Sony Zone


The main worry when you get your hands on either the F707 or its newer twin, the F717, is not, "What is it missing?" but, "When can I start shooting?" You will want some time to explore all the features in depth. And make no mistake, these are cameras that defines "depth".

Updated October 7, 2002 with F717 comparisons

The 5-Megapixel DSC-F707/717 CyberCam ...Ongoing...   9 - 17 - 02

How can you review two cameras in one breath? Try this: "Wow." The 707/717 are within a hair of each other in every important photographic function and result. Some controls moved. A very few features have slightly changed. They are not as different as night and day. They are as different as noon and 1 PM.

A lot of people want to cut to the chase: What about this 717? Here are some of my immediate notes. If you don't already know the 707, skip this section and come back after you read the rest of the review.

Notes on the DSC-F717:

When you hold both cameras in your hands, they feel the same in every way. Solid, moderately hefty compared to smaller cameras, and positive in their control. The 717 is one-half shade lighter in color than the 707 and the grain of its finish seems tighter. That's an optical illusion, since when you look close, they are actually the same texture.

My preference is for the deeper finish of the 707, but then I'd rather see the whole thing in anodized black. Except for the Mode dial and left side of the lens barrel, the two cameras appear identical. That's not true. Notice the slightly different number of grill openings on the camera top microphone. Micro-differences.

The 717's monitor screens have a slightly brighter appearance. The 717's Set Up mode has five pages compared to the 707's three. New things in the 717 menu are a switch to turn the new hot-shoe on or off, a zoom ring direction choice item, two menu items to create and select new image folders and that's all. Well, there is one new SCN (Scene mode) that is equivalent to a Slow Flash option on other cameras. It produces long, meter-satisfying exposures while popping the flash at the top of the shot.

One thing about the zoom-ring on the 717 when auto focus is engaged. It's great. Very proportional over all. If there weren't a slight lag between turning the ring and seeing the zoom result, you might swear the ring was mechanically attached to the zoom mechanism.

The new five-zone, six-option focus area selector is nice, and the brackets that frame the focus area turn bright green when focus has been locked. A nice touch, and helpful, but it does take an extra ten minutes of practice to get a visceral understanding of it into your system.

The on-screen histogram turns out to be quite useful, too. Once on, it's semi-transparent and it gives a pretty good accounting of how the tonalities of the image are laying out.

It's one of those intuitive tools that you can understand by just pointing it around at things and thinking, "Right = bright. Tall = all." Each column that lifts up or dives down is responding to the relative number of image pixels that populate the brightness range it stands for.

See that spike left of center? It's showing the large number of slightly dark gray area in the upper right. No very dark pixels are in the image here, and looking around the rest of the screen, one can see that this is a manual exposure that is about 2/3-stop lighter than the matrix meter's recommendation.

At the same time, you can see that the highlights on the right are just about exhausted by the time the right edge is reached. This means that nothing major is really crashing against the brightness ceiling. That's a Good Thing.

The white brackets outlining the center rectangular area is the focus zone #6 area. Depending on the subject matter, the whole zone, 2/3 of the zone or just 1/3 of the zone will lock in with a half-press of the shutter release. It gets it right more often than it gets confused by 90% or more.

What Doesn't It Have?

I am always looking for the stand-out camera. Something that does what others do not. The field is getting more crowded as manufacturers compete for your attention and seek to turn a series of desires into a good reason for you to let go of your dollars.

Sony has been angling for digital camera market share for years now and with the DSC-F707 Cyber-shot they have hit a mark so well, that it bears notice and attention. About a year after its original introduction Sony has made some minor changes to the 707 and tagged it the DSC-F717 to signal two ideas: improvement and legacy. 98% of the 717 is the 707 but some interesting updated ideas have joined this chassis.

They're continuing to produce a hybrid camera, part digital compact, part electronic SLR. And they are using it to show off almost every trick in the book.

Okay, one thing the 707 it doesn't have is ISO 800. Oops, never mind, the F717 does have that ISO speed available. The baton has been passed with the introduction of the DSC-F717 in October of 2002.

The newer, 2002 model has about six new features and thankfully leaves the rest of the features of the 707 intact.

Married to the Mob

A mob of features, that is. The original DSC-F707 (known to its friends as "the 707" is a deep and rewarding camera experience. It's almost a Theme Park among compact digital cameras. It has features that have never been seen before, along with most of the features the other manufacturers pride themselves in providing.

Things that are in the 707 include:

  • NightShot using on-camera IR illumination and enhanced ISO along with imaging chip IR sensitivity elevation techniques.
  • Night Framing using a small laser projected holographic pattern that can focus on nearby subjects (think 10 - 20 feet or so) in complete and utter darkness.
  • Image size manipulation in-camera AFTER the shot has been taken.
  • Image cropping in-camera AFTER the shot has been taken.
  • Dual-speed zoom control.
  • Burst 3 rapid fire sequence shooting.
  • Burst 3 exposure bracketing.
  • Segmented (matrix) primary exposure metering.
  • Center weight metering option.
  • Tiny (!) and precise spot metering.
  • Audio notes attached to images option.
  • Internet image mode.
  • EVF --Electronic View Finder-- in addition to the exterior monitor.
  • Dedicated buttons for Manual White Balance.
  • Dedicated button for Auto Exposure Lock.
  • Dedicated button for Exposure Meter type.
  • Dedicated button for Self Timer.
  • Dedicated button for Macro Mode.
  • Dedicated button for Flash control.
  • Dedicated button for EV+/-.
  • Dedicated button for quick review of last image.
  • ACC (essory) socket for external flash and remote control.
  • 5X inspection of review images plus scroll-around.
  • Movie modes (3) with in-camera trimming.
  • GIF-generating animated image modes (2).
  • Scene modes for Twilight, Portrait and Landscape.
  • Manual focus-by-wire with distance read-out and instant magnification.
  • Beep or Ker-chunk shutter sound (or off).
  • Auto Pop-Up Flash.
  • Accessory shoe.
  • Accessory plug port for flash & remote trigger.

Added to all that are the more common features of:

  • Fast power up.
  • Fast Auto-Focus.
  • Shutter Priority exposure mode.
  • Aperture Priority exposure mode.
  • Manual Settings exposure mode.
  • TIFF images uncompressed.
  • Fast Menu overlays and recovery to shooting mode.
  • Special effects of Sepia, Posterization and Negative Art.
  • Swivel body for exterior monitor positioning.
  • All-metal body.
  • 58mm filter thread.
  • Long-life battery (2.5 to 4 hours per charge).
  • Tripod socket on center line of lens.
  • Extensive editing including Protect, Print and Delete functions.
  • Ergonomic design.
  • Quick review in camera mode.

Things that are added in the 717 include:

  • Accessory hot shoe for base-triggered flash units (virtually all of them).
  • Live Histogram display of scene before exposure.
  • 5-zone, 6-option focus selection system.
  • Super EZ Full Auto system for novice users.
  • Night Portrait scene option (Slow flash).
  • Zoom ring control added to two-speed toggle.
  • Movie HQX mode with unlimited scene recording.
  • Special fast-gathering "Multi-Burst" mode creates 16 VGA images on one frame.
  • One-second start up time. Wow.
  • Improved battery time-on-station.
  • Expanded menus and Set Up.

And supporting all those features is Sony's own 5-megapixel imaging chip. They've designed this camera to be the perfect exploitation of that device and it shows.

I've always been impressed that most of the digital cameras these days use imaging chips from Sony and they've shown up in brands as diverse as Casio, Olympus, Kyocera, Nikon, Ricoh and Canon.

Obviously their rich history of pixels and sensors has been felt for years with their video, HD, Hi-8 and DV cameras, but the Sony approach to digital still photography draws upon that video experience in a different way.

Speed. It's all about slinging the camera from cold metal and stone into a living, observing, capturing machine. Just as it is for news video journalists and amateur videographers.

Their 1997 DV camera powered up in two seconds. Sony got close to this performance with the F707. With the 717, they got it down to 1 second.

You see a picture on the 707 in 1.5 seconds and are ready to shoot in 2.5. The autofocus is FAST. And accurate. And silent, too. As is the dual speed precision zoom.

Lens Me Your Eyes

The big tubular thing out front is that Zeiss zoom lens. Fast f/2.0 at wide angle, it gives up about half of a stop at full telephoto where it performs at f/2.4. The zoom range is a tidy 38-190mm equivalent (compared to a 35mm camera) and the auto focus and zoom mechanisms are totally silent. With the camera shutter sounds turned off, nobody will know that you are shooting the camera unless you use flash or self timer.

Zooming is controlled on the 707 with a toggle up front and it is dual speed for very fine framing. The 717 moves it to a horizontal position in the same thumb-space. Sony's video experience once again. Major points awarded. The low speed lets you creep into a framing slowly while the faster speed (just press harder on the toggle) lets you jump around quickly.

The lens itself is probably one of the top 4 lenses ever to grace a digital camera. More points awarded.

But they didn't stop with quality, they gave the lens flexibilities. Manual focus can be easily configured to provide a 2X image close-up on the monitor while the front focus ring is being rotated. As soon as you stop focusing, the image drops back to normal size. Handy, that. Manual focus distances are read out in meters on the monitor.

The lens is consistent-focus. You can zoom into a subject, focus, and zoom back while maintaining focus throughout the zoom range. A whole bunch of focus options orbit this idea. The eBook will reveal all.

Zooming on the 717 involves some new thinking since it can be done in two ways. You can use the slightly repositioned toggle switch with its two-speed zoom or put the camera into auto focus and use the front lens ring as a proportional zoom control.

A Gripping Experience

The grip you use to bring the camera into action varies depending on which screen, inner or outer, you plan to use. For the inner monitor, the EVF, that means similar to the way you would hold a 35mm SLR. Left hand's palm toward your face, right hand on the business side of the camera back.

Fortunately your thumbs are opposable. Everything is within reach. Getting used to the zoom toggle is a bit of a challenge on the 707, but it has been vastly improved on the 717.

Flashy Features

Wouldn't it be nice if the flash popped up right when you needed it?

If you said, "Yes," then this is your camera. When things get dark, the flash needs no introduction to make its appearance. The rest of the time, it lives safely under its metal cover atop the lens.

Pop! It's daylight balanced and delivers exceptionally good looking images ...for an on-camera flash. Of course you can turn it off or ask it to fire in broad daylight as a flash-fill effect, on demand.

It's a dual flash system. With each shot, two flashes fire. The first is a metered intensity "probe" that is read by the imaging chip through the camera lens. Once the camera sees this test, it calculates full flash mode, makes internal adjustments and fires the second flash. The result of all this is that the images are MUCH better looking than most on-camera flash shots from other single-flash cameras. But there is a trade off.

The double flash prevents use with most slave units, since they are looking for a first spike of light to trigger from. Most of them will fire from the test pulse. A few external slave units can be set to trigger from the second flash, notably the models from . But the on-camera flash does remarkably well under challenging conditions(See the flash shot in the Images Gallery).

For the more adventurous, there is a special add-on flash unit that sits on the accessory shoe and plugs into the accessory jack. It has the wonderfully memorable name, the HVL-F1000. Ahh, the poetry of product nomenclature...

One of the Sony flash unit's first features of note is that it intimately listens to the camera's own preferences. It knows when you have ISO 400 dialed up, and it knows that you want just a little less flash today from your preferences setting. Dutifully, it obeys your wishes. It is a single-flash device, so it WILL trigger inexpensive slave units.

Competing with the external flash for use of the Accessory jack is the RMDR-1 wired remote. If the flash is being used, the remote will plug into an extra ACC jack on the flash unit.

The 717 adds an intelligent accessory hot shoe. One that works with nearly every accessory flash unit on the market. Now you can mount a simple, inexpensive hot shoe-triggered flash to your camera. Ritz has some for very low bucks.

Killer Image

The image chip is Sony's own ICX282AQF Super HAD (Hole Accumulation Diode) imager. It has a total sensor array of 2658 x 1970 sensors yielding a 2560 x 1920 pixel image. Red, Green and Blue primary color sensors are used in a Bayer Color Filter Array (CFA) pattern to capture the shot.

Pictured: The Bayer CFA. If each of the color-topped sensors were an inch across (25mm square) the image area would be 160 feet (49 meters) wide by over 210 feet tall. That would cover the side of a rather large office building and be far sharper than any of the posters that are actually made that size.

The image area diagonal is a nominal 11mm but the nomenclature for an image this size is the so-called "2/3-inch" format. That's a throwback to the days of vidicon tubes. It's significantly larger than the previous generation of 3.14-megapixel imagers and that requires larger optics and, of course, larger memory files.

IR Ready

Notice from the chip's spectral response (right) that the red sensitivity and even some of the green filter's sensitivity extends off the right side of the chart, rising as it leaves. That's infrared territory. You can't see any color off the right of this visible spectrum plot, but that doesn't mean the image sensor in the camera can't.

Both the Red and (to a lesser degree) Green sensors show considerable sensitivity to infrared, but the camera clamps down on this phenomenon with an internal filter that absorbs IR light, allowing the sensors to do their job in the visible spectrum.

But what would happen if you were to remove that internal filter? Fortunately, Sony asked that same question.

IR In the Dark

NightShot is a unique all-infrared shooting mode for dim or totally dark situations. The camera clicks an internal "IR mirror" filter out of the optical path, and the imaging chip suddenly becomes VERY IR sensitive. LED "emitters" on the top quadrants of the lens mount fire up and spray IR light into the scene. With ISO set to Auto, the camera floats its sensitivity up to 2500 and suddenly the night has been cut in two with technological imaging. The camera has just become a Night Scope and nothing can escape its grasp.

The B&W IR image is quite well detailed at low ISO, and will need a package of filters to become a daylight infrared camera. That's doable, and the results are creative and fun.

Laser Brain

A laser holographic pattern projector helps you focus in total darkness. It's exactly the same as a laser pointer with a holographic pattern embedded in its lens. It projects diagonal hash marks that are in focus on everything they hit, and whenever they show up, the camera has a real good chance of focusing completely without ambient light. In nearly a year of working with this camera, I have never lost focus when this system was active.

In normal shooting, the laser projector shows up during auto focus in dim or dark light only when the camera feels like it needs it. You can disable it in the Set Up menus, and the camera will do its best to focus without it. Vertical contrast lines help. In practice any auto focus system can be fooled, including your own eyes, but this one goes many extra steps to keep that image sharp under the most extreme circumstances. One of its focus tricks when the holographic projector is off involves boosting the chip sensitivity through the roof so it can see less ambiguously in the dark.

One mode uses the holographic projector in conjunction with the NightShot viewing so you can see your subject in total darkness, focus on it using the laser mode, keep framing, then pop the shot for a color image. And all you have to do is press the shutter button half way, then all the way, to trigger the sequence.

The pattern shows up in dim light if it is allowed to. You can turn it off on the Setup mode. (No sense shooting pictures of politicians with it on, only to be wrestled to the ground by the Secret Service.)

Strap Me Out

I'm not a fan of neck straps. But the relatively large size of the F707 lends itself to shoulder carry. The Sony strap is comfortable and has a non-slip material on its underside that keeps it stuck well to my shoulder. Your shoulder may vary.

Over time, I'll try wrist strap options and see how they feel. I'm trying to give the shoulder strap a chance under a leather top coat. "Hey, buster! Yeah, you. You packin' heat?"

Straps like the one provided make me nervous. Especially ones like this that take four minutes to disengage. They extend the vulnerability of the camera to be swept from a table inadvertently, or to be pulled from your grip by any stray twig, doorknob or snatch and run artist. The chances of dropping the camera go down, but the chance of other forms of accident or mischief go up.

Another way to protect, but not carry, the camera is by using a 1~1.2 inch split key ring attached to the right camera strap link. Thread your index finger through it as you pick up the camera and you will never be able to drop it. Your finger can still do all the button presses you need. Of course, this may not be for everybody, but I'm getting used to it. The minimalist safety strap...


The shoulder carry wins in my eBook. And the preferred method is to carry the camera under any outer coat. No sense signaling everybody that you are about to take their picture. The coat protects and limits the swing of the camera and with the strap adjusted to the right length, you can bring it up to eye level easily.

...and I use the safety ring.


Control Freak

Button, button, where is that button? Over here, no, over here. Ah, here it is. The outside of the lens has 6 buttons and the number of controls divided between your thumb and index finger of your right hand are 17. That could have been a problem had the Sony Ergonomic Olympic team not been so on the ball.

Your index finger has only four controls to encounter but these do a lot. The shutter, of course, and the EV+/- buttons are logically joined via a geared wheel called a Jog dial that selects things by rotating and confirms choices by being pressed downward. I've seen this on my video equipment, and it's a very swift way to make choices and lock them in.

The Night Framing and NightShot options are selected with a sliding switch on top of the camera. Jumps between choices are virtually instantaneous on the monitor, making operation logical and quick.

Your right thumb works everything else. Menu, review mode and text overlay on/off buttons line up in a row. A switch selects between EVF and monitor. Since there is no optical viewfinder, you must use one or the other. Of the two, the exterior monitor uses the most power.

The King of the buttons is the five-way "Control button" that is part four way joystick and part push button. It chooses quick review, flash type, macro and self-timer most of the time and does double duty as a scroll control in magnified review mode.

Your thumb kicks the camera on and off with a momentary toggle that extends from the base of the Master Mode dial. It selects Manual, Shutter, Iris and Program AE exposure modes, Playback, Movie, Set Up and SCN, or Scene, functions.

A dedicated button initiates EV+/- adjustments, and a clever geared wheel rotates and pushes for scrolling and ratifying choices. It sounds complicated but it is well thought-out and ergonomically sound. You will learn it in no time.

In this view, the only thing that differentiates the 717 from the 707 is the Mode dial at the right. The 717's version adds only one extra icon to this control--"Full Auto" mode that is differentiated from Program AE mode. Perfect for beginners, it's a mode that requires no experience from the photographer. Great for when you hand the camera off to a novice.

Glare Repair

The exterior monitor is COATED! Yay! A deep blue anti-reflection coating keeps the glare out. But unlike earlier Cyber-shot cameras, this one doesn't work in sunlight doing the reflective image trick. Aw. Well, with the EVF, you don't need outdoor viewing at all.

You have control over the brightness of the light source behind each of these view screens separately.

For bright outdoor use, elevating the brightness of the EVF makes it quite well suited to your daylight-adapted eyes. The miniature TV screen in there works great in bright sun and is detailed enough to deliver all menus and icons into your eye.

The monitor can fool you. Its image can look better than it will on your computer screen, especially with underexposed images. (Never fear, the coming iNovaFX Photoshop Actions for the 707 will retrieve underexposed images and even extend camera exposure usefulness into the ISO 1600+ realm. But I digress...)

Macro Encounters

Sony includes a Macro mode, but the smallest practical field of view is only about 1.2 inches (3cm) wide. Its sweet spot is at the wide end of the zoom, not a great place for flat field, undistorted, macro performance. The sweet spot extends about a quarter of the zoom range.

At full zoom, macro focus works the 0.9 meter range. Just arm's reach away from the front element. The field of view is only 7 inches wide (18cm), but the focus field is flat and quite undistorted. Moving the zoom to mid way, close focus shrinks the distance to a comfy 0.07 meters. Field of view has shrunk to 2.25 inches wide (about 55mm).

It will be useful for many things, but not the extraordinary macro performance of the Nikon Coolpix line.

Move Ease

Still cameras have grown a motion picture component. It was inevitable. Movies are only a stream of still images, after all. But the trend toward acquiring motion scenes with digital still cameras blurs the lines, so to speak.

The movie modes of the 707 include a very high quality image and sound mode plus several lesser modes including one called "Clip Motion" that has virtually nobody excited. Largely through unawareness.

Here's a ClipMotion image made from 10 (the maximum) controlled "frames". You may find a way of using this for web pages. It produces an animated .GIF file right in the camera, and embeds into html pages easily.

To edit a file, you will need Photoshop and ImageReady or another animated GIF editor. The default time for ClipMotion files is 2 images per second. Editing inside the camera isn't available.

To date, I have heard of nobody using it other than this demo. Clever, though. With Adobe's ImageReady, you can, of course, make these sorts of animated GIFs out of any images you choose, add timings to individual frames, optimize the output and post them on the web.


IR shooting in NightShot mode lifts the IR filter from in front of the imaging chip. It gets great IR, but insists that it is an Auto Exposure Mode camera with the lens wide open and the shutter speed locked out from exposures briefer than 1/60 sec!

Manual exposure doesn't work with NightShot. If you cover the lens with a nice IR filter, you can shoot outdoor IR photos with the F707, but there is no way to turn off the IR illuminators under the IR filter. They tend to glare off the filter surface.

The front of the lens is threaded for 58mm filters and you would think, "I'll just get a nice 1A and protect that puppy," but both of the Night modes suffer from the reflections just one layer of glass causes. The IR illuminators and laser focus pattern projector all shoot from right next to the lens and inside the filter thread.

For ultra clean work, you will have to solve the brightness and glare issues. The eBook gets into this quite deeply.

If you shoot at night and NightShot is a possible option, take all filters off the camera.

The Sony DSC-F707 has no Contrast control, no Saturation control, no Best Shot Selector (BSS), no 5-zone focus selector and no intelligent hot-shoe. If you really need features like this, see the Nikon Coolpix 5000.

Burst-3 mode, which is a very fast three-shot motor drive emulation, solves the idea of BSS for me most of the time. One of those three images will be clear if I have taken steps to stabilize the camera as much as is practical. Saturation control is handled in Photoshop, and the auto focus system of the 707 is easy to work with. Using the wire-connected Sony flash unit has proved easy and accurate, as well.

ABFAB Features

Sony's design attitudes show up in the darndest places. They have, for instance, in-camera editing operations nobody else can touch. You can shoot an image at full size, decide later that it isn't worth keeping full size, copy it to a down-converted smaller format, and blow the original away, thus freeing up lots of storage space and keeping the image at an appropriate size for your needs --all inside the camera! (Emphatic redundant emphasis provided redundantly!)

You can rotate the image so verticals play as verticals on the review screen. When you zoom into them, they jump up to larger size for close inspection. At full zoom in, you are inspecting only 20% of the width and height of an image.

As you zoom into closer views of an image in Play mode, you can see the image in more detail. But if you stop, cropping a new composition, you can save that new crop as a separate file. Of course, the saved file will only be smaller than the originals, but it's one of those "why didn't somebody think of that before," sort of ideas.

And if memory space gets precious (I knew I should have bought more memory gum!) you can go back to shots that were made at highest quality and re-save them at the intermediate compression setting. Then blow away the original. Voilá! More room. You could do the reverse, as well, --save the image in a new file at lower compression-- but that wouldn't do it any good.

The AF Lock freezes the exposure, pops an icon on the view screen and holds it till the cows come home--or until you make the shot. It's a hold/release toggle. You should play with the idea enough to get used to it, in case you ever inadvertently lock the exposure and can't figure out why the shot came out wrong.

The two-speed zoom is a great idea. In-camera framing gains a huge degree of refinement with it. The Manual focus is precise, consistent throughout the zoom and makes controlled tripod or studio shots easy to nail.


Pickup Lines

The testing reviewers consistently see 1800 or more lines of detail in the image in the short dimension of the frame. The same image will define around 2400 lines in the long dimension.

That's a measure of the number of alternating zones of either white or black the imager will show before the pattern fades to gray. Notice that this is different from film MTF tests that measure line pairs.

How does it stack up to film, everybody wanted to know? While you can shoot film with the lowest ISO, highest acuteness formula and get "better" results, the issue is nearly moot.

An ink jet printer is now the trusty tool of professional film photographers. And they shoot film mostly to digitize before printing. Any print that is fed 200 or more pixels per running inch of paper will appear to be of exceptional quality. This camera needs no scan, delivers clean, sharp images and makes prints so tight that full-page ads can be made with it.

With 1920 pixels to start with, 1800/1920ths is about 94% efficiency. Meaning that Sony has achieved a good solid 'A'* rating in image detail.

*US grade schools use an A B C D F(ail) report card system. A = the best.

Color and Tone

From example images shot side by side with the Nikon CP5000, the Sony image seems a tad more colorful, as if they had been more concerned with "vivid" and less concerned with "accurate". This sentiment has been echoed by others and while I sympathize with their concerns, the real world of photography as witnessed through thousands and thousands of exposures with this camera through these Very Fussy Eyes has come to a different conclusion.

The image is fine. Great, even. But it IS easy to screw it up in your computer by using the wrong image viewing or color management files. And that can make the image look too florid on your computer screen. Try printing out a camera file direct from the Memory Stick and you will almost certainly find that there is nothing at all wrong with the color intensities.

Photoshop 6 and 7 need help. Switch to "Color Management OFF" and balance your monitor to look more like a straight, non-managed print.

Of course, a lot of that depends on how tweaked one's printing processes, viewing screens and computer colorimetry settings are. There have been a relatively high number of user grumbles that the Reds from the 707 are too saturated. The review camera, manufactured in October, 2001, shows rich color, but not as strong as the complaints seem to indicate.

Other reviewers who do direct comparisons of identical scenes have noticed that the color from the 717 is improved to avoid the red "issues". Sony seems to listen. Check the details in DPReview's in-depth review, for instance.

Both of these cameras will produce more realistic, life-like color than any film I've seen. And why not, they both are direct scans of the real world.

The red Che flag is in the middle of a major labor strike in Rome, Italy, this past March 2002. The flags were --piercingly-- brilliant red along with the hats many strikers wore. This image was shot on the fly from a moving bus (!), packed with standing riders (!!), through a closed window (!!!), and is only sharp because the camera used a 1/500 sec shutter speed. But the reds? No problem there. At least not with the color red. Nor were any of the other strike images shot with or without the window in the optical path. That flag was about as intensely red as anything you would ever need to capture, short of day-glow colors that actually fluoresce. Of course, if it looks too red on your monitor, then there's your answer. These are the original values. Only size and crop were needed to bring this shot to this page.

Tonal Oddity

While the dynamic range of the 707 seems to be extraordinary, looking more like film than other cameras in its class, one strange phenomenon seems to have affected a relatively high percentage of individual samples. It shows up as a darkening along the left side of the image and is virtually impossible to see in most shots. Still, if one shoots a totally blank subject, such as a pure blue sky or blank white light box, the left side of the image will be somewhat darker than the right side.

In tests of the review sample, this showed a consistent approximately 9% darker left edge when compared to the right edge. That's a small portion of a stop, but the Sony eBook will contain special Photoshop Actions (iNovaFX™ brand) that let you tune it away to zero.

Noises Off

Images shot at elevated ISO accumulate grain and noise. Elevated ISO is derived by amplifying the signal from the chip along a specific response curve and light objects show less noise than mid tones and shadows.

A special Twilight Scene mode elects to do a noise reduction gathering of long exposure images. It combines a dark frame with the gathered image and uses any light pixels in the dark frame as a template to fill in the image. From making the iNovaFX filters I know how easy it can be to get this wrong or marginally right. The Sony DSC-F707 gets it very right.

Conclusions (with 8000+ images of ongoing experience) +/-

+ On the plus side...

  • Operational speed
    • Fast start up.
    • Fast auto focus.
    • Fast zoom/slow zoom.
  • Instant access to functions with dedicated buttons
    • White balance.
    • Manual white balance.
    • Meter type.
    • EV +/-.
  • The huge list of features that let you make pictures under nearly all situations
    • NightShot.
    • Night Focus.
    • Laser Hologram focus assist.
    • Manual focus ring with electronic focus magnifier.
    • AE lock.

Then there is the big lens, the image quality and the ergonomic layout of the seemingly large number of controls.

Plus all the clever in-camera editing options.

- On the minus side...

  • Lack of image quality controls such as contrast and chroma inside the camera.
  • Lack of a daylight IR image function (so near, and yet, so what).
  • No intelligent hot shoe. Oops. It's on the 717, so I guess they were listening.
  • No true B&W mode. Sepia gives you monochromatic viewing, though, and that helps.
  • Childish "special effects." Except, of course, the Sepia.
  • Odd left-side darkening. Fixed on the 717.

Bottom Line

If you want a long lens zoom 5-megapixel camera, either model is very hard to beat. I don't know of another camera that can best it overall, dollar for value.

So many great and intelligent features; so few excuses in its layout and function. Image quality is far above average. Go to a camera counter and touch it for real. If this camera doesn't float your boat, a smaller, lighter, wider-zooming 5-megapixel camera is available from Nikon and a new Nikon model brings 8:1 zoom and many attractive features you may find to your taste.

The 717 has a handful of more features over the 707, and if you were buying today, you could take heart in knowing that the 707's that people are selling at a discount to clear out their "old" stock is about 97% of the "new" 717 and takes pictures that are every bit as good. Or, just wait until mid-October, 2002 for the new one. Might as well.

717 Recall?

Initial production runs of the newer DSC-F717 camera encountered an "issue" in manufacturing.

Ya gotta love that sort of word. It really minimizes what it really means: "Problem: big, hairy."

In this case, certain cameras have a big hairy problem with the hologram focus system and can fail to focus accurately, especially at loger focal lengths. Only certain serial numbered cameras are affected. Perhaps one of the manufacturing QC or adjustment stations on the production line was miscalibrated. Anyhow, Mr. Sony slapped his forehead and vowed to set things right.

Sony has the fix, and will be glad to tweak your camera back to perfection. Click here for the official list of affected serial numbers.

And thank you, Sony, for being on top of the problem.

Other Reviews

DPReview's excellent in-depth full review of the DSC-F717 finds details in color, image quality and sensitivity that you should know. Click Here.

Imaging Resource reviewed the 717 with a deep analytical eye. And their standard images--repeated for all cameras help you compare apples to apples. Click Here.

Steve's Digicams reviewed the 717. Click Here.

More will be here as the REVIEW evolves. Check back soon.


PS: As experience grows with these cameras, so will this review and the Sony eBook. Available now on the order page.

© 2002 Peter iNova. All rights reserved. Do not replicate or link to images without permission. All photos by Peter iNova.