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- Sony Alpha NEX-F3
- We've gone hands-on with the Sony Alpha NEX-F3, the latest entry-level camera packing an APS-C image sensor.
Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Digital Camera Review$599.99
The Sony Alpha NEX-F3 is capable of recording video in AVCHD or .MP4 using MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) compression. When shooting in AVCHD you can record in 1080/60i (24 or 17Mbps) or 1080/24p (also 24 or 17Mbps). If you want files that are a little easier to share and edit, you can opt for .MP4 files, with the option for recording in 1440x1080/30p (about 12Mbps average bitrate) or in standard definition 480/30p (3Mbps). Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content
As on other NEX cameras, Sony has opted to not include a dedicated video mode, instead letting the user trigger video recording at any time by pressing the red REC button just behind the power switch. Depending on what video mode you're in, this will allow you to control certain aspects of exposure while taking a video.
If you're shooting in the manual exposure mode, you'll have access shutter speed, aperture, as well as ISO control. Aperture is lens-dependent, ISO is limited to between 200-3200, and no auto ISO is available in manual mode. But the shutter speed range for video is excellent, with Sony allowing the F3 to utilize shutter speeds ranging from 1/4 to 1/4000th of a second. If you're shooting in automatic modes, you can utilize auto ISO and the full +/- 3 stop range of exposure compensation.
One of the limitations of engaging video recording in certain modes is that it doesn't always inherit everything about that mode. Scene modes, for example, simply became auto video recording when the REC button is pressed. So if you're in sunset mode, take a great photo, and decide you want to capture a video, know that your image when recording video may not look the same.
This doesn't apply across the board, however, as both the creative styles and picture effects are both retained when recording video. The creative styles are sometimes overridden by the picture effects (posterization, for example, reverts your creative style to standard automatically), but you can usually accomplish whatever effect you're looking for with a scene mode via these two options. It's not perfect, however, as picture effects and creative styles are only available in the program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual modes.
As a standard kit lens, the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 glass that comes with the Sony NEX-F3 utilizes a manual zoom ring in order to change focal length, which can be done at any time independent of the camera's other operations. The NEX-F3 does also include a digital zoom, however, which can be engage and controlled via the rear control dial. It'll allow you to zoom in up to 4x digitally, but it does so in small 0.1x steps. Worse, the zoom is very jerky, moving step by step. This all but removes the ability to use the zoom function for smooth zooms in and out, which isn't always easy to pull off with a manual zoom ring.
The NEX-F3 supports full autofocus during video recording, with the option to manually focus as well. When manually focusing prior to recording, the camera will utilize a digital zoom to enlarge elements of your subject and make focus easier to judge. Once you begin recording, however, this zoom is taken away.
In order to compensate, the Sony NEX-F3 (like other NEX cameras) offers a focus peaking feature that will highlight high contrast (in focus) edges in a color (yellow, red, and white selectable) areas for you. This lets you adjust the focus ring manually, with your subject being highlighted in the selected color when they come into focus.
This feature has to be turned on from the "Setup" menu, which is a bit out of the way for a focus feature. Sony does this to keep it away from beginners who might turn it on accidentally and hate it. It's an extremely useful feature (more useful than the focus assist zoom), especially if you're going to use lens adapters on the NEX cameras, as that often takes away autofocus capability.
As stated above, when a recording is begun the camera just inherits whatever level of control its current shooting mode allows. For full manual, this includes shutter (1/4 to 1/4000th of a second), aperture (lens dependent), and ISO (200-3200). In modes that use automatic exposure auto ISO is either selected by default or becomes another option. In every mode except manual you can utilize exposure compensation on the fly while recording, giving you a +/- 3-stop scale to work with.
The Sony NEX-F3 has a built-in stereo microphone on the front of the camera, just above the lens. It captures audio in MPEG-4 AAC-LC compression. One of the sacrifices you make in stepping down from the NEX-5N to the NEX-F3 is the lack of a 3.5mm microphone port. If you want external audio input you can attach the optional external Sony microphone to the top accessory port. The only option we're aware of that works with the NEX-F3 is the Sony ECM-SST1, which retails for $129.99 and does not feature a mic port either.