Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Digital Camera Review$599.99
We found the Sony NEX-F3, like other entry-level Sony cameras, pushed colors to an oversaturated point by default. Even modes that are supposed to produce more accurate, natural colors (such as portrait) were overdone compared to what most cameras would produce. At the default saturation levels the best color accuracy we could achieve still resulted in a color error of 3.06 (we generally like to see less than 2.6 or 2.7 from an interchangeable lens camera). Even by going in and turning down saturation manually, we were only able to see color error to drop to around 2.8 in the standard and portrait modes. More on how we test color.
Every default creative style color mode resulted in an image that had saturation boosted well above the ideal. The lowest sharpness we saw was still 115% of the ideal. For reference, most cameras only cross 115% of saturation in their "vivid" color modes, where colors are intentionally boosted to extremes. The Sony NEX-F3's vivid, sunset, and landscape modes all pushed saturation north of 130%, which is just ridiculous. The resulting images really pop, but you'd be loathe to take a portrait with any of those modes, unless you want your tanned subject to look like an Roald Dahl character.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
The Sony NEX-F3's color accuracy compares well against some other Sony models, but it's generally poor for an interchangeable lens camera. We should stress that while color quality is obviously subjective (and subject to some debate), we do value a camera's ability to produce accurate colors when need be. You can always push saturation yourself manually later, to whatever end you please. You can't, however, take an oversaturated image and put it through Photoshop to achieve perfectly natural, neutral colors without a significant amount of time spent per image.
The Sony NEX-F3 includes six color modes, called "creative styles" in the menu. These include standard, vivid, portrait, landscape, sunset, and black & white. Each mode offers you the ability to change contrast, sharpness, and saturation on a +/- scale, with the defaults set to zero (save for black & white, which has no saturation to adjust). We found the standard mode to be the most accurate with a color error of 3.06, with portrait close behind at 3.49. The other modes don't specifically target or benefit from color accuracy, but and thus their average color error is over 4. These modes all feature oversaturated, rich colors.
The Sony NEX-F3, as we've seen with other NEX cameras, features a well-designed and highly accurate white balance system that does well in a variety of lighting setups. The white balance was most accurate when taking a custom reading in extreme lighting conditions like shade and indoor lighting, but the automatic mode fared just as well most of the time.
Automatic White Balance ()
We found the automatic white balance on the Sony NEX-F3 to operate quite quickly, even as color temperature shifted dramatically. It only took a few seconds for the camera to adjust when we changed color temperatures, and the results were quite good. Under daylight conditions the camera guessed nearly on the money, with a temperature error of just 81 kelvin on average. Under tougher compact white fluorescent lighting, that error jumped a bit to 288 kelvin. Under the more extreme tungsten lighting, which is very warm, the camera was off by an average of 1699 kelvin, well under the 2000+ kelvin we normally see in this test.
Custom White Balance ()
The custom white balance on the Sony NEX-F3 was very simple to set, requiring just a neutral object in the center of the frame to get an accurate reading. When taking the time to do this the color error under daylight lighting actually jumped to 150 kelvin (anything under 200 kelvin is fine). With compact white fluorescent lighting the error dropped to 257 kelvin, while tungsten lighting benefited the most, with error dropping to just 186 kelvin.
In general we'd say leave the camera on automatic white balance unless you know you're going to be in mixed or extreme lighting. In most setups white balance is simple enough to change after the fact, even if you've only shot in JPEG and don't have a RAW file to work with. The NEX-F3 makes it simple enough to take a custom reading (simpler than most of its competition), but we found that its overall white balance performance was slightly above average relative to most of its peers.
White Balance Options
The Sony NEX-F3 features nine white balance presets, as well as an automatic white balance, custom white balance, and direct kelvin temperature entry. The presets include all the usual suspects, such as daylight, shade, cloudy, incandescent, cool white fluorescent, warm white fluorescent, day white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent mixed, and flash light. You can set these options in the brightness/color menu or set white balance to the custom soft key on the rear control dial.