Sony DSC-F88 Review

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F88

Steve's Conclusion

The DSC-F88 is the second generation of Sony Cyber-shots with a rotating lens, the first was the DSC-F55 back in 1999. The DSC-F88 is a compact and durable camera that's loaded with powerful features like an internal Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens and a high resolution 5-megapixel imager. It offers less experienced users a wide variety of fully-automatic exposure modes, and more advanced users will appreciate its Manual controls over aperture, shutter speed, ISO, metering, etc. With the ability to choose from five different image sizes, users can select the perfect resolution to suit their needs. The 3:2 mode is perfect for capturing images without having to worry about cropping them for creating 4x6-inch prints. Shooting in 1MP mode is great for pictures sent via email or posting products photos at auction sites.

Ergonomics are good. Its 300-degree rotating lens offers versatility in composing your shots. The controls are well-placed and functional, and the menu system is easy to navigate. Its 1.8-inch LCD works great outdoors, even in the bright Florida sun. However, when using it indoors in low-ambient light, it does not "gain up" to help you see your subject. The only time I saw the LCD "gain up" was when the focus-assist lamp fired to focus on a subject in low light.

The internal Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens produced sharp results throughout its range. At full wide angle there is a slight amount of barrel distortion (not enough to cause any major distortion in your subjects), and almost no pincushioning at full telephoto. The lens is smooth and quiet as you move through its 38 - 114mm (equivalent) range. The 5-point auto focus system is very quick and thanks to the focus-assist lamp, it has very little problems focusing on subjects in low-light conditions. When using Macro mode, I found that the flash does an excellent job of "throttling down" to ensure that it does not over expose macro subjects.

The F88's shooting performance was very impressive. Power up to first image captured was an amazing 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag was a mere 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 2/10 of a second including autofocus. In Normal record mode, the shot to shot delay averaged about 1.5 seconds without the flash and 1.6 - 2.1 seconds with the flash. The F88 allows users to choose between two burst modes (Burst, Multi Burst). The number of images you can capture when shooting in burst mode depends on the image size and quality settings. Burst mode captured 9 frames in about 6.8 seconds. It takes about 7 seconds for the F88 to process a full buffer and then you can continue shooting. Shooting in Multi Burst mode, with the interval set at 1/30, captured 16 images in approx. 0.4 seconds. When using Multi Burst mode, the image size is locked at 1MP and all 16 images a recorded within a single animated frame. Switching between record and playback mode takes less than a second, and switching between images in playback is almost instantaneous. In playback you can go from picture to picture in less than a second. All of our tests were done using a Sony 512MB Memory Stick Pro card, with the image size/quality set at 2592x1944/Fine mode, ISO 100, preview off, and flash off (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.

The overall image quality in 2592x1944/Fine mode is good, for the most part the default settings will produce well saturated and properly exposed pictures. You can adjust the saturation, contrast and sharpness to "dial in" just the right look for your images. I found that the automatic white balance did its job well and only under some very mixed lighting did it show any problems. I was pleased with our outdoor test shots. The images were sharp, well saturated, and I noticed very little noise in high/low contrast areas.

When shooting indoors, you will have to work within the limited flash range (about 7.2 ft.), it works well for portraits of individuals or small groups but does not have the power to illuminate large open rooms. I did notice a slight amount of redeye when the flash was set to auto, but this minute amount is acceptable. Some people seem to always have redeye, no matter what flash setting you are using. I also noticed that flash pictures were a little underexposed, but this is better than overexposed, at least you can do some editing and save the picture. When shooting an available light photo of the M&M man using indirect daylight, the white balance was a little too warm. You can see this by taking a look at our samples page. According to the user manual, you can select auto, sunny, cloudy, fluorescent, or incandescent white balance settings when using P (Program), M (Manual), SCN (Scene mode) or Movie mode. However, we were unable to change these setting when using either the P or M exposure modes. The only other shortcoming is the quality of its MPEG VX (640 X 480) movies, they appear to be slightly out of focus and a bit too high on contrast.

When plugged into a PictBridge compatible printer like the Canon i9900 you will not be given any paper size choices -- it prints a 4x6" photo regardless of the paper size in the printer. Some digital cameras allow for more advanced PictBridge print-time options such as specifying the paper size and bordered or borderless style. I'm sure that the Sony engineers saw little need to worry about "other" print sizes given that Sony only produces 4x6" printers like the Sony Picture Station dye sub printer.

Bottom line - the Cyber-shot DSC-F88 will make a good camera for anyone who wants a compact, durable, simple to use digicam. Its 5-megapixel Fine images have more than enough resolution to create high-quality 13x19-inch prints. With a street price of around $450, "cool" rotating lens, wide variety of exposure options, and speedy performance, it's sure to be hit this year (July 2004.)

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