CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

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

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.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
7 min read

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.


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

The Good

The <b>Sony Alpha NEX-F3</b> 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.

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.

Sony Alpha NEX-F3 photo samples

See all photos

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.

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.

On top are a redesigned power switch, a newly added built-in pop-up flash, and a covered accessory connector for add-ons like a microphone. As on Panasonic's ILCs, the flash can be tilted backward for bounced indirect lighting in order to produce a much better shot. The movie record and playback buttons sit behind the power switch on the angled edge of the back. There's a lip around the record button to prevent accidental pressing, but I find it makes it annoyingly difficult to stop and start video.

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)

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

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Image quality 8