Making the jump into the land of interchangeable-lens cameras (ILCs) can be daunting. Fortunately, there are plenty of entry-level models to make the transition from point-and-shoot or smartphone pretty easy.
Design and features
One of these cameras is the NEX-F3, the most basic ILC in the Sony range. The body is reasonably compact, and is ideal if you're a one-handed shooter.
In the hand, the body feels a bit more boxy and chunky than this camera's predecessor, the NEX-C3. The grip is deeper, while the shutter button has been strangely positioned to sit on top of it. This means that you have to reach slightly farther around the front to press it, but it easily becomes entrenched in muscle memory after a few reminders.
As always, the 18-55mm lens does slightly overwhelm the camera body, though it is not overly lens heavy. If size is an important factor in your decision-making process, the 16mm pancake lens is a much better option and makes the camera (almost) pocketable.
The F3 finally gets a pop-up flash, which is something that was sorely lacking on previous models, and it can be tilted with your hand to bounce off subjects like a ceiling for more even light spread. At the rear, the LCD screen can tilt up to 180 degrees for self portraits, though it only hinges from the top.
It's selfie time!
Like earlier NEX cameras, there is a proprietary hotshoe attachment at the top of the camera, underneath a small flap, that is used to mount accessories such as an external flash. Connectivity is provided through a micro-USB and HDMI port to the side. The camera can take MemoryStick Pro HG Duo cards and SD cards in the same slot just next to the tripod mount.
Shooting modes are hidden within the camera menu. There's no physical mode dial to adjust options, so this is a camera that's most suited to point-and-shoot photographers. However, if you wish to delve into manual exposure modes, the F3 has all of these available — it's just not as easy to adjust, given there are at least two menu button presses to go through.
Like other Sony cameras, the NEX gets superior automatic mode for low-light photography, a regular automatic mode, PASM options and sweep panorama in both 2D and 3D, as well as a range of scene modes.
Picture effects include a range of filters for images, like toy camera, black and white and partial colour. They're the same filters that have appeared on earlier NEX cameras, such as the C3.
|Sony NEX-F3||Panasonic Lumix GF5||Canon EOS M||Nikon 1 J2|
|16.1-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor (APS-C)||12.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor (Four Thirds)||18-megapixel CMOS sensor (APS-C)||10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor (CX type)|
|3-inch, 921,600-dot flip-up LCD||3-inch, 920,000-dot touchscreen LCD||3-inch, 1.04 million-dot touchscreen LCD||3-inch, 921,000-dot LCD|
|25-area AF||23-area AF||31-area AF||73-area AF|
|Full HD video (AVCHD/MP4, 1080i)||Full HD video (AVCHD/MP4, 1080i)||Full HD video (MPEG-4, 1080p)||Full HD video (MPEG-4, 1080p)|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
Panasonic Lumix GF5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The F3 has two continuous shooting modes: speed priority, as measured above, which fixes the focus and exposure from the first frame; and regular continuous mode, which can take 3.9 frames per second.
When shooting a burst of JPEG photos in regular continuous mode, the NEX-F3 does not stop to process them, and can take an almost unlimited stream. For RAW photos, the F3 takes eight shots before stopping to process them.
Sony rates the battery at 470 shots, which is above average for a camera of this class.
Like earlier NEX cameras, the F3 delivers very good image quality when shooting on default settings. Colours are punchy and vibrant, while not looking too unrealistic and oversaturated.
Automatic white balance for indoor situations is a little warm, but more accurate when shooting RAW. Also, the F3 processes high-ISO JPEG files pretty well, so much so that noise only really becomes visible and prominent towards ISO 3200.
A comparison between the RAW and JPEG files from the F3, with 100 per cent crops inset.
RAW images appear a little flatter than their JPEG counterparts, but have excellent detail, which can easily be used to recover any of the slight smeariness that happens at higher ISO levels.
As we've mentioned in previous reviews of NEX cameras, the kit 18-55mm lens could be a little sharper for our tastes. The centre delivers optimum sharpness, with it dropping off towards the edges, top and bottom of the frame. For most purposes, such as printing small photos or web display, photographers won't even notice.
Video quality is decent, though the F3 records at 1080i/50 frames per second. As a result, there are slight interlacing artefacts visible on the video frame. Audio is decent from the built-in microphone, with good separation.
Exposure: 1/80, f/5, ISO 1250
Exposure: 1/160, f/8, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/320, f/13, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/60, f/4, ISO 1250
The NEX-F3 may be light on price, but it delivers very good image quality and plenty of fun for point-and-shooters. Manual modes are all present here, but because of the control layout and how they have been somewhat hidden within the menu system, photographers might find that sticking to automatic is a lot easier. Performance is a little sluggish compared to other cameras in this class, especially when it comes to focusing and shutter lag, which is something to keep in mind if you frequently capture action photography or fast-moving subjects.
The F3 retails for AU$699 for the single lens kit (18-55mm) and AU$999 for the twin lens kit (18-55mm and 55-210mm).