Sony Alpha NEX-F3 (with 18-55mm lens) review: Sony Alpha NEX-F3 (with 18-55mm lens)

CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.8
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Image quality: 8.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Sony Alpha NEX-F3 produces very nice low- to midrange sensitivity pictures, plus you can configure it for streamlined shooting, and delivers solid overall performance. The new automated self-portrait is also a boon for people who like to put themselves in the picture.

The Bad The LCD can be difficult to view in bright light, and the SD card slot is in a bad spot for tripod users.

The Bottom Line Though it doesn't wow us for any particular aspect, the Sony Alpha NEX-F3 is a nice overall package for photographers looking for something with better photo quality and more flexible than a point-and-shoot.

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Sony has really hit its stride with the latest generation of Alpha NEX mirrorless interchangeable-lens compact cameras. With a streamlined interface, small -- but not too small -- bodies, solid performance, and very good photo quality for a modest price, the consumer NEX models don't excel in any particular aspect but deliver a nice, well-rounded package for people searching for something better than a point-and shoot. The entry-level NEX-F3 isn't a drastic departure from the model it replaces, the Sony Alpha NEX-C3; it does add a built-in flash and has a slightly bulkier, more workmanlike design, plus a new sensor and metering system.

Image quality
The F3's photos generally look very good, though I wish raw file support were available, because I suspect the F3's raw photos at ISO 400 look a lot better. There's a visible loss of detail in the JPEGs between ISO 200 and ISO 400. Taken at face value, however, without comparing across various sensitivities, the camera's photos are good for its price class. ISO 200 JPEGs look clean and free of artifacts, and low-light JPEGs are usable at least up through ISO 800, and depending upon their content and how you plan to display them, as high as ISO 3200. They do get pretty soft, and you can definitely see noise in flat, dark areas, but it preserves the dynamic range and white balance quite well. If you're looking for a camera with better low-light photo quality than a point-and-shoot, the NEX-F3 definitely qualifies.

Click to view/download ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 3200

Color and exposure look about right as well, and though there's no neutral color style the default doesn't push the saturation so much that you get hue shifts.

Video looks good as well; though there are aliasing and moiré artifacts at the best quality, in part because it's interlaced rather than progressive, in dim and dark lighting there's surprisingly little noise. In decent light it's fairly flat and soft, but it's still far better than what comes out of Sony's entry-level camcorders .

Performance
While the F3 is generally pretty fast and an overall improvement over the C3, it can also be irksomely inconsistent. It's relatively slow to wake, taking 1.6 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot. That's assuming you haven't used an unfamiliar SD card; Sony's cameras automatically begin a Create Image Database cycle when you insert the card, which can get downright annoying.

By the numbers, the shot lag looks really good: only 0.3 second to focus and shoot in bright light and 0.4 second in low-contrast light. In practice, low-light autofocus can be iffy. As with other consumer NEX models, if it's having trouble focusing in low light it will automatically jump to wide-area AF, which embraces the entire scene, and you may end up with a focus lock, but on the wrong subject. And with some lenses -- the mediocre 50mm f1.8, for example -- it frequently hunts without locking. During video capture, the continous autofocus pulses a bit as well, even on a still subject.

At 0.7 second, it matches its peers on shot-to-shot speeds, and the flash recycles pretty quickly, adding only about 0.1 second to the sequential shooting overhead. Continuous shooting is a bit sluggish, but overall the camera should be able to keep up with a toddler in bright sunlight.

Design and features
Though it's a little bigger and heavier than the C3, I nevertheless like the extra bulk of the F3. It's got a deeper grip, for one thing, which makes it easier to shoot single-handed. The body's made of polycarbonate, and feels a little cheaper than previous models, but it still feels pretty well-constructed.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Optical Zoom 3 x
  • Optical Sensor Type Exmor APS HD CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 16.1 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (Steady Shot)
  • Optical Sensor Size 15.6 x 23.5mm
About The Author

Lori Grunin is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering cameras, camcorders, and related accessories. She's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 1988.