The Alpha NEX-F3 ($599) is Sony's entry-level mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. It's the replacement to the NEX-C3, with the most significant change being a new 3-inch LCD that can flip upward 180 degrees and face your subject. In addition, the F3 now sports a built-in flash, so you'll no longer need to carry around an external one. It also has a wider ISO range, an improved movie mode, and a new Superior Auto mode.
Check out this chart for all the differences between the old NEX-C3 and the new NEX-F3:
|Sensor resolution||16.2 Megapixel *|
|LCD size (resolution)||3-inch (921k pixel)|
|LCD angles||80° up
|Support for electronic VF||No||Yes|
|ISO range (full res)||200 - 12800||200 - 16000|
|Superior Auto mode||No||Yes|
|Object tracking AF||No||Yes|
|Auto Portrait Framing||No||Yes|
|Clear Image Zoom||No||Yes|
|Lens correction (distortion, vignetting, fringing)||No||Yes|
|Number of Picture Effects||7||11|
|Max movie resolution||1280 x 720 (30p)||1920 x 1080 (60i/24p)|
|Movie sound recording||Stereo|
|Movie codecs||MPEG-4||AVCHD, MPEG-4|
|Battery life (CIPA)||400 shots||470 shots|
|Battery charging||External charger||Internal over USB|
|Dimensions||4.4 x 2.4 x 1.3 in.||4.6 x 2.6 x 1.6 in.|
|Weight (body only, empty)||225 g||255 g|
|* Despite having the same effective resolution, the two cameras use different CMOS sensors|
As you can see, there are plenty of improvements on the NEX-F3, bringing it closer to Sony's midrange model, the NEX-5N.
What's in the Box?
The NEX-F3 is available in just one kit (at least in the U.S.), which includes an F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm IS lens for $599. Here's what you'll find when you crack open the box:
- The 16.2 effective Megapixel Alpha NEX-F3 camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm Sony zoom IS lens
- NP-FW50 lithium-ion battery
- AC adapter
- Body cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- CD-ROM featuring Application Software for Alpha Camera
- 94 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
Should you choose the lens kit, then you'll be getting the same F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm OSS (Sony's term for image stabilization) lens that came with the original NEX models. This lens offers solid build quality, good sharpness, and minimal purple fringing. I also tried out the new 18-200 mm lens, which has the same traits of the 18-55, just with a much larger focal range. Sony has a relatively small collection of E-mount lenses at this point (especially compared to Micro Four Thirds), though that should change as time progresses. Whichever lens you end up using, there will be a 1.5X crop factor to keep in mind.
If you want to use old Alpha (A-mount) lenses, you have two options. You can pick up the original LA-EA1 adapter (priced from $134), which offers sluggish autofocus on select Sony lenses. A much better solution is to use the newer LA-EA2 adapter (priced from $295), which has the same translucent mirror technology as Sony's D-SLRs and allows for super-fast AF with any A-mount lens.
Interchangeable lens cameras like the NEX-F3 never come with memory cards. So, if you don't have one already, you'll need to pick one up. The NEX-F3 is still a Sony camera, which means that it supports Memory Stick Pro Duo cards. Thankfully, it can also accept SD, SDHC, and SDXC media in the same slot. I would suggest a 4 or 8 GB card if you're mostly taking stills, and a 8 or 16 GB card if you'll be recording movies, as well.
Battery Life (CIPA)
The NEX-F3 uses the same NP-FW50 lithium-ion battery as many other Sony cameras. This battery can hold 7.7 Wh of energy, which is on the upper end of the spectrum for interchangeable lens cameras. Here's how that translates into battery life, with a look at the competition:
|Camera||Battery life w/live view
|Nikon 1 J1||230 shots||EN-EL20|
|Olympus E-PL3||300 shots||BLS-1 / BLS-5|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1||300 shots *||DMW-BLD10|
|Pentax K-01||500 shots||D-LI90|
|Samsung NX210||330 shots||BP1030|
|Sony Alpha NEX-F3||470 shots||NP-FW50|
With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens
The NEX-F3 comes in second place in the battery life competition, with only the bulky Pentax K-01 ahead of it. If you do want to pick up a spare battery, one with a Sony label will set you back around $54.
One area in which the NEX-F3 is a step down from its predecessor is in the battery charging department. Instead of charging the battery externally, it's now down in the camera using the USB cable and either an AC adapter or your PC. The charging time is a whopping 280 minutes, and you can't charge a spare battery, either. Camera manufacturers like to say that internal charging is more convenient, but I think they've made this switch to save a few bucks. If you want a faster charger, an external one is listed in the accessories table below.
Speaking of accessories, here are the most interesting items available for the NEX-F3:
|Accessory||Model #||Price *||Description|
|Both of these let you use A-mount lenses on the NEX-F3. The first one only supports autofocus with SSM and SAM lenses, and even then, will be slow. The second one offers super-fast focusing with all lenses.|
|External flash||HVL-F20S||From $128||Get better flash coverage and a lower risk of redeye. Attaches to the Smart Accessory Terminal and has a guide number of 20. Folds down when not in use. Since the camera lacks a real hot shoe, this is the only only external flash you can use.|
|Electronic viewfinder||FDA-EV1S||From $300||An absolutely gorgeous 0.5" EVF with almost 2.4 million dots and the ability to tilt upward as much as 90 degrees. Same as the EVF on the NEX-7. Expensive, but may be worth it.|
|Stereo microphone||ECM-SST1||From $90||Attaches to the Smart Accessory Terminal and captures digital stereo sound. A windscreen is included.|
|AC adapter||AC-PW20||From $85||Unlike the included AC adapter, this one lets you operate the camera using 'shore power'.|
|External battery charger||BC-VW1||From $42||Lets you charge the battery outside the camera - and a lot faster.|
|Lens jacket case||LCS-EJC3/B||From $43||This polyurethane case holds the NEX-F3 with a smaller lens attached.|
|* Prices were accurate at time of publication|
Not a bad selection for a budget mirrorless camera!
Moving onto the bundled software now. Sony includes two products with the NEX-F3: PlayMemories Home (Windows only) and Image Data Converter (Mac and Windows). PlayMemories Home (formerly Picture Motion Browser) is a pretty standard photo organizing/sharing suite. In addition to importing photos from the camera, it can also share them via e-mail, prints, and on photo/video sharing websites. Editing tools include redeye reduction, brightness/saturation/tone curve, and sharpness. There's also an Auto Correct function which attempts to fix things with a single click. While PMB can view RAW files, it cannot edit them. For that, you'll need to use the next product.
That product is Image Data Converter, which can edit a number of RAW properties, including white balance, Creative Style, D-Range Optimizer, noise reduction, and exposure. IDC has a 'version stack' that lets jump back in time to older iterations of the photo you're working on. My only real complaint is that it's a bit slow to process adjustments. If you'd rather use Photoshop for editing RAW files, just make sure that your Camera Raw plug-in is up-to-date.
Sony uses two different codecs for video recording on the NEX-F3: AVCHD and MPEG-4. PlayMemories Home can be used to view all videos produced by the camera, and it can remove unwanted footage from your clip, and save the results as an MTS (AVCHD) file. While it can convert videos to WMV format, they'll be VGA quality. PMH can also burn videos to Blu-ray or DVD discs. Mac users can edit MPEG-4 and most AVCHD videos with ease, using iMovie or Final Cut Pro X.
As is too often the case these days, Sony has split the NEX-F3's documentation into two parts. There's a decent-sized basic manual to get you up and running, but if you want more information, you'll have to open up the full manual, which is in PDF format on the included CD-ROM. The manuals themselves are good enough for beginners, but enthusiasts will find themselves wanting a bit more depth. Instructions for the bundled software is installed in the form of help files.
A version of this review was first published at www.dcresource.com, and is presented here with substantial changes, notably the inclusion of a full set of product images, our usual studio comparisons and an expanded samples gallery, plus the addition of a standard dpreview score.