In addition to the Sony A37 also announced today, the company has refreshed its entry-level NEX-series compact system camera. The NEX-F3, the camera to replace the NEX-C3, continues down the alphabet soup name-change line - but is a refresh with some subtle yet important changes.
The camera comes loaded with a 16.1-megapixel APS HD CMOS sensor, able to capture images from ISO 200-16,000. That's half a stop more sensitivity than its predecessor, but there's still no ISO 100 setting, which is a shame - the Sony Alpha SLT models are capable of this, so we see no reason why the NEX-series continues to omit a lower sensitivity.
As well as easy USB charging where the camera can be plugged into a laptop or other device to charge up, the F3 has an improved battery life compared to its predecessor. Now able to capture 470 shots per charge, that's an extra 70 shots per charge compared to its predecessor - although we haven't been able to test this thoroughly, if it proves true it will be most welcome. Most, if not all, compact system cameras suffer from poor battery life, so for Sony to take charge in changing this gets a thumbs up from us.
It's out with the old and in with the new too: the NEX-F3 includes a built-in pop-up flash, not the fiddly screw-on flash of its predecessor. Now this we like.
Movie mode also takes a step forward to a higher resolution. The full-HD 1080p mode captures at 25 frames per second, up from the C3's 720p capture.
As per the recently announced Sony A57 camera, the NEX-F3 takes advantage of both Auto Portrait Framing and Clear Image Zoom. The former is designed to auto-crop your shots for optimum framing, while the latter is akin to a digital zoom, except the image output size remains at 16-megapixels, despite the additional 2x magnification. The preview doubles the lens's focal length, which not only makes framing easy but is an extra trick that effectively doubles focal length when desired.
New picture effect modes open up a variety of in-camera adjustments. There are 11 types and 15 variations that range from posterisation to retro and black and white to toy camera. It's all the rage.
The bulk of the NEX-C3's features carry over to the latest F3 model. The same 3-inch, 921k-dot, tilt-angle LCD remains, and there's still no viewfinder - but it is possible to attach the FDA-EV1S electronic viewfinder (sold separately) to the smart accessory terminal - meaning it's possible to have both flash and viewfinder, unlike previous entry-level NEX models. 5.5fps burst shooting in speed priority mode also remains.
We like the way Sony's tinkered with the NEX-series. The NEX-F3 looks like a batch of little changes that will combine to make a big difference. And we anticipate it to launch at close to the £500 mark. Affordable stuff.