Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 10/25/07
The 7.2 megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 features a 3x optical zoom lens with Sony branding, 2.4 inches 112,000 pixel LCD display, optical viewfinder, and a maximum sensitivity of ISO 1,000 equivalent. The Sony S700 has Auto and Programmed Auto exposure modes, as well as seven scene modes (Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Beach, Snow, High Sensitivity, Soft Snap).
Other Sony S700 features include 2x Precision digital zoom, up to 14x Smart zoom, two metering modes (multi-pattern or spot), +/- 2.0 EV exposure compensation and a 2 or 10 second self-timer. The Sony S700 captures movies in AVI format with audio at resolutions up to 320 x 240 pixels, at a rate of 30 frames per second.
Like other recent Sony models, the S700 uses Memory Stick Duo memory cards and comes with 24MB of internal memory. The Sony DSC-S700's interfaces include USB 2.0 (Hi-speed), A/V (NTSC or PAL), and DC input with multi-jack. Power is provided to the Sony S700 via two AA batteries. The Sony DSC-S700 shipped in March 2007, at a suggested price of US$149.99.
by Mike Pasini
Intro. A generous 7.2 megapixel sensor with a 3x optical zoom, the ultra compact Sony S700 is clad in a metal body to take some abuse. Its high ISO sensitivity of 1,000 and its ability to capture up to 460 on a pair of AA NiMH rechargeable batteries means it works long hours, too.
Flash and Movie aficionados should look elsewhere, but when it comes to the basics, the Sony S700 does better. I was a bit skeptical after my first experience out in the field, evaluating images on the LCD. When I saw the Sony S700's images on the computer, they were a good deal better than I'd thought, although they still suffered some problems.
Design. Straight from the old deck-of- cards-house-of-design, the brushed metal front of the Sony S700 pushes everything but the chrome finger grip to the right: The lens, microphone, flash and focus assist lamp. That pretty much ensures you won't get your fingers in the picture.
While it's a lightweight camera, the Sony S700 has enough heft that you won't forget it's dangling from your wrist. Even better, the S700's heft provides enough resistance to the Shutter button that you won't jar the camera and blur the shot when you press it.
While it isn't going to dazzle with its boxy design, I found the Sony S700 attractive, particularly because of its large mode dial on the top panel. It seemed to echo the lens' all-business approach, as if the Sony S700 were begging to take some pictures.
There are just a few buttons on the Sony S700's back panel to learn: the Playback button, the Zoom Lever, the Display button, the Menu button, and the Image Size/Erase button, along with the four-way navigator and OK button. They're all small, and all hard to push, though.
I'm no fan of Sony's control button scheme. Having, for example, the same button erase an image and also set the image size seems like a disaster waiting to happen. And the Sony S700's Menu button really opens up Pandora's box, with common options scrollable with the Left and Right arrows keys. The last of the options takes you to the Setup menus, so you can get a little lost. None of the Sony S700's menus wrap around, requiring you to backtrack with the opposite arrow key. And finally, the menu system color scheme and layout resemble Sony's older style rather than the newer one.
The Sony S700's battery compartment holds not just the two AA batteries, but also the memory card. So when you open the door to pop out your card (to put it in a card reader, for example), it's easy to drop the batteries on the floor, too. Many digicams use this scheme -- but not with AA batteries. They use it with proprietary lithium-ion cells that are latched into the compartment so they don't fall out. Sony didn't latch the AAs in the S700, and they do fall out. So get in the habit of turning the Sony S700 upside down to remove the card.
The other problem is the placement of the plastic tripod socket on the far edge of the Sony S700's bottom panel. Mounted on a tripod, you can get at the battery compartment (which is a good thing). But it's such an extreme position, it's hard to balance the camera. There's almost no grip on the outside edge.
Display/Viewfinder. There's no optical viewfinder on the Sony S700, so you compose your shots with the 2.4-inch LCD. It's not so much smaller than the more common 2.5-inch LCD that you'd really notice, but you will notice the low resolution of the screen when you're trying to read the small menus. The Sony S700's LCD has only 115,000 pixels.
Outdoors in bright sunlight the Sony S700's screen was nearly impossible to read, and the shiny surface picks up reflections indoors. Shiny LCDs should show off deeper blacks and more contrast, but this LCD really gave us the wrong impression about our exposures. I thought I had some real dogs only to find they were quite nicely exposed when I saw them on my computer.
Performance. Compared to its competitors over the last couple years, the Sony S700's two-second startup time and 1.5-second shutdown time are both above average. That's good news when you're living on AA battery power and don't have an optical viewfinder. You won't be penalized if you like to turn the Sony S700 off when it's not being used for a bit.
The Sony S700's autofocus lag is above average, too, even if pre-focus lag is just average. Cycle time ranks above average, as does Flash cycle time. Download speeds are just average (use a card reader).
Feature-wise, the inexpensive Sony S700 racks up average rankings for its LCD size, optical zoom and weight. Getting more than a 3x zoom is worth the effort, although I prefer a little heft like the Sony S700. A bigger LCD would suck more battery power, too, so the smallest LCD you can live with is a good investment.
The Sony S700's zoom lens smoothly tracks from wide-angle to full telephoto and slips pretty quickly into digital zoom. It's also responsive enough to stop when you let go of the Zoom lever, making composition precise.
This review was written without benefit of our usual test shots, so I'll discuss image quality in relation to my gallery images.
Shooting. The very first shot we took with the Sony S700 was of Giorgio's Pizza on Clement St., something of an institution as those things go. The sky was overcast and the exposure was 1/160 second at f/4.6 at ISO 100. The color rendering was natural to my eye and I don't see much distortion.
I do, however, see some noise, particularly on the front doors. I also see some chromatic aberration on the figure in black at the right side. Detail, however, is pretty good. You can clearly see the wire locks on the newsstands.
The Sony S700's chromatic aberration bit us again on another softly lit image, the leaves along the iron fence. Take a look at the white litter in the full resolution image to see what we mean, although parts of the fence exhibit the same problem. I don't usually see it this bad, I have to say.
Blown highlights are a common problem, however, and the image of the stone wall painted white is a good example of just how poorly the Sony S700 handles highlight detail. Remember, this was shot under overcast skies. As you follow the white wall toward the back, it loses all detail. At 1/40 second and wide open at f/2.8, there was little chance of holding anything in the highlights. But the Sony S700 did render the shadows and midtones accurately. Except for the highlights, that's what the scene looked like.
Sony has been a big proponent of high ISO shooting and even on the Sony S700, it offers ISO up to 1,000. You're not going to get the same quality at ISO 1,000 as you would at ISO 100, but you will be able to capture shots at ISO 1,000 that you can't capture at ISO 100. The tradeoff in quality is really an issue of noise. In the Sony S700's case, that translates to a loss of detail at the expense of maintaining color.
Two shots in the gallery illustrate this. They were both taken inside a restaurant using available light. The light itself was mixed with the warm artificial light of the restaurant contrasting with the cooler outdoor light of the street. I shot one at ISO 1,000 and another at ISO 200.
Moments before, I had taken two similar shots with the Sony S700, but of the opposite wall (a bit darker, in short). The low ISO shot was unusably blurred from camera movement. Here, the ISO 200 shot is 1/20 second, which I was able to handhold.
But notice how the color in both images is equivalent. There's no desaturation in the high ISO image. That's Sony's strength.
On the other side of the coin, take a look at the full resolution image of the high-ISO version. You'll see a good deal of noise throughout the image that was only barely detectable in the wall and the chairs of the low ISO image. Detail (inside the deli case, for example) disappears in the high ISO shot.
Shooting interiors seemed to be the Sony S700's forte with a zoom range of 35 to 105mm (35mm equivalent). My zoom range shots from Twin Peaks really didn't get very close, even with digital zoom (3x optical plus 2x digital for 6x total zoom). That's something that can be frustrating on vacation, when you don't have time to get as close as you want. A 5x optical zoom will do a much better job.
Macro performance wasn't bad (as you can see from the graffiti on the stone wall), but exhibited a strong blue colorcast in daylight with auto white balance.
In short, the image quality of the Sony S700 left a lot to be desired. I wasn't happy with my results in the field, I thought better of them on the computer, but was again disappointed on closer inspection. You can do better than the Sony S700.
The Sony S700's Movie mode was also a disappointment, offering just 320 x 240 pixel resolution, no zoom and no refocus as my sample movie shows.
Overall, while the Sony S700 is a good looking companion with good heft and decent design, I didn't like the buttons much, and didn't like how the low-resolution LCD fooled me into thinking I wasn't getting good shots. And though I was surprised that they were better when I got back to the computer, they really weren't good enough, thanks mostly to excessive noise suppression and chromatic aberration.
- 7.20 megapixel sensor
- 3x optical zoom (35-105mm 35mm equivalent)
- 2.4 inch LCD with optical viewfinder
- ISO 100 to 1,000
- Shutter speeds from one to 1/2,000 second
- Maximum aperture f/2.8
- Memory card: MS Duo/MS PRO Duo
- Powered by two AA batteries
- High Sensitivity ISO to 1,000
- Stamina Battery Power can capture up to 460 shots
- Recording modes: Auto, P-Auto, and Scene Selections for Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Snow, High Sensitivity and Beach environments
- Burst Mode can fire three shots at 1-second intervals (VGA standard mode) or 2-second intervals (7.2 MP mode)
In the Box
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 ships with the following items in the box:
- Two AA one-use Alkaline batteries
- AV cable
- USB cable
- Wrist strap
- Software CD-ROM
- Large capacity Memory Stick PRO Duo can handle high-res movie data and give faster download times. They should be used for all current Sony cameras. These days, 1GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 2GB should be a minimum.
- Small camera case like the LCS-CSD soft Cyber-shot carrying case for outdoor and in-bag protection
- AC-LS5K AC adapter
Sony's S700 doesn't share many of the whiz-bang features of its W-Series, T-Series, and H-Series cousins like Face Detection or a Bionz processor. But its above average performance powered by AA batteries in an ultra-compact body make it an intriguing alternative.
Unfortunately that above average performance doesn't extend to image quality. Although I found the color natural, chromatic aberration was disturbingly noticeable in rather ordinary snapshots, and noise suppression too often changed the character of simple objects, even at the lowest ISO settings.
Sony recently dropped the price of the S700 to $150, but even that doesn't get it a Dave's Pick. The Sony S700 is a decent camera if you can get it for under $150 and only plan to shoot 4x6 snapshots, it just doesn't rise to the level of some others at similar price points.