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Box Photo

The standard 18-55mm kit for the Sony NEX-F3 comes packaged with the following accessories:

• lens rear cap

• power cord

• USB cable (Mini B)

• SEL1855 E-mount 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 lens

• lens hood

• NP-FW50 Lithium ion rechargeable battery

• CD-ROM

• Lens cap

• AC-UB10 USB AC Charger (charges battery in-camera)

• shoulder strap

The Sony NEX-F3 makes use of the same 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that appears with other Sony NEX models. It's a fine lens, offering a 3x optical zoom, but it isn't particularly compact or much of a high-end performer. It offers a focal ring with some ridges for grip to it, with a focus ring on the front. The lens is focus-by-wire, but it does allow for some very delicate changes, with focus peaking included on the NEX-F3 to assist.

The Sony NEX lens system is developing slowly, but it does offer some decent options. The biggest advantage in favor of going with an NEX camera like the F3 may be its adaptability. The design of the camera allows it to be adapted to just about any lens system, so spare lenses, old lenses, and lenses from other manufacturers are usually workable on an NEX body with the right third-party adapter.

Lens Mount Photo

Classic Pentax lenses can be mounted with readily available adapters.

The image sensor in the Sony NEX-F3 is a 16.2-megapixel Exmor APS-C image sensor, the same size as you'd find in any entry- or mid-level DSLR. The sensor is the same size and total resolution as the excellent sensor found in the Sony NEX-5N, though it's impossible to tell without tearing the entire camera apart. Still, it's a good bet that it's something similar. For a full performance breakdown on this image sensor, please visit our image quality pages.

Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared

The APS-C image sensor in the Sony NEX series is one of the reasons these cameras all tend to do well in our performance tests for low light and high dynamic range. The large sensor is what separates the Sony line of compact interchangeable lens cameras from other mirrorless systems, as only Samsung use a sensor this large in models this compact. That has some drawbacks, however, as the lenses also have to be larger (to cover that large of an imaging area) compared to competing systems from Pentax, Nikon, Olympus, and Panasonic, all of which use smaller image sensors and thus can utilize more compact lenses.

The Sony NEX-F3 has a rear 3-inch display with a resolution of 921,600 pixels. The display is highly detailed and it does quite well when in an indoor setting, but it does struggle whenever you have to frame a shot with the sun shining over your shoulder onto the display. To combat this, the screen is mounted on an articulated hinge that lets the screen angle upward a full 180 degrees or downward 13 degrees. The ability to face the screen towards your subject is extremely useful in certain situations, especially when framing self-portraits and group shots. It does come at the expense of some downward angle freedom that other NEX cameras have, but the screen has a large enough angle of view that overhead shots are still easy to frame.

The built-in flash on the Sony NEX-F3 greatly resembles the flash assembly that is found on the Sony NEX-7, and it appears to be the exact same unit. It has a guide number of 6 meters at ISO 100, with a listed recycle time of three seconds (a second faster than the NEX-7, actually). The flash pops up from the top plate of the camera, sitting on a rather delicate collection of hinged arms. The flash seems sturdy enough on its own to survive normal use, but it's release is mechanical, not electrical, so the flash can pop up from the body even when the camera is powered down. It's not too delicate, but one rough trip in an unpadded bag could bend or damage the flash if it were to release while inside.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

The Sony NEX-F3 offers three ports on the camera body itself. On the left side of the body behind a small plastic flap are the mini-HDMI and micro-USB ports. Both are standard ports, with the NEX-F3's standard accessories including the micro-USB cable. On the top plate of the camera is the Sony proprietary accessory port, which is compatible with the same FDAEV1S tiltable viewfinder that can be used with the Sony NEX-5N.

The Sony NEX-F3 uses the NP-FW50 battery, which has been used on many Sony models in the last couple of years. It's a removable, rechargeable Lithium-ion battery. It has a capacity of 1080mAh, and is quite compact. The Sony NEX-F3 does not ship with an external battery charging cradle, instead using the body as a charger via its included micro-USB cable. The camera does come with a USB-AC charging adapter (at least in the US), so you can plug the camera into the wall to charge it.

Battery Photo

The Sony NEX-F3 can use either Memory Stick PRO Duo type cards or Secure Digital (SD) cards. The camera is compatible with both standard SD and PRO Duo as well as HG-PRO Duo, SDHC, and SDXC cards. If you have those cards already you'll be fine, though if you're buying new cards we recommend purchasing SDHC-type cards as they're essentially the industry standard, with nearly identical performance to Sony's proprietary memory. The cards slot into a dedicated memory compartment just beside the battery on the bottom of the camera. This is also right next to the tripod mount, which puts them essentially out of reach whenever the camera is mounted to any standard tripod plate.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

It's clear that Sony has tuned the NEX-F3 to produce good-looking photos with as minimal fuss as possible. We found that every color mode by default boosts saturation above the norm, the compulsory noise reduction settings smear away most image noise at every ISO (along with detail), and image sharpness was acceptable, if boosted artificially. Of course, most of these gains are not the result of phenomenal physical engineering, but software processing. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and most of these defaults can easily be bypassed by advanced shooters by shooting in RAW, but it's worth noting that there's not a JPEG that comes out of the NEX-F3 that hasn't undergone some level of artificial processing. Overall the image quality is still quite good, and we think any novice or beginner user will be more than satisfied by the results.

We found the NEX-F3 produced some very sharp images across the aperture range with its 18-55mm kit lens. In our test chart the edges of our targets looked crisp at the middle apertures, and only slightly soft whenever we opened the lens up wide or closed it down to its minimum size. The main limited factor for sharpness seems to be the chromatic aberration that blurs edges with a mix of blue and orange on either side, reducing contrast and the appearance of sharpness. To combat this, the camera also boosted contrast where possible, which did occasionally leave some digital white halos around our targets. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but unless you want a dramatic oversharpening effect we recommend leaving it at the default or even turning it down in the "creative style" menu where possible, as images taken with boosted sharpness levels look unnatural. More on how we test sharpness.

The image stabilization on the 18-55mm kit lens with the Sony NEX-F3 provided decent stabilization performance when tested with a low level of shake at 1/30th of a second. This low level of shake is reminiscent of how a camera shakes when shooting handheld, with 1/30th of a second providing acceptable levels of sharpness with IS on. We found that roughly 45% of the shots that we took in testing saw improvement, with an average MTF50 of 286 across those shots, and a maximum MTF50 of nearly 1000.

We found the Sony NEX-F3, like other entry-level Sony cameras, pushed colors to an oversaturated point by default. Even modes that are supposed to produce more accurate, natural colors (such as portrait) were overdone compared to what most cameras would produce. At the default saturation levels the best color accuracy we could achieve still resulted in a color error of 3.06 (we generally like to see less than 2.6 or 2.7 from an interchangeable lens camera). Even by going in and turning down saturation manually, we were only able to see color error to drop to around 2.8 in the standard and portrait modes. More on how we test color.

Every default creative style color mode resulted in an image that had saturation boosted well above the ideal. The lowest sharpness we saw was still 115% of the ideal. For reference, most cameras only cross 115% of saturation in their "vivid" color modes, where colors are intentionally boosted to extremes. The Sony NEX-F3's vivid, sunset, and landscape modes all pushed saturation north of 130%, which is just ridiculous. The resulting images really pop, but you'd be loathe to take a portrait with any of those modes, unless you want your tanned subject to look like an Roald Dahl character.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The Sony NEX-F3's color accuracy compares well against some other Sony models, but it's generally poor for an interchangeable lens camera. We should stress that while color quality is obviously subjective (and subject to some debate), we do value a camera's ability to produce accurate colors when need be. You can always push saturation yourself manually later, to whatever end you please. You can't, however, take an oversaturated image and put it through Photoshop to achieve perfectly natural, neutral colors without a significant amount of time spent per image.

The Sony NEX-F3 includes six color modes, called "creative styles" in the menu. These include standard, vivid, portrait, landscape, sunset, and black & white. Each mode offers you the ability to change contrast, sharpness, and saturation on a +/- scale, with the defaults set to zero (save for black & white, which has no saturation to adjust). We found the standard mode to be the most accurate with a color error of 3.06, with portrait close behind at 3.49. The other modes don't specifically target or benefit from color accuracy, but and thus their average color error is over 4. These modes all feature oversaturated, rich colors.

The Sony NEX-F3, as we've seen with other NEX cameras, features a well-designed and highly accurate white balance system that does well in a variety of lighting setups. The white balance was most accurate when taking a custom reading in extreme lighting conditions like shade and indoor lighting, but the automatic mode fared just as well most of the time.

Automatic White Balance ()

We found the automatic white balance on the Sony NEX-F3 to operate quite quickly, even as color temperature shifted dramatically. It only took a few seconds for the camera to adjust when we changed color temperatures, and the results were quite good. Under daylight conditions the camera guessed nearly on the money, with a temperature error of just 81 kelvin on average. Under tougher compact white fluorescent lighting, that error jumped a bit to 288 kelvin. Under the more extreme tungsten lighting, which is very warm, the camera was off by an average of 1699 kelvin, well under the 2000+ kelvin we normally see in this test.

Custom White Balance ()

The custom white balance on the Sony NEX-F3 was very simple to set, requiring just a neutral object in the center of the frame to get an accurate reading. When taking the time to do this the color error under daylight lighting actually jumped to 150 kelvin (anything under 200 kelvin is fine). With compact white fluorescent lighting the error dropped to 257 kelvin, while tungsten lighting benefited the most, with error dropping to just 186 kelvin.

In general we'd say leave the camera on automatic white balance unless you know you're going to be in mixed or extreme lighting. In most setups white balance is simple enough to change after the fact, even if you've only shot in JPEG and don't have a RAW file to work with. The NEX-F3 makes it simple enough to take a custom reading (simpler than most of its competition), but we found that its overall white balance performance was slightly above average relative to most of its peers.

The Sony NEX-F3 features nine white balance presets, as well as an automatic white balance, custom white balance, and direct kelvin temperature entry. The presets include all the usual suspects, such as daylight, shade, cloudy, incandescent, cool white fluorescent, warm white fluorescent, day white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent mixed, and flash light. You can set these options in the brightness/color menu or set white balance to the custom soft key on the rear control dial.

The Sony NEX-F3 has an ISO range of 200-16000, with noise reduction kicking in at ISO 400 and above. The camera doesn't offer you the option to turn noise reduction completely off (no current Sony DSLR does), unless you shoot in RAW. The only two options are "low" and "normal" noise reduction, though even the "low" setting lathers on noise reduction, smoothing out a great deal of fine detail. More on how we test noise.

The Sony NEX-F3 offers an ISO range of 200-16000, with options to manually set ISO in whole stops. You can also let the camera automatically decide an appropriate ISO level based on scene brightness, though the ISO range is limited in this mode to just 200-3200. ISO is buried in the menu a bit, but you can add it to the "custom" menu by going into the settings tab and assigning it to the center soft key in the middle of the rear control dial. This will let you access it by pressing that center button, without having to go into the main menu.

The Sony NEX-F3's dynamic range is actually a pretty tough nut to crack. Using the camera's included RAW conversion software with noise reduction turned to 0, we found that the camera produced noisy shots, with a maximum dynamic range of around 9.5 stops. For our testing, we shoot in JPEG, as that's how the vast majority of users are actually going to use the NEX-F3.

Unfortunately, when shooting in JPEG noise reduction is not voluntary, with even the "low" setting kicking in at ISO 400 and eradicating a great deal of the noise. That throws off the dynamic range results, as we test to see how much of that range is "clean," meaning that it registers in the final image with a signal to noise ratio of 10:1 or greater. When you're artificially suppressing noise in such a heavy manner, you're going to lose fine detail, but you won't expand the total dynamic range, which stayed at 9.5 stops.

All told the NEX-F3 has some noisy results when you shoot in RAW and don't employ noise reduction. This is right in keeping with the NEX-C3, which reportedly shares the same image sensor. As you move up the ISO range in JPEG shooting the noise suppression kicks into high gear, but doesn't assist the total dynamic range. As you get into the maximum ISO settings you'll get a slightly boost in the shadows, however, as the camera seems to employ a different tonal curve than it does at lower ISO settings. This brings up more detail, but it also great amplifies noise, which the camera compensates for by slathering even more noise reduction. More on how we test dynamic range.

Nothing the NEX-F3 does is out of the ordinary for entry-level DSLRs. Noise reduction in JPEG shooting is a common technique, though the Sony takes it to new heights, refusing to let JPEG shooters turn it off and employing it to a higher degree than even their previous cameras. There's still more dynamic range than competing mirrorless cameras like Micro Four Thirds and Nikon 1 cameras, but the inability to deactivate noise reduction is another reason why we'd say that advanced shooters are going to want to shoot in RAW, because the JPEG files out of the camera are heavily cooked.

We found that chromatic aberration was fair to normal on the NEX-F3. Lateral color fringing (the most obvious sign of chromatic aberration) was only really visible at the widest focal length of 18mm. There's significant color fringing present at all apertures tested at 18mm, though the other focal lengths presented few problems if any. The color fringing was mostly present in the form of blue/orange fringing around our slanted edge targets, giving them an ugly multicolor halo.

Distortion becomes a bit of an issue of NEX-F3's 18-55mm lens as you go through the focal range. The wide end is predictably bad, with a barrel distortion north of 3%. This can be corrected in the camera, though there are occasionally some hitches and you get a slightly distorted final picture. Normally we see this correct itself to a nearly imperceptible pincushion distortion through the rest of the focal range, but the NEX-F3's overcorrection was drastic, resulting in a 2.32% pincushion distortion at the midpoint focal range. Even that wasn't brought back down to Earth entirely, as the full 55mm focal length still had a 1.32% pincushion bend to it with the in-camera lens correction deactivated.

The Sony NEX-F3 had some small issues with our motion test, though nothing out of the ordinary for a camera of this type. Its images still weren't very sharp, but there was very little artifacting visible in the final image in our motion test. We did notice some trailing and ghosting, and a slight bit of signal interference, but that was right in line with what we'd expect from an entry level compact system camera. It doesn't match up to a prosumer camcorder, however. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

One thing to keep in mind is the use of a CMOS sensor in the NEX-F3, which does lend it some significant motion blurring whenever you're panning with the camera. This creates a wobbly "Jello" effect and vertical lines are rendered as blurred diagonals, including faces and buildings. It is a very common problem with cameras like the Sony NEX-F3, and affects its competition with smaller CMOS sensors as well.

Sharpness on the NEX-F3 was quite limited, though within the normal performance bounds of most interchangeable lens cameras on the market. We found that in bright light it was able to resolve, at best, 525 line pairs per picture height of resolution horizontally and 600 LPPH vertically. This was in the 1080/24p mode, with the interpolated 1080/60i mode seeing a sharp decline in sharpness vertically.

The sharpest image was produced by the camera's 1440x1080 .MP4 mode, which was able to manage 575 LPPH horizontal and 625 LPPH vertical sharpness, but also suffered from heavy aliasing artifacts. The modes all suffered slightly from a moire effect, as well, with rolling sharpness a concern, as you'd expect on a camera with such a large CMOS image sensor. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

We found sharpness was virtually unchanged from bright light to low light with the Sony NEX-F3. At 60 lux of light the camera was able to reproduce a frequency of 600 LPPH both horizontally and vertically. This is practically identical to its bright light sharpness, though the appearance of moire is slightly worse under bright light in our test.

We found the Sony NEX-F3 was able to produce a visible image (which is defined as registering 50 IRE on a waveform monitor) from just 7 lux of light on a white target. That puts the NEX-F3 in line with most of its APS-C competition and pretty far ahead of some compact system cameras with smaller image sensors. It's more than sensitive enough to capture video in a dimly lit bar, while still being able to pick up fine details.

The Sony NEX-F3 is designed as an easy bridge camera for those who are stepping into an interchangeable lens system for the first time and are used to shooting with point-and-shoot cameras. As such it's very toned down in terms of terminology, physical controls, and long lists of options in the menu. The Sony NEX-F3 still has a small learning curve (especially with the unlabeled, dynamic soft keys that can have different functions at any given time). In a world of smart phones with a single home and back button, this is a smaller leap than it might've once been, but it does require a little bit of time for the user to adjust, even if they're used to other entry-level models.

While the Sony NEX-F3 offers plenty of manual control, it's clear that automatic modes are the main draw for the camera, as it offers so many of them. The two main modes are intelligent auto and superior auto, which set exposure automatically. Superior auto works like intelligent auto, but it also incorporates scene detection, auto HDR, and image saving to streamline the process for novice users.

The other big addition in the NEX-F3's arsenal is Sony's auto portrait framing mode. This option kicks in at select times (we found it mostly when using the portrait scene mode), taking your original image and cropping it to align with common photography rules for framing. It still saves your original image for posterity, but uses Sony's mouthful of a technology called By Pixel Super Resolution to interpolate this cropped image back into the same resolution as your original shot. It doesn't do any damage to your original shot and it's all done automatically in the camera, but you can deactivate the feature in the "Camera" menu if you don't want to be bothered by it.

The buttons on the Sony NEX-F3 are practically identical to every other NEX camera we've used so far. The camera features three soft keys on the back of the camera—one key each above and below the rear control dial, with a key in the center of the dial—all of which have their functions called out on the rear LCD. The soft keys sit flush against the body but are actually fairly easy to press. The rear control dial is loose enough to allow for quick turns, but each individual setting offers enough resistance to prevent going beyond the option you want most of the time.

The Sony NEX-F3 offers a number of picture effects and creative styles, letting users take more creative control over the look and feel of their photos. These are separated into "creative styles" that resemble your typical color modes (standard, vivid, black & white, landscape, portrait, sunset with contrast, sharpness, and saturation adjustments available) and picture effects.

The picture effects are the slightly more dramatic creative modes and include toy camera, pop color, posterization color, retro photo, soft high-key, partial color, high contrast monochrome, soft focus, HDR painting, rich tone monochrome, and miniature. Most of these modes also provide options for adjusting them, such as selecting which color the "partial color" mode will leave saturated.

The menu on the Sony NEX-F3 is bright and gorgeous, but it's laid out in ways that are sometimes confusing, with many common options such as color modes ("creative styles," see above) grayed out when shooting in automatic modes. The menu is organized into six sub-menus: shooting modes, camera settings, image size, brightness/color, playback, and setup. What's confusing for advanced users is that some common options (like noise reduction) are in the setup menu, while many settings that usually fall into a single category on other cameras are divided between brightness/color and "camera" menus.

Altogether the menu isn't too bad, and the separation into the various sub-menus—confusing to advanced users though it may be—is done to aid novices who don't want to be overloaded with a variety of options they'll never actually change. It's certainly a boon to true novice shooters, but with the NEX-C3 (and now certainly the NEX-F3) appealing to advanced shooters who just want a high-quality APS-C camera at an affordable price, it's important to note there's a degree of leg-pulling required to get the camera where you want it to go sometimes.

The Sony NEX-F3 box we received did not include a paper manual, with just a CD-ROM packaged with the camera. The online support offers two manuals in .pdf form. The first is just the basic instruction manual, 94 pages in total, with basic tips for setting up the camera, some advanced controls, and little else. The more comprehensive manual is called the alpha handbook from Sony. This is 206 pages and includes far more advanced tips for using the camera. That isn't to say that it's designed for advanced shooters, as it's actually written in a very friendly, easy-to-understand manner that will explain tougher terminology in clear terms. If you have questions about the operation of the NEX-F3 or how to get the best out of a specific mode or setting, the handbook is the first place to turn.

If you place all of the NEX cameras so far released by Sony (the two debut models, the NEX-C3, NEX-5N, NEX-7, and the NEX-F3), the design evolution doesn't appear too dramatic. The NEX-F3 certainly doesn't break the mold here, but it does represent a small step back from the "slimmest camera on the market" track that Sony seemed adamant about following. The NEX-F3 is still quite small, but from a usability perspective is simply easier to hold and shoot with than the NEX-C3 due to its larger grip.

Handling Photo 1

The hallmark of the NEX system to this point is the unlabeled soft keys on the back of the camera. These lay flush against the camera body, with their labels on the rear LCD screen. This can be a bit jarring at first, but it actually becomes quite natural once you use the camera for a period of time. The controls themselves are snappy and responsive, with the rear control dial having just the right mix of freedom and response as you turn it. Overall the NEX-F3 is an improvement over the NEX-C3 whenever shooting with a moderately sized lens or larger. If you shoot exclusively with pancake lenses than the benefit may not be as pronounced, but for most people who would like to utilize a zoom lens or two (or an adapter and a zoom lens) the extra heft in the grip is going to be welcome.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

The buttons on the Sony NEX-F3 are practically identical to every other NEX camera we've used so far. The camera features three soft keys on the back of the camera—one key each above and below the rear control dial, with a key in the center of the dial—all of which have their functions called out on the rear LCD. The soft keys sit flush against the body but are actually fairly easy to press. The rear control dial is loose enough to allow for quick turns, but each individual setting offers enough resistance to prevent going beyond the option you want most of the time.

Buttons Photo 1

The shutter button on the NEX-F3 has been repositioned from the NEX-C3. It now sits on top of a ledge as part of the grip that protrudes from the body. This offers far better handling, but it does require repositioning your hands into a way more commonly seen on DSLRs. To align your index finger with the shutter button naturally you have to turn your wrists forward a bit (as through you were gripping a pistol or a vertical door handle), which offers better support for the weight of the camera. This is going to be a bit of a departure for point-and-shoot users, many of whom pinch their cameras precariously between the index fingers and thumbs on both hands. It's a smart design choice that will better aid shooters in the long run, rewarding them with more stable photos and less hand cramps.

Buttons Photo 2

The Sony NEX-F3 has a rear 3-inch display with a resolution of 921,600 pixels. The display is highly detailed and it does quite well when in an indoor setting, but it does struggle whenever you have to frame a shot with the sun shining over your shoulder onto the display. To combat this, the screen is mounted on an articulated hinge that lets the screen angle upward a full 180 degrees or downward 13 degrees. The ability to face the screen towards your subject is extremely useful in certain situations, especially when framing self-portraits and group shots. It does come at the expense of some downward angle freedom that other NEX cameras have, but the screen has a large enough angle of view that overhead shots are still easy to frame.

The image stabilization on the 18-55mm kit lens with the Sony NEX-F3 provided decent stabilization performance when tested with a low level of shake at 1/30th of a second. This low level of shake is reminiscent of how a camera shakes when shooting handheld, with 1/30th of a second providing acceptable levels of sharpness with IS on. We found that roughly 45% of the shots that we took in testing saw improvement, with an average MTF50 of 286 across those shots, and a maximum MTF50 of nearly 1000.

The Sony NEX-F3 doesn't feature a physical mode dial, instead relying on a shooting mode menu where you can find a picture of, of course, a dial. The NEX-F3 doesn't offer much in the way of new shooting modes if you've used a previous NEX camera, with options for intelligent auto, superior auto, scene modes, the usual PASM program and manual modes, as well as sweep panorama and its 3D variant.

The Sony NEX-F3's control scheme doesn't allow for a great deal of direct manual control, but when using the aperture priority, shutter priority, or manual modes you can use the rear control dial to select shutter speed or aperture. In manual mode you can switch between the two by pressing the exposure compensation button.

The Sony NEX-F3 has generally quite good focus performance, but it's highly dependent on contrast. In shooting stills this often locks on just fine in bright areas, with face detection aiding on portraits. In low light we found focus was quite limited, though the red AF illuminator is quite bright and targets the center of the frame well. Still, focus isn't nearly as snappy as it is in bright light (obviously), and there's little to no confirmation when the camera thinks focus has been achieved.

The camera offers four focus types: single autofocus, continuous autofocus, manual focus, and auto focus with manual adjustments. The autofocus system can choose from 25 points across the sensor, with the option to track focus across the frame once it has locked on.

Manual focus is aided in two ways on the Sony NEX-F3. The first is with a typical digital zoom that enlarges a portion of the frame (selectable by the user) where you can better see fine details in order to judge focus. The NEX-F3 offers another great feature that is more useful, called focus peaking. Focus peaking highlights high contrast edges (which are typically in focus) in a bright color, selectable by the user in the "Setup" menu. This is great for quickly adjusting focus on the fly, especially if you're planning on using third party lenses adapted to the NEX system, as most non-Sony lens adapters will remove autofocus capability.

When shooting with the NEX-F3 you can record your images in RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG filetypes. The maximum image size the camera can record without using the panorama modes is a 3:2 4912x3264 (16 megapixels), with options for 3568x2368 (8.4M), and 2448x1624 (4M) shots as well. If you want a widescreen image, you can shoot in a cropped 16:9 ratio which maxes out at 4912x2760 (14M), with smaller options also available. The camera's sweep panorama modes will also turn out a single image of a much larger size, but it's the result of a composite of several images that are aligned in-camera. The camera's 3D modes also work in this way, recording in the standard .MPO 3D format.

Custom Controls

The Sony NEX-F3 doesn't afford the user a great deal of choice when it comes to control. The rear control scheme sets most of the controls for you, and unfortunately this often means that changing simple settings like ISO require a trip into the menu by default. With many of the more common options put into odd places, that can be a frustrating experience. The custom menu helps to alleviate this.

If you go into the camera's menu. Go into Setup > Custom Key Settings > Soft Key C Settings. From there select custom, which will open up the five numbered custom options below. Here you can select up to five functions to occupy the custom menu, letting you put things like picture control, creative style, ISO, white balance, metering mode, and HDR modes within easy access. You have to give up easy access to the shooting mode menu, but as that's just two presses away in its own dedicated sub-menu, it's a trade well worth making.

The Sony NEX-F3 receives a moderate bump in speed over its predecessor, with Sony claiming it hits a max speed of around 5.5 frames per second. The NEX-F3 otherwise stays in line with what the NEX-C3 offered, with continuous shooting, a speed priority continuous mode, and the usual complement of self-timer options.

The Sony NEX-F3 includes single shooting, continuous shooting (with continuous AF), and speed priority continuous (with focus/exposure locked at first frame). The speed priority is the fastest, by far, but it has a limited capacity before that 5.5+ FPS speed dies off into something a little more pedestrian. The F3 also has custom bracketing options, which will rattle off three images with exposure shifted either 0.3 or 0.7 EV between shots. All these options are always available by hitting the left side of the rear control dial.

Sony made good on their claims with the NEX-F3, as we found its rated 5.5FPS was actually on the lower end of our test results. On average we saw the camera rattle off shots at around 5.7FPS. It's a small difference, but it shows Sony's not trying to pull a fast one here. The one cause of concern if you're looking for a solid sports shooter (at least when comparing the NEX-F3 to some faster cameras) is the limited capacity. The camera is only able to capture around 10-12 shots at the full speed before slowing down to a little more than one shot per second.

In the Sony NEX-F3's drive menu you can also find options for the camera's self timer, which includes the standard delay of two and ten seconds. In addition, there's a continuous self-timer that can rattle off three or five images after a 10 second delay—perfect for those family portraits where someone's always blinking.

The Sony NEX-F3 has generally quite good focus performance, but it's highly dependent on contrast. In shooting stills this often locks on just fine in bright areas, with face detection aiding on portraits. In low light we found focus was quite limited, though the red AF illuminator is quite bright and targets the center of the frame well. Still, focus isn't nearly as snappy as it is in bright light (obviously), and there's little to no confirmation when the camera thinks focus has been achieved.

The camera offers four focus types: single autofocus, continuous autofocus, manual focus, and auto focus with manual adjustments. The autofocus system can choose from 25 points across the sensor, with the option to track focus across the frame once it has locked on.

Manual focus is aided in two ways on the Sony NEX-F3. The first is with a typical digital zoom that enlarges a portion of the frame (selectable by the user) where you can better see fine details in order to judge focus. The NEX-F3 offers another great feature that is more useful, called focus peaking. Focus peaking highlights high contrast edges (which are typically in focus) in a bright color, selectable by the user in the "Setup" menu. This is great for quickly adjusting focus on the fly, especially if you're planning on using third party lenses adapted to the NEX system, as most non-Sony lens adapters will remove autofocus capability.

There isn't a great deal of dramatic changes in store for those of your who are comparing the NEX-F3 to the NEX-C3 in terms of features. While it does incorporate some different processing and a few extra tricks, the biggest changes are going to be the addition of 1080/60i video, the LCD that now articulates to face completely forward, and the camera's new auto portrait framing mode. While these all add something to the total package, we don't think it's enough to justify upgrading from a C3 to an F3. If you're deciding between the two, we'd say there's little in terms of features you're going to miss by taking the likely cheaper option of going with the older NEX-C3.

The Sony Alpha NEX-F3 is capable of recording video in AVCHD or .MP4 using MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) compression. When shooting in AVCHD you can record in 1080/60i (24 or 17Mbps) or 1080/24p (also 24 or 17Mbps). If you want files that are a little easier to share and edit, you can opt for .MP4 files, with the option for recording in 1440x1080/30p (about 12Mbps average bitrate) or in standard definition 480/30p (3Mbps). Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

As on other NEX cameras, Sony has opted to not include a dedicated video mode, instead letting the user trigger video recording at any time by pressing the red REC button just behind the power switch. Depending on what video mode you're in, this will allow you to control certain aspects of exposure while taking a video.

If you're shooting in the manual exposure mode, you'll have access shutter speed, aperture, as well as ISO control. Aperture is lens-dependent, ISO is limited to between 200-3200, and no auto ISO is available in manual mode. But the shutter speed range for video is excellent, with Sony allowing the F3 to utilize shutter speeds ranging from 1/4 to 1/4000th of a second. If you're shooting in automatic modes, you can utilize auto ISO and the full +/- 3 stop range of exposure compensation.

Auto Controls

One of the limitations of engaging video recording in certain modes is that it doesn't always inherit everything about that mode. Scene modes, for example, simply became auto video recording when the REC button is pressed. So if you're in sunset mode, take a great photo, and decide you want to capture a video, know that your image when recording video may not look the same.

This doesn't apply across the board, however, as both the creative styles and picture effects are both retained when recording video. The creative styles are sometimes overridden by the picture effects (posterization, for example, reverts your creative style to standard automatically), but you can usually accomplish whatever effect you're looking for with a scene mode via these two options. It's not perfect, however, as picture effects and creative styles are only available in the program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual modes.

Zoom

As a standard kit lens, the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 glass that comes with the Sony NEX-F3 utilizes a manual zoom ring in order to change focal length, which can be done at any time independent of the camera's other operations. The NEX-F3 does also include a digital zoom, however, which can be engage and controlled via the rear control dial. It'll allow you to zoom in up to 4x digitally, but it does so in small 0.1x steps. Worse, the zoom is very jerky, moving step by step. This all but removes the ability to use the zoom function for smooth zooms in and out, which isn't always easy to pull off with a manual zoom ring.

Focus

The NEX-F3 supports full autofocus during video recording, with the option to manually focus as well. When manually focusing prior to recording, the camera will utilize a digital zoom to enlarge elements of your subject and make focus easier to judge. Once you begin recording, however, this zoom is taken away.

In order to compensate, the Sony NEX-F3 (like other NEX cameras) offers a focus peaking feature that will highlight high contrast (in focus) edges in a color (yellow, red, and white selectable) areas for you. This lets you adjust the focus ring manually, with your subject being highlighted in the selected color when they come into focus.

This feature has to be turned on from the "Setup" menu, which is a bit out of the way for a focus feature. Sony does this to keep it away from beginners who might turn it on accidentally and hate it. It's an extremely useful feature (more useful than the focus assist zoom), especially if you're going to use lens adapters on the NEX cameras, as that often takes away autofocus capability.

Exposure Controls

As stated above, when a recording is begun the camera just inherits whatever level of control its current shooting mode allows. For full manual, this includes shutter (1/4 to 1/4000th of a second), aperture (lens dependent), and ISO (200-3200). In modes that use automatic exposure auto ISO is either selected by default or becomes another option. In every mode except manual you can utilize exposure compensation on the fly while recording, giving you a +/- 3-stop scale to work with.

The Sony NEX-F3 has a built-in stereo microphone on the front of the camera, just above the lens. It captures audio in MPEG-4 AAC-LC compression. One of the sacrifices you make in stepping down from the NEX-5N to the NEX-F3 is the lack of a 3.5mm microphone port. If you want external audio input you can attach the optional external Sony microphone to the top accessory port. The only option we're aware of that works with the NEX-F3 is the Sony ECM-SST1, which retails for $129.99 and does not feature a mic port either.

Mic Photo

Sony's NEX line of interchangeable lens cameras have always struck a delicate balance between size and performance; the DSLR-size sensors in this camera lineup allow for DSLR performance, but the lenses on cameras like the $599 Sony Alpha NEX-F3 are naturally larger than other mirrorless cameras.

The response from Sony to that challenge has always been to highlight just how thin their camera bodies are, which always seemed a bit odd, given that the lenses you have to attach to them makes being the thinnest body something of a hollow victory. The Sony NEX-F3 represents a step away from that philosophy, with a bigger body due to a substantially larger grip than its predecessor, 2011's NEX-C3.

The F3 reportedly reclaims the same image sensor that was in the critically adored NEX-C3, with some slight processing differences, a slightly faster shooting speed, a built-in flash, and a few extra in-camera features. Still, it's the grip that is the most glaring difference between this year and last. It's a sign that Sony's camera design team is taking more into consideration than what they can slap on a marketing billboard.

The additional grip makes shooting with the NEX-F3 more pleasant, and its larger design makes it more natural to hold the camera as you would a DSLR, rather than a point and shoot. While lenses like Sony's 16mm pancake lens or the standard 18-55mm kit lens hardly necessitate a large grip, longer telephoto lenses feel much more secure (and the resulting shots sharper) on the NEX-F3 than on last year's C3.

While the grip shows that Sony is taking the camera's function as a camera more seriously, the NEX-F3 is a camera designed for the entry-level users. If you've spent the last decade snapping away with disposables and point-and-shoots, the Sony NEX-F3 won't feel like a major departure, as its operation is mostly automatic, with manual control you can learn as you go. The menu system is identical to previous NEX cameras, designed with simplicity and clarity in mind.

The camera certainly allows more advanced shooters to get great shots, but when shooting in JPEG most of the image quality decisions have been made for you. Noise reduction is slathered on at every ISO setting, without the ability to deactivate it. It does keep noise down, but that performance is bought at the expense of fine detail in your images; The "low" noise reduction setting on the camera would pass for "high" on just about every other interchangeable lens camera we've tested.

All that's perfectly fine for most shooters who just want their photos up on Facebook, but photo enthusiasts looking for a compact, affordable alternative to a larger DSLR will want to shoot in the camera's RAW file format for editing themselves later. Otherwise the NEX-F3 is a solid follow-up to the successful NEX-C3, making it the best entry-level compact system camera on the market. We don't think it's worth upgrading from a functional NEX-C3—and if you can find the C3 for cheaper that's certainly the way to go—but the NEX-F3 is a potent performer at a price that the competition has yet to beat.

Meet the testers

TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews
TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews

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