A superior snapper for the discerning point-and-shooter
For some people, photography is a passion, while for others it's just a way to capture the moment. Whatever the user, one thing that they all have in common is that they care about image quality.
Sony's NEX range of cameras use the same sensors that appear in Sony's range of DSLRs, so despite their smaller sizes and simpler operation, their image quality is firmly in DSLR territory.
The selection of compatible E-Mount lenses is smaller than for Panasonic and Olympus's rival Micro Four Thirds lenses, but it's slowly growing. Even so, most people will probably be happy to stick to the included lens.
Its 3x optical zoom is similar to the lenses that come with DSLRs, and it's reasonably versatile. Zoom right in and you'll get that flattering blurred background effect in portrait shots that's only possible with a large sensor.
The changes compared to the older NEX-C3 are subtle but welcome nonetheless. Rather than having a detachable flash unit, the F3's flash is incorporated into the camera.
It's a little taller than the C3 as a result, and doesn't look as stylishly streamlined, but it's a more practical design. The screen is just as bright and detailed as before, but now it can flip up and all the way over for self-portraits.
As with all NEX cameras, the F3 can be set up to give access to manual settings, but by default it's more of a point-and-shoot camera. Its Intelligent Auto mode took tricky lighting conditions in its stride, using face detection to set the focus and exposure and using a faster shutter speed to avoid motion blur when it detected human subjects.
Meanwhile, a new Auto Portrait Framing function re-cropped photos to give more pleasing compositions when photographing people. Experienced photographers will want to switch it off but casual snaps often benefited from its wisdom.
It helps that the F3's sensor can capture photos that are every bit as good as a DSLR's. Colours were rich and vibrant, subtle details were faithfully captured and there was hardly any image grain in gloomily lit shots.
It excelled in our video tests, too. A big sensor is just as useful for videos as it is for photos, but while most DSLRs suffer from iffy video autofocus and short clip lengths, the F3 recorded sumptuous videos with smooth autofocus for up to 30 minutes per clip. It's even possible to adjust video exposure settings manually, but without a touchscreen, you can't adjust the autofocus point as you record.
The recently announced NEX-5R and NEX-6 will have more experienced photographers salivating, but the NEX-F3 strikes an excellent balance of features and price. Photo and video quality is excellent for such a compact camera.
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Not as groundbreaking as previous NEX cameras, but the F3 is a superb all-rounder at a great price
Outstanding image quality, especially in low light; Excellent video quality; Straightforward point-and-shoot operation but can be configured for manual control
Comparatively small range of compatible lenses
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