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Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Digital Camera Review$599.99
If you place all of the NEX cameras so far released by Sony (the two debut models, the NEX-C3, NEX-5N, NEX-7, and the NEX-F3), the design evolution doesn't appear too dramatic. The NEX-F3 certainly doesn't break the mold here, but it does represent a small step back from the "slimmest camera on the market" track that Sony seemed adamant about following. The NEX-F3 is still quite small, but from a usability perspective is simply easier to hold and shoot with than the NEX-C3 due to its larger grip.
The hallmark of the NEX system to this point is the unlabeled soft keys on the back of the camera. These lay flush against the camera body, with their labels on the rear LCD screen. This can be a bit jarring at first, but it actually becomes quite natural once you use the camera for a period of time. The controls themselves are snappy and responsive, with the rear control dial having just the right mix of freedom and response as you turn it. Overall the NEX-F3 is an improvement over the NEX-C3 whenever shooting with a moderately sized lens or larger. If you shoot exclusively with pancake lenses than the benefit may not be as pronounced, but for most people who would like to utilize a zoom lens or two (or an adapter and a zoom lens) the extra heft in the grip is going to be welcome.
Buttons & Dials
The buttons on the Sony NEX-F3 are practically identical to every other NEX camera we've used so far. The camera features three soft keys on the back of the camera—one key each above and below the rear control dial, with a key in the center of the dial—all of which have their functions called out on the rear LCD. The soft keys sit flush against the body but are actually fairly easy to press. The rear control dial is loose enough to allow for quick turns, but each individual setting offers enough resistance to prevent going beyond the option you want most of the time.
The shutter button on the NEX-F3 has been repositioned from the NEX-C3. It now sits on top of a ledge as part of the grip that protrudes from the body. This offers far better handling, but it does require repositioning your hands into a way more commonly seen on DSLRs. To align your index finger with the shutter button naturally you have to turn your wrists forward a bit (as through you were gripping a pistol or a vertical door handle), which offers better support for the weight of the camera. This is going to be a bit of a departure for point-and-shoot users, many of whom pinch their cameras precariously between the index fingers and thumbs on both hands. It's a smart design choice that will better aid shooters in the long run, rewarding them with more stable photos and less hand cramps.
The Sony NEX-F3 has a rear 3-inch display with a resolution of 921,600 pixels. The display is highly detailed and it does quite well when in an indoor setting, but it does struggle whenever you have to frame a shot with the sun shining over your shoulder onto the display. To combat this, the screen is mounted on an articulated hinge that lets the screen angle upward a full 180 degrees or downward 13 degrees. The ability to face the screen towards your subject is extremely useful in certain situations, especially when framing self-portraits and group shots. It does come at the expense of some downward angle freedom that other NEX cameras have, but the screen has a large enough angle of view that overhead shots are still easy to frame.
The image stabilization on the 18-55mm kit lens with the Sony NEX-F3 provided decent stabilization performance when tested with a low level of shake at 1/30th of a second. This low level of shake is reminiscent of how a camera shakes when shooting handheld, with 1/30th of a second providing acceptable levels of sharpness with IS on. We found that roughly 45% of the shots that we took in testing saw improvement, with an average MTF50 of 286 across those shots, and a maximum MTF50 of nearly 1000.