Will a Sony NEX F3 or 5N take pictures the same quality as an entry level DSLR?

Started Dec 23, 2012 | Questions thread
MrTaikitso Contributing Member • Posts: 846
Re: Will a Sony NEX F3 or 5N take pictures the same quality as an entry level DSLR?

Perfect timing in your question!

(Am based in the UK, so bare this in mind.)

I'll start from the bottom, I bought an f3 and despite some of the CONS you will read below, like it.

Now to start from the top...

A month or so ago, I decided it was time to get a camera again - having sold my Panasonic GH2 a while back to prepare for the much rumoured GH3 (or anything else as compelling). My only gripe with the GH2 was the yellow tinge that spoiled many an indoor shot due to it's not so hot AWB. Made people look as if they had been pickled! (I don't like to have to set the WB manually every time.) Other than that, the GH2 is a superb bit of kit, even by today's standards, in particular in the video and daylight stills department.

Anyway, price of GH3, it's lack of availability (in the high street anyway) and no official reviews, meant I decided to look for either an affordable stop gap camera, or even one good enough to put off getting a GH3 at all!

My needs were/are as follows:

- Take clear archive quality pics (and video) of my 14 month old niece, and various family events around Christmas.

- Shoot video for a possible video blog, so a forward facing flip display essential!

- General walkabout (countryside and city) creative photography.

- Business use ('scanning' documents, videoing meetings, product shots etc)

- Compact enough to pop in a large jacket pocket when equipped with the kit or a pancake lens

So, always wanting a hands on and ability to pop in an SD card and view the images on my MacBook in store, I spent the last few weeks visiting Jessops (UK photography store), T4 cameras, John Lewis, Currys and two superb independent photography shops in Reading, Berkshire near the railway station.

My budget was limited to £400 max (pref, £350), but there are some great deals on last years and lower end cameras. I had been waiting for the successor to the cult Samsung EX1 (TL500 in the US), that has a super fast f1.4 lens, flip out display and top notch build quality. But sadly, the EX2F is not in any store for a hands on and the recent reviews are disappointing. (It's size is perfect, so this is a pity.)

Having read many rave reviews of the NEX f3, but being worried about the controls (or lack of!), after getting a hands on to try the IQ, and being very impressed, I thought, I'll probably get one, but let's check out the competition first...

I 'discovered' the Nikon D5100 and loved the ergonomics, build, responsiveness, flip out display - and IQ, however, it lacked stereo audio for the video - essential for my needs. I like to archive video and stills for the future, and believe capturing reality as accurately as possible is vital. A pity, as the D5100 is going for almost half it's original price now in some UK stores, with Jessops including the VR 18-105 in an exclusive kit deal.

I tried a Panasonic G5 (much underhyped camera), but it's smaller sensor could not match the NEX for indoor shots, and my tests showed much more noise and grain during my tests with both cameras in an identical environment. (The handling of the G5 blows the f3 out the water, but that is not difficult!)

Next up, the NEX 5R, but it lacked a flash (I like to use fill flash outdoors sometimes, and indoors if I don't want to risk an under exposed image in a critical moment), and it was outside my budget being a new camera.

I saw an A37 on display at an amazing price, but the display doesn't face forward and is very low resolution so no good for pixel peeping on the go.

Also tried a few Fuji, Canon, Sony and Panasonic bridge cameras, but the viewfinders and other bits and bobs lacked the quality of APS-C and other mirrorless cameras. Once you have owned quality gear, it is hard to go back!

Although lacking a flip out display, I happened to spot and get a lengthy hands on with a Fuji X10, that at £329 now is a bargain for what is in my view, the most ergonomically perfect mid priced compact pro camera on the planet. It was a delight to hold, behold and operate, and as per other reviews, the X10 IQ excellent! I almost bought one, but the flip out display is vital for my needs.


I ended up buying an F3 from John Lewis yesterday (22 Dec). The other stores I passed had sold out whilst I was out shopping, word had gotten around!

As I type this, I have had one full day of shooting in all conditions:

- In the rain whilst out for a walk. (Only got a few splashes on it.)

- Inside with family without (during the day) and with artificial lighting in the evening.

- Outside again, without the rain, with baby on a swing, so a great chance to try action shots and video.


- As per other reviews, superb IQ and bokeh if you get the settings right or use the excellent Ai+ mode. (Ai+ does auto HDR and it works very well, just be prepared for an unexpected cha cha cha sound as the NEX shoots 3 shots in quick succession, no manual intervention at all! Works wonders with contrasty skys.)

- Fast operation for a budget camera

- Much better white balance and less noise than the GH2 when indoors

- Forward facing display for self shots and video is invaluable

- Perfectly sized grip (althought not as grippy as higher up NEX models. Less rubber?)

- Built in flash is ideal for those emergeny low light monents - no red eye at all! (And you can use your finger to push it up at an angle for a poor man's bounce flash!)

- Probably a feature on all Sony's, but the self timer has a mode where it will take 3 shots in quick succession after the 10 second countdown - priceless! Amusing too if people move between shots. Ideal for making http://memebase.cheezburger.com/senorgif

- Video quality is good, but not as smooth as the GH2, but then, Panasonic have cornered the technology on that front.

- Auto focus is still under evaluation, but so far, I have found it is not as fast or reliable as the GH2, but then, this is a budget camera, and the Canons I tried were way faster (1100/650D etc) too. But it is fine for day to day use, just not sports/action. For that, I use video anyway or pre-focus manually if the target is in the same plain of view.

- USB charging. Although I have yet to test if other USB chargers will charge the f3 battery, (current is everything!), the convenience of being able to use any microUSB cable/charger is invaluable.

- Other pros as per other reviews


- This may just be my lens (kit 18-55mm), but when I twist it to adjust the zoom, it makes a plastic against plastic sound - my GH2 was totally silent. (I am convinced it is faulty or perhaps damaged, so will ask in a seperate forum post if this is normal, and if not, take it back for a swap.) Not read about this elsewhere so don't take this as a knock against Sony or the lens.

- Rant: I am a software, UX (User Experience) and gadget designer, so bare this in mind! Whilst I knew when diving into the f3 that the menu system and lack of physical buttons would be a nightmare that one gets used to, the control dial is a usability disaster and Sony must must (must!) re-design the whole thing! (Learn from Canon 1D/5D/7D - do NOT make multi-function rotary controls!) Here is the problem: You set the f3 to full manual (or even A or S.) Whilst you are spinning the rotary dial to adjust the appropriate setting, if you accidentally depress the dial (IE, inwards on any of the 4 compass points), you can very easily activate another function. Worse, the dial will no longer perform it's appointed task, so you get in a full on muddle, miss your shot and have to start all over. I gave up shooting in full manual today after this and am going to practice how to hold the camera so this does not happen. Also note that ones right hand touches (and sometime operates) the rear controls when holding the camera with one hand, and again, the rotary dial is the culprit. The problem with the dial is it is too loose - so please do try an f3 in the shops before you buy, so you can judge for yourself. (I have noticed that the general build quality of the 5, 6 and 7 series NEX is better than the f3 so perhaps this is not an issue on those models?)

- Whilst of good quality, the flip up display mechanism needs careful management to avoid it getting jamned - a point Sony make an an external addendum to the manual. (Said issue fixed on the NEX 5R.)

- Other cons as per other reviews


After having handled the Nikon D5100 and other more buttony cameras, I know that long term, and budget allowing, I'll be getting a buttony camera for my stills photography, and assign the f3 for video blogging where it will remain affixed to a tripod near my desk. But don't get me wrong, it is a superb camera for the price and ignoring my rant about the rotary dial, I am delighted with it and it comes highly recommended!


Excellent for £350, plus you get £50 cashback* from Sony, = £300 for a camera that offers almost DSRL IQ.

*From a business ethics angle, I consider cashback to be a pain in the neck and hope it is outlawed. The hassle you have to go through is worth more than the cashback, and you (apparently) receive a pre-paid credit card, so have to spend the money. You cannot put it in the bank! To use contemporary lexicon, WTF?

Hope that rather long reply is helpful!

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