Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Digital Camera Review$599.99
Sony's NEX line of interchangeable lens cameras have always struck a delicate balance between size and performance; the DSLR-size sensors in this camera lineup allow for DSLR performance, but the lenses on cameras like the $599 Sony Alpha NEX-F3 are naturally larger than other mirrorless cameras.
The response from Sony to that challenge has always been to highlight just how thin their camera bodies are, which always seemed a bit odd, given that the lenses you have to attach to them makes being the thinnest body something of a hollow victory. The Sony NEX-F3 represents a step away from that philosophy, with a bigger body due to a substantially larger grip than its predecessor, 2011's NEX-C3.
The F3 reportedly reclaims the same image sensor that was in the critically adored NEX-C3, with some slight processing differences, a slightly faster shooting speed, a built-in flash, and a few extra in-camera features. Still, it's the grip that is the most glaring difference between this year and last. It's a sign that Sony's camera design team is taking more into consideration than what they can slap on a marketing billboard.
The additional grip makes shooting with the NEX-F3 more pleasant, and its larger design makes it more natural to hold the camera as you would a DSLR, rather than a point and shoot. While lenses like Sony's 16mm pancake lens or the standard 18-55mm kit lens hardly necessitate a large grip, longer telephoto lenses feel much more secure (and the resulting shots sharper) on the NEX-F3 than on last year's C3.
While the grip shows that Sony is taking the camera's function as a camera more seriously, the NEX-F3 is a camera designed for the entry-level users. If you've spent the last decade snapping away with disposables and point-and-shoots, the Sony NEX-F3 won't feel like a major departure, as its operation is mostly automatic, with manual control you can learn as you go. The menu system is identical to previous NEX cameras, designed with simplicity and clarity in mind.
The camera certainly allows more advanced shooters to get great shots, but when shooting in JPEG most of the image quality decisions have been made for you. Noise reduction is slathered on at every ISO setting, without the ability to deactivate it. It does keep noise down, but that performance is bought at the expense of fine detail in your images; The "low" noise reduction setting on the camera would pass for "high" on just about every other interchangeable lens camera we've tested.
All that's perfectly fine for most shooters who just want their photos up on Facebook, but photo enthusiasts looking for a compact, affordable alternative to a larger DSLR will want to shoot in the camera's RAW file format for editing themselves later. Otherwise the NEX-F3 is a solid follow-up to the successful NEX-C3, making it the best entry-level compact system camera on the market. We don't think it's worth upgrading from a functional NEX-C3—and if you can find the C3 for cheaper that's certainly the way to go—but the NEX-F3 is a potent performer at a price that the competition has yet to beat.