Sony had announced first NEX series cameras exactly two years ago, introducing their vision of mirrorless digital imaging solution built around new E-mount lenses. First two models, NEX-3 and NEX-5 were basically the same camera with slight variations in design and features, required to justify the price difference. They both suffered a criticism of bad user interface, but survived and actually sold very well due to compact size and high image quality. A big surprise were no less than five firmware updates, which granted these cameras better control customization, some new options and functionalities and a small but important feature that made NEX cameras desirable in the eyes of photo enthusiasts – focus peaking.
So far, Sony produced three generations of cameras, almost all of them basically a variation of the same product. Notable exception is last year’s appraised NEX-7 model, aimed at professionals or any type of advanced and demanding users.
This time, I reviewed the new basic model – a NEX-F3 with kit lens. Its design resembles that of NEX-7 but with simplified interface, has an excellent 16 MP sensor, and a brand new 180°tilt LCD screen.
Current retail price is around 600 USD or 550 EUR.
- Announced: 2012.
- Type: Mirrorless
- Dimensions: 117 x 67 x 42 mm
- Weight: 314 g (without lens)
- Sensor: CMOS 16MP (4912 x 3264 pixels)
- Lens: kit lens 18-55mm (27-88mm in 35mm eq.), f/3.5-5.6
- ISO range: 200 – 16000
- Image stabilization: in lens
- Dust and moisture protection: No
- Flashlight: Yes, pop-up with bounce
- Continuous shooting: 5.5 fps
- LCD screen: 3″, 180° tiltable
- Memory card: SD/memory stick
- Battery: Li-ion NP-FW50
- Video: Full HD (1920 x 1080, 60i/24p)
- Connectors: USB 2.0, mini HDMI
CONSTRUCTION AND HANDLING
One of the most frequent slams of many mirrorless cameras is the lack of good ergonomics. Many of these cameras became too small to be properly fitted with extensive range of controls, and never felt right in the hand. This applied to first two generations of tested model – NEX-3 and NEX-C3, but the new F3 brings us a palpable improvement. It is as big as NEX-7, and has the same well pronounced hand grip that fits very naturally in hand. Of course, there is an obvious lack of tri-dial control system, but F3 is not camera aimed at advanced users.
Button and menu system remains the same as on previous 3 and 5 series NEX cameras, which means it might not appeal to everyone. Don’t worry; there is still an option of assigning custom functions to three control buttons at the rear, which makes it quite usable for advanced users if needed.
Actually, there is a vast number of advanced option buried within menu system, like Kelvin white balance, focus peaking, or even AF correction when used with optional LA-EA2 SLT module and A-mount lenses (AF correction was a very rare feature even on higher end DSLR’s only a few years ago).
The new feature is a small pop-up flash, rather than the fiddicky separate one that was bundled with previous generations. As is the case with any built in flash with either compact camera or DSLR, it is good for casual usage, but not strong enough for serious lighting. One thing that separates it from competition is the popup mechanism; I don’t know if it’s made that way on purpose (it’s the same as on NEX-7), but it can be held by a finger to point upward and used as a bounce flash. It’s still not strong enough for anything but indoor use in regular sized rooms, but still the option of bouncing is a very strong plus in my book. There is an option of attaching a separate HVL-F20S flash unit, but this one uses proprietary connector; there is still no hot-shoe on F3.