Sony NEX-F3 review
An outstanding camera with welcome improvements over the NEX-C3, but check the latest prices on other NEX cameras before buying
Review Date: 20 Aug 2012
Price when reviewed: £439
Reviewed By: Ben Pitt
Sony's NEX cameras weren't the first compact system cameras (CSCs) on the market, but in many ways they have come to epitomise the CSC ethos. Their sensors are the same size as those in consumer SLRs and image quality is just as high. Meanwhile, their slim, stylish bodies with relatively few buttons and lots of fun shooting modes appeal to point-and-shoot photographers who want SLR quality without the bulk or the complexity.
The NEX-F3 is the third-generation model, and builds on the Sony NEX-C3 with additions including an integrated flash, 1080p video recording and a screen that rotates 180 degrees upwards for self-portraits.
The Auto ISO mode makes better use of the sensor's low noise with its 200-3200 range – the C3 didn't go beyond 1600 in Auto mode. Meanwhile, in-camera chromatic aberration correction removes halos of discoloration caused by different frequencies of light bending by different amounts. There’s the same wide-aspect 3in screen as before, with its detailed 921,600-dot resolution. Sony has also stuck with a 16-megapixel sensor, which in a large-sensor camera delivers a superb balance of sharp details and low noise.
The layout of controls is unchanged, too, except for a button to release the pop-up flash. This is a big improvement on the C3’s detachable flash, which is an awkward appendage that’s likely to end up languishing in a drawer. The new flash is more versatile, too, as it can be pushed back and upwards to bounce light off the ceiling, thus avoiding the harsh glare of a direct flash. However, Sony has had to make the F3 a little taller than the C3 in order to accommodate the flash. It isn’t as handsome as its predecessor as a result, and the plastic body doesn’t have the allure of the more upmarket Sony NEX-5N, with its sleek magnesium alloy shell.
Intelligent Auto is Sony's name for the general point-and-shoot mode, but the F3 adds a Superior Auto mode that detects a wider range of scenes and adjusts settings accordingly. It automatically switched to HDR mode in high-contrast scenes, capturing three shots with varying exposure settings and merging them to avoid clipping highlight and shadows. However, Superior Auto never used shutter speeds slower than 1/160s except in very low light, resulting in excessively high ISO speeds in middling lighting. Intelligent Auto was better in this respect, choosing a 1/60s shutter speed for indoor photography but raising it to 1/160 when it detected faces to avoid motion blur in the subject. The camera also managed to distinguish babies from older faces, although we couldn't see any obvious difference in the resulting photos.
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