DCRP

Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

Sony's NEX cameras have always been very snappy, and the NEX-F3 is no exception. Here's a summary of what kind of performance you'll get out of it:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.3 secs Average
Autofocus *
(Normal light)
0.2 - 0.5 secs (W)
0.4 - 0.8 secs (T)
Average
Autofocus *
(Low light)
~ 1.0 sec Average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
~ 1.5 sec Above Average
Shot-to-shot
(With incl. flash)
~ 2 sec Above average
* With 18 - 55 mm kit lens

You won't do a lot of waiting on the NEX-F3, that's for sure. That only thing I noticed is that autofocus seemed a tiny bit slower than on the NEX-5N and NEX-7, but since I don't have either of those sitting around, I can't confirm that.

Sony's other NEX models have very impressive burst modes. Let's see how the F3 compares in each of its two burst modes:

Image quality Continuous Speed priority
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 7 shots @ 2.6 frames/sec 6 shots @ 6.0 frames/sec
RAW 8 shots @ 2.6 frames/sec 7 shots @ 5.8 frames/sec
Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 2.6 frames/sec 13 shots @ 6.3 frames/sec
Tested with a SanDisk UHS-I SDHC card

The NEX-F3's performance is typical of an entry-level ILC. It can shoot fast enough, but its buffer memory fills up after just a few shots. Once you've hit the limits listed in the above table, the camera will keep on shooting -- just at a much slower rate. The LCD kept up with the action fairly well, at both speed settings.

Let's talk about photo quality now. With the exception of the night shot, all of these photos were taken with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens.

Our macro test subject looks great. Colors are super-saturated (perhaps a little bit too much), and there aren't any color casts to be found (which often appear under our studio lamps). The subject is nice and sharp, with a good amount of detail captured. There isn't any noise here, and I'd be very shocked if there was.

The minimum distance to your subject depends on the lens you're using. For the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, that distance is 25 cm. If you're interested in a dedicated macro lens, Sony has a F3.5, 30 mm lens available, which has a minimum distance of just 9.5 cm.

I took our night test scene with the new 18 - 200 mm zoom lens (which I used for all of the photos in the gallery, as well). I'm not as enthusiastic about the quality of this photo as I was the night shot, mainly due to the brownish color cast and overall soft appearance (though at least it's equally soft across the frame). While I used manual controls to obtain a proper exposure, you can do the same using the NEX-F3's auto or scene modes. With the exception of the building on the far left, highlight clipping wasn't too bad. There is some purple fringing as well, but it's fairly mild.

Now let's use this same night scene to see how the NEX-F3 performed at higher sensitivities:


ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 16000

Let's ignore the ugly brownish color cast for a moment and focus on noise and detail. At ISO 200 through 800, you'll see plenty of detail and not a lot of noise. While there's a slight loss of detail at ISO 1600, it shouldn't keep you from making mid-sized or large prints. At ISO 3200 I'd probably stop if you're shooting JPEGs, or switch over to RAW. The three highest sensitivities are best avoided in low light.

Can I make the ISO 3200 and 6400 shots more appealing by shooting RAW and performing some easy post-processing? Let's take a look:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

I think it's safe to say that while you definitely get detail back, your output size isn't going to increase by much. Another big advantage of RAW here is that there's less highlight clipping, and that you can fool around with the white balance to get rid of that color cast!

There's fairly mild redeye in our flash test photo, which was a pleasant surprise. If you do encounter more serious "red", you'll have to fix it on your Mac or PC, as the NEX-F3 lacks a built-in removal tool.

Distortion correction off (default) Auto distortion correction

The NEX-F3 has a lens distortion correction feature, and strangely enough, it's off by default. That leads to quite a bit of barrel distortion with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, as you can see in the chart above (taken from our NEX-5N review). Turning on the distortion correction flattens things out nicely, so you'll probably want to use this (unless, of course, you like barrel distortion). While the test chart shows some vignetting on the right side, it was rarely an issue in the real world.

Now it's time to see how the NEX-F3 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. And with that, let's begin our trip from ISO 200 to 16000!


ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 16000

The ISO 200 - 1600 crops all look fantastic. At ISO 3200 there's a slight increase in noise, but not enough of one to reduce your output size. ISO 6400 is still surprisingly clean, and even ISO 12800 and 16000 can be used if you're really desperate. Nice job, Sony!

Let's do the whole RAW vs. JPEG comparison again, this time at ISO 12800:

ISO 12800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

As you can see, shooting RAW and running the result through some noise reduction and sharpening filters makes for sharper, more detailed photos with increased color saturation. It's definitely worth going through the slight hassle of using RAW in order to get the most out of your NEX at high sensitivities.

Overall, I was quite happy with photos produced by the NEX-F3. The only real issue I had is that the camera consistently underexposes by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop. I pretty much always shot with the exposure compensation set to +1/3 EV, and I'd suggest doing that, or at least bracketing. The NEX-F3 isn't a big highlight clipper, which isn't too surprising, given that it uses an APS-C size sensor. Colors were nice and saturated (aside from those color casts under artificial light), and photos had good sharpness. As you've seen, the camera keeps noise in check until ISO 1600 in low light, and a whopping ISO 12800 in good light. Purple fringing was not a problem -- at least with the lenses I used.

Don't just take my word for all this. Have a look at our NEX-F3 photo gallery and decide if the photo quality meets your needs!

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