Sony NEX-C3 Flash

Like almost all NEX-series cameras at the time of this writing-- the sole exception being the flagship NEX-7--the Sony NEX-C3 forgoes any built-in flash or standard hot shoe, in an effort to keep body size down to a bare minimum. Instead, flash photography is catered for with the same proprietary accessory port used in earlier NEX models, and the same tiny HVL-F7S flash strobe is included in the product bundle.

Sony's HVL-F7S flash folds flat against the top of the lens mount when not in use, and although very compact, is still reasonably powerful for its size, with a useful range extending out as far as sixteen feet. Sony officially lists the guide number as being seven meters (23 feet) at ISO 100, although note that the NEX-C3's base sensitivity is actually ISO 200 equivalent. Once safely packed in its protective plastic case, it's dimensions are barely under 2" x 1.5" x 1", easily small enough to slip in a pants pocket and forget you're even carrying it, until you have a need for it. Unfortunately, the coverage is rather narrow, leading to pretty uneven illumination with the 16mm prime kit lens, and at wide angle with the 18-55mm zoom kit lens. The same will apply to the 18-200mm kit lens, and vignetting will likely prove an additional concern with that combination, given the modest height of the HVL-F7S strobe when extended (around an inch), and the significantly larger dimensions of the lens itself.

Thankfully, the bundled HVL-F7S flash strobe is no longer the only option for NEX-series camera owners. Sony now also has an optional HVL-F20S strobe, which while it's quite a bit larger, should also offer greater performance. At ISO 100, the guide number is officially 20 meters, almost triple that of the bundled strobe. Sony doesn't provide a specification for coverage, but the HVL-F20S also includes a built-in diffuser panel to improve coverage at the cost of some reach. The larger dimensions also mean that the HVL-F20S stands significantly higher above the lens, and should thus be less likely to be blocked by the lens barrel. In addition, the HVL-F20S can operate as a bounce flash, providing more natural light so long as the distance from camera to subject via the ceiling is within the flash's working range. Of course, since the HVL-F20S strobe uses the same proprietary connection as the bundled flash, you still have the issue that you can't use any other accessory simultaneously with flash photography.

A small thumb screw in the base of either strobe--or any of the other available accessories--allows them to be tightly fixed to the camera, safe from being accidentally bumped off, but those with large hands may find the screw a little fiddly to tighten down. If you're in a rush, the flashes do function without the screw being tightened, but they don't mount very tightly, so if you're planning on keeping the flash on camera for more than a few seconds, tightening the thumb screw is a must. Two small pins on all the accessories mate into holes on the camera body to keep everything steadily aligned.

The Sony NEX-C3's has five flash modes: Auto, Fill, Slow Sync., Rear Sync., and Off. The Sony NEX-C3 allows you to adjust flash and ambient exposure independently of each other, by providing flash exposure compensation between -2 and +2 EV in one-third EV increments. Through a separate menu option, red-eye reduction can be enabled, which functions by adding several bursts of preflash to contract your subjects' pupils, in addition to the regular metering and exposure flashes. Flash modes are changed in the Camera menu, Flash Compensation in the Brightness / Color menu, and Red-Eye Reduction in the Setup menu. Available settings vary depending on exposure mode. X-Sync (the maximum shutter speed with the flash enabled) is 1/160 second by default -- a bit below average compared to most SLRs, but not uncommonly slow compared to its compact system camera rivals.

Below are test results using the bundled HVL-F7S flash unit.


Flash Test Results

Coverage and Range
Good flash range (partially because base ISO is 200 instead of 100), with narrow coverage at wide-angle. Our standard shot required average exposure compensation.

18mm 55mm
Normal Flash
+0.7 EV
Slow-Sync Flash
0 EV

Coverage. Flash coverage was quite uneven at wide-angle (18mm), leaving very dark corners in our flash coverage test image. Narrow coverage at wide-angle isn't unusual, though, and some of the corner darkening is from the lens itself. Coverage was much more uniform at telephoto (55mm).

Exposure. Our Indoor Portrait test scene was bright with +0.7 EV flash exposure compensation which is the average amount of flash exposure compensation required for this scene, though the camera's Auto white balance rendered the scene too warm here. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced bright, even results with no flash exposure compensation, though with a stronger orange cast from the room lighting.


Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

1/60 sec
f3.5
ISO 200

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

1/100 sec
f5.6
ISO 200

ISO 200 Range. With the 18-55mm kit lens, flash exposure started out bright at 6 feet at wide-angle and actually increased in brightness before decreasing, peaking in brightness at 9 feet. Flash shots remained fairly bright until 13 feet, where they continued to decrease gradually as distance increased. At full telephoto, flash exposure started out reasonably bright at 6 feet, increased in brightness at 7 feet, but decreased in brightness from then on, though 8 feet was still reasonably bright. Flash exposure was also somewhat inconsistent at full telephoto, with 14 and 15 feet being brighter than 12 and 13 feet, etc. Note that the NEX-C3's base ISO is 200, so these range results are not directly comparable to models with lower base ISO.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle Telephoto

9.3 feet
ISO 200

5.8 feet
ISO 200

Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. The Sony NEX-C3's bundled flash unit is rated with a Guide Number of 7m or 23 feet at ISO 100. That works out to about 9.3 feet at f/3.5 and 5.8 feet at f/5.6 and ISO 200, the maximum apertures of the kit zoom lens. In the test shots above, the Alpha NEX-C3 performs as Sony says it will, producing good flash exposures at the rated distance with its ISO set to 200. In fact, the wide-angle shot is actually slightly overexposed (by about 1/3 EV).

Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.

 

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