Offered in black, white or pink, the NEX-F3 is the seventh model in Sony’s E-mount family. The ‘F’ stands for ‘family’, indicating this camera is designed for snapshooters of all ages. It replaces the entry-level NEX-C3 and comes with Sony’s second-generation 16-megapixel CMOS sensor. New features include a built-in flash, reversible monitor and new controls to help novice photographers.
Sony’s new NEX-F3, shown with the SEL1855 18-55mm kit lens used for our reviews. (Source: Sony.)
The NEX-F3’s 3 inch LCD monitor can be tilted back and then up through 180 degrees to face forwards, providing a straightforward way to shoot of self-portraits, a popular activity with the ‘connected’ teens and twenties. In this ‘upside down’ orientation the scene is automatically orientated so it appears right way ““ and right way around ““ up to the viewer.
The Setup menu provides a Self portrait Self-timer mode that automatically sets a 3-second self-timer delay when the LCD monitor is tilted up for self-portraits. This is handy when the camera is on a tripod as it allows the photographer to get into the shot.
Front view of the NEX-F3 in white with the LCD monitor positioned for self portraiture. (Source: Sony.)
Unfortunately, you can only tilt the monitor downwards through about 10 degrees, which makes it difficult to compose shots with the camera held high. You can, however, turn the camera body upside-down and adjust the screen to any angle within the 180 degree. But you have to press the shutter button with your left thumb when it’s in this position.
Build and Ergonomics
The NEX-F3 is slightly larger and heavier than the model it replaces, largely because of the new monitor and built-in flash. Otherwise, the control layout has barely changed since the NEX-3.
The body of the new camera is made of polycarbonate (plastic) but feels quite solid, although slightly less substantial than previous models. The front panel is largely devoid of buttons and switches, with only the lens-release button on the grip side of the lens mount and an inset AF-Assist/Self-Timer LED high on the inner edge of the grip. The grip moulding is deeper and the large shutter button sits on a ledge atop it.
The front panel of the NEX-F3 with the built-in flash raised. (Source: Sony.)
The built-in flash is inset into the top panel with its centre in line with the optical axis of the lens. It’s raised by pressing a small button on the rear edge of the top panel, which lifts it to roughly 30mm above the top of the lens mount, and lowered by pressing it down.
The flash has a guide number of 6 metres at ISO 100, which isn’t very powerful. Exposures can be adjusted across a range from -2EV to +2EV. You can fit a more powerful external flash to the camera’s accessory port, if required.
Positioning the shutter button on the hand grip has enabled Sony to separate the power switch on the top panel from the shutter button. The rotating lever is closer to the edge of the top panel and slightly easier to adjust.
Immediately behind the power switch is a Movie button, with a small playback button located a little to its left. There’s a rim around the Movie button to deter accidental pressing; but it makes this button more difficult to use. Further left is the accessory port, which is recessed into the top panel under a flip-up cover.
The rear panel is dominated by the monitor screen, which is the same size and has the same resolution as the monitor on the NEX-C3. Like other ‘NEXies’, the F3 lacks a built-in viewfinder but an optional EVF is available for plugging into the Smart Accessory Terminal.
The adjustable screen on the NEX-F3. (Source: Sony.)
Right of the monitor are the camera’s three main controls: two programmable ‘soft’ buttons and a rotating wheel with central Menu button. Pressing the edges of this wheel accesses the Display, drive and exposure adjustment/index view settings. The setting is locked in when you press the centre of the wheel.
The soft keys have different roles, depending on context. The default setting for the top button accesses the Menu, which is the same as in other ‘NEXies’. The bottom button accesses the digital zoom controls.
As before, zooming with the zoom button crops the image, after which the camera interpolates the image up to 16 megapixels. The process goes through three stages. In the early stages of zooming, Smart Zoom magnifies without interpolation, reducing image sizes to M and then S. The middle stage applies Clear Image Zoom dips into an image database and interpolates the image to 16MP using appropriate scaling. The final stage simply involves straight interpolation. Clear Image Zoom is also used in the new Auto Portrait Framing function, outlined below.
The zoom button, along with the centre and the right hand side ‘buttons’ on the control wheel, can be customised to access functions like shooting mode, ISO, white balance, metering or AF mode, face detection, smile shutter, Picture Effect, Creative Style or Dynamic Range adjustments (to name a few).
The battery compartment is located in the grip and accessed via a flip-up cover on the base of the camera body. The camera uses the same NP-FW50 battery as the NEX-C3 and is CIPA rated for approximately 470 shots/charge.
It’s charged in the camera, either via the supplied AC adaptor and or directly from a computer via the USB cable. (Plugging the USB cable into a hub connected to our computer drained the battery instead of charging it.) An LED inset into the camera body above the terminals compartment shines while charging is taking place.
USB and HDMI ports are located beneath a plastic flap on the lower left hand side of the camera body. The memory card slot is to the right of the battery compartment. The NEX-F3 accepts Memory Stick PRO Duo and PRO-HG Duo cards as well as SD, SDHC and SDXC cards. It’s a bit too close to the tripod socket for comfort.
Overall, the NEX-F3 represents a relatively minor upgrade to its predecessor. Its sensor is the same 23.5 x 15.6 mm EXMOR CMOS chip as used in the NEX-5N. The low-pass filter in front of the sensor is vibrated ultrasonically each time the camera is turned on or off to prevent dust from settling.
Image sizes are unchanged and outlined in our review of the NEX-5N. The usual suite of 2D and 3D Sweep Panorama modes is supported. Video sizes are also the same, except the 50p setting has been removed.
The NEX-F3 supports the same continuous shooting speeds as the NEX-C3, with a maximum capture rate of 2.5 frames/second when focus and exposure are adjustable or 5.5fps with a fixed exposure. Its buffer memory can store up to 18 Large/Fine JPEGs or six raw files.
The 25-point contrast AF system is unchanged from the previous models, but the metering system in the NEX-F3 has the same 1,200-zone sensor as the NEX-5N’s. Unlike the Alpha SLT DSLR-style cameras, the NEX models rely on their lenses to provide stabilisation. It’s included in the SEL 18-55mm kit lens.
The F3 also provides the standard P, A, S and M shooting modes plus 2D and 3D Sweep Panorama, along with Sony’s iAuto and Scene Selection modes, the later covering Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports Action, Sunset, Night Portrait, Night View and the multi-shot Hand-held Twilight mode. Other multi-shot modes include the new Superior Auto and anti-motion blur settings.
Video capabilities are the same as the NEX-C3 and NEX-5N offer, and include Full HD AVCHD (50i/25p) with stereo sound. A Wind Noise Reduction filter is available in the Setup sub-menu but it only works with the camera’s internal microphone; not with accessory mikes.
The user interface hasn’t changed greatly since the original NEX-3 and NEX-5 models and the lack of dedicated button controls and need for lots of toggling to access menu settings will frustrate serious photo enthusiasts. Snapshooters who use the camera in the auto modes should find it easy enough to use.
An update to the BIONZ image processor marks the NEX-F3 as a third-generation camera. Although not offering more resolution than the NEX-C3 and NEX-5N, the new processor enables the F3 to support ISO settings from 200 to 16000, which is slightly more than the NEX-C3 but less than the NEX-5N.
The new Superior Auto mode includes scene recognition in which the camera can recognise the following scene types: Night Scene, Tripod Night Scene, Hand-held Twilight, Night Portrait, Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Spotlight, Low Brightness and Baby. Auto HDR (high dynamic range) correction is applied using multiple exposures and the flash fires automatically when required.
Pressing the centre of the control wheel in the iAuto or Superior Auto mode accesses the Photo Creativity, which provides control over background defocus, brightness, colour and vividness plus access to the Picture Effect filters. These effects include Toy Camera, Pop Colour, Posterisation (Colour and B/W), Retro Photo, Soft High-key, Partial Colour (R,G,B,Y) and High Contrast Mono
A new Auto Portrait Framing function is available to assist novice users. Available for JPEGs only, it identifies the subject and crops to create well-composed, high resolution portrait photos. The camera also includes a Smile Shutter mode that triggers the shutter automatically when a smile is detected with the three second timer. Both functions require face detection to be enabled.
Playback and Software
Pressing the Playback button displays the last image shot and you can opt to see the image with shooting data or as a thumbnail plus data and brightness histogram by toggling the Display adjustment. Images can also be displayed without data.
Displayed images can be enlarged for focus checking by pressing the centre of the control wheel. Turning the wheel sets the degree of magnification up to a maximum of 13.6x. The control wheel is also used to set the playback speed and direction for viewing movie clips and you can set the clip to play frame-by-frame.
Images can be deleted, protected and rotated in playback. Index displays (6 or 12 thumbnails) and slideshow playback are available, the latter without audio. Display intervals can be set between one and 30 seconds. Slideshows of 3D shots can be played back on compatible TV sets.
Panorama shots are displayed as the full image against a black background. You can scroll across a panorama at full screen width by pressing the centre of the control wheel. (The direction of the panorama is detected automatically and scrolling starts from where the first shot was taken.) Only the JPEG components of 3D panorama shots are displayed on the camera’s monitor and non-3D TV screens.
The software disk contains the complete user manual in PDF format (a very abbreviated version is provided as an 86-page booklet). Although it runs to 206 pages, it’s not particularly informative compared with other manufacturers’ user manuals and only just adequate for showing you how to use most controls.
Both software applications took a long time to install on our Windows 7 computer. Image Data Converter SR Ver. 4.0 is provided for converting ARW.RAW files into editable formats.
PlayMemories Home, a Windows-only program replaces Image Data Lightbox SR and Picture Motion Browser for uploading images to a computer. It provides calendar-based organising facilities plus a few basic editing tools (red-eye correction, re-sizing for emails, printing) plus tools for creating Blu-Ray or DVD disks of movies shot with the camera.
The NEX-F3 is listed as one of the cameras supported by Adobe’s latest Camera Raw update (V.7) for Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom 4. (It’s not supported in Camera Raw V6.7 for Photoshop CS5 and Photoshop Elements 10.)
The Kit Lens
The SEL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens supplied with the review camera is the standard kit zoom lens sold with Sony NEX cameras. Like the F3 body, it’s made in Thailand and covers a field-of-view equivalent to a 27-83mm lens in 35mm format.
For its type, it’s very well built, with a magnesium-alloy barrel and focusing ring. The inner barrel appears to be made from plastic. Measuring 62 x 60 mm and weighing 194 grams, it extends roughly 20 mm as you zoom from the wide to the tele position. The front element doesn’t rotate, allowing angle-critical filters to be used.
This lens contains 11 elements arranged in nine groups and includes four aspherical surfaces to minimise common aberrations. Seven aperture blades close to a circular iris diaphragm. The lens focuses to 25 cm with a maximum magnification of 1:3.3. It comes with a petal-shaped lens hood.
A reasonably broad focusing ring is located close to the front of the lens, with a broader zoom ring just behind it. Both rings are finely ridged. The focusing ring is coupled directly to the AF motor, providing near silent autofocusing plus direct manual focus over-ride in Single Servo AF mode. Sony’s Optical Steady Shot stabilisation is included.
Imatest showed this lens delivered its best performance in the middle of its focal length range and at apertures between f/5 and f/8. Edge softening was detected at most aperture settings but reduced as the lens was stopped down. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
Lateral chromatic aberration was generally low and we found little evidence of coloured fringing in test shots. In the graph of our Imatest result below, the red line marks the border between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA, while the green line separates ‘low’ and ‘moderate’ CA.
Barrel distortion was evident at 18mm but gone by 28mm and replaced by slight pincushioning at 35mm, which grew progressively stronger. No vignetting was apparent at any of the focal length settings, thanks to automatic in-camera correction. Backlit subjects were generally handled well and the lens was less flare-prone than most standard kit lenses.
Pictures taken with the review camera were colourful and bright. JPEG images were relatively contrasty and saturation was elevated to the degree commonly seen in small-sensor digicams.
This was confirmed by our Imatest testing, which showed slightly elevated saturation in both JPEGs and raw files converted to TIFF format with the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw. Imatest showed performance at high ISO settings to be marginally better than the NEX 5N’s, as indicated in the graph of our test results below.
Low light performance was better than we found with the NEX 5N and long exposures at night were surprisingly good at high ISO settings. Noise became visible at ISO 6400 and increased gradually thereafter, although shots were usable in small output sizes at settings up to the maximum ISO 16000 level.
Flash exposures were also very good, with evenly-lit shots between ISO 200 and ISO 3200. Beyond that point, exposures became progressively over-exposed and unusable at any output size by ISO 12800. Exposures appeared to be locked at 1/60 second up to ISO 6400 and then increased to 1/125 second thereafter, which wasn’t enough to prevent over-exposure.
Digital zoom shots were sharper and punchier than those from the NEX-5N and would be printable at slightly larger than snapshot size. Backlit subjects were generally handled well although subjects with very wide brightness range proved challenging for the D-Range Optimiser at its maximum compensation setting. Close-up capabilities are limited by the focusing range of the lens.
Auto white balance performance was slightly better than the NEX-5N’s. The review camera failed to remove the colour cast of incandescent but came close with fluorescent lighting. Both pre-sets over-corrected, the Incandescent adding a strong blue bias, while the Fluorescent preset biased colours towards cyan. Manual measurement provided neutral colour rendition.
Saturation and contrast appeared to be boosted in movie mode, producing vibrant images. Otherwise, video quality was reasonably good in both AVCHD and MP4 clips. Autofocusing and zooming were similar to the NEX-5N’s and transitions between near and far were often jumpy, despite the benefits of the wide zoom ring on the lens and effective image stabilisation.
Soundtracks were similarly patchy and affected by camera movements (zooming, panning and slight camera shake), all of which produced noise in recordings. The wind cut filter worked reasonably well in normal conditions but was unable to prevent some interference from wind noise in strong and gusty conditions.
Our timing tests were conducted with a 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-1card, the fastest card in our collection. The review camera powered-up ready for shooting within half a second. Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.7 seconds. We measured an average capture lag of 0.2 seconds which was almost eliminated when shots were pre-focused.
The only indication that image files have been processed is when the monitor returns to displaying the original scene. We’ve measured this time for our estimates here. High-resolution JPEGs took an average of 2.2 seconds to process, while ARW.RAW files were processed in 2.6 seconds and RAW+JPEG pairs in 2.7 seconds.
In the normal continuous shooting mode the review camera recorded 10 Large/Fine JPEGs in 3.6 seconds in the normal burst mode. It took 2.2 seconds to process this burst.
The same recording time applied for bursts of 10 ARW.RAW files. It took 5.6 seconds to process this burst. The capture rate slowed after eight frames with RAW+JPEG pairs, which were recorded in 2.8 seconds. It took 6.6 seconds to process this burst.
In the Speed Priority Continuous mode the review camera was able to match the specified capture rate of 10 frames/second with Large/Fine JPEGs. It took 4.5 seconds to process a burst of 10 shots.
Buy this camera if:
– You’re looking for a compact, large-sensor interchangeable-lens camera with PASM shooting modes plus support for raw file capture and Full HD video recording.
– You prefer shooting with automated exposure control settings.
– You would enjoy the multi-shot modes this camera provides.
Don’t buy this camera if:
– You require high burst capacity at high resolution.
– You require quick access to key camera settings.
– You want an optical viewfinder.
Image sensor: 23.5 x 15.6mm ‘Exmor’ APS HD CMOS sensor with approx. 16.5 million photosites (16.1 megapixels effective)
Image processor: BIONZ
A/D processing: 12-bit
Lens mount: Sony E-mount
Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
Digital zoom: Approx. 4x
Image formats: Stills ““ ARW.RAW, JPEG (Exif 2.3), RAW+JPEG; Movies ““ AVCHD & MP4 with stereo audio
Image Sizes: Stills ““ 3:2 aspect: 4912 x 3264, 3568 x 2368, 2448 x 1624; 16:9 aspect: 4912 x 2760, 3568 x 2000, 2448 x 1376; Movies: AVCHD format: 1920 x 1080 (50p/28Mbps/PS, 50i/24Mbps/FX, 50i/17Mbps/FH, 25p/24Mbps/FX, 25p/17Mbps/FH); MP4 format: 1440 x 1080 (25fps/12Mbps), 640 x 480 (25fps/3Mbps)
Image Stabilisation: Lens based
Dust removal: Charge protection coating on optical filter and ultrasonic vibration mechanism
Shutter speed range: 1/4000 to 30 seconds plus Bulb; flash synch to 1/160 second
Exposure Compensation: +/-3.0EV in 1/3EV steps
Exposure bracketing: 3 continuous exposures, in 0.3 or 0.7EV steps
Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay plus 10-second delay with 3/5 exposures selectable
Focus system: Contrast-detection AF with 25 sensor points; multi, centre and flexible spot selectable; built-in AF illuminator
Focus modes: AF/DMF and Manual modes plus AF-S, AF-C selectable, Face Detection (up to 8 faces), Tracking Focus, Predictive control, Focus lock
Exposure metering: 1200-zone evaluative metering with Multi, Centre and Spot modes selectable
Shooting modes: Programmed AE (iAUTO, P), Aperture priority (A), Shutter-speed priority (S), Manual (M), Sweep Panorama, 3D Sweep Panorama, Anti Motion Blur, Scene Selection (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports Action, Sunset, Night Portrait, Night View, Hand-held Twilight)
Creative Style settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, B/W (Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness adjustable in +/-3 steps)
Picture Effects: Toy Camera, Pop Colour, Posterisation (Colour and B/W), Retro Photo, Soft High-key, Partial Colour (R,G,B,Y) and High Contrast Mono
Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
ISO range: Auto (ISO 200-3200), ISO 200 to 16000 selectable in 1EV steps
White balance: Auto WB, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, C. Temp 2500 to 9900K, C. Filter (G7 to M7 15-step, A7 to B7 15-step), Custom
Flash: Built-in flash GN 6 (meters at ISO 100); coverage to 16mm focal length; Flash off, Autoflash, Fill-flash, Slow Sync., Rear Sync.; red-eye reduction available
Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps
Sequence shooting: Max. 5.5 frames/second for up to 18 Large/Fine JPEGs, 7 ARW.RAW files or 6 RAW+JPEG pairs
Storage Media: Single slot for Memory Stick PRO Duo and SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, EyeFi cards supported
LCD monitor: 3-inch TFT, Xtra Fine LCD with 921,600 dots; adjustable up by approx. 180 degrees, down by approx. 13 degrees (from the camera back)
Playback functions: Single-frame, Index (6 or 12 frames), Enlarge (6.8x to 13x), Slideshow, Picture rotation (auto mode available), Histogram, Shooting information
Interface terminals: USO 2.0, HDMI (Type C Mini), BRAVIA Sync (link menu), PhotoTV HD
Power supply: NP-FW50 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 470 shots/charge
Dimensions (wxhxd): 117.3 x 66.6 x 41.3mm (without protrusions)|Weight: Approx. 255 grams (body only)
RRP: AUD$699, US$600 (with 18-55mm lens)
Distributor: Sony Australia; 1300 720 071; www.sony.com.au.
ARW.RAW files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw 7.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
30-second exposure at ISO 200; 20mm focal length, f/4.
8-second exposure at ISO 3200; 20mm focal length, f/5.6.
5-second exposure at ISO 6400; 20mm focal length, f/5.6.
3.2-second exposure at ISO 16000; 20mm focal length, f/8.
Flash exposure at ISO 100; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 3200; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 6400; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 16000; 55mm focal length, 1/125 second at f/5.6.
18mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/125 second at f/4.
55mm focal length, ISO 640, 1/100 second at f/5.6.
Maximum digital zoom; 55mm focal length, ISO 500, 1/100 second at f/5.6.
Close-up shot using the Macro setting in the Scene sub-menu; 55mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600.
Vignetting at 18mm f/3.5.
Vignetting at 55mm f/5.6.
Rectilinear distortion at 18mm.
Rectilinear distortion at 55mm.
18mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/1000 second at f/8. DRO Auto mode.
Crop from the above image magnified to 100%, showing coloured fringing.
Self-portrait using the reversed LCD monitor; 24mm focal length, ISO 16000, 1/100 second at f/5. Flash off.
Flash portrait in very low light level; 33mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/60 second at f/4.5. (Note the absence of red-eye.)
Stabilisation test; ambient light shot at 1/10 second with 18mm focal length, ISO 16000. (Photographer: Phoebe Batley.)
Still frame from AVCHD video clip in FX 50i mode.
Still frame from AVCHD video clip in FH 50i mode.
Still frame from AVCHD video clip in FX 25p mode.
Still frame from AVCHD video clip in FH 25p mode.
Still frame from MP4 video clip with 1440 x 1080 pixel resolution.
Still frame from MP4 video clip with VGA resolution.
RRP: AUD$699, US$600 (with 18-55mm lens)
- Build: 8.2
- Ease ofuse: 8.2
- Autofocusing: 8.5
- Still image quality JPEG: 8.5
- Still image quality RAW: 8.5
- Video quality: 8.3