Hands-On: Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Interchangeable-Lens Compact Camera

Sony's NEX line gets a make-over at the entry-level

Sony NEX-F3 Main
Sony NEX-F3 Main

The NEX-C3 has been around for a while and now Sony has readied the follow up in the NEX-F3. I actually got to do some shooting with a pre-production model. You can check out the images in the gallery to see how it fared. Keep reading for a rundown of the new features.

From a purely image performance standpoint, the F3 has a lot in common with the C3 that came before it. It uses a familiar 16.1-megapixel resolution on an Exmor APS-C HD CMOS sensor that can capture 1080 video at 60i or 24p.

One of the handiest new features is the addition of a tilting LCD screen, something the NEX line has never had before. You can tilt the screen all the way up the actual display faces forward. When you do, the image flips so you can properly and easily compose a self-portrait without doing the awkward dance that comes with trying to figure out which way to move the camera.

Another feature that's very welcome at this level is a pop-up flash. it's extremely similar to the one you'll find on the NEX-7. it won't be overpowering bright sunlight, but it works nicely for little bits of fill flash or when you just want to add a catch light to someone's eye.

The Clear Image Zoom is, in a way, like a beefed up digital zoom, which sounds scary, but when shooting with it, I actually found that it came in handy from time to time, especially with the kit lens. There is a little bit of quality loss, but if you're going to be displaying images online, it seems like it might do a better job than doing a severe crop in post.

The new Auto Portrait Framing mode is an interesting concept. It identifies the people in your image and then crops the image so it obeys some common photography guidelines like the rule of thirds. We didn't play with it much, but the results were definitely mixed. Sometimes it would do just fine. Other times, it would cut way too close. Ultimately, it seemed like it did a much better job with bad pictures than it did with OK ones, which I guess is the point. The cropped image's resolution is then boosted using the same Pixel Super Resolution tech employed by the Clear Image Zoom.

Finally, the battery performance gets an almost 20-percent bump from the C3, giving it a total run of about 470 frames before you'll need more juice. When I was out shooting, I actually found that I got more than that in JPEG mode.

As a companion for the new NEX-F3, Sony is also releasing a new 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 OSS LE telezoom lens. It's smaller and lighter than the old 18-200 and has built in Optical Steady Shot.

The NEX-F3 will start shipping in June in White, Black, and Silver. The kit includes an 18-55mm kit lens for roughly $600. The new 18-200mm lens will set you back $850 in July.

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All sample images in this gallery were shot using the 18-55mm kit zoom lens. ISO: 500 Aperture: F/4 Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec. Adjustments: None Strong backlight and fast movement makes ice skaters tough targets, but with about 2-stops of exposure compensation, the camera was able to get it.
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ISO: 500 Aperture: F/4 Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec. Adjustments: None Again, the heavy backlight is a challenge, but paying attention pays off. This shot almost looks like it has fill flash, but it does not. I found the skaters were generally too far away for the little flash to be effective.
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ISO: 500 Aperture: F/4 Shutter Speed: 1/250th sec. Adjustments: Exposure increased one stop in Lightroom 4 There were a ton of windows in this room that went from floor to ceiling so the light was actually quite nice.
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ISO: 1000 Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/250th Adjustments: 2/3 stop exposure added in Lightroom 4 At ISO 100, you see that you start to lose a little bit of vibrance out of the colors. Not severe, though.
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ISO: 400 Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec Adjustments: 2/3 stop exposure added in Lightroom 4
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ISO: 200 Aperture: F/4 Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec. Adjustments: None
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ISO: 320 Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec Adjustments: None
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ISO: 400 Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec. Adjustments: 2/3 stop exposure added in Lightroom 4
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ISO: 250 Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec. Adjustments: This was shot with Sony's Clear Image Zoom turned on
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ISO: 200 Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/100 Adjustments: This was shot with Sony's Clear Image Zoom turned on
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ISO: 500 Aperture: F/5.0 Shutter Speed: 1/100 Adjustments: None
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ISO: 800 Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec. Adjustments: None
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This is a sweep panorama shot with the lens zoomed all the way out to 18mm. It was still bright sunlight out, so the camera actually did a pretty good job keeping everything in an acceptable range.
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ISO: 500 Aperture: F/5.6 Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec. Adjustments: Due to strong backlight, I had to add a little more than a stop of exposure in Lightroom 4. The camer did a decent job of getting the people exposed properly. It would've been even better if I could use the flash, but I didn't want to freak out the snake.
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ISO: 200 Aperture: F/6.3 Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec Adjustments: None This was shot in the shade, so the color temperature is a bit cool, but it was some of the nicest light we saw all day. The larger APS-C sensor does a good job throwing the background out of focus despite the F/6.3 aperture and the detail in Jason's face is actually quite good.