Sony DSC-S700 Review
Sony has added a new model to their popular "S" series line of entry-level compact digicams, the Cyber-Shot
DSC-S700. This model features a 6-megapixel imager coupled with an 3x optical zoom lens, QVGA (320x240) .AVI
movie mode with sound, all packaged in a durable all-metal body. Beginner to intermediate users will have no
problem capturing nice photos with the fully "Auto"matic exposure mode plus 7 pre-programmed scene modes
that are set up for specific shooting situations. Program AE mode allows more advanced users to change
settings for exposure compensation, metering, ISO, sharpness, color mode, etc.
The S700 has a nice well built feel, and thanks to its compact size, it can be carried in your pocket or a small handbag. The controls are minimal, yet well-placed, just within reach of your fingertips. Navigating the Menu system was easily accomplished, and if you've owned a Sony model in the past, you'll feel right at home. Like the S600 from last year, I was a bit disappointed with the S700's tripod mount; not only is it plastic (very easy to cross-thread), but it's located at the extreme left side of the body, making it difficult to tighten with enough force to prevent camera movement. The S700 features a 2.4-inch LCD, which I found works Ok. This is the only viewfinder on the camera, and is used for composing shots, reviewing images and navigating the menu. Outdoors it works well, however, its surface is a bit reflective. In marginal lighting, the display gains up nicely, which is very helpful when trying to frame a subject in low light conditions.
Shooting performance was quite good for an entry-level camera, as long as you are not using the flash. Power up to first image captured measured just 2.3 seconds. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, was 1/10 second when pre-focused and only 2-3/10 second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay measured a fast 1.1 seconds between frames without the flash. However, when the flash is enabled, it takes almost 8 seconds between frames, depending on subject distance and battery life. The S700 offers one sequential shooting mode: Burst. In Burst mode, I was able to capture 3 frames in 2.0 seconds before the buffer filled. It then takes less a second for the buffer to clear. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra II 1GB Memory Stick PRO Duo card, Large/Fine quality, Program mode, flash off, autoview off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted). Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality is pleasing for an entry-level 7-megapixel model. Outdoors, the majority of our images were sharp, well exposed, and showed good color saturation. When viewing an image at 100%, you can see some traces of image noise, even at ISO 100. However, these are average amounts and it is unlikely you will see this in your prints. Just remember, as the sensitivity is increased, so is the amount of noise in your photos. The S700 also takes nice portrait shots. Indoors, you'll have to work with in the limited range of the flash, approx. 11.5 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto.) I found had plenty of power for close-up portraits from about 5 - 6 feet away. Outdoors, it captured nice photos with sharp facial features and natural skin tones. Just beware using the Fill-in (forced On) flash mode, it dramatically overexposes the subject. You can see for yourself on the samples page.
Despite being positioned as an entry-level camera, the S700 is equipped with a versatile sensitivity range of ISO 80-1000, enabling hand-held photography in lighting conditions that would otherwise require the use of a tripod or flash. Using the High ISO mode indoors with only the ambient light coming in through our window, the camera selected the highest setting possible (ISO 1000). Even when viewing the image at full screen (23 - 25%), you can see plenty of imager noise. However, even though noise is horrible, the images are far more usable than those ruined by camera shake.
I was a bit disappointed to see that the S700 only features a QVGA (320x240) resolution movie mode. VGA (640x240) is the standard now, with many models recording in HD (1280x720). Overall our movie samples are good for what they are, very little compression artifacts, sensitive microphone, and good frame rate. The file size is also ideal for posting videos online, so there are still some positives aspects of this low resolution movie mode.
The S700 is powered by two AA batteries, and Sony only includes a pair of Alkaline batteries in the package. We always recommend the use of rechargeable NiMH batteries, both to save you money and for their extended life. Sony claims you can capture 100 shots on alkalines or up to 460 on a set of NiMH batteries. I found battery life was quite good, capturing about 80 images, several 10 second movie clips as well as concluded all of out other test on a single pair of 2100mAh NiMH batteries.
Bottom line - I was pleased with Sony's new entry-level model. It offers good image quality, performance, plenty of exposure modes, a durable all-metal body, and a great price at US$180 or less. The only negative things I found with the camera were the ridiculously slow flash recharge time, poorly placed (plastic) tripod socket, and the below average Movie mode resolution. So, if you're in the market for a compact 7- megapixel model with plenty of features at an affordable price point, be sure to check out the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-S700.
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