exposure settings, and the like will affect the final image. They can provide essentially anything the main LCD can, allowing photographers to view the same overlays that they'd see on the LCD, including things like live histograms that are simply impossible with an optical viewfinder. If you're suitably familiar with your camera's external controls, they even allow you to browse menus and quickly change settings without taking the viewfinder away from your eye. Optical viewfinder accessories are generally rather less expensive though, and don't require complex (and perhaps delicate) electrical connections to the host camera. They also use no battery power, providing a significant advantage over framing images on an LCD display. There's also something to be said for the image viewed through a really nice optical viewfinder, something even the best electronic finders struggle to match with current technology.
For the Sony NEX-3, Sony opted to take the latter path, and created its FDA-SV1 optical viewfinder accessory. Unfortunately the FDA-SV1 wasn't available during our time with the NEX-3, and so we're not able to comment on its optical qualities. We also don't know what framing guidelines the accessory provides, although we do know that it offers a 16mm field of view. The FDA-SV1 design features five multi-coated glass elements in four groups, with an exit pupil size of 5mm. The FDA-SV1 has a 15mm eyepoint (the distance from the rear element of the viewfinder at which you can see the entire image), which might be a little tight for some eyeglass wearers, but will likely accommodate many just fine.
The FDA-SV1 is an optional accessory, and its US-market price hasn't yet been announced. Like Sony's proprietary flash strobe and external stereo microphone accessories, the FDA-SV1 mounts in the accessory port on the top of the NEX-3, directly above the central axis of the lens. This means that its use precludes either of the other accessories being attached at the same time. As with the other accessories, a small threaded screw in the base of the FDA-SV1 is used to affix it to the accessory port, ensuring that it can't be accidentally knocked off the camera. Unlike the other accessories, there's no electrical connection between the FDA-SV1 and the camera body, however.
Sony NEX-3 Full-time Live View
By its nature, the Sony NEX-3 is always in "Live View" mode: In that respect, it's like any point & shoot digicam with a rear-panel LCD that works as its viewfinder. The differences with this camera are that it has interchangeable lenses, and has a larger sensor to provide better low-light performance than typical pocket cameras. Unlike most cameras, the NEX-3 also has a double-hinged mechanism beneath its LCD display that allows it to be tilted upwards by some 80 degrees, and downwards by as much as 45 degrees -- great for shooting over a crowd, or down low to the ground. The NEX-3's display has an uncommonly high 921.6K dot resolution, which makes light work of manual focusing. It also includes what Sony refers to as "TruBlack" technology, which replaces the air gap that exists between the screen itself and its cover glass with a resin layer, reducing reflections and light scatter for a richer, higher-contrast image under direct sunlight.
Several display modes are available, allowing for information overlays including a live histogram. The information display in record mode can include shutter speed and aperture, exposure mode, flash mode, ISO sensitivity setting, metering mode, AF mode, number of available images, resolution, aspect ratio, image stabilizer mode, drive mode, white balance, focus confirmation, battery status, etc. Through the Custom menu, you can also enable one of four styles of grid displays. See our Operation page for information callouts in record mode.
Viewfinder Test Results
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.