Sony DSC-F717 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

The Cyber-shot F717 is the year 2002 update of Sony's very popular Cyber-shot F707, the first 5-megapixel consumer digicam on the market. We have been shooting and working with a production level camera for a couple of weeks and we have been MOST impressed with the image quality and performance of the camera. The Zeiss 5x (38-190mm equiv.) optical zoom is as perfectly matched to the 2/3" imager as possible and the image quality is excellent. The F707 was a very good camera but it tended to oversaturate some reds and greens, the F717 now captures much truer colors across the spectrum.

At first glance you won't notice much difference between the F707 and F717 but they are significant changes and improvements. We had only a few complaints with the F707, one of my biggest gripes was the non-ergonomic placement of the zoom control. The F717's zoom control has been re-positioned and is now just about where your thumb lands on the side of the lens. A really nice change is that the manual focus ring on the lens barrel also functions as a zoom control when not using the manual focus mode. The Setup menu has an option for selecting the desired direction it operates the Zoom control (Tele-Wide) when the ring is turned. The accessory shoe on top is now a real "hot" shoe with a center contact that can be enabled/disabled in the Setup menu. You can use either the Sony HVL-F1000 flash or any 3rd party automatic flash. The auto focus system now incorporates the 5-zone AF Area as was first seen on the Mavica CD400. It can be automatic or the user can manually select any one of the 5 focusing areas.

The F717 uses the same "state of the art" laser hologram focus-assist as the F707 and also incorporates the unique NightShot and NightFraming exposure modes. Sony has tweaked the auto focus system and the F717 is impressively fast now. So what you have is a digicam that can see, focus and capture in total darkness. Motion video is captured in HQX mode, full- screen 320x240 with audio at 15fps and the length is limited only by available memory. Burst captures three full size images at 2fps and Multi-Burst captures sixteen 320x240 frames with a selectable capture rate of 7.5 / 15 / 30 frames per second. The high-speed sequence is played back in animated form in the camera and is saved as a 1280x960 single image. The white balance options include all the usual presets (auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent) and a quick and easy "One Push" custom function with a button on the side of the lens. And there is a realtime histogram display in record and a static display in playback mode. Still image and movie data will be quickly transferred to the host computer thanks to improved USB 2.0 connectivity that's also fully USB 1.1 compatible. Sony's battery specs state shooting in large/ fine, 1/2 flash, zooming every shot you can capture 410 images or you can view 3000 images. The Sony InfoLITHIUM NP-FM50 is a very impressive battery pack.

The F-717 has two very unique operational modes; NightFraming and NightShot. NightFraming is by far the more useful of the two modes (in my opinion.) This is a hybrid mode that uses the camera's infrared illuminators to "light" the subject invisibly but making it highly visible in the viewfinder, focuses with the laser hologram and then uses the flash to capture a normal color image. Some other EVF cameras are practically useless in the dark, even the cameras with focus assist lamps do nothing to illuminate the subject in the EVF. The NightShot mode is the same as that found on Sony camcorders, the infrared illuminators light the subject instead of a flash allowing capture of the image in total darkness. What you see is a green-tinted subject and the captured image is pretty much the same (see Sample Photos page,) except usually more grainy than the way it looks in the viewfinder. Frankly, I find very little use for this mode as the range of the IR illuminators is limited and the camera uses maximum ISO to enhance the sensitivity.

Image noise is combated by Sony's ClearColor Noise Reduction system in normal shooting and the Slow Shutter Noise Reduction system is employed when long exposure times are used. Shutter speeds can range from 30 secs to 1/1000 sec (in 30 steps). All images are recorded on Sony's own storage card media - the Memory Stick. With a mention of the Memory Stick (as I step onto my soapbox), it's now September 2002 and we still do NOT have any Memory Sticks larger than 128MB. This is inexcusable Mr Sony, where are the 256MB, 512MB and 1GB Memory Sticks promised?   This is a 5-megapixel camera and it needs lots of storage!   If it can't be done with Memory Sticks then put in a second drive that accepts CompactFlash.

The DSC-F717's performance is very impressive. The start-up time is under three seconds from turning on the power until you capture the first image. The shot to shot time is less than two seconds even at the largest image size and highest quality. Add about another second if using the flash. The time it takes to write to the media is not an issue as there no need to wait for it to finish before taking the next image as it streams the data to the card. I shot about twenty frames one after the other without any processing delay noticed. To capture fast action sequences there's the Burst 3 mode that can capture up to 3 full size, 5-megapixel images in about two and a half seconds. All consumer digicams are optimized for handling JPEG images so when shooting in single frame TIFF mode the F-717 requires about 48 seconds between shots in Large/TIFF mode. Movie mode has the updated MPEG and HGX resolution that yields a 320x240 movie at 16fps whose length is now determined by the storage media's capacity. It streams the data to the memory card (correction "stick") so additional movies can be shot almost instantly.

There's no doubt that Sony has had a winner with the DSC-F707 and to tweak it with the improved F717 proves it will be another hit for Sony. The street price of $999 is not so revolutionary a price as when Sony introduced the F707 and set the industry reeling with a 5 MP camera for under $1000. Today several others have followed suit but I find it safe to say none will out-perform the F717. From the high resolution 5MP  2/3" imager and the ultra-sharp Zeiss lens to the robust and accurate image processing, this camera is sure to satisfy even the most demanding of users.


Other comparable 5 Megapixel cameras:

Minolta Dimage 7i    Olympus C-5050Z    Nikon Coolpix 5700






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