Sony NEX-F3 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Alpha NEX-F3
Resolution: 16.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
Kit Lens: 3.06x zoom
18-55mm
(27-83mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 200-16000
Shutter: 30-1/4000
Max Aperture: 3.5
Dimensions: 4.6 x 2.6 x 1.6 in.
(117 x 67 x 41 mm)
Weight: 18.6 oz (526 g)
includes batteries, kit lens
MSRP: $600
Availability: 06/2012
Manufacturer: Sony
16.10
Megapixels
Sony E-mount APS-C
size sensor
image of Sony Alpha NEX-F3
Front side of Sony Alpha NEX-F3 digital camera Back side of Sony Alpha NEX-F3 digital camera Top side of Sony Alpha NEX-F3 digital camera Left side of Sony Alpha NEX-F3 digital camera Right side of Sony Alpha NEX-F3 digital camera

NEX-F3 Review Summary: Sony's entry-level NEX-series camera has gotten a little bigger and heavier, but that's allowed for some pretty worthwhile upgrades. The LCD panel now helps when shooting self-portraits, and there's a built-in popup flash, too. Add great image quality and an affordable pricetag, and there's much to appeal to entry-level shooters.

Pros: Great image quality; Above-average battery life for a mirrorless camera; Makes light work of shooting self-portraits; Very versatile video mode for a camera of this class.

Cons: Built-in flash is weak and uneven; Grip feels cramped due to low shutter button position; Bundled kit lens turns in a mediocre performance, and body isn't sold without the lens.

Price and availability: The Sony Alpha NEX-F3 digital camera went on sale in the US market from mid-June 2012. Pricing is set at around US$600, with an SEL1855 18-55mm zoom lens included in the product bundle. Body colors include silver, black, and white.

Imaging Resource rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

Sony NEX-F3 Review

by and Shawn Barnett
Hands-on Preview: 05/17/2012
Full Review:

With elements borrowed from its low and mid-range predecessors, the new Sony NEX-F3 has a few tricks of its own to distinguish itself from past models. In addition to a new 16.1-megapixel sensor, the NEX-F3 also sports an updated, tilting LCD design that swings over the top to face forward, a welcome addition to the line.

Enough remains the same on the Sony NEX-F3 that one wonders why they needed to redesign the body at all. It's now larger in all dimensions than the NEX-C3, as well as weight, and while they shored up its grip a bit so it feels more like the grip on the NEX-5N, they lowered its top surface, and therefore the shutter button as well, making it seem a little awkward if you're used to the NEX-5 or NEX-7. Measurements are 4.62 x 2.62 x 1.63 inches (117.3 x 66.6 x 41.3mm), compared to the NEX-C3's 4.31 x 2.36 x 1.29 inches (109.6 x 60 x 33mm). Weight of the NEX-F3 is 9.0 ounces (255g) body-only, where the NEX-C3 weighed only 7.9 ounces (225g).

The grip is good, with a nice diamond pattern cut in the front. It's not quite as deep or tall as I'd like. I can only get two fingers around it, leaving my pinkie to curl underneath the camera.

Just above the lens mount on either side are the stereo microphone holes, and the APS-C sensor looks relatively large in the center of the metal E-mount.

Sony clearly can't decide on a standard design for the power switch. It's found around the shutter button on the NEX-7, -3, and -C3, jutting out from front, back, or right respectively, while on the -5 and -5N it's appeared on the top right, as it does here on the NEX-F3.

In addition to the flash socket (aka Smart Accessory Terminal 2) just behind the lens mount, the NEX-F3 has a pop up flash integrated into the top deck, preferable for those who preferred not to mar their otherwise sleek cameras with the small external flashes and their clumsy thumbscrews, which Sony included with past models.

Visible from both top and back, the Flash pop-up button, Playback button, and Record button are on a rear beveled surface. Controls on the back are essentially the same as past offerings, but that LCD is unique.

It swivels straight up to face forward, reversing the display for easy arm-length self-portraits. What it doesn't do well, though, is face down at much of an angle when viewed from the back. It's not even close to the 45-degree angle of the NEX-3. It's more like 13 degrees. You can pop up the flash, but of course you have to do it in advance; and then the flash blocks part of the LCD. It's further blocked if you have any accessories mounted in the Smart Accessory Terminal.

If you plan on shooting a self-portrait, you should also remember to at least set autofocus mode to Multi, if not switch the camera to Intelligent or Superior Auto, otherwise the camera won't know where to focus for impromptu self-portraits. It's also impossible to make any of these changes with the LCD in this position, of course, because the controls are on the back and the LCD is on the front. It seems a little nit-picky to mention it at all, but when the controls are so dependent on the LCD, the issue will come up.

The LCD swings up so naturally into forward position, it's almost hard not to do it. The hinge itself recesses deeply into the NEX-F3's body. It's a pretty neat trick. I'm not sure it's a major selling point for me, but nor is it a put-off at all.

Battery and card doors are separate, as seen on the NEX-C3. The card door's position isn't great, as it'll require you to remove the camera from a tripod before swapping cards.

 

Sony NEX-F3 Shooter's Report

by Mike Tomkins

Sony's NEX-F3 compact system camera might represent the entry-level point to the NEX-series line, but when I laid my hands on it I nonetheless found its newly-designed, plastic body reassuringly solid, with little in the way of panel flex and creak. The redesigned handgrip is quite striking and rather unusual, placing the shutter button on a shelf beneath the camera's top deck. It looks a little ungainly, and I found it to be something of a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, its lesser height made it impossible for me to wrap more than two fingers around the grip, with my other fingers not-so-comfortably wrapped beneath the camera body. On the other hand, though, the vertical surface which extends above the top of the grip made the NEX-F3 quite reassuring to carry without a strap. Normally the first thing I do with a new camera is to attach a strap, as I'm always paranoid that I'll drop it. (Thank goodness, I've yet to actually do so.) I never felt the need to attach the strap with the NEX-F3, once I discovered that resting my index finger across the rear of the shutter button provided some purchase against the camera body.

The power button felt a bit clumsy initially, until I got my head around the fact that it wasn't intended to be flicked with my index finger. It quickly became second nature to nudge on or off with my thumb, but I did have to adjust my grip to move my index finger down onto the grip and away from the shutter button to do so.

Shoot from the hip. The NEX-F3's tilting display makes it easy to shoot from waist-level, low to the ground, over your head, or even self-portraits.

I'm not a big fan of self-portraits -- I see enough of myself in the mirror each morning to get me through the day -- but the updated articulation mechanism for the display which now lets you see yourself from in front of the camera is doubtless going to prove popular with the Facebook crowd. Although the popup flash strobe and Smart Accessory Terminal 2.0 both obscure the screen when in use, that's not really a problem for arm-length self-portraits, as you wouldn't want a flash anyway. For more distant, tripod-mounted self portraits, you can figure out your framing first, and then raise the flash or attach an external strobe as needed.

Cephalopod-approved. This cuttlefish seemed to be posing just for me, but I had to be quick to get the shot. Aquarium glass and a skittish subject meant flash was out of the question, but the NEX-F3's large sensor saved the day, capturing plenty of detail even under relatively dim aquarium lighting.

One tradeoff of the updated articulation mechanism is that it doesn't tilt down as far as it used to, but I never found this to be much of an issue even when shooting well over my head. And while I might not have used the articulation for self-portraits much, I did enjoy shooting with the camera at waist level quite a bit. I find side-mounted tilt/swivel mechanisms to be more useful than tilt-only designs, though, because they can help with framing portrait-orientation shots from above or below, and they also allow some extra protection for the LCD when facing inwards. And I found the display pretty easy to view even in strong daylight, in part thanks to the lack of a touch-screen, which meant I wasn't continually having to wipe away fingerprint smudges.

While I'm still not a fan of Sony's menu system, I've grown to live with it, and you will too -- probably more easily than I can, given that I spend my time using so many different cameras, making it harder for any one design to become second nature to me. Its division into six different sections still feels somewhat arbitrary, though, and makes it harder than it should be to find the settings you're looking for when you're not yet used to the camera. More frustrating is the separation between still images and movies in playback mode, something which still occasionally tricks me into thinking I've lost a shot when in fact I'm simply in the wrong playback display mode.

White balance was typically pretty good. Here it's picked up the golden hour warmth of Knoxville's historic James Park House quite nicely.

The NEX-F3's built-in popup flash is a great addition. The bundled, external strobe of the NEX-C3 did the job, but it was too easy to forget -- or simply not bother -- to bring it along with me. (I seldom use flash as I prefer available-light photography, which tend to look more natural, so it was usually down to my consciously leaving it behind.) Invariably, when I most needed it for an unexpected shot that I couldn't manage with available light, I'd find that I'd left it behind. With a popup flash, there's no such problem. It's always there, and even though it's a relatively weak strobe, it's decidedly better than nothing. I didn't use it a lot, but if I had more time with the NEX-F3 I'm sure I'd occasionally get shots I'd have otherwise missed. And of course, there's a proprietary Smart Accessory Terminal 2.0, as well, so a larger strobe is available if the built-in strobe doesn't provide enough light.

For my money, though, the big APS-C sensor of the NEX-F3 is even more useful than its built-in flash. It's not just a matter of available-light looking more natural. There are times -- such as this shot of a cuttlefish at a nearby aquarium -- that flash simply isn't an option. You may have no choice but to rely on available light because you don't want to disturb your subject, you'd have problems with reflections, or flash simply isn't allowed. The APS-C sensor of the NEX-F3 can gather more light than do smaller sensors, and that translates to better available-light photography.

Overall, I was very pleased with the images I shot with the Sony NEX-F3. For what represents a very affordable camera -- it lists for just US$600 with a kit lens -- I thought image quality was pretty good, especially the camera's high ISO capabilities. I didn't think twice about shooting at up to ISO 3,200, and occasionally bumped the sensitivity to as high as ISO 6,400. While I seldom strayed beyond that, as noise reduction starts to smear out a lot of the fine details, the higher sensitivities were still good enough for a small 5 x 7-inch print. I did rarely see some banding in shots, though, such as in the image shown further below. Definitely not frequently enough that I'd consider it an issue, and it's relatively easy to work around, but it's worth noting regardless.

Below are 100% crops of a quick handheld ISO series, shot in a very shady garden in downtown Knoxville. You can see the full-res images in the gallery.

Sony NEX-F3 ISO sensitivity series
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1,600
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
ISO 12,800
ISO 16,000

As it's an entry-level camera, the typical NEX-F3 shooter will probably spend a lot of time in the Intelligent Auto, Scene or Program modes, only dropping into Priority or Manual if a particular shot proves challenging or deserves some extra attention. I shoot bracketed exposures when I'm reviewing a camera, and continuous bracketing isn't available in any except the PASM modes, so I mostly stayed in Program mode to mirror a typical user as much as possible. Thankfully, I found that the NEX-F3 nailed the exposure for most shots first time around, only occasionally needing positive exposure compensation when thrown off by strong highlights. Very few shots needed negative compensation.

Pleasing images. I found images shot with the NEX-F3 to offer pleasing color, and pretty accurate exposure. Focus was typically quite accurate as well, although here the face detection didn't quite manage to lock focus on my son's eyes.

Focus was for the most part reasonably accurate and acceptably fast, although not able to match most SLRs -- or for that matter, the best mirrorless cameras -- in terms of speed. Color was pleasing, with realistic skin tones as in the image of my son on the left, although white balance was sometimes a bit warm indoors. Considering the limitations of its kit lens, which is rather soft for quite some distance from the corners when wide open, I felt the NEX-F3's shots had good detail as well. A better lens would definitely be a worthwhile purchase for the newcomer to Sony's E-mount though; I'm certain that with better glass the NEX-F3 could really shine.

Burst shooting performance wasn't stellar, but then I wouldn't expect that, at the Sony NEX-F3's price. It wasn't necessarily that it was slow: our testing found the camera capable of shooting at about 5.5 frames per second. The problem was that the buffer was fairly shallow, at just six frames in raw+JPEG mode. After the buffer filled, burst shooting performance plunged to just 0.76 frames per second. For reviews I shoot in raw+JPEG mode so that I can provide both the original raw image and the in-camera rendering of the same scene, but that meant two sets of bracketed exposures in a row was enough to completely fill the buffer. Ordinarily, I'd shoot raw-only, and this would've netted me one extra frame and a slightly faster post-fill shooting rate of one frame per second. If you shoot in JPEG mode only, and don't bracket exposures often, this is all less of an issue, as you can manage a dozen JPEG frames before the buffer fills, and about 2.4 frames per second or so after that point. It's likely enough for a consumer photographer, trying to get pictures of subjects like pets and kids that never stay still for long, but frequent sports shooters will likely want to look elsewhere.

Occasional banding. This ISO 3,200 shot of my son at the aquarium was one of several to show horizontal banding. It wasn't frequent and cleans up reasonably well in post-processing, though, so isn't a showstopper.

I did feel it was worth shooting raw despite the lower buffer depth, incidentally, if for no other reason than that it makes those rare shots with banding rather easier to clean up. You can find three versions of the same NEX-F3 exposure in our NEX-F3 gallery to demonstrate this. They're variants of the same shot I mentioned previously with banding, but all three have been run through DxO Optics Pro, one of the more popular photographer-centric image editing packages on the market. The first image is a JPEG file with the DxO Default preset applied, but all noise processing disabled; that's the control shot to give you an idea of how the image looks after correcting for exposure, vignetting, etc. The second is the JPEG file processed with the DxO Default preset, and noise processing left switched on. It's noticeably better, but the banding is still clearly visible in the shadows. The final one shows a raw file from the NEX-F3, again processed with the Default preset, and with noise processing enabled, and while still slightly visible, the banding is much less prominent. And of course, all of these are at defaults; I'm sure you could manage better on all three with a little work.

I did experience one other slight issue when shooting still images with the NEX-F3, but it happened only once every 2-300 shots, and is easily fixed in a matter of seconds in your image editor of choice. (It's also perfectly possible that it was a fault on our particular sample of the camera body.) In the interests of full disclosure, though, I mention it nonetheless. Several times, I had issues with image orientation being detected incorrectly, with images showing in-camera and on my PC either on their side, or in one case even upside down. It wasn't a matter of the images being framed at extreme angles, as other shots in the series with absolutely identical framing were the right way up. As I said, though, it's easily fixed so I wouldn't be terribly concerned given the rarity with which the problem showed itself.

Great videos. The Sony NEX-F3 has an uncommonly rich video feature set for its price, and its Full HD videos capture lots of fine detail.

For its price, the Sony NEX-F3 has a very rich video feature set indeed, besting cameras that in other respects are significantly more sophisticated. There's fully manual exposure control before and during capture, full-time autofocus with tracking, and even support for a proprietary, external microphone accessory. Albeit that a standard microphone jack would be preferable, having the option for external audio is a great feature nonetheless, helping reduce the impact of camera handling noise intruding on your audio track. If you're looking to unleash your creative side in ways that a standard camcorder won't allow for, and your computer is up to the task of editing Full HD, AVCHD-compressed clips, the Sony NEX-F3 offers a lot for the money. I'm no videographer, but I found it enjoyable to shoot with nonetheless.

The Sony NEX-F3's in-camera battery charging is, I have to say, something of a mixed blessing. Thankfully I had access to an external charger during my time with the camera, as it shares the same battery type as another camera I've been testing simultaneously. I'm very used to in-camera charging though, as the Sony RX100 that I use as a daily shooter ships with the same USB charger. The advantage is obvious: there's no bulky charger to carry around, only a small charger that plugs into the camera body with a standard USB cable. And if you own other devices with USB charging, you can often -- although not always -- share a single charger between them all, to help you pack even lighter. (Although it's worth noting that manufacturers typically caution against doing this and recommend use only of their own bundled USB charger.) The downside is equally obvious, though: you can't charge a second battery at the same time you're out shooting with the camera. I like to leave a spare battery charging at home while I'm out and about, so that when I get home it's just a matter of swapping batteries between charger and camera, and I always have a fully-charged battery at the start of a day's shooting. To do that with the Sony NEX-F3, I'd have to buy a separate charger along with the second battery.

On the plus side, by mirrorless camera standards the NEX-F3 has fairly good battery life. I had no trouble getting through a full day's shooting with charge to spare.

There's one other slight quirk with the NEX-F3's product bundle, incidentally. The NEX-F3 ships with a lens already mounted on the camera when you first open the box, and that means there is no body cap or rear lens cap included. I personally like to travel with the camera and body separated, both because it seems less likely to be damaged in minor bumps and knocks, and because it's easier to pack a rectangular and cylindric item separately than to pack a single larger, L-shaped item. If you prefer to do the same, you'll want to buy those caps separately. And that's easy enough to do -- the caps cost only a few dollars apiece -- it's just worth doing it along with the camera kit purchase, as you'll likely save a little bit on shipping.

In all, I found the Sony NEX-F3 to be a pretty pleasant camera to shoot with. It's reasonably comfortable, delivers nice images, and has the main features I'd expect to see in an entry-level model along with quite a few -- especially in video mode -- that are welcome bonuses. It's not a camera that's likely to astound you, but few cameras are, especially at the entry-level. It turns in reassuringly good results pretty consistently, though, and so I'm happy to recommend it to the amateur looking to step up, or the more experienced DSLR shooter who wants an affordable NEX-mount body to get them started in the mirrorless world.

 

Sony NEX-F3 Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

The Sony NEX-F3 uses the same APS-C sized Sony EXMOR APS HD CMOS image sensor seen in the simultaneously-announced Alpha SLT-A37. Given the size and pixel count, it's likely at least closely-related to that in the NEX-5N and SLT-A57 as well, although we couldn't definitively confirm this.

Effective resolution is 16.1 megapixels, and the maximum image size is 4,912 x 3,264 pixels with a 3:2 aspect ratio, unchanged from the NEX-C3 despite the ever so slight increase in sensor resolution. Sensitivity ranges from ISO 200 to 16,000 equivalents.

As you'd expect, the NEX-F3 features Sony's E lens mount, and is compatible with all Sony E-mount lenses to date. Like all NEX-series cameras -- and almost all mirrorless cameras -- the F3 body offers only contrast-detect autofocus.

It can also accept Alpha-mount lenses using the LA-EA1 or EA2 adapters, and unlike the NEX-C3, supports focus micro-adjustment when using phase detect autofocus with the latter adapter.

Like its more expensive NEX siblings, the F3 includes shading, aberration and distortion correction functions that are absent in the NEX-C3.

The NEX-F3's burst shooting performance is unchanged from the NEX-C3, at a manufacturer-rated 5.5 frames per second in Continuous Hi (Speed Priority) mode, or 2.5 fps in Continuous Lo mode. That's fairly fast for a compact system camera, but trails the NEX-5N and NEX-7 significantly.

Sony claims a slight improvement in burst depth from the NEX-C3, however. The NEX-F3 is rated for 18 fine JPEG, seven RAW, or six RAW+JPEG frames in a burst, although with our hard-to-compress target we could only manage 12 JPEG frames in our testing.

The Sony F3 meters exposures using the main image sensor. It considers the scene as 1,200 separate zones, just as did the NEX-5N and NEX-7. That's a much finer-grained assessment than the 49-zone metering of the NEX-C3.

There's a choice of multi-segment, center-weighted, and spot metering modes. The working range for metering is 0 to 20 EV, at ISO 100 with an f/2.8 lens.

Shutter speeds on offer range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, plus bulb. In all respects, this is unchanged from other current NEX models.

Unlike the C3, the NEX-F3 includes a built-in popup flash. Like that in the NEX-7, it deploys manually, and has a guide number of six meters at ISO 100. It now recharges in three seconds, rather than four, though, and has a wider 16mm coverage. X-sync is at 1/160 sec. The F3 doesn't support wireless flash.

The NEX-F3 includes the latest version of Sony's proprietary Smart Accessory Terminal.

Version two supports the same electronic viewfinder and microphone accessories as the NEX-5N, both of which are already available.

Although it doesn't have a built-in viewfinder, the optional FDA-EV1S electronic viewfinder accessory is a good high-res substitute.

This optional viewfinder is closely related to that used in Sony's flagship Alpha SLT-A77 Translucent Mirror camera, although it does have a slightly lower eyepoint. Resolution is a high 1,024 x 768 pixels (2.4 million RGB dots), and the EV1S plugs into the camera's Smart Accessory Terminal 2 port.

The EVF accessory has a variable-angle design that tilts up to 90 degrees and offers full shooting information overlay. Sensors in the eyepiece automatically activate it when you put it you your eye, while automatically disabling the LCD monitor to save power. There's also a Finder/LCD button for manually switching displays. Note, though, that its use precludes attachment of a flash strobe, so exposures with the FDA-EV1S are of necessity limited only to the F3's built-in flash strobe.

An important first for the NEX-F3 is its tiltable LCD screen. In past Sony NEX-series models, the display only tilted upwards 80°, and downwards 45°. Now it tilts upwards a full 180° for viewing from in front of the camera.

There's a tradeoff, though: it now tilts downwards only a modest 13°. Also, it's partially blocked if you're using the popup flash, and the accessory terminal sits right in the middle of the LCD when raised, so will block it significantly.

Like all current NEX-series models, the NEX-F3's LCD has a 3.0-inch diagonal, a VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution with three dots per pixel, and a five-step brightness adjustment with automatic function.

Also worth noting is that the NEX-F3 doesn't include touch control, a feature found on the higher-end NEX-5N camera.

The NEX-F3 includes a number of features we've seen previously on either the company's Cyber-shot compact cameras, Alpha-series Translucent Mirror cameras, or both and which are now making their NEX-series debut.

The 'Clear Image Zoom' function relies on Sony's rather clumsily-named 'By Pixel Super Resolution' algorithms to upsample images to a higher resolution than that at which they were captured. In essence, it's a form of digital zoom, interpolating data from that on hand to fill in the blanks. According to Sony, Clear Image Zoom offers better results than competing digital zoom techniques, though, because it uses pattern matching techniques to improve the quality of the guessed data. Clear Image Zoom functions in steps of 0.1x, up to a maximum of 2x zoom beyond the actual focal length of the image, and Sony claims that the image quality even at 2x Clear Image Zoom will be "nearly equivalent" to that shot with an optical zoom at the same equivalent focal length.

There's also an Auto Portrait Framing function which, again, is based on the 'By Pixel Super Resolution' tech. When enabled, saves two copies of each image you capture. The first image is untouched; the second uses a combination of face detection to locate your subject, and then crops the image based on a rule-of-thirds algorithm for what the camera feels to be a more pleasing layout. Your dominant subject will always face towards the center of the frame, and the orientation of the recropped image won't necessarily match that of the original shot. You might shoot a landscape image, for example, which the camera decides would have been better as a portrait. So... where does 'By Pixel Super Zoom' fit into the picture? The answer is that the Sony NEX-F3 will -- after finishing cropping your image to create a masterpiece -- resample the result back up to the same resolution as the original shot, thereby making it seem as if the camera has simply gone back in time and retaken the image with different framing. You can of course disable the function, but for those who find it tricky to remember and apply the rule of thirds, it could prove an interesting feature.

A related new feature cleverly takes advantage of the camera's 180-degree tilting LCD display, and the sensor that allows it to determine when to invert the display's image for viewing from in front of the camera. The Self Portrait Self-timer function automatically starts a three-second countdown timer when the LCD is flipped up in self-portrait mode, saving you the trouble of pressing the shutter button at all.

Another feature new to the NEX series is the Superior Auto mode, which has been offered in Cyber-shot models for a while now. This function automatically detects the scene type, configures the camera appropriately, and then captures anywhere from one to six shots. Multi-shot bursts are then combined in-camera, with the aim of either correcting backlit shots, or reducing noise levels.

The NEX-F3 also includes a Picture Effects function, which has 11 modes, and a total of 15 possible effects as in the NEX-5N and NEX-7. (The NEX-C3 had a pared-down version with seven modes and 11 effects). These include options like Retro Photo, Toy Camera, and HDR Painting, catering to those who prefer to do their post-processing in-camera. There are also a variety of Photo Creativity functions -- Background Defocus, Brightness, Color, Vividness, and Soft Skin Effect -- as in the NEX-C3 and NEX-5N.

Other creative functions include a High Dynamic Range mode that combines three sequential shots in-camera to yield a single image with broader dynamic range, and a Dynamic Range Optimizer function that tweaks the tone curve automatically or manually to bring out shadow detail without sacrificing highlights. There's also a choice of both 2D and 3D panorama modes that automatically capture and stitch images as you sweep the camera past your chosen scene, then save the result as a single panoramic image.

The NEX-F3's video capabilities fall somewhere in between those of the NEX-C3, and the NEX-5N and NEX-7, although it's closer to the latter. There's a choice of MPEG-4 and AVCHD version 1.0 compression.

As with recent NEX-series models, you have access to Program, Priority, and Manual exposure for video capture, as well as picture effect functions. You can now also use digital zoom during movie recording.

In AVCHD mode, the F3 records Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) at either 60 interlaced field, or 24 progressive-scan frames per second, with Dolby Digital AC3 audio.

In MPEG-4 mode you have a choice of 1,440 x 1,080 pixel (HDV / Anamorphic HD) or 640 x 480 pixel (VGA) capture, with a fixed rate of 29.97 frames per second.

Like its predecessor, the NEX-F3 caters for movie audio with both a built-in stereo microphone whose two ports surround the top of the lens mount, and support for Sony's proprietary ECM-SST1 external microphone accessory, which mounts on the Smart Accessory Terminal 2, and can provide directional audio coverage at either 90° or 120°. A built-in monaural speaker caters to movie playback, and has an eight-step adjustable volume setting.

Other built-in connectivity options include USB 2.0 High-Speed (now with a Micro rather than Mini-B connector), and a high-definition Type-C Mini HDMI video output.

Unlike the NEX-5N and NEX-7, the F3 doesn't support remote controls, whether wired or wireless.

The NEX-F3 includes a single card slot on which to store images and movies.

It's compatible with either the relatively commonplace Secure Digital cards (including SDHC and SDXC types), or with Sony's proprietary Memory Stick PRO Duo and PRO-HG Duo cards.

Power comes courtesy of an NP-FW50 InfoLithium rechargeable battery pack, as in all recent NEX-series models.

Although the battery is unchanged, still image battery life has improved significantly, to 470 images. (Sony is claiming this 18% improvement over the NEX-C3 gives the F3 "industry-leading" battery life.)

That said, video capture battery life has fallen somewhat, likely due to the higher resolution versus the C3. Maximum recording time is 140 minutes.

The Sony Alpha NEX-F3 digital camera went on sale in the US market from mid-June 2012. List pricing is set at around US$600, with an SEL1855 18-55mm zoom lens included in the product bundle. Body colors include silver, black, and white.

 

Sony NEX-F3 Image Quality

Below are crops comparing the Sony NEX-F3, Sony NEX-C3, Olympus E-PL3, Panasonic GX1, Pentax K-01, and Samsung NX200. Though we normally start with ISO 1,600 here, we thought we'd start with the base ISO to show the best each camera can do.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Sony NEX-C3 at base ISO

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 200
Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 200

The first two crops don't show a lot to choose between the Sony NEX-F3 and its predecessor, although there's a bit more sharpening which gives the mosaic bottle the impression of more detail. There's a big step forwards in the third crop, though. The red and pink swatches show much more detail, with the latter in particular clearly picking up the threads in the fabric, where the NEX-C3 was only able to record some of this detail.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Olympus E-PL3 at base ISO

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 200
Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 200

At base ISO, the Sony NEX-F3 bests its Micro Four Thirds rival in terms of detail, but perhaps not by as much as you might expect given their difference in resolution and sensor size. The Olympus image looks cleaner in the first crop, but has a bit more difficulty with the red fabric swatch. Sony's sharpening is also less heavy-handed, where the Olympus shows more haloes on high-contrast edges.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Panasonic GX1 at base ISO

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 200
Panasonic GX1 at ISO 160

The Panasonic GX1 puts up a much more convincing fight at its base sensitivity, which is also a little lower than that of the NEX-F3. With essentially equal resolution, both cameras manage a similar level of detail, although the NEX-F3 image pops more thanks to greater sharpening. Both cameras handle the fabric swatches well, but the NEX-F3 manages to capture thread detail in the pink swatch that Panasonic's camera misses.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Pentax K-01 at base ISO

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 200
Pentax K-01 at ISO 100

Against the Pentax K-01, the Sony NEX-F3 is placed in a fairer fight. Resolution and sensor size are near-identical, but there's still quite a difference in the crops. Sony's images show less aggressive sharpening, which doesn't give them as much "pop", but also means they're relatively less prone to haloing than the Pentax. Sony perhaps holds onto just slightly more detail that Pentax loses to its stronger sharpening, as well. And as for the fabric swatches, Sony yields more natural-looking colors, while Pentax turns the pink swatch rather closer to magenta.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Samsung NX200 at base ISO

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 200
Samsung NX200 at ISO 100

And finally, we compare the NEX-F3 to the Samsung NX200, which has the same sensor size but with a higher 20-megapixel resolution, leading to the crops showing larger elements. While Samsung clearly does a good job with detail, it struggles with the red fabric swatch, and shows stronger sharpening haloes.

 


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 1,600

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 1,600

At ISO 1,600, the NEX-F3 again shows a step forwards over the NEX-C3, although the difference in the red and pink swatches is more modest as the noise processing ramps up. There's definitely still more detail recorded, though, and a slightly higher level of sharpening that helps it "pop".


Sony NEX-F3 versus Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 1,600

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 1,600

The advantage of Sony's larger sensor becomes more clear as the sensitivity climbs to ISO 1,600. Where the NEX-F3 retains much of the detail in the mosaic bottle, and even some of the fine threads in the pink fabric swatch, Olympus's noise suppression largely squashes the subtler details.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Panasonic GX1 at ISO 1,600

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GX1 at ISO 1,600

Although Panasonic's GX1 bests the Olympus PL3, the limitations of its smaller sensor still show once sensitivity is raised a bit. The NEX-F3 retains noticeably more detail and saturation in the crops above, although to our eye, Panasonic's noise reduction produces results that are less blotchy and more film-like.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Pentax K-01 at ISO 1,600

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 1,600
Pentax K-01 at ISO 1,600

At ISO 1,600, both cameras are starting to provide slightly mottled results, but Sony turns out slightly cleaner images overall, and does a far better job with the fabric swatches. There's also more detail in Sony's rendering of the mosaic label, although both cameras are definitely losing some of the finer details to noise reduction.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 1,600

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 1,600
Samsung NX200 at ISO 1,600

Even at ISO 1,600, Samsung's noise reduction fails to tame the chroma noise. In the process it loses its resolution edge to the Sony, whose rendering we definitely prefer here.


Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 3,200

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 3,200

By ISO 3,200, the NEX-F3's performance is closer to that of its predecessor. There's more noise reduction applied by the newer camera in the first crop, but the finer details in the Mas Portell label survive better regardless. The NEX-F3's greater sharpening gives the mosaic crop an impression of more detail, but both cameras are starting to show blotches where the noise reduction wipes out fine detail. In the difficult pink and red swatches, last year's NEX-C3 turns in a slightly better performance than does the NEX-F3, with the latter losing more detail to noise reduction.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 3,200

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 3,200

By ISO 3,200, the Sony NEX-F3's larger sensor gives it a clear advantage over the Olympus. For the bright red fabric swatch in particular, the PL3 retains barely any trace of the pattern, where Sony manages to hold onto at least some detail. Even after noise processing, the PL3's image has more luma and chroma noise, and colors have started to bleed into their surroundings.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Panasonic GX1 at ISO 3,200

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GX1 at ISO 3,200

By ISO 3,200, there's really no contest. The Panasonic GX1's images have lost most of their fine detail, and colors bleed well beyond edges into the background. Sony, by contrast, still holds onto a fair bit of detail and shows only minimal bleeding.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Pentax K-01 at ISO 3,200

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 3,200
Pentax K-01 at ISO 3,200

At ISO 3,200, both cameras face a greater challenge. Pentax's noise reduction gives the splotchier results of the pair, but Sony's shows colors bleeding into the background more. Sony still has a good edge on fine detail in the mosaic image, and turns in a far better performance with the fabric swatches, where Pentax has basically lost all detail from the red swatch.


Sony NEX-F3 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 3,200

Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 3,200
Samsung NX200 at ISO 3,200

By ISO 3,200, there's really no contest. Sony's image has better detail, better color, and is relatively free from the chroma noise that troubles Samsung's noise reduction.


Detail: Sony NEX-F3 versus Sony NEX-C3, Olympus E-PL3, Panasonic GX1, Pentax K-01, and Samsung NX200

Sony
NEX-F3

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
NEX-C3

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus
E-PL3
ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Panasonic
GX1

ISO 160
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Pentax
K-01

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Samsung
NX200

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400

Detail comparison. High-contrast details are often sharper as ISO rises, so they're worth a look as well. The Sony NEX-F3 performs well up to ISO 3,200, but contrast falls a little by ISO 6,400. While it doesn't hold onto quite as much detail as the NEX-C3 and Panasonic GX1 in the final crop, it's a relatively subtle difference, most noticeable in the L of the word lager, and the red lettering above.

 

Sony NEX-F3 Print Quality

Good 20 x 30 inch prints at ISO 200; ISO 3,200 prints look good at 8 x 10 inches; and ISO 12,800 prints make a good 4 x 6.

ISO 200 images print quite well at 20 x 30 inches, with good detail and color. Detail in our red leaf swatch is a little lower than we're used to seeing, but other red elements seem fine.

ISO 400 shots also look reasonably good at 20 x 30 inches, though the red leaf swatch looks bizarrely out of focus, or out of phase with the rest of the photo. We'll call 16 x 20 good here.

ISO 800 are still surprisingly good at 16 x 20 inches. The red leaf swatch continues to look a little odd, but that's not uncommon. Though shadows are slightly mottled, image quality is still good at this size.

ISO 1600 images look OK at 16 x 20 inches, but low-contrast areas and shadows are a little too soft at this size. 13 x 19s look good at this ISO.

ISO 3,200 images decline quickly in overall quality and look better at 8 x 10.

ISO 6,400 has sufficient fine detail for 5 x 7s, but has noticeable softness in some areas and a slight loss in color fidelity.

ISO 12,800 images look pretty good at 4 x 6, with minor noise in some areas.

ISO 16,000 images also look good at 4 x 6, though all contrast is gone in our target red swatch.

Overall, the Sony NEX-F3 does quite well, producing a good 4 x 6 inch print even at its highest ISO setting. Its large 20 x 30 inch print is good, though we'd have rather seen better performance in the red leaf swatch (thread patterns in the fabric make that a very difficult target, though, so it's not unusual).

 

In the Box

The Sony NEX-F3 ships with the following items in the box:

  • Sony NEX-F3 camera body
  • E-mount 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens (SEL1855) in US market; other markets may get different lens options
  • Front lens cap
  • Lens hood
  • NP-FW50 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
  • AC-UB10 USB AC charger in US market; other markets may get a different charger and perhaps an AC cord
  • Mini-B USB cable
  • Shoulder strap
  • CD-ROM
  • Instruction manuals
  • Lenses and accessories guide
  • Warranty card

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Protective case
  • Additional lenses
  • LA-EA1 or LA-EA2 mount adaptors if you want to use Alpha-mount lenses
  • Body cap
  • Extra battery pack
  • External battery charger if you want to charge one battery while shooting with another
  • Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card. 8-16GB or larger makes sense if you plan on shooting lots of HD video. Look for a speed grade of at least Class 4 for video capture.
  • FDA-EV1S electronic viewfinder
  • HVL-F20S external flash strobe
  • ECM-SST1 external microphone
  • PCK-LM10 LCD protector

 

Sony NEX-F3 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Very affordable pricing with kit lens included
  • Tilting LCD now allows portrait framing
  • Flash is now built in (but see Con about flash performance)
  • Generally very good image quality
  • Excellent high ISO performance for its class
  • Very good dynamic range
  • Generally accurate exposure
  • Good burst mode speed
  • DRO and HDR modes help with tricky lighting
  • Automatically corrects lens defects (distortion, CA, vignetting)
  • Excellent battery life for a CSC
  • Combines multiple exposures in-camera for reduced noise / blur, or to create panoramas
  • Full HD videos at up to 60i, with stereo sound
  • Very versatile video mode
  • External mic support via optional accessory
  • Fast downloads
  • In-camera USB battery charging can save you carrying proprietary chargers
  • Low shutter button position makes grip feel cramped
  • Menu layout seems arbitrary and takes a while to learn
  • Division between stills and video in playback mode isn't intuitive
  • Limited downward tilt for LCD
  • AF performance lags SLRs and the best CSCs
  • Mediocre kit lens
  • Little control over noise reduction
  • Occasional banding in moderate to high ISO images
  • Very warm Auto White Balance indoors
  • Weak built-in flash; external flash connectivity is proprietary
  • Uneven flash coverage
  • Flash and accessory terminal both obscure LCD from in front of camera
  • Burst depth with raw files is rather limited
  • Sluggish raw performance once buffer fills
  • Occasional orientation sensor issues

 

In late 2011, Sony's NEX-C3 compact system camera brought the versatility of interchangeable-lens shooting and the size advantage of a NEX-series mirrorless design into the hands of more photographers. The Sony NEX-F3 follows in the footsteps of that model, and while its new stair-stepped grip design makes it look quite different, it retains much of what we appreciated about its predecessor, while bringing some worthwhile improvements.

Key among these for consumer photographers is its new articulation mechanism for the rear-panel LCD, which now lets it flip forward for viewing from in front of the camera, as well. With the NEX-C3, self-portrait shooting was something of a lottery unless you had the camera tripod-mounted, as you couldn't be sure of your framing from in front of the camera. If you shoot a lot of self-portraits, you'll appreciate the fact that with the NEX-F3 you can frame yourself properly the first time, every time. The fact that the popup flash and accessory connector will both obscure the LCD is of little importance, as you'll largely be using the LCD for arm's-length portraits where flash would be unappealing anyway. For more distant portraits, you can prep your framing on a tripod before you raise the flash or add an accessory strobe.

The built-in, popup flash is also a great addition. With the NEX-C3, it was too easy to leave your external flash at home, then lose an unexpected shot that couldn't be achieved without a strobe. The Sony NEX-F3's built-in flash, albeit rather weak and uneven, is always there when you need it, and you can still add an external strobe if you need a more powerful flash.

These changes did come at a cost, as the NEX-F3 has grown a bit both in size and weight since its predecessor -- but not unduly so. It's still relatively compact, and much easier to carry around than a typical, bulky consumer SLR. Yet thanks to the fact it uses the same sensor size found in most DSLRs, you'll be able to achieve similarly good image quality. In fact, the limiting factor here is the NEX-F3's kit lens, which really isn't up to matching the capabilities of the camera body. If you want to get the most from the Sony F3 we'd recommend picking up a better lens, but unfortunately in the US market the camera itself isn't sold body-only, so you'll still have to buy the kit lens, regardless.

Paired with a better-performing lens, though, the Sony NEX-F3 represents a good choice for the consumer photographer. Images are pleasing, the body quite compact and lightweight, and the feature set provides a reasonable scope to learn and grow -- and not just for still image shooting, as you can also control exposure manually for videos, too. While experienced photographers may find the Sony NEX-F3 rather too simplified, and the performance in some areas -- especially for raw shooting -- to be a bit limiting, it's a great choice for an entry-level mirrorless camera, and a clear Dave's Pick.

 

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