NEX-F3 comes with a widescreen 3″ LCD display. 920,000 pixels make it very detailed and a joy to use, but the most interesting feature is a 180° tilt option. It not only aids framing in hard angles, but makes self-portrait an easy thing to make.
The new tilt option has also a downside; although it can tilt to 180 degrees upward, it has lost 45 degrees downward tilt, which was very usable in all occasions that required holding your camera above the head, for example in concerts or in any other large crowd.
SENSOR AND PROCESSOR
NEX-F3 uses a well known APS-C sized 16 megapixel sensor unit. It has the same dimensions (23 x 15 mm) as every other APS-C DSLR on market, which by itself is usually a guarantee of high quality images. This particular unit is used in eight or nine digital cameras from three various manufacturers (Sony, Nikon and Pentax) and is probably the best APS-C sensor currently available on the market.
A new feature, passed down from its big brother NEX-7 is electronic front curtain shutter. Many owners of NEX cameras (including me) never did like the very loud shutter sound. When used on burst, it sounded almost like a machine gun, attracting too much attention in some situations. Electronic first curtain (which can be enabled through menu system) makes the camera much quieter and usable in silent environments such as churches, concerts or libraries.
NEX-F3 arrived with its kit lens, silver 18-55 mm which is probably the one most buyers will opt for. The lens is now almost two years in production and (as for cheap kit lens) proved to be a good piece of hardware. It has a variable aperture ranging from f/3.5 at wide to f/5.6 at tele end. Build quality is quite decent with metal mount and aluminum made zoom and focus rings. Front element does not rotate when focusing, and the lens retails with a plastic lens hood.
One of the best characteristics of this lens is completely silent auto focus system, which makes it ideal for video recording. Also, it has very effective Optical Steady Shot – image stabilization which makes it easier to get blur free images and videos.
MEMORY AND BATTERY
As almost all other Sony digital cameras, this one also has a combined SD/MemoryStick card slot. I guess most users will use widely available and cheap SD cards, but Sony cameras were always well known for better performance with their own MemoryStick format. It not only records data faster, but transferring images and videos to PC via USB connection proved to be almost 50% faster with high speed MemoryStick card. So if you care about read/write performance, it would be wise to invest in Sony’s proprietary card format.
F3 has separate memory card and battery slots, and I see that as a downside of this camera. Some users might like it that way, but memory slot is located too close to tripod mount so when attached to one, it makes impossible to change memory cards.
Battery unit is the well known NP-FW50 model, providing enough juice for around 300 photographs. A welcomed new feature is USB charging, either from a PC or Mac, or from AC outlet with provided AC/DC adapter. As with memory card slot this is a solution with both good and bad sides to it. It is practical as we are all surrounded with PC’s and laptops these days, but if you have two or more batteries, you can’t leave one of them at home or hotel room charging and go out with camera on a shooting session. Dedicated battery charger is available in stores, but it’s an extra cost.
AUTOFOCUS, CONTINUOUS SHOOTING
Autofocus speed is quite good, and I can feel it becoming better and better with every new model. This is not a sports camera, and cannot provide high precision AF tracking, but the usual type of buyers doesn’t expect it to. AF accuracy is almost perfect. Contrast detection systems are not plagued with AF point misalignment so typical for phase detection systems. All in all, I see no reason to buy DSLR in this price category just because of AF performance; those days are gone.
Manual focus solution in Sony NEX cameras is probably best implemented on the market. If required, each time manual focus ring is rotated, LCD magnifies a portion of the frame, allowing very accurate focusing. Magnified portion can be moved in any direction, allowing easy framing. But the best part of this feature becomes obvious when the camera is used with adapters and old manual focus lenses. There is an option called focus peaking that can be enabled in setup menu, which highlights in-focus objects in frame, allowing rather accurate focusing without magnification. Many buyers have recognized this option as unique and bought NEX cameras just so they could use legacy glass, some of which is actually extremely high quality. For example, demand for Voigtlander M-mount lenses is raised to the point that factory had to hire new workers just to keep up with market.
NEX-F3 has a maximum frame rate of 5.5 images per second which should be enough for most users to capture high speed moving objects.