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

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

The back has the typical NEX design, with programmable controls that are contextually labeled on the LCD. I really like this interface, though I'd love just one more button; I hate having to sacrifice the main button, which defaults to pulling up the virtual mode dial, in order to comfortably streamline the controls for my shooting needs.

The tilting LCD is the same as on the C3, but Sony has added a new twist: you can flip it straight up for self-portraits, and when it's in that position it automatically goes into self-timer mode, with a countdown display appearing on the LCD. It then flips the photo automatically so that it's normally oriented rather than mirror-oriented. This is a really nifty feature if you're the self-photographing sort.

Olympus PEN E-PM1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5 Samsung NX1000 Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Sony Alpha NEX-5N
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.3mp Live MOS 12.1mp Live MOS 20.3mp CMOS 16.2mp Exmor HD CMOS 16.1mp Exmor HD CMOS 16.1mp Exmor HD CMOS
17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 12800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800 ISO 200 - ISO 12,800 ISO 200 - ISO 16,000 ISO 100 - ISO 25,600
Continuous shooting 4.1fps
(5.5fps without image stabilization)
unlimited JPEG/4 raw
11 JPEG/8 raw
18 JPEG/ 6 raw
(5.5fps with fixed exposure)
18 JPEG/6 raw
(5.5fps with fixed exposure)
10 JPEG/6 raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder None None None None None Optional
Autofocus 35-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 15-point contrast AF 25-point contrast AF 25-point contrast AF 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a 0 - 18 EV n/a 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 60-1/2,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60-1/4,000 sec; 1/160 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering 324 area 144 zone 221 segment 49 zone 1,200 zone 1,200 zone
Metering range 0 - 20 EV 0 - 18 EV 0 - 18 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Flash Included optional Yes Included optional Included optional Yes Included optional
Image stabilization Sensor shift Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
1080/60i @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps/29 minutes
AVCHD or MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV
1080/60i @ 17Mbps
720/60p @17Mbps
H.264 MPEG-4
1080/30p; 1,080x810/ 24p; 720/30p
H.264 MPEG-4
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Stereo Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
920,000 dots
3-inch fixed LCD
614,000 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Wireless file upload Optional Bluetooth None Wi-Fi None None None
Battery life (CIPA rating) n/a 330 shots 320 shots 400 shots 470 shots 430 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3 4.2 x 2.6 x 1.5 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.9 4.6 x 2.6 x 1.6 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 9.3 9.3 9.5 (est) 10.7 11.1 9.3 (without flash)
Mfr. price n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a $549.99 (body only)
$499.99 (with 14-42mm lens) $599 (with 14-42mm lens) $699 (est, with 20-50mm i-Function lens) $649.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $599 (with 18-55mm lens) $649.99
(with 18-55mm lens)
n/a $749 (with 14-42mm power zoom lens) n/a $599.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens) n/a n/a
Ship date September 2011 June 2012 June 2012 August 2011 June 2012 September 2011

If you use a tripod with any regularity, I'd suggest you pass on the F3, though. While I appreciate Sony's having moved the SD card slot out of the battery compartment, I think the new location, on the bottom next to the tripod mount, becomes equally as problematic.

The camera has the usual assemblage of Sony features, including 2D and 3D Sweep Panorama modes, Auto HDR, and a fixed-exposure 5.5fps continuous-shooting mode. New to this generation of cameras is the Auto Portrait Framing feature; in Superior Auto mode, when you frame a picture of a person in landscape (wide) orientation it will automatically create a crop that more attractively positions the person in the photo, and save both it and the original (though it seems to randomly choose between portrait and landscape orientations). This is a clever and useful idea for newbies.

After it crops the photo, Sony feels compelled to unnecessarily bloat it back up to 16 megapixels. At ISO 200 and when viewed at 50 percent, Sony's Clear Image Zoom interpolation technology used for uprezzing does produce a photo that looks sharper than simply cropping the original, if somewhat oversharpened. However, at higher ISO sensitivities (in other words, in any indoor portrait you'll take), it simply exacerbates the other artifacts in the photo. And even at ISO 200, the interpolation mushes up detail that looks sharp in a regular crop.

While the Alpha NEX-F3 doesn't wow me for any particular aspect of the camera, overall it's a nice package that should suit many point-and-shoot upgraders looking for the versatility and photo quality of a dSLR without the bulk.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3
Olympus PEN E-PM1
Sony Alpha NEX-5N
Sony Alpha NEX-C3

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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