Sony NEX-F3

 Sony NEX-F3

Sometimes manufacturers keep their followers hanging on for I what seems like (and letface it, sometimes actually is) years on end, waiting for the latest model to appear. This can build anticipation and fevered, web-based rumour mongering, but it sometimes results in photographers jumping ship and finding a new home with a rival brand. Perhaps with this in mind, and wishing to make the most of the current interest in mirrorless system cameras, Sony has wasted little time in effectively replacing 2011NEX-C3 with the NEX-F3.

The NEX-F3 certainly isnthe same camera with a different letter in its name. Therebeen huge interest in making cameras (particularly mirrorless compact system cameras) as aesthetically pleasing as possible lately, and a lot of effort has clearly been put into making the NEX-F3 look not only more elegant than its predecessor but also rather more like the NEX-5N or NEX-7.

If you want to shoot using a viewfinder straight out of the box, an EVF is available separately so at first you ll be composing using the 3”LCD on the back of the camera. That said, this is no great hardship when the LCD in question can flip to 180 degrees, which Sony suggests makes it ideal for self-portraits. True to their word, it s pretty easy to do-and alarmingly fun-to take photos of yourself with such a flexible LCD in tow. If you want extra time to refine your pose and perfect your pout, you can set the camera to automatically switch into three-second self-timer mode whenever you rotate the LCD 180°.

You only have to look at the camera to know that it s more substantial than the NEX-C3. Some of this is down to the fact that this new body has had to make room for the improved grip, built-in flash and articulated LCD but the camera feels well-designed and convincing in general.

In the hand, the camera feels like an excellent compromise between robustness and portability. It s compact but doesn t feel like it would blow away if you put it down somewhere. The newly designed grip places the shutter button comfortably under your forefinger while allowing you to cup and support the weight of the camera and the lens with your left hand. The on and off switch is dependable and wonaccidentally turn on and waste battery life in your bag. It s also easy to operate using your right thumb, and the image review button and video record buttons that sit directly below are ideally placed, so top marks for Sony for ergonomics on this one.

Design-wise, this is not a button-heavy camera. Quite the opposite in fact, with almost all the main adjustments accessed through menus. While there are helpful onscreen explanations and hints that pop up as you scroll through each setting, having to change essentials like file quality, ISO and white balance via menus is inevitably a little awkward. This does slow your shooting down somewhat, particularly as the camera is packed with features like Smile Shutter (where the camera automatically takes a photo when a smile is detected) and a Soft Skin Effect mode as well as a range of picture styles. It s great to have cool features like these on board, but because Sony has packed the NEX-F3 with so much that can be customised and specified, the menus do take a little getting used to. This is not really a massive problem and the menus in all cameras take some getting used to if you are unfamiliar with the system and structure. However, photographers who are used to accessing many features by simply touching a button and quickly rotating a dial may take a little while to adapt to the menu-driven operation of the Sony NEX-F3.

Some of the features incorporated into the camera do require you to use with a certain degree of caution. As can be the case with compact system cameras, some of the effects that are built into the camera, such as the Partial Color: Red setting, tend to produce images that will only work with a rather limited range of scenes. In fact, we found this particular effect to be one of the least successful things about the camera. The theory is that this Partial Color: Red will allow you to capture predominantly black and white images but with the reds left in full colour, which could be a potentially useful creative effect at a wedding or perhaps when photographing food. However, as red objects like post boxes tend to be made up of many different colour values, the Partial Color: Red Picture Effect only really succeeds in identifying some of these values, meaning that red objects are partially converted to black and white, producing some odd-looking images. In terms of other slight niggles, the Smile Shutter feature, that automatically takes a photo when a smile is detected, works reasonably well but we found that it s not quite as responsive as it could be. A feature like this is perfect for parties or events when you don t want to miss fleeting moments, but itperhaps of limited use if the camera hesitates while it identifies the smile, locks focus and then actually gets the shot.

The most important thing, though, is overall image quality, and in this respect we found that the Sony NEX-F3 really excels. The images we shot with the camera are very impressive, with good levels of detail, sharpness and clarity. Particularly pleasing was the camera s strong noise control performance, which is absolutely excellent and makes the Sony NEX-F3 completely usable at very high ISO s. Zooming in to 100% reveals that A3 prints could be produced with absolute confidence, which is great news for photographers looking for a portable, lightweight system that also offers high-quality results.

Overall, the NEX-F3 is a really strong compact system camera with lots of great shooting features and offering good performance for the price. It also represents a significant improvement over the NEX-C3 in terms of ergonomics and handling.

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