Sony NEX-F3 Hands-On: The Best Affordable Pro Compact Camera Gets a BoostS

Last year's Sony NEX-C3 is the best camera you can buy for $600. It delivers professional image quality and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses in a compact package. Here comes its successor, the Sony NEX-F3. Is it worthy of its lineage?

Like the NEX-C3, the new NEX-F3 is a mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera with a 16.1-megapixel APS-C (23.4 x 15.6 mm) sensor. In other words, its sensor is the same size and resolution as the one in more expensive DSLR cameras, but crammed into a smaller package. The downside is that the NEX-F3 doesn't have an optical viewfinder, so you have to use the camera's 3-inch LCD to see what you're shooting, and the body isn't loaded with as many buttons as a DSLR. The old NEX-C3 already took excellent photos and performed well both during the day and in low-light conditions, but the NEX-F3's sensor has been tweaked so that it can shoot at higher sensitivity (ISO 16000 vs ISO 12800) without losing quality. In real-world terms this means that you'll be able to take hand-held shots in slightly darker conditions.

Sony NEX-F3 Hands-On: The Best Affordable Pro Compact Camera Gets a BoostS

The NEX-F3 delivers two important changes compared to its predecessor. First of all, the camera now shoots up to Full HD 1920 x 1080 video compared to the C3's 1280 x 720 video. What's more, the camera will shoot at full resolution at up to 60 frames per second—not even pro-DSLRs go that high. This new high-res video power brings the NEX-F3 up to speed with its competitors, but given that these cheaper cameras aren't fabulous for video, we'll have to wait to see whether this upgrade really makes a difference.

Sony NEX-F3 Hands-On: The Best Affordable Pro Compact Camera Gets a BoostS

Additionally, Sony has made several upgrades to the camera's hardware. Rather than embrace the camera's compact package, the NEX-F3 is actually slightly larger and heavier than the C3. It's now closer to the size of the more-expensive (and also excellent) NEX-5N. In addition, the camera's tiltable LCD screen now flips a full 180 degrees so that you can—you guessed it—take self-portraits, MySpace-style.

The Sony NEX-F3 will be available in June. Like the NEX-C3, it ships with a 18-55mm kit lens for $600.

Sony NEX-F3 Hands-On: The Best Affordable Pro Compact Camera Gets a BoostS

We had the opportunity to use the NEX-F3 for a few hours, and the results are promising. The camera's snappy shooting performance remains the same. The flexible shooting settings are relatively intuitive but still not as easy as other cameras. The new larger body does feel slightly more substantive and sturdy than its predecessor. It's now easier to brace the camera for a tricky shot, and it would be hard to imagine that the tiny increase in weight would be a lot more burdensome in your backpack. The 180-degree tiltable screen works perfectly, but feels more like a gimmick than anything else. That said, it's hard to complain about increased flexibility. Who knows when that might come in handy? Without spending more time with the camera, we can't say for sure if it actually takes better photos or video than the NEX-C3, but we'll let you know when we get a review unit. [Sony]