Sony Zone



Small package, many features. Most of the feature set of the DSC-F707/717 is included. Plus a few!

Updated July 3, 2003

The 5-Megapixel DSC-V1 Cyber shot ...Ongoing...   7-3-03

Shrink the image chip. Make the camera pocket size. Just be sure your pocket is rather large. Keep the features of a 717/707 and add some new ones. The V1 packs more into a smaller space.

With 2592 x 1944 pixels in a 1/1.8-inch image chip, Sony is able to build a 5-megapixel camera with optics 82% of the size they would be for the previous generation of 2/3-inch chips. When that is destined for a small camera, the 18% linear reduction adds up to a volume reduction of 45%! Meaning that the volume these optics consume is only 55% of the volume they would have been with the larger chip. No wonder they keep reaching for smaller and smaller image chips!

Small is BIG

At 60 x 70 x 100 mm (2.25 x 2.75 x 4 inches) the V1 looks smallish. Here's a camera for a coat pocket, fanny pack or belt carry that brings 5-megapixel images of uncompromising quality back to your digital darkroom.


It keeps the fabulous Night Framing and NightShot IR modes of its 5-megapixel older siblings, the 707 and 717 cameras, and still manages to hang on to 80% of their zoom range. The Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar lens zooms from 7 to 28 mm, a figure nearly meaningless to anyone but the image chip designers, but take heart, that is equal to a 34 to 136 mm zoom lens on a 35mm film camera.

The slightly wider angle compared to most compact digitals is appreciated. For whatever reason, the world decided a few years ago that 38 mm was "wide" and it almost is. This one is wider than the conventional 35 mm lenses film photographers have used for years. And the extra field of view comes in handy.

Focal Points

The camera's autofocus systems are cool. One click cooler than the 717's. Manual focus is low end, being constrained to just 14 zones from 0.1 meter to infinity. No, it's not continuous, the way it is in the 707/717s. But at least you can set it to approximately right and get good shots. This one was made inadvertently with the camera locked to 1.5 meters, but the depth of field made the shot work. Note the inset at 100% scale. DOF made it work in spite of my error. Shot was made full wide.

Another point about this shot concerns shutter release timing. I saw the fast-moving fire truck seconds before the shot was made and I observed the scene using the optical viewfinder. The truck moved perhaps the width of its front tire from the instant of my finger press to this moment of capture. I was trying for one of those compositions with the splash of color against the dull background and this was the result I hoped for. No big deal as an image, but proof that the shutter reaction time is quite fast. I don't think I would have gotten it better with a DSLR. Notice the truck motion blur? 1/250 sec.

But that autofocus system is wonderful. No less than seven focus zones can be selected, providing you don't have other choices in place that prevent it.

V1 Focus zones. Each of 5 same-size areas can be selected along with the sixth, larger central semi-auto zone seen here highlighted in gold. The seventh, small central zone is the most selective. In Auto Exposure mode, the semi-auto zone is the only one used.

Like the 717, focus can be Manual or Automatic guided by a seven-zone selectable or semi-autofocus system. Your choice. It can be any of five square areas you select, or an automatic three-zone area (the same occupied by three of the five selectable) which locks onto the nearest thing within that space. New for the V1 is a small center target that is like "spot focus" and allows you to be extremely selective in your focus target. Handy, that.

Caveats: You can only use the selected zones when the Smart Zoom feature is OFF. With the larger semi-auto zone selected, the camera focuses on the closest 1/3 or even 2/3 of that area at its own discretion. It will even split the area, focusing by agreement on both sides but not the middle. At other times the whole larger section will stay after focus is achieved, indicating that the area of best focus is all over the place.


Also new with the V1 is its menu-selected Contrast Control giving you low/normal/high options. The effect is not great, just a subtle lift or crunch of the deepest shadow and highlight details, really, but if you want wider dynamics, throw the Contrast control to "low" (-) and know that you've just picked up extra shadow detail and highlight control for later in your digital darkroom. Note that this feature does NOT cause an apparent overall exposure shift as has been witnessed with all the Nikon cameras that have Contrast control. That's good for Sony.

The 14-bit A to D converter processes images internally that have 16,384 levels of brightness discrimination (at the chip capture level). This avoids "video-like" artifacts in bright highlights, extends the useful range of bleached highlight areas and brings more useful shadow detail into the 8-bit per channel result.

TIFF file format mode is available for those of you who fear JPEG, but both Fine and Standard compressed modes are very well controlled. You get 99%+ quality out of Fine compared to a TIFF and about 1% less quality with Standard captures. Of course, Standard gathers nearly twice as many shots compared to Fine, and Fine grabs about 6 times as many as TIFFs.

Meaning that the card that comes with the camera (32 MB) is good for 1 TIFF, or 12 Fine, or 23 Standard shots. The TIFF image will take up 14.4 MB for the TIFF plus 1.2 MB (roughly) for its same-size accompanying Standard-compressed reference JPEG. A Fine shot of the same subject takes up 2.3 MB and Standard ones take up the same room the reference JPEG did.

Given that the reference image might be WAY more complex than typical, the 32 MB Stick limits itself to only one TIFF shot. Believe me, TIFFs in this camera are nature's way of telling you that you have way too much time on your hands. Storage of the image and reference frame takes around 45 seconds! In other words, s   l   o   w.

Like the 707/717, the next smaller image is the 2048 x 1536 pixel "3.1M" image size. And like the prior 5-meggers, this mode captures about 98% of the image integrity of a full-size frame. Here's proof:

This is a 1:1 slice out of the middle of a 5 MP (full) frame from the V1. It displays the typical appearance of life size digital images from recent cameras. As is common with full frame images, the shot is not pixel-perfect, but it shows good detail, contouring, tonality and color characteristics. Since a 144 ppi printed image of the full frame would be 18 inches wide, we are not quibbling with this image quality.

When you move your mouse over the image it switches to an in-register slice from a 3.1 MP (79% size) shot captured seconds later. But the 3.1 MP image has been blown back up to the original capture size. The camera shrank it immediately upon capture. I blew it back up to capture size in Photoshop using Bicubic Interpolation. No other processing was used at all.

The difference in "image integrity" --my term for a combination of sharpness, contouring, color, dynamic range, highlight and shadow detail-- is virtually zero. There is not an eye-pleasing difference between the two shots. The restored image is just as printable, manipulatable, sharp, clear, colorful, tonally accurate and useful as the full frame. But it took up much less room on the Memory Stick. And therein lies the advantage.

If this is the recovered quality of a 3.1 MP frame compared to the camera capture full size frame, why shoot full size? I see no good reason, do you? Try the experiment for yourself with your 5 MP digital camera. If your camera doesn't have the 3 MP frame option, it won't work for you. But if it does, and all the 5 MP Sony cameras have this frame size available, then you can save (this particular image) 36% of your file storage area per shot without losing image quality. If you need the bigger frame, just blow it back up to 2592 x 1944 pixels in Photoshop. I did.

The original was at ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/320 sec with Sharpening, Contrast and Saturation all set to normal. WB was Auto.

Why? Because a full frame is not pixel perfect, but a captured and reduced to 3.1M frame is pixel perfect. So much so that you can enlarge a 3.1M frame in Photoshop back to its 5.0M original in-camera capture size and see only the tiniest bit of image degradation compared to a full 5.0M original image captured at full size.

Compared Lens

How good is the lens? ...or the whole image system? Does it rival its older siblings and compete head to head with the 707/717s? The short answer is YES, and not only that it does a better job-- just slightly. Here's an image made with the 717 at its widest and the V1 zoomed to the same coverage.

The V1 zoom control is not as precise as the 717's, so a little enlargement will happen as you roll over the image with your mouse. The V1 is the image BEFORE you roll over it with your mouse. Look for things like subtle color and tonal differences as well as detail in foliage.

What you see here are 100% scale slices of full-frame images. At this size, the print would be around three feet wide.

Both images were taken within the same two minutes with clear skies and a tripod under each camera from the same relative position. My neighbor removed the sprinkler that shows in the 717 shot between the two exposures. Doesn't she know to water later in the day?

Cine Ma

Movie mode is enhanced with MPEG-VX mode, 640 x 480 (full VGA, hooray) 16 fps capture with sound. It will grab and store video until your Memory Stick runs out of room. The supplied 32 meg Stick grabs about a minute and twenty seconds as a maximum file size, but that's a 27.6 MegaByte file, so a 256 meg Memory Stick would grab just over 12 minutes of full-frame video. The other size option for full motion is 160 x 120. That will capture over twenty minutes of "movie" on the same small card, but, geez, the image looks terrible. (Too bad they didn't make the "smaller" size movie the size of the 717's biggest, 320 x 240. Go figure.)

Because the zoom makes noise as it changes focal length, zooming is prevented during movie mode, but autofocus is constantly active. Interestingly, during a shot you can change the focus zone areas on the fly. Suggestion: don't.

Power Fill

Power is via the small NP-FC11 InfoLithium™ battery and with the monitor off, you can shoot up to about 250 images per charge, they say. In a test I actually shot over 1000 images and depleted the battery only about half way, but it was a card-torture test, not a typical shooting situation.

Meaning? It's the time you take messing about before the picture--or after, reviewing it--that eats the juice. And what consumes the juice the most? The LCD display. Flash use will cost you extra. Nice thing about the small battery--it doesn't take long to charge it up. 90 minutes. And you can get an 80% charge in about an hour.

Bad thing about the AC-LS5 charger--you must charge the battery IN the camera. And the charger plus its wires takes up more room than the camera, so you won't be tempted to take it with you in your camera bag. Get a second battery, minimum.

You're Historie

The live histogram makes exposure estimation easy, but the Multi-Point, Center Weighted and Spot meter modes do their jobs as expected with Multi-Point being the most accurate. You can see how much or how little the Contrast Control makes if you compare their histograms. It will also tell you a lot about how different the image is in absolute terms versus how things look on the monitor screen. The monitor screen should be used for only general quality appraisals, but the histogram gives you a more technically exact read-out.

Be Scene

8 Scene modes (SCN) help a lot, too. Beach and Snow are two different modes and that is unusual since most Scene mode schemes combine them. Snow is white, beach scenes are not blanketed in pure white with their sandy colored sand and blue horizons. Portrait (wide open iris), Landscape (sets to infinity), Twilight Portrait (with flash plus long shutter) and Twilight (long shutter without flash) Scene modes complete the list.

Shoe On

The Hot Shoe atop the camera fires most center pin flash units, but the extra pins are for Sony's own HVL-F32X flash units and don't access special features on other third-party flashes.


Digital Zoom has become "Smart Zoom" on the V1 and the concept is clever. It allows a digital zoom extension only as big as the shot you are taking. Lemme 'splain: If you have the camera set to 3.1M (3.1-megapixel image size, or 2048 x 1536 pixels) the zoom will only extend to 5.1:1 (another +1.1 beyond the 4:1 optical range). It stops right at the point before the image would degrade due to non-productive pixel enlargement. Smart eh?

I SWEAR Sony took this idea from my Sony eBook where I point out that smaller image sizes can stand more and more digital zoom blow-up as the frame size selected is smaller and smaller. Lord knows enough copies of the eBook are floating around Sony for this concept to have made its mark. But what they did with the idea was to take it to the next step with a limiter on the digital zoom at the threshold of uselessly enlarging pixels. That's a Good Thing. Something I could only do as a darkroom technique, they could lock into the camera as a feature.

At VGA image size, you get a full 16:1 zoom range and the most telephoto image looks completely fine. Of course, at the 5 M setting, no digital zoom at all is allowed. You can switch the feature off and prevent digital zoom for all image sizes, but you can't shoot a full-frame digital zoomed image as with other cameras. Why would you want to? This method prevents you from accidentally gathering huge, soft-focus images that look like mistakes.

With Smart Zoom On, you can't switch the autofocus zones around, though. Gee.

What Doesn't It Have?

1. No swivel monitor. That heads my list. No optical viewfinder diopter adjustment comes in second. What was that all about? I have video gear from the same company with flippy screens and if they could build them into their tiny Micro MV video camcorders, they could have put one here.

2. It also places the monitor at a point where every single one of Earth's 6 billion right-eyed inhabitants will leave a nose print on the glass. Unless they are one of the 1 billion left-eyed, in which case the right hand thumb and nose are going to fight for the same volume of space. This could get ugly. Imaging giving yourself a bloody nose trying to use the optical viewfinder. "Would you stop picking your nose and take the darn picture!?"

3. It's small and not much of it is hand-grip-ready. None of the surfaces are rubbery elastomer so it takes extra care to handle. Kinda slippery at times. Sony provides a nice wrist strap--I suggest you use it all the time--or put a 1.2-inch split key ring in the right strap hanger as a "finger strap". Dropping one of these things is never going to be good for it.


Like its older siblings, Sony packs features into this camera tighter than Pavarotti in leotards.

Things that are in the V1 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.
  • Optical Viewfinder- in addition to the exterior monitor.
  • Menu Manual White Balance.
  • Dedicated button for Auto Exposure Lock.
  • Menu Exposure Meter type selection.
  • 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.
  • Dedicated button for image file size adjustment.
  • Dedicated button for image delete on playback.
  • 5X inspection of review images plus scroll-around.
  • Movie mode with in-camera trimming.
  • Clip Motion mode for Internet animations.
  • Multi-burst 16 shot high-speed grab (think motion analysis)
  • Scene modes for Twilight, Portrait, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Night Portrait.
  • Manual focus with distance read-out.
  • Beep or Ker-chunk shutter sound (or off).
  • Auto Pop-Up Flash.
  • Accessory intelligent hot shoe.
  • Accessory plug port for flash & remote trigger.
  • Video Out NTSC or PAL.
  • 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.
  • Monitor OFF mode to conserve power.
  • Special effects of Sepia, Posterization and Negative Art.
  • Metal body with plastic access hatches.
  • Self-capping fold-up lens.
  • Threaded mount for converter lenses.
  • Long-life battery (1 to 1.5 hours per charge).
  • Three-second on awakening time.
  • Ninety-second stay-awake time (from last button press).
  • Extensive editing including Protect, Print and Delete functions.
  • Quick review in camera mode.
  • Accessory hot shoe accepts base-triggered flash units (virtually all of them).
  • Live Histogram display of scene before exposure.
  • 7-zone, 7-option focus selection system.
  • Full Auto system for novice users.

And supporting all these features is Sony's own new-generation 5-megapixel imaging chip. The same one that will be in the Nikon 5400 and is already in Canon's Powershot S50 and Olympus' C-50. That's 54 listed features inside about 19 cubic inches of technology.

Lens Me Your Eyes

That Zeiss zoom lens folds as flat as they could make it. F-stops range from wide's f/2.8 to telephoto's f/4. Not nearly as fast as the 717/707's f/2 to f/2.4 over a 5:1 zoom, but about average for folding-lens cameras this size. The zoom range is a tidy 34-136mm equivalent (compared to a 35mm camera) and the autofocus is totally silent. The zoom motor, even though you can hear it in a silent house, is very quiet. You won't hear it outdoors or in an office. 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 V1 with a toggle on the camera back under your right thumb. The Multi-selector sits atop the camera with nine options (Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Program, Auto Exposure, Playback, Movie, Setup and Scene positions) and right next to it is a three way switch for NightFraming, Normal and NightShot modes.

The lens itself is very high quality exhibiting minimal barrel distortion and chromatic aberration. Manual focus distances are read out in meters on the monitor, but you can zoom into a subject, autofocus and hold with a half-press of the shutter button, then switch to manual focus to keep that setting.

There is even a dedicated button for AE lock so you can shoot a string of images at the exact same exposure--very useful for the David Hockney effect or for making shots for panoramic stitching. Zoom, however, and you lose the precise exposure relationship.

The optical viewfinder sees about 90% of what the picture contains. If essential subject details can be seen through the OV, then they will be nicely within bounds on the actual shot and are well centered, making this one of the more pleasant optical viewfinders in recent experience (except for the nose thing).

A Gripping Experience

The grip you use to bring the camera into action is strictly right handed. A support element with the left hand makes a typical Rangefinder Body grip, but watch out, fingers can drift over the front port of the Optical Viewfinder or pinch the pop-up flash from deploying. Everything is within reach. One can quickly master the position of controls in an afternoon. The slight finger hook on the camera's front right side is more helpful than it looks.

Flash Pan

The flash pops up right when you needed it. And it is surprisingly powerful for such a teeny tiny tube. I was able to capture an average size room with it and you can get larger areas with higher ISO settings. Same amount of light, though.

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 Digi-Slave.

For the adventurous paparazzi, there is a special add-on flash unit that sits on the accessory shoe and plugs into the accessory jack, the HVL-F32X that takes advantage of the more intimate contacts in the Hot Shoe. Camera and external flash units do not operate at the same time.

Notice that the Hot Shoe has the standard center-of-base connector found on many external flash units. All the normal base-fired flash units will work with this camera except for some exotic designs made for particular camera systems. 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 capture sensor has a total sensor array of 2658 x 1970 sensors yielding a 2592 x 1944 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 163 feet (49 meters) wide by over 216 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 8.8mm but the nomenclature for an image this size is the so-called "1/1.8-inch" format. That's a throwback to the days of vidicon tubes. It's the same size as the previous generation of 3.14-megapixel imagers and it requires more precise 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" next to the lens mount fire up and spray IR light into the scene. With ISO set to Auto, the camera floats its sensitivity up to ISO 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, but you will need a package of filters to become a daylight infrared camera. That's doable, and the results are creative and fun.

One thing about the IR mode, the camera shoots a fastest shutter speed of 1/30 sec at wide open. Slower shutter speeds are available, but no smaller f-stops are available. They (at Sony) still don't get it that this feature should be a popular IR photography regime.

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. As with its older brothers, the concept works well and makes dim light focus a breeze. 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 autofocus 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.

Strap Me Up

I'm not a fan of neck straps. And the relatively small size of the V1 lends itself to wrist strap carry. The one that comes with the camera is fine.

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 it works for my hand. The minimalist safety strap...


Button Collection

The camera body couldn't be smaller and still have room for more controls. This is just about the limit. Any camera smaller than this will have to have fewer than this camera's 17 buttons, switches levers or dials.

Your right index finger touches the power switch, shutter release, the NightShot IR/Normal/NightFraming switch and the Mode Dial. Everything else is done with your right thumb and/or your left hand.

Still with the right hand, the Multi-Selector is a four leaf clover switch with all sorts of things for your thumb to do. The four-way switches select flash mode, instant playback, self-timer and Macro setups. In playback or menu modes the four petals are up/down/left right controls for scrolling the image or the menu selections. Its center button confirms choices, zips review magnification back to 100%.

Under it a Menu button takes you to into and out of the menus and the adjacent Trash/Image Size button lets you delete images or adjust frame size on demand. Above the Multi-Selector a monitor on/overlay/off button sits to the left of the vertical jog dial which combines scrolling choices with an inward press to confirm choices.

The left hand has only three buttons to push. Exposure compensation (doing double duty in playback as an image size/detail switch) a manual/autofocus button and an AE Lock button to freeze the current exposure calculation until you either let go of it or complete the next shot.

Keeping that last button pressed for a string of pictures (think panoramic panels) is a tad tricky. You have to grip the camera with your left hand in a way that immobilizes it and allows your left index finger to maintain pressure on the button. Only then can you shoot two or more images at the exact same exposure.

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

Glare Repair

The exterior monitor is coated to avoid glare! A blue anti-reflection coating keeps aids visibility. You have control over the brightness of the light source behind the monitor in the Set Up menu and at its brightest settings for both light and LCD (the image behaves like a slide over a light box so you can adjust image density and light box intensity) it works fairly well in sunlight.

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 V1 will retrieve underexposed images and even extend camera exposure usefulness into the ISO 1600+ realm. But I digress...)

Close Up Encounters

Sony includes a Macro mode, but the smallest practical field of view is only about 2.1 inches (53 mm) wide. Its sweet spot is at the middle of the zoom, a great place for flat field, undistorted, macro performance. The sweet spot extends back to widest zoom. In Manual focus mode, it shows up as 0.1 meter, about four inches back from your subject, and when you go too far tele for it to stay in focus, the Manual number blinks.

At full zoom, macro focus works the 0.5 meter range. Just arm's reach away from the front element. The field of view is only 6 inches wide (15cm), but the focus field is flat and quite undistorted.

It will be useful for many things, but does not begin to approach 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 V1 include a very high quality image and sound mode plus one called "Clip Motion" that has virtually nobody excited. Largely through unawareness or the fact that the 707/717 and other Sony cameras also have this ...yawn... um, feature.

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 playback 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.

Omission Statement

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 1/30 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 V1, but there is no way to turn off the IR illuminators nearby, except with your finger.

The lens base is threaded for 45.5mm accessory attachments sold only by Sony. No 1A filter for this guy.

Burst-3 mode, which is a very fast three-shot motor drive emulation, solves the idea of BSS (Best Shot Selector) 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.

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!

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.


Pickup Lines

The testing reviewers consistently see 1800 or more lines of detail in the image in the short dimension of the frame with 5-megapixel cameras. 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 1944 pixels to start with, 1800/1944ths would be about 93% efficiency. When the test charts come out on this model, we anticipate similar performance.

*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 Sony 717, the Sony V1 image seems a tad more colorful at Normal settings. See also "Compared Lens" above.

People like to claim that the Sony colors are too red. Perhaps on the LCD screen, but not in real life. Even with the color saturated chips on this eBook color chart (flip the cover sheet over) the V1 shows extraordinary competence in defining--and controlling--color.

Run your mouse over the image to see a direct A/B comparison of colorimetry:

Both images were taken within moments of each other under cloudy lighting, each manually white balanced to the gray area of the chart. A small exposure change was corrected on the V1 image by bringing its highlights down using the Photoshop Curves control. The V1 image showed the best rendition of chroma compared to the original subject. This chart is included with each Sony and Nikon eBook on the back of the insert color cover sheet.

The image is great. 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 Sony cameras are too saturated. My V1, manufactured in May, 2003, shows rich color, but not as strong as the urban legend claims. And with Saturation and Contrast controls, the V1 has more image control than any of the prior Sony digital cameras.

The hallmark of Sony's Advanced Cyber-shot camera results are in the highlights and shadows. Simply put, the camera looks much more like film than other cameras I've seen. Highlights are controlled and non-video looking. Shadows contain a lot more useful depth. So much so, that you can brighten shadows with the iShadowLift iNovaFX Photoshop Actions and reveal details hiding there without apparent image compromises.

Both of the Sony cameras and even the Nikon 5700 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.

Conclusions (with 600+ images of ongoing experience) +/-

+ On the plus side...

  • Greater portability due to size and weight.
  • KILLER 5 megapixel images
    • Sharp.
    • Accurate.
    • Long tonal scale.
  • Image control
    • Contrast adjust
  • Operational speed
    • Fast autofocus.
  • Instant access to functions with dedicated buttons
    • EV +/-, Manual (Zone, really) focus.
  • The nice list of features that let you make pictures under nearly all situations
    • NightShot.
    • Night Focus.
    • Laser Hologram focus assist.
    • AE lock.
    • More Scene modes.

Plus all the clever in-camera editing options.

- On the minus side...

  • Slower start up.
  • Slower f-stops than 707/717 (by a lot)
  • No swiveling monitor.
  • Lack of a daylight IR image function (so near, and yet, so what).
  • No true B&W mode. Sepia gives you monochromatic viewing, though, and that helps.
  • Childish "special effects." Except, of course, the Sepia.

Bottom Line

If you want a well-tempered Sony 5-megapixel camera, only the DSC-F707/717 Sony cameras beat this one.

If I wanted the Ultra 5 meg camera, I'd get the 717 for its longer, faster zoom, faster speed of operation and better viewfinding ergonomics.

If I needed to save space and weight, most of the 717 is here inside the V1.

Working around the viewfinder limitations becomes a habit after a while. Certain shooting angles stop being an option (shoelace level, over head) but there are features to the V1 that don't appear in the 707/717. Contrast control, fast Scene Modes, bigger (full NTSC frame) movies, richer/more accurate color...

Image quality is far above average. In colorimetry, freedom from noise, fine detail and tonal range. Go to a camera counter and touch it for real. If this camera doesn't float your boat, a slightly wider-zooming 5-megapixel camera is soon to be available from Nikon with their 4:1 zoom CP5400, and the Nikon CP5700 model brings 8:1 zoom and many attractive features you may find to your taste.

The V1 has a handful of more features over the 717, and if you were buying today, you could take heart in knowing that the 717's that people are selling at a discount to clear out their "old" stock is about same as the V1 and takes pictures that are every bit as satisfying. I like the longer battery life and internal EVF of the 717 better, too. But one thing it is not: small.

Other Reviews -- Advanced Cyber shot Cameras from Sony

DPReview's excellent in-depth full review of the DSC-V1 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 preview of the V1. 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.

© 2003 Peter iNova. All rights reserved. Do not replicate or link to images without permission. All photos by Peter iNova unless otherwise noted.