Sony NEX-F3 mirrorless camera
The NEX-F3 makes a good compromise between DSLR and compact cameras
The Sony NEX-F3 is the replacement for the NEX-C3, bringing a host of new features like a built-in flash and flip-up 3-inch LCD screen. It has every feature that you’d expect to find on a high-end compact or entry-level digital SLR camera — it’s simple to use, reasonably compact, and can produce detailed photos.
- Good image quality
- Quick operation, simple controls
- Good ergonomics and add-on features
- Pictures are slightly underexposed
- No compact kit offered
Sony’s cheapest, simple NEX mirrorless camera is easy to use, as long as you don’t want to exert too much control. One picture quality quirk doesn’t detract significantly from the F3’s appeal.
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Sony NEX-F3: Design and features
The NEX-F3 follows Sony’s design cues for other NEX mirrorless ‘interchangeable lens cameras’ like the NEX-7. It’s very visually similar to the original NEX-5, down to the rounded-rectangle grip and thin, flat body and offset Sony E lens mount.
You’re able to buy the NEX-F3 in single- and twin-lens kits with the 18-55mm and 55-210mm variable-aperture zoom lenses — given the camera’s compact size, we were surprised not to see it offered with the 16mm prime lens. The kit lenses do rob the camera of some of its compactness, although they are more versatile.
The top and back of the NEX-F3 are where all the action happens; all you’ll find on the front is the solitary shutter button, an autofocus assist light and a pin to unlock the lens mount. USB (including battery charging) and HDMI outputs are on the camera’s left flank.
The back of the camera is dominated by a 3-inch, 921k-pixel, 16:9 ratio non-touchscreen display. If you’re shooting photos in the 3:2 format of the camera’s sensor, about a sixth of the screen goes unused and only displays on-screen prompts for menu and controls descriptions. The screen itself can flip up 180 degrees, facing forward above the lens — making self-portraits simple.
The controls of the NEX-F3 are basic — there’s a multifunction control dial, two contextual buttons, playback, movie recording, power toggle and the aforementioned shutter button, spread across the rear and top panels. For anything beyond basic controls, the NEX-F3 relies on a menu-and-submenu system that can seem labyrinthine, but is simple enough once you’ve found the settings that you’ll regularly access. The menu system is definitely inferior to having dedicated buttons (changing ISO takes three clicks and some scrolling, as opposed to a single dedicated button-press, for example), but it suits the NEX-F3’s simple, beginner-friendly raison d’etre.
The NEX-F3 has a pop-up flash and accessory port on its top panel, with an add-on electronic viewfinder, stereo microphone and external high-powered flash available for purchase. This makes the F3 more appealing for photographers that prefer to shoot through a viewfinder and amateur videographers.
Sony NEX-F3: Picture quality and performance
The Sony NEX-F3 has a native ISO range of 200-16000, and from the base 200 all the way up to 1600 it maintains nearly all of its fine detail and accurate toning and white balance. Up to 6400 only incurs a small loss in detail, and even 12800 is usable if you’re in relatively good lighting. If you’re not intending on printing off your pictures in particularly large sizes, any ISO setting is perfectly usable.
The NEX-F3 is quick to operate. If you’ve got it turned on and it’s sleeping, it wakes up within a second; turn it on with the switch and it’s ready within two seconds. Menus are always fast to respond, and there’s minimal shutter lag or pausing before taking a photo or recording a movie. If you’ve got the camera in its speed-priority continuous shooting mode, the F3 can take ten photos in a second (until the buffer fills), and 3.3 frames per second while also auto-focusing — useful if you’re shooting a changing scene or fast-moving subject.
What we did notice was the Sony NEX-F3’s propensity to underexpose photos by around a third of a stop — in the default picture settings, this means more detail is visible in brighter areas of the picture, but darker areas are faster to lose detail and appear as a flat black. It’s easy to fix this in the P, A and S modes by upping the exposure compensation by a third or two-thirds of a stop, but it’s something that shouldn’t have to be done in the first place.
Sony NEX-F3: Conclusion
Despite its image quality quirk of consistent slightly-underexposed photos — which is easily remedied with a boost to the exposure setting in P mode — the Sony NEX-F3 takes excellent quality photos in anything but the most dim lighting conditions, thanks to excellent detail at almost all ISO settings.
If you don’t need too much manual control, the NEX-F3 is a good example of a high-quality camera sensor in a small body.
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