A look at the Sony NEX-F3 for compact interchange lens beginners looking to get in on some professional/enthusiast snapper like action . . .




 The Feel The NEX-F3 feels sort of plasticy although very sturdy, well built and reasonably weighted for a camera of its size, but then again I still have memories of using canon compact point and shoot camera that mysteriously went missing which generally had a cool to the touch aluminium metal to it. Generally the F3 was no more plasticy feeling then a fully fledged film roll or digital canon EOS body, however the vastly reduced size and weight makes it feel vastly lighter then my preconceptions possibly wanted it to be. Generally the F3 kind of felt like using a miniaturized general consumer camcorder that was squeezed into a body shaped like a compact picture camera. When I say miniaturized I'm comparing it to the Hi8 tape compact camcorders of the 90's that had moved on from VHS. The lack of manual SLR controls and click stop dials also added to the simplified general consumer camcorder like feel when handling it.  Especially with the red start/stop record button for filming in movie mode amidst the sparse and spaced out controls. The fuzzy flicker of visual noise  over a darkened LED screen when powering it on due to the lens mount cap being on also added to the shrunken camcorder in camera body like vibe it had going on. However with the NEX-F3 being a D-SLR it characteristically has a manual operated zoom on lens  with no electronic servo zoom controls, if you want that you'll have to look to the larger and vastly more expensive NEX pro camcorder bodies.



 

 Pop up flash With input from previous NEX-3 users the refresh now sees the inclusion of a built in pop up flash, although its still possible to attach an external flash. Generally the mechanism for it felt sturdy, which was unexpected but appreciated all the same, it only furthered my better perceptions of its build.

 Battery life - In having bought the camera as body only without the auto SEL 18-55mm OSS lens, I was taking pictures in total manual mode using a canon EOS EF 35-135mm USM lens via a mount adaptor. Manual, exposure, aperture and focus, in fact manual everything. This should have helped to significantly reduce the amount of power being used and thus prolong battery life. However with only a few shots taken the battery dropped from 100% to 80% in under 20 minutes from a full charge (this was the without flash being used). This was using single shot mode and not high speed fly shutter burst mode without flash at ISO 200.  I guess I'll have to see if this improves with time or not as the battery management and inaccessible wireless features have time to calibrate with more use. Official stats claim a potential 470 snaps on a full charge and optimum conditions(/under whatever those highly unlikely optimum conditions might be) using the supplied standard Sony battery for it.


 Full manual mode Its nice to have for a much broader potential to experiment with even more arty looking hipster like snaps, however in many instances I couldn't help but feel that being able to access the servo driven aperture and focus auto mode could have helped me to achieve pretty much the same results much more quickly (in a fraction of the time) and with great precision for certain types/styles of pictures with much less faffing about. I kind of regret not waiting a little longer to save enough for the package that came with the standard 18-55 mm auto lens too. 


 High maximum ISO threshold It goes right up to ISO 16000, not quite as high as the 25600 of the 5,6, and, 7 (expandable + on higher end models)  but still damned impressive all the same. (no doubt a little bios hacking could extend it at the upper and lower ends for a broader ISO threshold). The additional ISO range beyond 6400 allowed me to take pictures in the dark. In fact just to test it I sat in a near dark room after 1 am with all light sources within the room turned off. What can I say? It was dark. It was that dark that not a single detail was distinguishable on the LCD screen at all, the screen was blank from the darkness in the room. However the actual pictures taken showed clear detail (although obviously a little fuzzy at the edges) under an amber glow using long exposures of about 2 seconds, the amber tint was probably due to the residual ambient light from the street lights seeping into the room. The image is hardly as sharp as it might be with specialised military spec night vision goggles, but it was still impressive for what it was and capable of.


The pictures I took of the canon 35-135 mm below were taken with a Sony Alpha NEX-F3 using a SEL 18-55 mm OSS kit lens 

 Using it with a canon EOS 35-135mm USM  lens

 One of the clear advantages of the NEX camera's in the ability to use different lenses, and thanks to mount adaptors you can use a variety of other lenses for other camera. Luckily for me we had an old film roll based EOS SLR that was doing nothing but gathering dust which I intended to use the F3 body with via an EOS to E-mount adaptor. The combined weight from the canon 35-135mm 1:4-5.6 EOS EF USM L lens and E-mount adaptor significantly weighed more then the camera body itself. The camera also looked disproportionately comical with the canon lens on.   There was no image stabilization included with this particular EOS lens as it was from a time when D-SLR's within the consumer realm were none existent, and even if I had a more modern EOS lens with "Image Stabalisation" (aka I.S.) it couldn't have been accessed by the Sony NEX body using the none auto E-mount adaptor I had anyway.

Generally there were no problems with sensor field clipping at all, which stands to reason as the EOS lens was originally designed and released in the 90's to work with full frame sized optics for EOS 35mm film roll camera's. Sure the wide APS-C sensors in the latest NEX camera's might be bigger then the APS-C sensors used in other well known compact and industry standard D-SLR camera makes, but they're still far from getting anywhere close to the size of a full frame sensor despite similar 18 to 24 megapixel plus ratings on the NEX 6 and 7 which use a higher pixel concentration within a smaller sensor area.

It might have been my personal perceptions tainting my view of how the pictures turned out, but when using the canon 35-135mm EOS EF lens with the F3 body there was just something about the pictures that had that none digital Canon SLR look about them with the types of tones I'd remembered in physical prints from my dads efforts that actually turned out well. From what I can recall there had always been a Canon SLR camera of some type in the house since my days of being in nappies whilst knocking about in a council house, which might hi-light the level of enthusiasm for it even back then. Although I don't actually remember them frequently being used, maybe for the reasons that back then  it was my mother that took most of the pictures probably asserting that she wanted something much more compact and easier to use then an SLR, which no doubt also most likely sparked a few arguments.


The weight distribution with the 35-135mm canon lens attached to the F3 body was a bit problematic for my shaky hands. But fortunately I found out by accident that the F3 camera can automatically flip the image the right way up for you if you take a picture with the camera upside down. This turned out to be especially useful for taking steadier pictures without the dreaded image blur rearing its head more frequently then I would have liked for certain shots. To my mind it seems counter intuitive to put the shutter trigger button on the right hand side of potentially quite heavy D-SLR camera's designed to predominantly be used in a hand held way when most people are actually right handed, and generally right handed people will most likely be able to competently hold heavy objects much more steadily with their right hand. This essentially is what I started to do with the F3 when image blur just couldn't be tamed due to the lack of image Stabalisation features in none I.S/O.S.S  lenses and my shaky left hand. In using the camera upside down I could actually hold it a damn sight more steadily with my right hand to simply press the shutter button with my left with very little to no camera shake at all.  Fortunately it didn't look as ridiculous as it might have done if were using something like a full bodied D-SLR thanks to the NEX-F3's general rectangular like shaped form factor.  Before we get on some unintended meaning, there was no extended meaning or subtext meant by it. This was intended merely as a tip for consideration, it was simply suggested for the sake of increasing the actual practical chances of taking clearer pictures without blur when using the F3 in a hand held manner  combined with heavy lenses that don't have I.S. or O.S.S.

There's not much that I could tell you about the scientific technicalities in regards to using the lens with the NEX-F3 body, but here's a few snaps I took of my wrinkly mug to test the self portrait feature and update my site. I was generally quite pleased with the picture quality despite the skin pore level detail it pulls up. The pictures were originally snapped at 16.1 megapixels and have significantly been reduced for the sake of faster load times. The were gleaned using the canon 35-135 mm lens with the NEX F3 camera body.



 




 

 The LCD screen The NEX-F3 doesn't have a built in view finder eye piece which will make some pro gear lust junkies boo right out of the blocks (you'll have to look to the NEX-6 and 7 for that). However there is a rather pricey separate electronic eyepiece viewfinder attachment that can be bought to use with the F3 body, although from the snaps it does look quite lame when attached in having an appearance that doesn't integrate well into the overall camera design. In fact I personally reckon it looks bugly with the eye piece attachment stuck on. If you need a more tidily integrated eyepiece viewfinder without need for an attachment you're going to have look to the NEX-6 and 7.



 

Sony NEX-6 

Sony NEX-7 

 The new 180 degree vertical pop out and flip screen feature of the F3 is pretty useful, the greater level of vertical articulation on the hinged screen makes it particularly useful for taking self portrait snaps, although I generally prefer to be behind the lens and not in front of it. Still it could come in very handy for other things as I encounter them.


  In general the high resolution view finder LCD screen provided lots of rich detail and was a pleasure to use. However the main draw back was that the screen was so vibrant under certain conditions that it made many of the pictures look more impressive then they actually were as far as the colour balance/colour composition was concerned. If I were to elaborate I'd have to say it was a bit like this... 


 …whilst indoors and in low light - There weren't really any problems using the LCD screen as a viewfinder  when shooting indoors or in low light condition whilst setting the LCD display to default/standard brightness for viewing. Generally it was possible to use what I was seeing on the LCD screen as a rough guide as to what I might get on the large screen in the final picture at full resolution as far as colour tone and colour balance was concerned. However...


 …whilst out doors in daylight regardless of whether it was sunny or cloudy The standard brightness settings of the LCD screen was of no use at all when using it in daylight. Meaning that if you wanted to see anything at all you had to switch the LCD screen into the brighter (full brightness) daylight viewing mode. In doing this it had the effect of maximising the screen brightness so the LCD screen is viewable in broad daylight. Although the LCD screen was now viewable whilst using it outside in broad daylight , it caused the screen to significantly exaggerate the colour balance and tones to make them appear vastly more vibrant then the actual images that were being recorded were. If you're not into using RAW files and are using JPG only this could be a big problem. At the same time for all those who are hardened RAW file users, the LCD's daylight viewing mode will make the RAW file image seem even more underwhelming in its default flat pre-processed state in remembering how it appeared on the LCD viewfinder in daylight display mode. As beautiful and as vivid as the LCD screen makes the images seem to appear whilst in daylight viewing display mode (if not somewhat exaggerated depending on personal perception), its generally not a good idea to use it as any kind of accurate means for gauging what is being recorded as far as the colour balance, colour tone and colour temperature is concerned. ESPECIALLY if you're taking pictures in JPG format only. Instead it might be best to use it purely for assessing focus, composition and more obviously actually framing up the image. 


 It’s a shame they don't make a screen visor accessory specifically for the NEX-F3 LCD screen to better enable the use of the LCD screen in none daylight mode whilst outdoors. That way you'd be able to get a better closer-to-accurate pre-snap indicator as to how the image will look as far as colour balance and tones are concerned.   Then again if you're using the daylight viewing mode whilst taking pictures in RAW format, it might give you something to aim for, or at least somewhere between what was on the screen, what your minds eye was seeing and the memory of how it actually was whilst you were taking the snap at the time whilst image processing on a computer. Or maybe just go entirely with what you were seeing in your minds eye. 


 Sly snappers might not like the fact that …although they've managed to squeeze everything you need to take very excellent D-SLR quality pictures in to a very compact form factor, you shouldn't expect discrete compact camera quietness. The relatively large mechanical shutter will make a satisfyingly assertive physical snap sound with each still frame captured, and obviously because its not an artificial audio noise that's made with a relatively large physical shutter curtain, it can't be turned off when taking pictures like many other modern camera devices that add a fake shutter curtain and film roll motor noise. 


High speed burst shooting/picture taking modes Its carried over from film roll camera's, and is what everyone wants on a D-SLR through certain pre-conceptions of what D-SLR camera's should be able to do. However the reality is a little different.  For one thing the days of needing very expensive and highly robust super smooth-high speed miniaturised precision mechanics and motors in order to thread a photographic 35mm film roll through fast enough for snapping fast cars or the 70's cliché of someone making love to the camera in some high end photo shoot have gone. Meaning that the thing that will effect burst/high speed fly shutter picture taking performance in this day and age is the shutter speed, sensor capability, and most of all real time digital processing speed. There's also the factor of memory allocation and memory speed in combination with buffer management even before getting to the actual task of writing to a sufficiently fast enough SD memory card, but generally most modern D-SLR's in this range and above will have/should have more then ample capabilities.

It might also even be the case that particular NEX camera's are actually capable of vastly more in this particular department, but for the sake of range segment differentiation  and keeping manufacturing costs down they might artificially limit the hardware for different ranges using the bios.  

On a more generic none artificially imposed level there were all the more common universal technical factors that affected burst picture taking mode capabilities at any one time.

File format writing smaller files with less data will obviously mean faster processing, switching to JPG only mode immediately translates to vastly faster fly shutter like speeds with higher numbers of frames being snapped. It'll go even faster with certain settings in manual mode and/or better lighting. Generally the higher the manually set shutter speed the more/better lighting you will need to actually get a visible picture to turn out. However the obvious downside of using jpg files is that there's far less you can do with them once taken, and any post snapped processing scope is very limited, meaning you'll need optimum conditions with the optimum settings relative to the style of snaps you want to be snapping at the time of actually shooting. 

Using huge RAW image files with the NEX-F3 is noticeably slower, and the official stated assigned burst rate and number of consecutive still exposures is relatively accurate, which was a bit of a downside for me as I generally tended to shoot in RAW for the main part to only have only used jpg on the F3 for testing purposes thus far. But regardless of whether you're using JPG or RAW image files all the following would still apply.     

Taking pictures at lower resolutions - will also allow for even faster continuous image capture fly shutter burst modes within the physical 30-1/4000 sec limitations of the NEX-F3 camera. 

At night with regular indoor lighting Within such low lighting conditions it was predictably slow, especially in any type of auto-evaluative modes (its also a major battery drain). This was even without using an auto aperture and auto focus lens (essentially meaning it had fewer things to evaluate and adjust before taking the pictures).  Who knows it might even unexpectedly perform much faster with the appropriate additional hardware and lens to allow for auto aperture and auto focus too (then again it might possibly slow it down too, I can't say until I have a relevantly capable electronic servo driven aperture and focus lens).


Out and about at night (picture samples)

 Controls Using it felt like I was playing a PSP game, but for taking D-SLR quality pictures with camera lenses used on camera's for grown ups. Control and short cut buttons are also assignable to the D-pad (that doubles up as a soft object orientated jog dial) and two buttons. Although It was perfectly possible to use it in full manual mode, the lack of physical click stop dials and buttons to put more controls immediately to hand for faster instant snapping might be a little bit of a hindrance for some. 

 Odd things about it 

Its lowest ISO setting was artificially locked to 200 - Every other pro D-SLR goes down to ISO 100 (some 50), many compact point and shoots that don't do RAW go down to 80 in the settings. The F3 doesn't go down to 100. Would it make a difference if it was actually able to go down to 100 or even 50? (...other than actually potentially allowing for even crisper quality images with the appropriate levels of lighting). Maybe we'll see it extended in a future bios update?

It doesn't have an IR sensor - For the paranoid this could only be a good thing (aside from the already included wireless features that are inaccessible for use by the end user) , but generally for all those needing the convenience of being able to remotely trigger the shutter at distance it’s a bit of an annoyance. Its very surprising that they didn't include an IR sensor in the F3 refresh given everything else that they'd taken in to account based on user gripes to create the F3 refresh, they could have quite easily have added one with little impact on end unit cost.  At the same time I'm thinking then again maybe not with its newly added 180 degree vertically articulating flip screen for instant on the fly arms length self portraits. 

 No external battery charger comes supplied with it- Unlike the C3 and 5N the F3 requires you to charge the battery inside the actual camera. Even the mains charger that comes supplied charges the camera via its micro USB port and not an external battery dock charger. There's also the option to charge via your computers USB port too. This essentially means that there will always be power to the camera more often then there isn't. Unless you buy an external battery pack charger for it. But either way you can't actually access any of the camera feature while the camera is connected to a computer or the mains supply charger. This could be a little awkward if you have your charger with you and want to preview snaps with no computer around to do it on if you run out of power.  I guess this is useful in the sense that it saves you having to set the time and date again every time you need to completely remove and replace the battery. It doesn't appear to have a temporary short term power store for retaining the time, date and a bunch of other settings. Update - after some regular use it now seems to be able to retain the set time, date, region and general settings even when the battery is temporarily removed.


Conclusion Overall and after a few weeks of relatively light use, the NEX-F3 is definitely a very capable compact MCS camera for the price that will give you excellent and very crisp APS-C sensor based D-SLR quality pictures at an artificially capped maximum resolution of 16.1 megapixels. In fact it will most likely outperform more seemingly capable full bodied D-SLR camera's in both specs and actual visual results in appropriately capable hands as a photographic instruments for capturing images/stealing peoples souls and storing them in your digital picture box. In fact I'd genuinely say I'm very happy with it and don't see any reason to be rid of it based on my current financial circumstances and needs as it does what I need it to do with the potential scope to allow me to do more. But if you're looking for a vastly more compact and lighter solution for your APS-C based D-SLR interchangeable lens needs having used a larger full sized D-SLR, you might find the F3 to be too much of a compromise in terms of what you've been more used to in terms immediate to hand controls and how some features are implemented. Like the F3 the NEX-5N/R still lacks a built in viewfinder eye piece, I also reckon the 5N/R is too close to the F3 in terms of features to justify the price if moving from a RRP purchased F3 (aside from the IR sensor for remote shutter release and the touch screen found on the NEX-5N/R update from the previous NEX-5/5A) upward for the sake of greater D-SLR like control.  It wouldn't really be worth going from an RRP priced F3 to a 5N/R if you were seriously looking for even greater D-SLR like handling without getting into a long drawn out debate about how they should be designed and interacted with in this day and age within our current technological means. However for me personally the 5N/R is definitely worth considering instead of the F3 if you have a slightly bigger budget for one and are looking to get into compact interchangeable lens APS-C sensor based D-SLR's within the NEX range for the first time. 

Despite the vastly more compact and smaller form factor of the NEX range of camera's over full bodied D-SLR's, the NEX-F3 has a larger APS-C sensor which is also stated as being different and newer then the sensor used in the C3 and 5N/R...

Keep in mind that the Canon  50D, 550D(T2i), 1100D(T3), 60D, 60Da, 600D(T3i), 650D, and 7D all use APS-C sensors along with a whole slew of the most current chunkier bodied Nikon D-SLR camera's too, there's also the added bonus that the  APS-C CMOS sensor in the most recent NEX F3, 5N/R, 6 and 7 camera's are a little larger too, which can also potentially allow for better pictures due to being able to register/detect more light information regardless of the allocated and artificially capped pixel count capability in the most recent camera's.

You might ask what about the 5R having wireless connectivity where the 3 series doesn't have any to speak of at all (as regards to actual end user accessible wireless connectivity and nothing else), for me personally it doesn't really register as something that matters or something that’s worth paying extra for on a digital camera. Why? Because it doesn't do anything to assist in the core pure function of the camera which is for taking pictures, the wireless connectivity would unnecessarily further drain precious battery power for none end user picture taking purposes. I'd rather any extra potential effort that went into putting wireless features into the camera go into making the camera faster and better for actually taking better pictures for longer as a camera instead. Also the lack of user accessible wireless connectivity features doesn't stop the user from transferring the images to a separate machine for viewing and editing with some means of using an SD card anymore slowly. In fact as far as the end user is concerned it would be vastly quicker in cases where you're using a fast high speed SD card. A wireless feature doesn't really make any sense on a camera as regards to how most people would use a camera and actually want it to perform for the pure task of taking pictures without killing the battery. However I could see it being useful in specialised applications where a camera might be bolted to something to render the memory card compartment inaccessible, and/or if its used to take pictures remotely at regular intervals (or remotely user triggered exposures) over a relatively long period of time with a greater amount of constant battery power supply to it (say via a third party grip pack with extra battery compartments), in which case wireless access to the pictures for the end user would make a lot more sense for obvious reason. But then again couldn't the same thing be achieved with the camera being equipped with the appropriate firmware, a USB connection, and use of specialised software?


 For the fuller D-SLR experience with a vastly more compact form factor within the NEX range, it might be seriously worth considering the 6 or 7 if you're looking for the fuller D-SLR control experience/features  and are moving from a NEX 3, 3K, 5, 5A, 5K, C3, F3, F3K or just have the money to buy a NEX-6 or 7 outright. 


After all is said and done, was I actually happy with the camera? In a word yes, in many ways it exceeded my expectations whilst leaving plenty of scope to do more as far as taking excellent D-SLR quality pictures was concerned. Many people point out that its not the fastest of camera's for taking sports action snaps, this is also where the analogy of likening wanting to take family snaps of active children to being equivalent to sports action requirements kind of falls down. Why? Because I can't imagine that most regular people would go to the lengths of specifically shelling out for a top of the line canon 6D or 5D with a full frame 35mm sensor (despite having the same 1/4000 shutter speed) or a Canon 7D with 30-1/8000 shutter speed and APS-C sensor specifically just for taking pictures of their active children playing and/or doing sports. However the higher than average ISO capabilities of the NEX range of cameras combined with the slightly larger APS-C sensor beyond the industry standard options might put you in slightly better stead for clearer action pictures whilst indoors under regular lighting conditions as well as outdoor over regular compact point and shoots. With the intent of upgrading to a full D-SLR at some point, the lack of extensive custom EV bracketing features didn't seem like a big deal on a very capable interim device, and for most people who don't have a need for it the NEX-F3's three none arbitrary 3 frame -3/+3 bracketing will be fine (if ever used at all). Features for bracketing could obviously be extended with firmware updates, but with no plans set down from the Sony NEX pages to extend this it looks like buying a camera that comes with such features to begin with would be the only other option at current. 

A decent and vastly more light weight and compact APS-C alternative to the 1100D, 500D, 550D, 600D, and 650D series which even excels them in numerous areas, that's assuming that you don't really use the viewfinder whilst opting to frame up pictures with the LCD screen for the main part. Even when testing the NEX camera with a standard 18-55mm kit lens, image quality was excellent.  


Some picture samples I took using the NEX-F3 in combination with the SEL 18-55 mm OSS kit lens whilst I was out and about during daylight. (...they're full res at 16 megapixels so it might take a while for each one to load)

Eksovichea Tito Hak 

 
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