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Sony NEX-3 Review. Sony alpha nex 3

Sony NEX-F3 review

By David Pierce. editor-at-large and Vergecast co-host with over a decade of experience covering consumer tech. Previously, at Protocol, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired.

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I’ve recommended Sony’s NEX cameras to a lot of people over the last year or so. The NEX-7 is too expensive for most people, but the NEX-C3 and NEX-5N are relatively inexpensive cameras that offer big APS-C sensors, interchangeable lenses, and a lot of nifty features and functionality. To anyone looking for something better than an iPhone or a point-and-shoot but without the size or expenditure associated with a DSLR, the NEX cameras have been a perfect fit.

The NEX-F3 is the successor to last year’s C3, and takes over the bottom spot in the NEX lineup. It’s the same price as the C3 — 599.99 with an 18-55mm kit lens — but it offers some nice upgrades over last year’s model: it records 1080p video, has a great tilting LCD that even lets you shoot self-portraits, and has upgraded internals that should make the 16-megapixel shooter faster and better than ever. Of course, the NEX-5N offers some additional features like a touchscreen and more video recording options, but it’s also 100 more expensive. (There’s also the excellent NEX-7, but it’s playing in a whole different league.)

Competition is stiff and getting stiffer, though, as Olympus and Panasonic’s lineups of Micro Four Thirds cameras continue to get better and cheaper. Sony‘s been our favorite “small camera, big sensor” choice for a while — does the NEX-F3 continue the trend? Let’s find out.

Hardware / design

The NEX-F3 essentially looks like Sony glued a lens onto a point-and-shoot camera. The 4.6 x 2.6-inch body isn’t friendly (and it becomes even less so when you attach a lens onto the front), but it’ll slide into a bag or backpack without weighing you down. There’s a reason for the extra girth, though: Sony beefed up the NEX-F3’s grip a lot, so it’s really easy to hold and use in one hand. Cameras this small are often harder to hold than bigger, heavier DSLRs because they don’t have much of a grip, so I’ll take a little more weight for the extra security in my hand.

One look around the camera is enough to make clear that the NEX-F3 isn’t designed to be a DSLR-like shooter, no matter how big its sensor. There aren’t many buttons or controls, and even some of the common point-and-shoot decorations (like a Mode dial) aren’t here. There’s a power switch on the top, along with an accessory port (hidden underneath a plastic flap) and a pop-up flash plus the flash release. The flash is the same one as the NEX-7, and is similarly great: you can point it up or down and bounce it at almost any angle, meaning you’re not left choosing between blasting flash at your subjects or shooting overly dark photos. Down on a small ledge below the top of the camera is the shutter button, nestled comfortably where your right index finger can access it.

The lack of buttons will either be refreshing or frustrating

The back of the NEX-F3 has a playback button next to an awkwardly difficult-to-press one for quickly starting a video recording, plus two function buttons, and a scroll wheel. That’s really it. It’s among the most sparing set of controls I’ve ever seen on a camera over about 200, and it means you’ll be hugely reliant on the screen and menu system as you use the NEX-F3.

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This may sound odd, but my favorite new feature of the NEX-F3 might be its charger. Rather, the fact that it doesn’t need one — the camera charges via its micro USB port. You don’t need to lug around a giant charger, or take the battery out to charge it and then have to remember to grab it before you go to use the camera again.

Display and interface

Sony smartly acknowledges you’ll be spending a lot of time looking at the 3-inch LCD on the back of the NEX-F3, so the company made it one of the camera’s highlight features. It’s filled with a super-sharp 921,000 dots, and more importantly is very accurate. I’ve made no attempt to hide my love for optical viewfinders, and I’m primarily a fan because I hate when I see one thing through the EVF or LCD, and then the shot I take has different colors or different exposure. With the NEX-F3, though, what you see is much closer to what you get.

The LCD also tilts up 180 degrees and down a bit as well, a nice improvement over the C3. Whether you want to hold the camera at your waist or over your head to get just the right shot, you can tilt the display and still be able to see it perfectly; it doesn’t tilt quite as far down as it does up, though, so your mileage might vary. You can also flip it all the way up and point it at your subject. If you do decide to take a self-portrait, the camera will actually flip the shot around and display the frame as if you’re looking in a mirror. (Once it takes the shot, it displays the frame properly.) The F3 also activates a three-second timer when the LCD is facing forward — you’ve never taken better self-portraits than with the NEX-F3. The screen isn’t very bright by default, and in direct sunlight it’s almost impossible to see; you can change its brightness in settings, and you should, but don’t forget to change it back since the extra-bright screen will absolutely destroy the NEX-F3’s battery life.

The NEX user interface hasn’t changed much over the last few years. Since most cameras have gray-on-gray, text-heavy menu systems, Sony’s colorful icon-based interface is a definite breath of fresh air, though I’m not sure it works better in practice than the more boring options. The grid of icons is perfectly suited to a touchscreen, as is the on-screen mode dial; when you’re using a dial to scroll anyway, it might just be easier to have everything in a single column, pretty or not.

Sony NEX-3N vs NEX-5 vs NEX-5N vs NEX-6 // Which NEX Camera Is Right For You?

That said, the interface is fairly intuitive and simple. “Shoot Mode” is the first option in the intial menu, and it’s basically just the mode dial. Sony’s organization of features is pretty Smart, too: the most-used settings are available in the Camera menu, and things are laid out in a way that will make sense to everyone. Make no mistake, though: operating the NEX-F3 is much slower and more cumbersome than a button-heavy device like the Olympus OM-D E-M5, or even Sony’s own NEX-7, which uses two unmarked scroll wheels to control anything and everything. If you mostly shoot in Auto, that won’t be a problem — and people who shoot in Auto are definitely the target market for this camera – but for anything programmed or manual, controlling the camera gets really clunky.

Every setting and option tries to be helpful and teach you about itself, sometimes to a fault. If you’re in shutter mode, an icon depicting a running person tells you that if you want to shoot moving subjects, you should turn up the shutter speed; if your subject is standing still like the other icon, you can turn it down. Every menu option explains itself, often with an annoying overlay. It’s a great way to learn a camera, but if you have any experience at all you’ll probably tire of all the hand-holding and wish for a more sparing interface.


Since most NEX-F3 buyers are likely to be upgrading from a point-and-shoot, Sony outfitted the camera with most of the features, filters, and modes you’d find on a compact shooter. The requisite scene modes get their own space on the virtual mode dial, and as you scroll through them Sony explains each one and what it’s really for. Filters are a little more buried, accessible only when you’re in Auto mode. There are about a dozen different filters available, from Black White to Toy Mode to a few really cool single-color modes that shoot everything in black and white except for the hue you specify. They’ve all been around in the NEX line, and they’re handy ways to make your photos a little more fun. (Whether it makes them better or worse, I leave up to you.) Sony’s cool Sweep Panorama mode is available on the F3 as well, as is the 3D Sweep Panorama.

One of the things Sony does that’s really Smart is give you a lot of manual controls, without making them feel like manual controls. In Auto, you can quickly change how soft or sharp you want the background to be, without need to know it’s called depth of field. You can change the color temperature without knowing it’s called white balance, or tweak a frame’s brightness without worrying about ISO or exposure. It’s yet another way of giving you artistic control without forcing you to learn a bunch of camera jargon.

If all these options still sound like a lot to remember and deal with, you can just use Sony’s new Super Auto mode. Basically, Superior Auto takes standard Auto — automatically setting shutter speed, ISO, and aperture — and adds on a bunch of options, so that the NEX-F3 can do things like enter HDR mode while in Auto. It does a lot to help novice users take great pictures without having to know what HDR means, but it can get confusing — HDR takes three pictures at once before merging them, and if you don’t know it’s coming you won’t know to keep the camera steady for three frames.

Image and video quality

Image quality is the product of a lot of different parts and processes, but three things matter most: the camera’s sensor, processor, and lens. That the Sony NEX-F3 has an updated 16.1-megapixel APS-C sensor isn’t as important as it once was, but it still means the camera’s capable of shooting better, more versatile pictures than a point-and-shoot. Processor power is incredibly important, too — more so than ever — and the Bionz processor powering the NEX-F3 does a lot to help with noise reduction, applying filters, and speeding up shooting. Sony‘s lens ecosystem is still small (though the company’s committed to growing it), but the lenses are generally really high quality.

It all adds up to generally solid images from the NEX-F3. Photos are impressively sharp throughout the image, even with the kit lens — a lot of cameras and kit lenses produce images that get softer as you move toward the corners, but the NEX-C3 is nicely uniform in that regard. Photos are really detailed and colors are impressively accurate — red strawberries look as juicy and delicious in photos as they do in real life.

A step up from a point-and-shoot, but not DSLR quality

Dynamic range is the only letdown, but it’s a big one. If you’re shooting in Auto, and come across a scene with wide ranges in lighting — some parts of the shot are bright, some a little darker — highlights always get blown out. In fact, the brightest part of nearly every shot I took was blown out, occasionally to the point where the whole photo appears overexposed. You can fix a lot of this by shooting in Manual or a priority mode, but I’d wager most NEX-F3 buyers aren’t going to be comfortable doing that.

Focusing is sharp and accurate, but it can be infuriatingly slow and inconsistent. The F3 frequently took a half-second or more to lock FOCUS, and frequently seemed to rack past the correct point, and then come back. It also hunts and guesses a lot, so if you frame the exact same photo three times and half-press the shutter, you might FOCUS on three different spots. It’s most problematic when you’re trying to shoot a moving target, or a bunch of shots at once — it’s just inconsistent whether or not your subject’s actually going to be sharp and clear.

The F3 shoots 1080p video at 24 frames per second, a big upgrade over the 720p capabilities of the C3 — though oddly you can’t shoot 720p video on the F3 anymore, so if you’d rather shoot 720p30 and get smaller sizes and higher fps, you’re stuck with the C3. 1080p video looks really good, smooth and clear with great detail. Autofocus performance hurts here too, though: the F3 still hunts around a bit, and it focuses suddenly rather than smoothly, so you really notice every time it changes.

Sony NEX-3 [Review]

A few days ago I could tell nobody about this newbie. I was under an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) from Sony. The Sony NEX-3 was a hot camera!

So Sony gave me a review unit of the Sony NEX-3 three days, explaining that they were so fearful of leaks that a Sony person would collect it from me when my time was up: “Can’t trust couriers — they’ve been known to open up boxes and leak the info to competitors!”

In the last six months it has been apparent that the Micro Four Thirds cameras have won great appeal in the market. Buyers have warmed to the smaller (than DSLR) form factor, light weight and interchangeable lens factor. And the price!

So Olympus and Panasonic have done very well. Now Samsung has entered the fray with its NX10: APS-C-sized sensor, small body, cheaper price.

While Sony has entered late, it has burst through the door with all guns blazing.

The camera currently in my hot, sweaty hands is the lesser of the pair: cheaper and slightly less featured but still highly specked.

The body is roughly similar to Olympus’ new PEN series: no eye level finder (although they are available as clip on accessories); no on board flash (accessory unit available); large 7.5cm LCD screen.

The major difference is the relatively large lenses that mount on this body. The review camera was loaned with an f3.5-5.6/18-55mm lens. The lens barrel was a huge 62mm in diameter. Why? Dunno!

The CMOS is much larger than the Micro Four Thirds sensor, leading to some major benefits: maximum image size is 4592×3056 pixels, or 39x26cm in print-speak. Note that a larger sensor leads to a more narrow depth of field, closer to that of a 35mm SLR.

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It has two major and highly appealing features from the earlier, compact DSC-HX5V: an amazing panorama feature that can be used with the camera horizontally or vertically (you’ll love the Rapid fire of the shutter as it shoots the sections!); high burst rate.

The Sony NEX-5 has one even better spec: AVCVHD movie shooting in Full HD: 1920×1080 pixels.

However, both models share an excellent tilting LCD screen — up by nearly 90 degrees from vertical, out and down by about 30 degrees. It’s also agreeably bright and sharp.

The viewfinder menu is a stunner, resembling a computer screen in all its full colour, icon-splashed glory.

Expect to see a whole boatload of accessories and stunning lenses in the coming months.

Coming are accessories like a wide angle and fish-eye extender lenses; accessory flash; adapters for lenses made for the larger format Alpha lenses.

The camera’s face detection handles up to eight faces.

The optical stabiliser is built into the lens.

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ISO Tests

Shots made at ISO 200 (pictured first above) and 800 (pictured directly above) indicate that this is a superior sensor and able to handle an extended sensitivity range.

By ISO 1600 we’re still looking pretty good: definition still good, while noise is low.

Now we’re at ISO 3200 definition is dropping a touch but noise and artefacts have yet to appear. A good setting for low light photography.

At ISO 12,800 we’re bumping our heads on the ceiling: definition is reasonable but noise and artefacts are visible.

With the right subject, still a useable setting!

This shot of carousel horses was made in soft light and ISO 12,800! Lens aperture: f5.5 and shutter speed of 1/1250 second. For me, a useable shot!


In two seconds from startup I could shoot my first shot; follow-ons came in as fast as I could hit the button. Good going.


This is a significant camera and I figure it will turn the whole business of sensor size completely upside down.

The quality of images in terms of resolution, colour fidelity and low noise is little short of superb.

Why you would buy the Sony NEX-3: to enjoy a very small, high res camera; you want high quality images; you already have some

Why you wouldn’t: you still want an optical pentaprism finder.

Sony NEX-3 Specifications

Image Sensor: 14.2 million effective pixels. Metering: Multi pattern, centre-weighted and spot. Sensor Size: APS-C-sized CMOS (23.4×15.6mm). Lens: Sony E Series mount. Shutter Speed: 30 to 1/4000 second. Flash sync: 1/160 sec. Continuous Shooting: seven fps. Memory: Memory Stick PRO Duo, PRO-HG Duo, SD, SDHC, SDXC cards. Image Sizes (pixels): 4592×3056, 4592×2576, 3344×2224, 3344×1872, 2288×1520, 2288×1280. Movies: 1280×720, 848×480, 640×480 at 30 fps. Colour Space: sRGB, Adobe RGB. LCD Screen: 7.5cm LCD (921,600 pixels). File Formats: JPEG, RAW, JPEGRAW, MPEG4. ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 200 to 12,800. Interface: USB 2.0, HDMNI, AV. Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, DC input. Dimensions: 117.2×62.6×33.4mm WHDmm. Weight: 297 g (inc battery and card). Price: Around AUD1000 for body and kit lens.

Sony NEX-3N Review: The world’s smallest APS-C interchangeable lens camera!

Only a couple of months ago, I had the chance to test out the Sony NEX-5K, one of the two original E-mount interchangeable lens cameras released by Sony in 2010. At the time, I had never laid hands on a NEX camera before, so its sturdy compact built, high image quality, and overall flexibility came as a great surprise considering its age.

Now, holding the NEX-3N, the newest member of the NEX family tree released in March 2013, I get a real sense of just how far Sony has come in the development of their mirrorless line. In three years, they have transformed what was already a great body into something lighter, more streamlined, and more ergonomic, all the while maintaining that great image quality we love and expect from the NEX series.

Sony NEX-3n Main Specs

  • Sensor: 16.1MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • Kit Lens: 16-50mm f/3.5
  • ISO Sensitivity: 200-16000
  • Continuous shooting: 4 fps
  • Autofocus: contrast-detect autofocus
  • Viewfinder:none
  • LCD monitor: 3″ tilting LCD screen (460,800 dots)
  • Built-in Flash: yes
  • Movie recording: 1080i, 1080p
  • Dimensions: 109.9 x 62 x 34.6 mm
  • Weight: 210 g

Design, Ergonomics and Functionality

The NEX-3N has been touted as the smallest and lightest interchangeable lens camera with an APS-C sensor in the world – a pretty big title for what really is a tiny camera. Though it won’t fit into your trouser by any stretch of the imagination, it will comfortably slot into any jacket or handbag, even with the 16-50mm kit lens attached.

Holding it in my hand, it is indeed feather-light due, and is complemented by a sturdy rubber hand grip which eliminates all fear of dropping the camera if you decided to do some one-handed shooting.

In terms of external design, the 3N is 100% minimalistic. Some have called it a physically unattractive camera, but I believe this stems more from the public’s current obsession with the ‘retro’ look than from actual distaste for the NEX’s appearance. It features a simple shutter release button on the top from which protrudes both the on/off switch and a toggle zoom. Beside the shutter release, there is a small playback button, whereas below it, you’ll find a dedicated video button. The button which activates the pop-up flash is nestled on the left side of the camera.

The 3″ tilt LCD screen occupies most of the space on the rear, but leaves just enough space for a small sub-command dial with which you can access the camera’s digital mode dial. This dial is also flanked by two buttons above and below. The top button serves as your access point to the menu, whereas the multi-purpose bottom button either allows you to delete photos in playback mode, or leads you to a list of helpful shooting tips. (Note: If you use ‘flexible spot’ as your AF area rather than ‘multi’, the bottom button will no longer take you to the tips list. Rather, it will allow you to change your FOCUS point, which is useful for more advanced users.)

The most important controls, such as the mode dial, exist as a digital menu, but there are a few functions you can access directly from the four arrows on the sub-command dial – namely ISO, continuous shooting, shutter/aperture adjustment, and display info. Overall, the menu is very intuitive, though you’ll have to do some digging to access certain functions. (It took me ages to find the Format option for my memory card!)

So, all in all, the NEX-3N has design, ergonomics and functionality down to a fine art. There are only two aspects I do not particuarly like: the loud noise the shutter makes when it clicks, and the lack of a viewfinder, as I find that it is difficult to take well-framed shots in bright sunlight guided only by an LCD screen. However, most beginners won’t be bothered by these drawback, and I understand that Sony has to consider its target market first.

Image Quality: Colours and Dynamic Range

An aspect that sets many mirrorless cameras apart from their point-and-shoot counterparts is the presence of a large sensor. In the case of the NEX-3N, we find a 16MP APS-C CMOS sensor – the same kind of sensor you’d find in a low-to-mid range DSLR. As such, high image quality, excellent dynamic range, and rich natural-looking colours are pretty much a given. The gallery of post-processed RAW files below is proof of what this little camera is capable of in a wide variety of situations.

Dynamic range is also very good. In highly-contrasted images such as the one shown below, I was able to easily balance out the highlights and shadows using Lightroom 5 without losing too much detail.

If you aren’t interested in post-processing your RAW files, or don’t have the possibility to do so, there are also a couple of useful functions on the camera that will allow you to achieve a better dynamic range. The first is called Auto HDR which captures three consecutive images at different exposures and merges them into one on-camera. (Note: HDR can only be used when you shoot Fine JPGs without RAW.) The second is called the D-Range Optimizer which, depending on the level you choose (1-5), opens up the shadows more or less on-camera.

Below is an example of how the D-Range Optimizer function works. As you can see, the higher the level, the more the shadows open (while the highlights remain relatively unchanged).

Image Quality: Low-Light Performance

The presence of an APS-C sensor in the NEX-3N also presupposes great low-light performance, and indeed, we see some excellent results. The JPGs produced on-camera, in particular, show very little noise even at high ISO, which suggests that the camera does a lot of internal processing of its images on its own.

Below I have shared two galleries from the fireworks show at the Festa di San Giovanni in Torino. The first gallery shows the quality of the on-camera JPGs at 3200 and 6400 ISO. The second shows the same set of photos post-processed from the RAW files.

In-Camera JPG Gallery:

Post-Processed RAW Gallery:

Trying the camera at 12800 and 16000 ISO, I was even more impressed than I had originally been with the on-camera JPGs. While they are far from useable for professional work, the noise level is not extreme, as you can see in the case of the photo of the stuffed cow sitting on the dark armchair. Noise tends to be most noticeable in the shadows on light-coloured surfaces such as on the walls around the fireplace.

In-Camera JPG Gallery:

The RAW files are less impressive, as you can see from the images below, but I found it was easy to manually eliminate noise using Lightroom to produce the same (and slightly better) results seen in the on-camera JPGs.

Post-Processed RAW Gallery:

Performance: Speed and Autofocus

The 4fps continuous shooting found on the NEX-3N may not live up to the speed of some other cameras in its class and price range, but it is more than enough to capture those important moments, such as your child running by during a soccer game, or your dog playing with a frisbee. There is a slight lag between each consecutive shot taken in Continuous Shooting mode, but this can be sped up if you choose Speed Priority Continuous Shooting. However, doing so will reduce the number of consecutive shots you can take to 3fps.

Autofocus tends to be very quick, with the exception of low-light situations where it takes a split-second longer to FOCUS. An interesting FOCUS option available on this camera is DMF, which allows you to make fine manual adjustments to your FOCUS after the camera has autofocused on a subject. I find this particularly useful for fine-tuning the FOCUS on people’s faces when I photograph them against a landscape. You can also choose between a number of autofocus area options including: center, multi, and my personal favourite, flexible spot, which allows you to manually choose your FOCUS point.

Macro Mode: The 3N’s weakness

Although the NEX-3N has a macro mode buried in the Scene Selection menu, it becomes obvious after a few attempts at taking flower or butterfly pictures that this camera has not been conceived with macro photography in mind. Perhaps with a macro lens, the camera would perform better, but as far as the kit goes, the camera simply doesn’t let you get close enough to your subject – at most 15-20cm. Compare this to the 1cm distance you can achieve with the Fujifilm x20, for instance, and you really begin to perceive the abyss between this camera and others in its class.

Below you can see a photo I took of a small frog I found swimming in the mountainous rivers of Parco del Gran Paradiso. If I had moved in any closer than this, he would have been out of FOCUS.

Video Mode: The 3N’s strength

The Nex series is known to produce very high quality video, so much that some Nex cameras are used by professionals. So when we tested the video capabilities of this camera, we already knew that it would deliver, and we weren’t disappointed. The colours are vibrant and powerful, and the sharpness is very impressive.

We only used the kit lens to perform the test, and while it does a good job, it certainly isn’t the best piece of glass to use for either photo or video. Lens flare isn’t too invasive considering that we took some shots in direct sunlight. At its widest angle, it creates some geometrical distortion. The most deceptive point is the lack of a real macro capability. You will notice this in the video below shot at 0.43s where Mat tried to get as close as possible to the rock to film some ants. The FOCUS point is slightly too far from where it should be.

The camera can record in AVCHD at 1080p, which is not surprising these days, but the use of AVCHD, a codec also found in professional cameras, is a welcome feature that will give you enough bitrate to capture wonderful videos. Autofocus, of course, works during video mode and I must say that it is reliable for this kind of camera. If you want to be more precise, however, it is better to switch to manual. The ring on the lens becomes a tool for focusing and I must say that it is very easy to use due to the bright and sharp LCD screen. Of course, not having a viewfinder will create some difficulty in bright sunlight. over, there aren’t any ND filters incorporated, something that you never find on this type of camera. Since you usually need a slow shutter speed for video (around 1/50 or 1/60), forget achieving a shallow depth of field in daylight as you will need to close your aperture as much as possible.

The lens has a zoom lever that is common in videocameras, and is a welcome addition here as it allows for more fluid zooming than with the lens ring. However, it could be limiting if you try to zoom in or out very slowly. I am not impressed by the stabilization – I find it works better with vertical movements (tilt) than with horizontal movements (pan).

The files produced are sharp and have vibrant colors. I noticed some purple fringing on the trees, but it is a common issue for a lot of sensors. The dynamic range is also very good and shows the potential of the APS-C sensor.

Below you can find a brief montage of the images we shot in the Alps at the Gran Paradiso National Park.

Other Features: Scene Modes, Panorama Mode, and more…

As with every Sony NEX, the 3N is overflowing with useful scene modes designed for beginners, as well as two Auto modes. In the Scene Selection menu, you’ll find options such as: landscape, macro, sports action, sunset, night portrait, night scene, hand-held twilight, anti-motion blur, and portrait. This menu is easily accessible from the electronic mode dial.

Likewise, there are a series of Picture Effects ranging from toy camera to retro photo to rich black and white. However, unlike on the NEX-5K, you must first change your image quality to JPG Fine before you can use these picture effects – a real pain in you are in a hurry to take a photo. Since these effects are laborious to access, I cannot see many beginners going out to their way to use them.

The panorama mode is, as always, flawless. It allows you to take a 180 degree panorama of a scene simply by steadily sweeping the camera from left to right. Below are a couple of examples from the Parco del Gran Paradiso in Italy. (Note: The resulting images will always be JPGs.)

There are also a handful of other interesting functions such as Smile Shutter, which makes the camera take a photo when it detects a smile, and Soft Skin Effect for portraits.


What I like about the NEX-3N:

  • Small, portable, minimalistic and physically discreet
  • Excellent image quality (dynamic range, high ISO, colour reproduction)
  • Amazing video quality
  • Straight-foward menu system that is easy to learn
  • Tilting LCD screen useful for awkward angles or situations in which you find yourself in direct sunlight
  • Loads of extra features including scene modes, HDR shooting, DMF focusing, and more

What I don’t like about the NEX-3N:

  • Lacking a viewfinder which makes framing images challenging in broad daylight
  • The shutter is noisy, so don’t attempt any super-stealthy ninja photography
  • You have to change image quality to JPG Fine to use some functions such as Auto HDR and Picture Effect which can be laborious.
  • Some menu digging is required for certain functions such as Format, Picture Effect, and Focus

The Sony NEX-3N is the perfect camera for those just beginning to toy with the idea of turning photography into a serious hobby. It offers the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and manual controls, but maintains all the user-friendly functions a beginner could appreciate such as two Auto modes, scene selection, picture effects and more. It is small, lightweight, discreet and fun to use, especially when you start to experiment with the excellent video mode. Plus, the image quality leaves nothing to be desired. If you are looking for a versatile camera at a very competitive price, the NEX-3N would make an excellent companion!

About Heather

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google, or !

Sony NEX-F3 Review

With the release of the Sony NEX-F3 camera, Sony Electronics is basically refreshing its entry-level compact and interchangeable camera offering. The overall goal of the release is to offer the latest software updates in terms of effects and image analysis and processing to a form factor that continues to rise in popularity. While the hardware and the image quality itself is not so different from the now retired NEX-C3, the new NEX-F3 camera offers better video recording capabilities and better automatic photo modes, which makes it easier to take great shots without having to touch any settings. Sony says that the Sony NEX-F3 can produce “professional-quality” images, so it’s time to put it to the test to see how it actually performs in the real world.


The Sony NEX-F3 is designed to fit somewhere between a compact camera and a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera in both size and performance. Our test camera has an silver aluminum body and has an overall solid feel. The body itself feels metalic, while the top seems more like plastic, which is not surprising given that there are a lot of openings for the pop-up flash, add-on viewfinder and various buttons.

In terms of ergonomics, your mileage will vary. For example, the thumb rest is definitely not placed where my thumb naturally lands, which is right on the pop-up flash cover. In reality I didn’t this to be a problem, but it shows the challenges imposed by a camera design that is compact, but relatively heavy at the same time. I find that using the intended grip locations don’t provide enough comfort, unless you have very small hands – maybe.

If you put the location of the buttons aside, the controls are very simple and straightforward: Most operations involve one of the 7 buttons, and the multi-directional “joystick”. This is great if you want to use the camera as a “point and shoot”, but if you like tweaking settings manually, the lack of manual (physical) controls may hinder your efforts. The NEX-F3 has been basically designed to provide near-DSLR quality with the simplicity of a point and shoot. Savy users who want to tweak settings themselves are better off with something like the NEX-7, which is for semi-pros.

At the bottom, you will find the battery compartment, the memory card slot and the tri-pd mount. Note that Sony allows the use of Memory Sticks and SD cards, a wise choice as customers tend to dislike being locked with proprietary technologies.

Technical highlights

Lens compatibility: Sony E-mount, Sony A-mount and Minolta/Konica Minolta Maxxum lenses confirmed (via LA-EA1/EA2) Sensor: Sony EXMOR APS-C, 16.5 Megapixel Max image size: 4912 X 3264 Video recording: MP4 (1440×1080 30fps max), AVCHD (1080i 60p max) Display with tilt-up at 180 degrees, tilt-down at 13 degrees Size and weight: 117.3 x 66.6 x 41.3mm, 9.0 oz (255g)

What’s special?

The imaging industry is extremely competitive, and it’s hard to differentiate one’s products from a competitor’s but there are things that I really like with the Sony NEX-F3 that are usually not found in other cameras in this category.

Micro-USB charging is awesome

Micro-USB charging: while this is hardly anything to do with image quality, charging with a micro-USB port is simply awesome. Why? Because you probably have many micro-USB cables or charger. If you don’t, you can hop into any store that sells electronics stuff and get what you need for cheap.

The worst nightmare for any traveler (and tech blogger) is to lose or fry the proprietary charger. It is often very difficult to get a replacement within hours. With this, no problem, the camera can use the 500mA, 5V standard USB power. I love it.

Panasonic GF1 (right) vs NEX-F3 charging apparatus. One is small, cheap and abundant, the other is big, scarce and expensive. Hum… let me think…

Flip-up display: the flip up display is most useful when taking self-portrait, which is something that is widely done among friends. Because, it has a high ISO, the camera often don’t need to use the flash, so proximity is not a problem. Secondly, you can now see exactly what you’re going to shoot, so it removes the guesswork.

If for some reason you want to extend the arm to shoot a photo over a crowd, you can simply reverse the camera, and the internal motion sensor will detect it and rotate the photo upside-down to compensate. This is not the most comfortable way of doing it, but it works.

It’s impossible to miss a self-portrait with this

Obviously, these are not the only new features, but I think that they both set this camera apart when compared to many of the competing Compact camera systems out there.

For all the comparison that you will get with the older NEX-C3, the bottom-line is that the C3 is going away, so you may find a deal during the end of life firesale, but for practical purposes, the NEX-F3 is the new NEX entry level.

How I use it

Before we go on, I think that it’s important that you know how I’m using my micro-camera as this inevitably shapes how I perceive its qualities and pitfalls. Also, in the reviews I mainly use the fully-automatic mode or the shutter-priority mode as most people (not all, I agree) want to simply “point and shoot”.

The micro-camera follows me when I roam around trade shows or go on a vacation. I also own a Canon 50D, which is a really good.but bulky- camera. I have clearly chosen the micro-camera for its small size and weight, and I love the fact that it can fulfill most of the duties that my 50D does for me (I insist on the “for me” part).

In both situations, I tend to shoot in difficult lighting conditions, whether it is on a poorly lit showroom or at a dinner with friends. But whatever happens, I rarely use the flash as I personally prefer photos without it. Also, I tend to use my photos only on the web, and I rarely print anything larger than letter-size, if at all.

Photo quality (very good)

Overall, the image quality is very good

I shot most of the photos in the “Superior Auto” mode, which sets up a bunch of things for me, including the use of HDR photography, which is great for high contrast scenes. Overall, I find the quality to be very good and I have to say that despite having a relatively unimpressive 18-55mn f3.5-f5.6 kit lens, the camera performed admirably well in all kinds of conditions, including low-light. In fact the automatic mode of the NEX-F3 is better than the one on my Canon 50D which tries to pop the flash all the time.

Dim lighting photos look great and true to life, even with the plain 18-55mm lens

This type of photo may be challenging in auto-mode, but the NEX-F3 handled it just fine

I have uploaded a number of sample images to our Ubergizmo Flickr account so that you can see for yourself what the unprocessed photos look like. I’ll shoot more high-resolution if there’s a demand for it, but you will probably get the idea with what we have now.

For a non-DSLR camera, I found the FOCUS speed to be very decent, and while the Olympus E-P3 does feel a bit faster, I don’t think that this would be a make or break deal for me. It was harder to auto-FOCUS in dark settings, even with the AF illuminator. This is common for cameras of this size. Interestingly, my DSLR focused faster even though it had no AF illuminator to help it.

One last point about the auto-FOCUS: I don’t think that it is fast enough for many sports. That’s especially true if the subject goes towards you, or away from you. Again, this is common with those more compact cameras, and if you want to snap sport photos, you will often be better off with a DSLR camera. It’s not that the NEX-F3 isn’t capable of doing it if the conditions are right, but rather that it will have a harder time doing it.

The panorama stitching is impeccable

I also liked the panorama mode very much. The software behind the photo stitching works very nicely, and the results are impeccable. I’ve often seen stitching that had defects here and there, but the NEX-F3 does a very good job, so if that’s your thing, you will be quite satisfied.

Video quality

Sony has improved the video quality by adding higher quality recording mode when compared to the NEX-F3. The camera can record in both AVCHD and MP4. The reason for having two modes is that AVCHD is higher quality, while the MP4 format is more friendly to televisions, computer, tablets, web services, etc… its compatibility is much better. That said, even the MP4 recording more reaches 1440×1080 30p, which is very good. AVCHD can go to 1080i 60FPS. Unfortunately there is no 1080p 60fps, a mode that is available on the NEX-5N.

For casual use, the quality of the video is good. If you want to post something on YouTube, it will come out as a quality video. However, keep in mind that other cameras can record in 1080p 60, which is much better than 1080i and would probably have earned an “Excellent” rating for this section.


Sony has not changed the user interface from the NEX-C3 to the NEX-F3. Obviously, if you have never used an NEX before, I’ll describe the most important parts.

First, in full-auto mode, the shutter and “record movie” buttons are the only ones that you should worry about, so that’s easy. In modes like shutter priority or aperture priority, the wheel gets the job done. If you are in full manual mode, switching from Aperture to Shutter Speed control requires more clicks – and it’s enough so that I would use it only as a last resort in my day to day activities.

The rest of the settings like switching from single shot to continuous, changing the resolution, and setting up the camera in general is fairly easy and relatively clear. The good news is that the default settings were just fine, so if you get lost, you can always reset the whole thing.

It’s a pity that there are no touch-screen controls as they are often faster for selecting things, while physical dials are good at tweaking parameters. Maybe next time.

What could be better?

1/Pancake lens: Price aside, I wish that Sony would add is an option to get the pancake lens as a kit-lens instead of the 18-55mm. For sure the 18-55 is a do-it-all lens, but I think that the pancake lens is a great alternative that makes these compact cameras… actually compact.

2/Touch UI: Secondly, a touch interface would great, like the NEX-5 – it would be totally worth it. That said, not everything should be done with the touch screen: we also need a couple of dials to quickly tweak things like aperture, ISO and shutter speed.

3/ direct to PC shooting: given that the NEX-F3 can be charged over USB power, it would be idea for time-lapses and long-exposure photos. All it takes is to add a shoot to disk capability that the Sony Alpha DSLRs already have. This is often considered to be a “pro” feature, but with these cameras, there are a ton of amazing things that regular folks could do as well. Oh, and it would be nice if we could use it as a high-end webcam too while we’re at it.

I tend to think that camera manufacturers artificially limit these features on semi-pro/enthusiast cameras to preserve their DSLR market, but this is a mistake. DSLRs have unique abilities enabled by their sheer size, so camera makers should not hold back on direct to disk shooting.

Who is this for?

Sony has always clearly stated that the NEX cameras are not meant to compete directly with the DSLR space (after all, Sony also addresses that market). Instead, this is a high-quality camera that would ideally be used in addition to a DSLR, which is often too big to carry around everywhere.

Of course, not everyone wants to own both a DSLR and a NEX, so I’m pretty sure that many customers will be just fine with the NEX, but at a price of 600 you will have to ask yourself if an entry-level DSLR may not be a compelling alternative choice. And it may very well be. It all comes down to how small you want your camera to be.

The Sony Nex 3 First Look Video

To answer the question, this camera is rather for someone who wants very good image quality, without the bulk of a DSLR. Folks who are just interested in popping the camera and shooting great pictures without asking themselves any questions about settings will love it.


One of the cool things about these cameras (vs. cameras) is that they can be supplemented with accessories. I mentioned the pancake lens earlier, but anyone who shoots photos on a sunny day wishes to have an viewfinder. Unfortunately, the only option for this camera is quite expensive. At 350, you will have to be very motivated before buying an electronic viewfinder (EVF) which costs more than half the price of the camera.

The Microphone is probably one of the more accessible (and useful) accessory for whoever wants to shoot movies with an NEX camera. It should not only make the sound better, but it may help with the ambient noise as well, thanks to its directional nature.

For those who own a Sony Alpha, or want to use more exotic lenses, there’s a lens mount adapter that enabled using the lenses built for the Alpha DSLR systems. Interestingly, this usually makes your camera gigantic, but if you need a very long zoom or a fish-eye lens, this may be the only way.


In the end, the largest added-value of this camera is its ease of use, image quality, the “Superior” auto-mode (Sony’s own feature name) and the ability to charge and sync with Micro-USB. If you have checked the photos and videos that I have posted on Flickr, you can see that the image quality is very good. I have not had any particular issue with the LCD in terms of not being able to see, but again, this may vary depending on your own environment. That said, I doubt that I would purchase a 350 viewfinder for a 600 camera.

Of course there’s ample competition. For instance, you can check my review of the Olympus E-P3 camera, which is great too, but costs 800, which is a substantial difference, and I can’t say that it is 30% better than the NEX-F3, even if enthusiast photographers may prefer its many physical controls.

600 is not change, but the bottom-line is that if you look at that market, you can go with lower-end cameras like the Panasonic GF3, which is clearly not as good – but is smaller and comes with a cool pancake lens.

The real competitor at this price point is the Samsung NX Series, but it too does not come with a pancake lens, or features that would make it a clear winner as it lacks the built-in Flash and USB charging capability. The Sony NEX-F3 is a top camera in the 600 range, and if you want to snap great photos without tinkering with any settings, it is very much worth considering.

If you found this review useful, Like it, share it spread the word. If there is something that I did not cover or if you want to ask a question, please drop a comment, and I’ll do my best to reply.



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