Secrets of Digital Photography
Sony 717 Gallery!    
Starting 10 9 03

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Mahvelous 717

Or, Film? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Film.

Sony tries to make their still cameras along lines learned with video and HDTV cameras. Things like fast power-up, fast white balance, fast option selection and direct focus and/or zoom operation are right at your fingertips on the DSC-F717. And it shows in the pictures it takes.

When the sun goes down, extra features kick in to make sure you get the shot. Autofocus sensitivity bumps up and as available darkness becomes the environment, the laser fires up its holographic focus projector.

It's actually rather rare to have the 717 fail to achieve fast, accurate focus. Its shutter lag is small (0.12 sec), if you've pre-focused or are holding a half-press. The three friends walking in lock step, right, were captured using that feature. Later, reviewing the image, I see that everybody else was in lock step, too. Huh.

Pop the right filter over the lens and throw one switch, and the 717 shoots in infrared where leaves are white and skies look polarized. Here's its NightShot feature using a single ND400 filter over the lens.

The zoom covers a 38 - 190 mm equivalent and is sharp throughout. Better than that, the lens is f/2.0 at full wide and only f/2.4 at full tele allowing it access to light that is half the intensity of what the Nikons require.

One has the choice of two wide converters for this camera, and while I brought the large VCL-MHG07 glass for a 26.6 mm view, I never used it.

Fussing with a converter seems rather anti-travel, but walking or zooming to find an alternate framing proved to be easy to do most of the time, except for one shot that would have required me to dig a hole in order to maintain the composition while achieving the full subject:

The ideal wide converter would allow full-zoom operation and maintain the camera lens' original sharpness performance, while weighing just a few ounces.

And to put such a device into the league with interchangeable lensing, wouldn't it be nice to have lens converters that bayonet-mounted into place?

Did you notice how "fat chance" and "slim chance" mean the same thing?

One of the greatest capabilities of the DSC-F717 is its dynamic range. It refuses to capture highlights without a fight. For tonal detail, that is, in the brightest parts of an image. The airplane, above right, seen here is reduced in brightness from a slightly overexposed image. I shot two frames but reducing the overexposed one gave more pleasing results than boosting the underexposed one. The whispy clouds in the bright blue sky were not lost, although most digital cameras would have bleached them out on just a normal exposure.

The other great pictorial asset of the 717 is its stunnngly sharp Zeiss zoom lens. The tall slice is an actual-size, 100% scale piece of the full image file. Clearly it shows 35 bricks framing the middle window. How many surround the other two?

Part of its detail asset comes from the fact that the 717 allows gathering images at 2048 pixels wide from an image chip 2560 pixels wide. The 80% size file hangs onto what I call 97% of the full-frame image quality (although it may literally be more), something that's easy to prove by shooting one of each and scaling the smaller up to full frame size in Photoshop for comparison.

Meaning that the three-porthole window detail is actually 80% of the full frame size as you see it here.

Without a sense of the rest of the picture, you can't do anything more than tenatively nod and hope for more information.

The vertical composition of building and boat reveals some more details and looks okay, giving a sense of scale to the window detail, but it isn't until the whole image is seen that eyebrows head for the ceiling in appreciation for what the lens has actually retained.

In my experience I haven't seen 5-megapixel images from other cameras that beat the detail and dynamic qualities seen in shots from the 717. Combined with the autofocus systems (plural), fast ergonomics and low shutter lag from a prefocused condition, every time I grab the 717, I have high expectations of getting a good shot.

The lock here is in Spandau, a short subway trip from downtown Berlin, as are a number of other shots on this page.

Note: The smaller images throughout this article can all be opened in a New Window (usually through a right mouse button click option) in your browser for a peek at the shot double or triple the size of the image you see here.

The 717 achieved some of the best images over the course of the trip. Cases in point, Spandau, Germany, Farmer's Market day. Nine shots in a row. #1763 to 1771 in this order:




But the 717 wasn't finished with Spandau...



iNovaFX iCrosstar30 Photoshop Action added.

In Aachen, Germany, the large aperture came in handy at twilight.




In Amsterdam, Netherlands, series images became a game. Stand in one spot (literally) and shoot a string of shots with one theme, here are two; Reflections and Cell Phones:

...window in Amsterdam.



...I cheated. The last shot in each row was from a different place.

The well-traveled 717:







Amsterdam skyline (through glass). Six windmills. Can you find them all?

Conclusions. The DSC-F717 is one of the very best cameras yet produced. Its fast lens, quick start-up and positive controls serve the photographer and minimize one's inevitable compromises. Images are at maximum clarity for a digital still camera with 5 megapixels. Ease of shooting in infrared was appreciated.

As a precursor to the coming DSC-F828, the experience with the 717 suggests that the coming 8-megapixel camera with its slightly longer, wider zoom will permit its photographers to see and capture even more than these visions.

Drawbacks are few. Size and weight are relatively high, requiring use of a small shoulder bag or over-the-shoulder strap, and the limit of a 38 mm equivalent wide zoom was felt frequently.

This camera would easily serve one well as the only camera for travel. Its image quality was duplicated by the smallest camera in the final four, also a Sony...

Other Galleries:

Nikon CP5700 Gallery.

Nikon CP5400 Gallery.

Sony DSC-V1 Gallery.

Winner's Circle.

Travel Front Page.


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