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Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Digital Camera Review$599.99
While the Sony NEX-F3 offers plenty of manual control, it's clear that automatic modes are the main draw for the camera, as it offers so many of them. The two main modes are intelligent auto and superior auto, which set exposure automatically. Superior auto works like intelligent auto, but it also incorporates scene detection, auto HDR, and image saving to streamline the process for novice users.
The other big addition in the NEX-F3's arsenal is Sony's auto portrait framing mode. This option kicks in at select times (we found it mostly when using the portrait scene mode), taking your original image and cropping it to align with common photography rules for framing. It still saves your original image for posterity, but uses Sony's mouthful of a technology called By Pixel Super Resolution to interpolate this cropped image back into the same resolution as your original shot. It doesn't do any damage to your original shot and it's all done automatically in the camera, but you can deactivate the feature in the "Camera" menu if you don't want to be bothered by it.
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.
Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes
The Sony NEX-F3 offers a number of picture effects and creative styles, letting users take more creative control over the look and feel of their photos. These are separated into "creative styles" that resemble your typical color modes (standard, vivid, black & white, landscape, portrait, sunset with contrast, sharpness, and saturation adjustments available) and picture effects.
The picture effects are the slightly more dramatic creative modes and include toy camera, pop color, posterization color, retro photo, soft high-key, partial color, high contrast monochrome, soft focus, HDR painting, rich tone monochrome, and miniature. Most of these modes also provide options for adjusting them, such as selecting which color the "partial color" mode will leave saturated.
The menu on the Sony NEX-F3 is bright and gorgeous, but it's laid out in ways that are sometimes confusing, with many common options such as color modes ("creative styles," see above) grayed out when shooting in automatic modes. The menu is organized into six sub-menus: shooting modes, camera settings, image size, brightness/color, playback, and setup. What's confusing for advanced users is that some common options (like noise reduction) are in the setup menu, while many settings that usually fall into a single category on other cameras are divided between brightness/color and "camera" menus.
Altogether the menu isn't too bad, and the separation into the various sub-menus—confusing to advanced users though it may be—is done to aid novices who don't want to be overloaded with a variety of options they'll never actually change. It's certainly a boon to true novice shooters, but with the NEX-C3 (and now certainly the NEX-F3) appealing to advanced shooters who just want a high-quality APS-C camera at an affordable price, it's important to note there's a degree of leg-pulling required to get the camera where you want it to go sometimes.
The Sony NEX-F3 box we received did not include a paper manual, with just a CD-ROM packaged with the camera. The online support offers two manuals in .pdf form. The first is just the basic instruction manual, 94 pages in total, with basic tips for setting up the camera, some advanced controls, and little else. The more comprehensive manual is called the alpha handbook from Sony. This is 206 pages and includes far more advanced tips for using the camera. That isn't to say that it's designed for advanced shooters, as it's actually written in a very friendly, easy-to-understand manner that will explain tougher terminology in clear terms. If you have questions about the operation of the NEX-F3 or how to get the best out of a specific mode or setting, the handbook is the first place to turn.