Sony NEX-F3 review
23.5x15.6mm 16.0-megapixel sensor, 3.0x zoom (27-82.5mm equivalent), 414g
Another new feature for the NEX range is Auto Portrait Framing. This uses face detection to re-crop photos into what the camera deems is more pleasing compositions. It generally did a decent job, vastly improving photos where the subject's head was slap bang in the centre of the frame. However, it sometimes cropped people out of group shots. We'd prefer it if it simply cropped photos rather than resized them back up to 16 megapixels, which doesn't improve quality and can slow down performance. Still, the camera saves the original shot too, and it's easy to disable this mode in the menu. There's also a new Soft Skin option that obliterates skin textures with what looks to us like a heavy dose of noise reduction. Thankfully, it's off by default.
We prefer our skin textures as nature intended, with Soft Skin mode off. It’s fairly noisy when viewed up close, but this ISO 3200 is still good enough to print – a remarkable feat for a CSC - click to enlarge
Performance was generally excellent, taking 0.8 seconds between shots in normal use. Continuous performance is at 5.5fps, but only lasted for six shots before slowing to 2.7fps. The camera managed 13 shots before slowing when we deactivated lens distortion compensation in the menu; though we preferred to leave it alone – without it there was quite heavy barrel distortion in wide-angle shots from the kit lens. Autofocus performance was acceptable, but rival CSCs from Panasonic and Olympus are much faster to focus. Continuous shooting with updating autofocus between each shot rumbled along at 1.2fps.
As with the rest of the NEX range, the F3 excels for video capture, with crisp details, remarkably little noise in low light and smooth, silent autofocus. The move from 720p to 1080p recording in this entry-level model is a big improvement, and we're impressed to find that priority and manual exposure modes are available for videos too. The shutter speed, aperture and ISO speed can all be adjusted manually while recording, making this a surprisingly capable camera for keen videographers. It doesn't share the NEX-5N's touchscreen-controlled autofocus, though, and it behaved oddly when we used the flexible spot focus mode during video capture.
There’s a choice of 50i (50 interlaced frames per second) or 25p (25 progressive scan frames per second) shooting, but the 50i mode didn’t deliver true interlaced footage from a 50fps sensor output. The resulting footage was rather strange, splitting each captured frame across two encoded frames. Again, the NEX-5N is better, offering a choice of true 50i, 25p or 50p shooting.
Using the full zoom extension in this shady scene requires a fast ISO speed to avoid camera shake, but there’s still plenty of fine detail and no hint of noise - click to enlarge
With the same sensor specifications and kit lens as its predecessors, it came as no surprise to see some exquisite photos coming out of the F3. Colours in JPEGs were punchy and vibrant, and noise at fast ISO speeds was significantly lower than from any rival CSC. Focus from the 18-55mm lens could be a little soft into the corners of frames, but in-camera chromatic aberration correction improved it a little. Having used this lens a lot over the last year, we've hardly ever found corner focus to be an issue in practice.
Sharpness in JPEGs is good rather than great, but the F3 has managed to pick out lots of detail in the dense, dark undergrowth - click to enlarge
The NEX-F3 is a superb camera, but as we go to press, the older Sony NEX-5N costs £10 less. On balance we prefer the 5N’s magnesium alloy body, faster burst shooting, touchscreen and more versatile video mode to the F3’s integrated flash and self-portrait screen. Then there are rumours of a replacement for the 5N with phase-detection autofocus built into the sensor. We'll leave it to you to track down the best deal when you're ready to buy, but the NEX-F3 is a welcome addition to the family.