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Sony DSC-D770
The ultimate digicam? Certainly the ultimate in control for under $2,000!

(Review first posted 1/10/2000)

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1.5 megapixels, 1344x1024 image size
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5x optical zoom lens f/2.0-f/11.0
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True manual focus option
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Spot, aperture priority metering options
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Extraordinary level of control!

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Manufacturer Overview
Sony has long been a dominant player in the digital camera field with their Mavica(tm) line of floppy-disk based cameras. (We'll be testing some of the Mavica units in the near future.) At the high end of the market though, Sony has developed a compelling line of products, incorporating high-quality optics and advanced features found on few competing camera models.

The DSC-D770 is an update of their earlier D700 model, on the market since late 1998. While its 1.5 megapixel resolution is no longer at the top of the current market, the fast 5x zoom lens, true SLR (single-lens reflex) viewfinder and the amazing level of manual control it provides put it firmly in the "professional" category. (It also sports a full-auto mode that is as easy to use as the lowest-end point & shoot.) If you really need control, nothing touches the D770 for less than about $4-5,000! Despite its complexity though, we found the D770 easy to use once we got used to the control system.
Highlights

  • 1/2 inch, 1.5 megapixel Progressive Scan CCD.
  • Image capture at 1344 x 1024 and 640 x 480 pixels.
  • 5x zoom, 5.2 to 26mm (28 to 140mm on a 35mm camera) lens with 62mm filter threads and manual optical zoom and focus adjustment rings.
  • 2x digital zoom.
  • Aperture from F/2 to F/11 in wide angle and from F/2.4 to F/11 in telephoto.
  • Shutter speed from 4 to 1/2,000 seconds.
  • Variable ISO equivalent to 50, 100 or 400.
  • Auto and manual focus.
  • 180,000 dot, 2.5 inch TFT color LCD monitor.
  • SLR optical viewfinder.
  • Continuous shooting at a maximum of two frames per second.
  • Center weighted or spot metering.
  • Histograms to check exposure levels. (VERY useful!)
  • Full-Automatic, Manual, Shutter Speed Priority and Aperture Priority shooting modes.
  • Built-in flash with Auto, On, Off and External modes.
  • Hot shoe for external flash connection.
  • Four white balance settings: Auto, One Push Hold, Indoor, Outdoor and Flash.
  • Image capture on Sony Memory Sticks or PC cards with uncompressed TIFF available.
  • Video out capabilities for NTSC or PAL.
  • Wireless remote control.


Executive Overview
The shape and style of the DSC-D770 should charm even the most steadfast 35mm user with its large hand grip and familiar optical zoom and manual focus adjustment rings on the lens. (These features certainly grabbed our attention!) The DSC-D770 is somewhat heavier and larger than many of the consumer digicams out on the market, a decidedly minor point when you realize the exceptional manual capabilities it has to offer.
The SLR optical viewfinder with built-in double imaging is a wonderful feature for saving battery power. The center focus target marks help you line up shots while a small information display keeps you updated on the shutter speed, aperture and whether or not the image is in focus. For eyeglass wearers, a dioptric adjustment dial lies on the side of the viewfinder. For a larger image preview, a 2.5 inch, low temperature, polysilicon TFT LCD monitor on the back panel acts as a viewfinder when activated by the LCD button. When the Display button is pressed, the LCD monitor displays image information as well as the number of captured images, quality and resolution settings and other information about flash, white balance, etc.
The DSC-D770 comes equipped with a 5x optical zoom, 5.2 to 26mm (equivalent to a 28 to 140mm lens on a 35mm camera) f/2.0 lens. The manual focus and optical zoom adjustment rings on the lens as well as the 62mm filter threads are a definite plus. Focus can be set for automatic or manual control via a small switch on the side of the lens. A 2x digital zoom can be turned on through the Picture Size Menu (accessed on the Mode dial) resulting in images recorded at 640 x 480 pixels.
Despite its somewhat complicated appearance, exposure control on the DSC-D770 is relatively straightforward -- the setup of the controls takes a little getting used to, but is very clear after you're over the initial learning curve. A variable ISO setting (50, 100 or 400), combined with the adjustable aperture setting from F/2.0-2.4 to F/11 and shutter speeds from four to 1/2,000 seconds gives you a lot of versatility. Additionally, you can choose between spot and center weighted metering options, or you can utilize the AE Lock button to lock the exposure setting on the part of the composition you want to expose for.
Exceptional exposure control is one of the D770's strongest points: Four exposure modes are available for shooting: Program AE, Shutter Speed Priority AE, Aperture Priority AE and Manual. Program AE gives the camera all the control. Shutter Speed Priority AE lets you choose the shutter speed while the camera selects the appropriate aperture and Aperture Priority AE does the exact opposite. Manual Exposure puts you in charge of both (a capability we greatly appreciate). In any mode, you can set white balance at Auto, Hold, Indoor or Outdoor. The Hold setting determines the white value based on a white card held in front of the camera, letting you easily compensate for unusual lighting. When using a flash, the WB Flash setting is available through the settings menu and sets the white balance for flash with the help of a white card in front of the lens, just as Hold does for non-flash shots. (This feature is a first among cameras we've tested.) Exposure compensation (EV) is also manually controlled (in all modes except Manual) from -2 to + 2 in 0.25 EV increments.
The pop-up flash has three working modes (Auto, On and Off) and ranges from approximately 3.2 to 8.2 feet (1 to 2.5 meters). Auto puts the camera in charge, On fires the flash with every shot and Off means that the flash never fires, regardless of the light level. An External flash setting works with the external flash hot shoe on top of the camera when a more powerful flash is needed. The Continuous Shooting mode captures a maximum of two frames per second (depending on the available memory and the subject matter). Continuous Shooting allows you to set the exposure based on the first image or the camera can continually adjust the settings (which obviously takes more time). An Interval Shooting mode captures images at predetermined intervals, set through the Record Settings Menu, from one second to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds. The DSC-D770's self-timer counts down anywhere from one to 30 seconds once the shutter button is pressed before firing the shutter.
A very interesting feature on the DSC-D770 is the histogram option, which graphs the distribution of brightness in a captured image (the horizontal axis being brightness and the vertical being the number of pixels for each brightness level). This is an excellent way to check the exposure of an image and examples of over, under and properly exposed images are in the manual. Another great feature on the camera is the ability to establish up to three different users, each with their own settings that can be recalled at any time.
For image storage, the DSC-D770 utilizes either a full-length PCMCIA card or the accompanying Memory Stick/PC card adapter (an 8MB card comes with the camera). Images can be recorded at one of four quality options: Super (uncompressed TIFF), High, Middle or Low, at either 1344 x 1024 or 640 x 480 pixel sizes. To keep images manageable, the DSC-D770 allows you to create new storage folders as you go, and assign keywords to individual images.
US and Japanese models of the DSC-D770 come with NTSC video capabilities for viewing and composing images with the help of a television set (European models feature the PAL format). For power, the DSC-D770 uses special NP-F550 InfoLithium batteries (L series). Battery life is reasonably good, and the remaining-capacity information the InfoLithium system provides is invaluable. Still, we strongly recommend carrying a second battery.
Retrieving images from the DSC-D770 is relatively painless. A PC Card / Parallel Port Adapter comes with the camera along with a software CD carrying the necessary MSAC-PR1 driver for the adapter (for Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0). No image review or manipulation software comes with camera, as Sony apparently assumes most DSC-D770 users will already own their preferred programs. Mac users must provide their own card reader, as the camera has no serial or USB interface for image downloads.
Overall, the DSC-D770 boasts enough features and manual controls to provide all the control a professional photographer needs, without intimidating the avid amateur. As we mentioned earlier, the familiar 35mm styling sets you quickly at ease with its hefty hand grip and lens adjustment rings. The external flash hot shoe, variable ISO settings and wide range of apertures and shutter speeds give you a lot of exposure flexibility. The DSC-D770 is perfect for anyone looking for full photographic control in a digicam!

Design
The DSC-D770 is definitely a camera that the 35mm enthusiast will love. It looks and feels very much like a standard 35mm camera, complete with a large hand grip and protruding lens. The camera's dimensions of 5.5 x 4 x 6 inches (130 x 100 x 150mm) mean it's not easily stashed in a coat pocket or purse, a minor flaw quickly overlooked when you consider the extensive features it offers. Weighing in at 28.7 ounces (820 grams) without the battery pack, we're pretty certain you'll use the included neck strap for some additional support. This too is an easy sacrifice to make when you consider the capabilities.


The front of the camera holds the very large lens, which we were pleased to note has manual zoom and focus adjustment rings. Also on the front of the camera are the pop-up flash, white balance button, self-timer LED and the IR remote control signal sensor. An interesting note is that the styling of the lens side of the camera recalls the front of several Sony camcorder models-like a cross between a camcorder front and 35mm camera body.


The back of the camera is where most of the action takes place. There's a very large optical viewfinder with a small dioptric adjustment dial on the side (and its own protective cover). The major camera controls are back here, along with the Power/Mode dial and LCD monitor. There's also a sliding lock for the Memory Stick / PC card slot (which takes the place of a digital output jack). We were pleased with this inclusion of the PC card adapter and with the foresight to place it on the side of the camera, making it easily accessible when the camera is mounted on a tripod.


The top of the camera features the external flash hot shoe (another excellent bonus), a small LCD status display panel, the Shift dial, some exposure controls and the shutter button.


The side of the camera closest to the lens features another mode dial, the auto/manual focus dial and the video out jack (protected by a locking plastic door). Of course, the presence of these controls means you'll need both hands to operate the camera, but that's not a significant issue, to our thinking, particularly in light of the camera's bulk. (That is, you'd quickly get tired trying to one-hand it anyway.)


The side of the camera opposite the lens has only a strap attachment and the hand grip.


On the bottom of the camera are the metal tripod mount and the locking battery compartment. Bravo, Sony, for placing the compartment far enough away from the tripod mount to allow battery access without having to unmount the camera!

Viewfinder
First of all, we want to say thanks for offering the SLR optical viewfinder with built-in double imaging, as this really helps with battery power. A center focus target helps you line up the shot and a small information display tells you the shutter speed, aperture and whether or not the image is in focus (a small dot that stops flashing when the focus is locked). A dioptric adjustment dial is located beside the viewfinder and Sony also threw in a protective cover (a nuisance to keep track of, but we appreciate its value). Additionally, a 2.5 inch, low temperature, polysilicon TFT LCD monitor on the back panel can be used as a viewfinder as well. Similar to the optical viewfinder, the LCD monitor also displays information about the image, with the addition of image number, quality and resolution settings and other information about the flash, white balance, etc. This information can be cancelled by hitting the Display button above the panel. The LCD button turns the viewscreen itself on and off.
Both the optical and LCD viewfinders are quite accurate, although neither is exactly 100%. The optical finder varies from 91 to 93 percent accuracy as you zoom the lens from telephoto to wide angle. The LCD viewfinder covers 96% of the final image area at all focal lengths.

Optics
The DSC-D770 features a 5x optical zoom, 5.2 to 26mm lens (equivalent to a 28 to 140mm lens on a 35mm camera). As we mentioned earlier, we were thrilled with the inclusion of manual focus and zoom adjustment rings on the lens as well as the 62mm filter threads. Note, however, that the optical zoom is only controlled manually, via the rubber grip-ring on the lens barrel. (There are no electronic controls to rack the zoom in and out.) Lens aperture ranges from F/2 to F/11 in wide angle mode and from F/2.4 to F/11 on the telephoto end with a minimum focusing distance of 20 cm.

A small switch on the side of the camera allows you to quickly change from auto to manual focus. Manually setting the focus is just as simple, you merely turn the adjustment ring on the lens like you would a standard 35mm lens. The focusing ring is the ring closest to the camera's body, and we found it quite easy to access, thanks in part to the two cutouts in the body shroud, on either side of the lens.
The manual focusing on the D770 is interesting for another reason beyond the simple fact that Sony provides it: The focus ring doesn't actually directly connect to the lens mechanism, but rather merely instructs the camera's electronics when and by how much to move the stepper motor that controls the lens focus! Thus, there's no possibility of the manual adjustment conflicting with the automatic focus motor, as is sometimes the case in film SLRs - A nice solution that worked well in our tests. (An interesting "deep techie" note that Dave observed in his work with the camera: The zoom lens is apparently a "variable focal length" design, as opposed to a "true zoom," but Sony has used the camera's intelligence to make it function like a true zoom from a user's perspective. The difference between the two lens types is that a true zoom holds its focus as the lens is zoomed, while a variable focal length design requires refocusing after any focal length changes. In the case of the D770, Sony has cleverly used the CPU-driven focus system to automatically adjust the lens' focus as the zoom ring is turned. This let them get by with a much easier-to-engineer variable focal length lens geometry, yet still deliver the "true zoom" functionality to users. Very clever!)
Focusing a digicam manually is usually an iffy procedure, given that LCD viewfinder resolution is rarely good enough to tell whether you're sharply in focus or not. In the case of the D770, you can get a pretty good idea of focus simply by looking through the viewfinder (once you've used the dioptric correction to adjust for your own eyesight). We were surprised by the extent to which this was true, given the clear-glass focusing screen in the optical finder: Our experience with film-based SLRs has been that clear focusing screens let your eye do too much focusing, making it difficult to tell when the camera lens itself is properly focused. This didn't seem to be an issue on the D770.

There's a second focusing aid though, in the form of a "viewfinder-only" digital zoom, by which the image on the LCD finder is magnified, even though the captured image is not. This mode is accessed by pressing the "Index/EZ Focus" button on the rear of the camera, just above the LCD screen. Unlike the LCD viewfinders of many digicams, that on the D770 remains quite sharp in digital telephoto mode. Thus, the EZ Focus mode proved quite useful in achieving good manual focus.
Overall, as we'll see in the shutter lag test results below, the D770's autofocus system works rather differently than that of any other digicam we've tested to date. (January, 2000) Overall, it's a very fast camera shot to shot, but its autofocus operation can be quite slow, depending on how much focus adjustment is required between shots. The slow autofocus isn't nearly as much of a problem as it would normally be though, given that the camera always adjusts focus starting with the setting used in the last shot taken. Many digicams cycle through the entire focus range for each shot, resulting in a consistent but longer autofocus time. By contrast, if your current shot is of the same subject as the previous one, the focus time and therefore the shutter delay can be quite low. (Hard to figure exactly, but we'd say as little as 0.5 seconds.) At the other extreme, if the camera has to traverse the full focusing range in telephoto mode, it can take up to 2.5 seconds to get a shot off.
Perhaps even more unusual, the D770 doesn't force you to wait for the autofocus to snap a shot. Half-pressing the shutter button starts the autofocus running, with successful focus shown by an indicator in the viewfinder and on the LCD display if it's activated. At all times though, fully pressing the shutter button tells the camera to go ahead and take the picture, regardless of the state of the focus. This is quite different from most digicams, which will simply refuse to take the picture if they don't think the focus is right. Different yes, but better? We'd say so: Given that the D770 is clearly aimed at the high-end user rather than the point & shoot hobbyist, we think this is a good thing. In using it, you need to watch the "in focus" indicator, but will never lose a shot because the camera refuses to trip the shutter. On the other hand, the price to pay is that you'll get out-of-focus shots if you aren't paying attention.
It took us a little while to find the digital zoom function on the DSC-D770, but we eventually did. Rather than being controlled by a zoom lever, the 2x digital zoom is activated through the Picture Size menu (accessed on the Mode dial). Images recorded at 2x digital zoom are saved at 640 x 480 pixel sizes and the quality is usually degraded somewhat.

Exposure
We found exposure control on the DSC-D770 relatively uncomplicated-although at first, it seems the camera is all buttons and knobs. Once you get accustomed to the setup though, it doesn't take too long to put it all together, and we found navigating the user interface quite straightforward. Unlike many other digicams on the market, which feature an elaborate menu system for controlling exposure settings, the DSC-D770 utilizes a combination of mode dials and buttons in addition to a more basic menu system. A mode dial on the lens side of the camera lets you pick the function you want to set (ISO, AE, etc.), with selections being made with the "shift dial" on the camera's other side. To change the Quality settings, for example, you turn the mode dial to Quality, hold down the shift button in the center of the dial and then turn the shift dial to the appropriate setting. Once you get used to the system, changing settings is very easy.
One caution though: There are a LOT of settings, and they don't reset to default values when the camera is turned off! Thus, it's easy to turn the camera on and grab a quick shot, only to discover that some setting was left in an odd state that was inappropriate for the shot you were trying for. (We're embarrassed to admit that we had to reshoot all our "Outdoor Portrait" test shots because we'd left the ISO set to 400 from the previous low-light tests!) Overall, it's probably a benefit that the settings stay the same, as it's nice to be able to leave the camera in a particular setup and know that it'll still be set that way, even if it's been powered down in the meantime. There's also a very handy "user setting" option that lets you store up to three different camera setups under different user-setting numbers. This feature would let you (for instance) change between low-light (high ISO, aperture-priority, "hold" white balance) and outdoor action (shutter priority, medium ISO, daylight white balance) setups very quickly. Very slick!
The camera features an adjustable ISO setting, with options of 50, 100 and 400. Combine this with the aperture settings from around F/2 to F/11 and a variable shutter speed of four to 1/2,000 seconds and you have an extremely versatile camera. (The "official" illumination range should extend from light levels of 64,000 foot-candles (700,000 lux) down to 0.065 foot-candles (0.7 lux). This is a tremendously wide range! Although we found that the lowest extremes of this range were characterized by high noise levels, the D770 is in fact able to capture very high quality images at light levels of well under a foot-candle. (Just how low it can be considered to go depends strongly on how much noise you find acceptable in extreme low-light images, but we felt it performed very well in light levels as low as 0.25 foot-candles. This is really quite dark.)

The AE Lock and metering options give a little extra flexibility. The metering button on top of the camera switches between center weighted and spot metering options. Center weighted takes an average reading in an area at the center of the image and bases the exposure on that. On the other hand, spot metering reads from the direct center of the image and bases the decision on that (useful for subjects with high contrast or backlighting).

Another option is the AE Lock button, on the back of the camera. This button allows you to set the exposure based on a certain part of the subject. You simply aim at that part of the composition, press the button and then reframe to include your entire subject. After the shutter is released (or the shutter button half-pressed), the camera returns to normal exposure operation. The D770's implementation of exposure lock is quite different than most consumer digicams, which lock both exposure and focus when the shutter button is half-pressed. The obvious advantage of the D770's approach is that you can lock exposure, yet still have the camera focus properly for the final composition. The downside is that there's yet another button to deal with, but it's well positioned under your right thumb as you hold the camera.
Four exposure modes are available for shooting: Program AE, Shutter Speed Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual. Program puts the camera in charge of everything. Shutter Speed Priority lets you choose the shutter speed while the camera selects the appropriate aperture and Aperture Priority does the exact opposite. Manual lets you control both (a capability we greatly appreciate). In any exposure mode, you also have the option of controlling white balance through four modes: Auto, Hold, Indoor and Outdoor. Auto gives the camera control. The Hold setting lets you set the white balance based on the value of a white card held in front of the camera and is usually the best option in difficult lighting situations. Indoor and Outdoor adjust the white value based on daylight or incandescent light. A WB Flash setting is available through the settings menu and allows you to set the white balance for use with a flash. This setting again allows you to balance the white value based on a white card or piece of paper, this time operating under flash illumination. This is a really unique feature that we've never seen before on a digicam. (January, 2000.) We can imagine using this adjustment in situations where you're color-balancing flash illumination to ambient lighting by applying gels to the flash head. Very slick!
Back to the more mundane exposure-control functions, the D770 also give you exposure compensation (EV) control in all modes except Manual. This setting is adjustable from -2 to + 2 in 0.25 EV increments and is controlled by the EV button on top of the camera, in conjunction with the thumb-actuated selector wheel.

Flash
The DSC-D770's pop-up flash has three working modes: Auto, On and Off. Auto lets the camera decide when to fire the flash, based on existing light levels and exposure settings. The On setting means that the flash always fires and Off means that the flash never fires, regardless of the light level. The pop-up flash power ranges from approximately 3.2 to 8.2 feet (1 to 2.5 meters). An External flash mode works with the external flash hot shoe on top of the camera to accommodate a more powerful flash. (Don't forget about the WB Flash setting we mentioned earlier which has both internal and external settings!) The +/1 2.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment also controls the flash exposure when the flash is being used, another fairly rare feature in digicams.
Continuous Shooting
The DSC-D770 has a continuous shooting option which allows you to capture a maximum of two frames per second (depending, of course, on the available memory space and the amount of image information). There are two options under the Continuous Shooting setting to chose from. The Cont 1 setting means that in all modes except Manual, the exposure is automatically adjusted with each image taken. In Cont 2, all exposure settings are based on the first image and remain the same. Frame rates for the two modes are 1.0 and 1.3 frames per second for high resolution images, and 2.0 and 2.3 frames per second for VGA resolution ones.
Interval Shooting
The Interval Shooting mode allows you to take images at specific intervals, set by you. The actual interval is set through the Custom settings menu and ranges from one second to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
Self-Timer
The self-timer function on the DSC-D770 gives you from one to 30 seconds between the press of the shutter button and the actual firing of the shutter. The mode is accessed via the mode dial and the delay value can be altered through the Custom settings menu, accessed by hitting the rear-panel Menu button.

Histogram
The DSC-D770 allows you to check the exposure of a captured image through the histogram option. The histogram displays a bar graph of the distribution of brightness in a picture (the horizontal axis shows brightness and the vertical shows the number of pixels for each brightness level). Examples of over, under and correctly exposed histograms are in the manual to give you a little comparison. This is a phenomenally useful tool for gauging exposure, far more accurate and informative than relying on the LCD image during playback. The D770 is the first time we've seen a histogram display on an under-$5000 digicam (January, 2000), and we hope other "prosumer" digicam manufacturers follow suit!
User Settings
An interesting feature of the DSC-D770 is the ability to specify individual user settings (up to three) that can be recalled at any time. This is an excellent time saving feature if you find yourself using certain settings often, and is particularly useful given the unusually broad range of options the D770 provides.
Shutter Lag / Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it using an electronic test setup that provides values accurate to 0.01 second.
The D770's behavior in this test was quite interesting, in that its unique approach to autofocus results in a range of lag times, depending on the zoom setting, and the relative distance of the subject from one shot to the next. (See our earlier discussion of the camera's optics for more detail on autofocus operation.) For full autofocus, the shutter delay ranges from a low of about 0.5 seconds to a high of 2.5 seconds, depending on the lens focal length setting and how much of the focusing range has to be traversed from shot to shot. (Autofocus is faster in wide-angle mode than at full telephoto.) If the lens is prefocused by either half-pressing the shutter, or by manual operation, the shutter delay drops to 0.37 seconds. This is still a bit on the slow side, as most digicams come in at about 0.3 seconds for this test condition, but not bad. Shot to shot cycle time is extremely fast, at 1.1 seconds in maximum resolution, high-quality JPEG mode, and 1.0 seconds at VGA resolution. In continuous-exposure mode, we clocked the D770 at 1.0 frames per second for full-resolution shots in "Cont1" mode, and 1.3 frames per second in "Cont2" mode. (See our discussion of exposure above for more detail on these two modes.) At low resolution, these frame rates increased to 2.0 and 2.3 frames per second respectively. A high-resolution, uncompressed image saves to the memory card in 7 seconds.
All of the above measurements were made using a Lexar Media "4x" CompactFlash card in a PC card adapter. (We used this card because the included 8 MB Memory Stick was too small to give us enough shots per sequence to get good average numbers from.) This card is a fair bit faster than Sony's Memory Sticks, and the camera takes advantage of it. We did repeat some tests with the included 8MB Memory Stick, and found that the continuous-mode timings were much more variable, with shot-to-shot times in Cont2 mode ranging from 0.8 to 1.3 seconds, apparently depending on the state of the camera's internal memory buffer. Also, the time to save an uncompressed image increased from 7 seconds with the Lexar card to 11 seconds with the Memory Stick. For pros, this is good news, in that the camera appears engineered to take advantage of faster storage media, which is often not the case.
User Interface
The user interface on the DSC-D770 did seem a bit daunting at first, with all its bells and whistles, but was easily mastered with a quick read of the manual and some hands on experience. Let's take a look at each of the controls:

LCD Data Readout
Located on the top of the camera, this black & white data readout not only provides an ongoing status display for the camera's settings, but works in conjunction with the mode and shift dials to change the settings as well. One beauty of the D770's user interface is that you can adjust essentially all the camera's normal exposure functions without once venturing into the rear-panel LCD menu system. This could double or triple the available battery life, by allowing you to avoid the power-hungry color LCD display.

White Balance Button
Located on the very front of the camera and marked with a white 'WB,' this button works with the Hold white balance setting. The button allows you to manually set the white value when the camera is pointed at a solid white object. (Such as a white card held in front of the lens.)

Shutter Button
Located on the very tip of the top of the hand grip, this button sets focus and exposure when pressed halfway and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Light Metering Select Button
Located on top of the camera and marked with a spot metering symbol, this button works in conjunction with the shift dial to set the light metering to either center weighted or spot.

Exposure Compensation Button
Located on top of the camera and marked +/-, this button also works in conjunction with the shift dial to set the amount of exposure compensation (EV) from -2 to +2 in 0.25 EV increments.
In Auto exposure mode, pressing this button while turning the Shift dial sets the exposure compensation value.
In Manual Exposure mode, pressing this button while turning the Shift dial sets the aperture.

Shift Dial
Located on top of the camera with no markings, this dial is used in conjunction with the Shift, EV and Light Metering buttons to change various camera settings.


Focus Mode Switch
Located on top of the camera, on the side next to the lens, this switch selects between manual and auto focus.


Mode Dial
Located on top of the camera, just beside the Focus Mode Switch, this dial selects between the following settings:

  • AE: selects between Program AE, Aperture Priority AE, Shutter Speed Priority AE and Manual Exposure modes.
  • Size: selects picture size from 1344 x 1024, 640 x 480 and 2x Digital Zoom (records images at 640 x 480 size).
  • Quality: selects image quality from Super, High, Middle and Low.
  • White Balance: sets white balance to Auto, Hold, Outdoor or Indoor.
  • ISO: sets the ISO to 50, 100 or 400.
  • User: resets or selects the user settings to be used.
  • Flash: sets the flash at Auto, On, Off or External.
  • Drive: sets the exposure type to One Shot, Cont 1, Cont 2, Self-Timer or Interval Record.

Shift Button
Located in the center of the Mode Dial, this button pulls up the corresponding menu for each mode. (In playback mode, this button switches to a small single-thumbnail display that lets you scroll through stored images very rapidly, using the shift dial.)

Dioptric Adjustment Lever
Located on the right side of the optical viewfinder, this lever adjusts the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.

Review Button
Located on the top of the back panel of the camera and marked Review, this button recalls the last image taken while in Record mode. If the histogram function is enabled in the menu system, a histogram will also be displayed with the image. Pressing the Review button again dismisses the histogram overlay, giving you an unobstructed view of the image.

AE Lock Button
Located directly to the right of the Review button, this button locks the exposure value until the shutter button is pressed.

LCD Button
Located on the back panel of the camera, just above the LCD monitor, this button turns the LCD image display on and off.

Index / EZ.Focus Button
Located on the back panel of the camera, to the left of the LCD button, this button switches to an enlargement of the image displayed on the LCD monitor when in Record mode for better focusing. In Playback mode, this button switches to a thumbnail index of captured images.

Display Button
Located on the back panel of the camera, to the left of the Index / EZ.Focus Button, this button turns the information display on and off the LCD monitor (only when the LCD is activated).

Menu Button
Located on the back panel of the camera, to the left of the LCD monitor, this button pulls up the settings menu for Record and Playback modes.

Execute Button
Located just beneath the Menu button on the back of the camera, this button confirms menu selections and tells the camera to execute them.

Exit Button
Located just beneath the Execute button, this button cancels menu selections and closes out the menu.

Up and Down Arrow Buttons
Located to the far left of the LCD panel, these buttons navigate through menu selections and change various setting values.

Power/Mode Dial
Located on the top left of the back of the camera, this button selects between Off, Cam (Record) and Play settings. The dial also features a small green locking button that must be pressed to move the dial from Off to any other setting.
Camera Modes and Menus
As we've seen above, the vast majority of the D770's functions are controlled via the Mode and Shift dials. While the rear-panel LCD screen will show text menus for these exposure functions when it is enabled, the monochrome top-panel readout really provides all the feedback you need once you're used to the camera. There is nonetheless a rather extensive menu system accessed from the rear-panel LCD, that controls many of the less-commonly accessed functions of the camera. We'll cover these LCD menus in this section, under the corresponding camera modes.
Program AE Mode
Accessed by turning the Mode dial to AE while in Record mode and selecting the "Program" mode with the Shift dial while holding down the Shift button, this exposure mode puts the camera in charge of the exposure.
Pressing the Menu button in this mode pulls up the Record Settings Menu with the following options:


  • Custom: pulls up a submenu with the options shown separately below.
  • PC Card Init: initializes the PC card.
  • User File Save: allows you to save user settings (up to three users).
  • New Folder: creates a new folder for image storage.
  • ID Set: allows you to set keywords for images.
  • File Number Memory: allows you to set file numbering options.
  • WB Flash: sets the white balance for use with a flash.
  • Date and Time: sets the camera date and time.
  • LCD Set: allows you to set the contrast, brightness, color saturation, picture sharpness and display area of the LCD monitor. (An amazing level of control over the LCD display characteristics, unlike any camera we've tested to date. (January, 2000) You still can't trust the LCD for critical exposure decisions, but this control lets you get a lot closer than you would otherwise.)
  • Display Set: allows you to change the LCD monitor display settings.

Custom: The Custom sub-menu offers the following options:


  • Power Save: turns the power save function on and off.
  • Interval Record Time: sets the interval record time anywhere from one second to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
  • Review: turns the automatic image review function on and off.
  • Review Time: sets the amount of review time anywhere from one to 10 seconds.
  • Self-Timer: sets the self-timer from one to 30 seconds.
  • Sharpness: sets the image sharpness to either Normal, Hard or Soft.
  • Histogram: sets the histogram to Manual or Auto.
  • Frame: allows you to change the framing options (type and top and bottom percentages).
  • Beep: turns the camera beep on and off.

Aperture Priority AE
Accessed by turning the mode dial to AE and then turning the Shift dial while pressing the Shift button, this mode allows you to select the aperture while the camera selects the corresponding shutter speed. After entering the mode, aperture is set by turning the Shift dial until the desired F-stop appears on either the LCD monitor (if enabled) and top-panel status display. Pressing the Menu button pulls up the same menu as in Program AE.
Shutter Speed Priority AE
Accessed by turning the mode dial to AE and then turning the Shift dial while pressing the Shift button, this mode allows you to select the shutter speed while the camera selects the appropriate aperture setting. Similar to Aperture Priority AE, the shutter speed is selected by turning the Shift dial after entering the mode. The shutter speed will appear in the LCD monitor (if enabled) as well as the top status display panel. Pressing the Menu button pulls up the same menu as in Program AE.
Manual Exposure
Accessed through the same methods as the other three modes, Manual Exposure mode lets you select both the aperture and shutter speed settings. Shutter speed is set by turning the Shift dial after entering the mode. Aperture is set by pressing the +/- button while simultaneously turning the Shift dial. Pressing the Menu button pulls up the same menu as in Program AE.
Playback
Accessed by turning the Power/Mode dial to the Play position, this mode allows you to review captured images on the color LCD screen.
Pressing the Menu button in this mode pulls up the Playback Menu with the following options:


  • Rotate: allows you to rotate the image 90 degrees clockwise, 90 degrees counter clockwise or 180 degrees.
  • D. Zoom: lets you to zoom into the image. The arrow buttons move the viewing window around the full frame in 9 discrete steps. A small indicator in the upper left of the screen shows you what portion of the larger image you're currently viewing.
  • Auto Play: automatically plays back captured images in a slide show.
  • Protect: write protects individual images from accidental deletion or alteration.
  • Delete: deletes one, multiple selected, or all images.
  • PC Card Init: initializes the PC card.
  • ID Set: sets user ids.
  • LCD Set: sets the LCD contrast, brightness, color, picture and display area settings.
  • Display Set: turns the following subcategories on and off for display on the LCD:
    • Size/Quantity/Rotate.
    • Folder/File Name.
    • ID Number.
    • Date/Time.
    • Remaining Shot.
    • TV/AV/EVcomp (shutter speed, aperture, EV compensation).
    • Frame.

Image Storage and Interface
The DSC-D770 utilizes a full-size PC card or a Memory Stick in the accompanying PC card adapter for image storage. An 8MB Memory Stick comes with the camera and additional Memory Sticks are available in 4MB, 16MB and 32MB (and just recently, 64MB) sizes. You have four image quality options (Super-uncompressed TIFF, High, Middle and Low) and two image size options (1344 x 1024 and 640 x 480 pixels).
Individual images can be write protected from accidental erasure (except through initializing) via the Playback Settings menu. The entire Memory Stick can be write protected by sliding the lock switch on the card into the locked position. This also prevents the stick from being formatted.
The DSC-D770 allows you to create new folders for image storage as you go, making image management a little easier. You can also attach keywords to individual images, up to 16 characters, before or after the image is captured.

Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity 1344 x 1024 Resolution 640 x 480 Resolution
Images Approx.
Compression
Images Approx.
Compression
Super Quality 1 1:1 8 1:1
High Quality 10 4:1 30 3:1
Middle Quality 20 8:1 61 6:1
Low 40 16:1 122 12:1


Note that the DSC-D770 shows the number of pictures taken in the top-panel display, not the number remaining. The information overlay on the color LCD screen shows both the number taken and the number remaining.
Video Out
US and Japanese models of the DSC-D770 come set up for NTSC video output and have an accompanying cable (European models feature the PAL format). By connecting to a television set, you can view images already captured or use the screen for image preview (a benefit when trying to manually focus difficult subjects). Note that the LCD monitor can still be turned on and off when connected to the TV, without disturbing the external video display.
Power
The DSC-D770 runs from a custom NP-F550 InfoLithium battery (L series), which is supplied with the camera along with a charger. An AC adapter is available as an accessory, that connects a "dummy battery" via a cable to the AC adapter. With the NP-F550, Sony estimates an approximate 2.5 hours of shooting time with the LCD monitor off and approximately 1.5 hours of time with the monitor on. The approximate amount of recording time left is displayed on the LCD monitor when the camera is on, a very nice feature of the InfoLithium "smart" batteries. The camera seems fairly power hungry, even with the LCD off, so we recommend purchasing a spare NP-F550 to have around. The good news here is that these are a standard camcorder battery of Sony's, and so widely available. Also, the Li-Ion chemistry means that they hold a charge almost indefinitely, making it easy to just charge one and leave it parked in your camera bag until needed.
Included Software
The DSC-D770 utilizes the PC adapter or PC card for connection to a computer and comes with a PC Card / Parallel Port Adapter. (Mac users will need to purchase a third-party PC-Card reader, as the Mac has no parallel port connection). The included software CD simply carries the MSAC-PR1 driver for the adapter. A separate software package will be needed to view images once downloaded. While most consumer digicams come with extensive software bundles, Sony doubtless concluded that enough purchasers of a high-end product like the D770 would already own an image-editing program to make the inclusion of one superfluous for many users. While free software is always nice, we have to say we think Sony's choice in this case was probably wise.
Test Results
In keeping with our general policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the DSC-D770's pictures page.
As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed: Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the DSC-D770 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.
If you've read the review thus far, it's probably pretty clear that we liked the D770 a lot, thanks to the extraordinary level of picture-taking control it delivers. Fortunately, its image quality holds up well also. You pay for the capability it provides, in terms of camera weight and bulk, but the D770 surpasses anything else we've tested to date (January, 2000) for sheer photographic control.
As far as image quality is concerned, the D770 produces well-exposed images with excellent dynamic range and resolution. Color is excellent too, with appropriate saturation, and good accuracy. - The only criticism we could find to make was a slight weakness in yellow and cyan hues, but this is splitting hairs a bit. White balance performance is very good, and the manual setting (whereby you can use a white card to balance-out the color cast of whatever light source you're shooting under) worked beautifully under a wide range of conditions.
We measured the D770's resolution at 650-700 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and 600-650 lines vertically. This is very much on a par with other 1.5 megapixel cameras we've tested, but a tendency of the D770 to accentuate horizontal and vertical details slightly produced an increased perception of sharpness when photographing man-made objects, and influences natural textures somewhat. (Again, not a large effect, but we felt it noticeable enough to comment on.) Color aliasing in areas of fine detail is very well controlled, and shots taken in low-resolution mode were very sharp as well. (Both of these characteristics are not to be taken for granted in high-end digicams!)
Macro performance is quite good, with a minimum coverage area of only 2.3 x 3.1 inches (59.5 x 78.1 mm). This performance is achieved without the benefit of a dedicated macro mode, and can be further enhanced through the use of accessory closeup filters, given the sturdy 62mm filter threads on the front of the lens. The SLR optical design (optical viewfinder looks through the main camera lens) makes the D770 particularly well-suited to use with accessory lenses in this fashion.
Viewfinder accuracy is very good, and the D770 is unusual in the close agreement between the LCD and optical viewfinders, both showing roughly 95% of the final image area. (We always push for 100% coverage, but 95% is quite good and better than most digicams out there.) As noted above, the SLR optical design makes the D770 a natural to use with accessory lenses attached to the 62mm filter threads.
The 5x optical zoom lens is sharp, and shows little aberration, although it does have a fair amount of barrel distortion (1.05%) in wide angle mode, changing to a barely perceptible 0.3% pincushion distortion at the telephoto setting. Chromatic aberration is excellent, estimated at only about 1/3 of a pixel at wide angle, and completely absent at telephoto. Likewise, there's no evidence of coma across the entire focal length range.
Flash uniformity with the onboard strobe was very good, with one glaring exception: At the widest-angle zoom setting, the lens itself casts a shadow at the bottom center of the field of view, extending about 8% upward into the image area! The problem goes away as you zoom to longer focal lengths, but we can't imagine why Sony didn't address such an obvious design flaw. Of course, using an external flash on the camera's top-mounted hot shoe avoids this problem altogether, and provides all the normal benefits of external flashes. (Greater power, better uniformity, ability to bounce-flash easily, etc.)
The D770's deserves special mention for its low-light capability as well, as it was capable of producing high quality images at very low light levels. We felt the images were very usable down to abut 0.25 foot-candles (~3 lux), but the camera could at least produce an image at levels quite a bit below that. We did note though, that the D770's autofocus system only works reliably down to about 1 foot-candle: Below that you'll be on your own with manual focus, and in practice, really need to use some sort of focus-assist lighting since the camera doesn't provide a distance readout showing the current focus setting.
At the bottom line, the D770 takes high-quality pictures, very much in keeping with its "premium" position in the marketplace: A fantastic camera overall!
Conclusion
What a camera! We really liked the exceptional manual control provided by the DSC-D770 and found the overall interface very user friendly. The "real camera" styling quickly puts film based camera lovers at ease with its familiar shape and heft. We also loved the manual focus and optical zoom adjustment rings on the lens and the SLR optical viewfinder which helps save precious battery power. Overall, this is a great camera for the "prosumer" or professional who wants all the features of a fully manual 35mm camera with the convenience of a digital camera. The D770 sets a high standard for full-manual digital cameras, offering features and capabilities well beyond the rest of the sub-$5,000 market. (At least as of this writing, in January, 2000.) While it currently defines the high end of digicams in terms of manual control, we hope that other manufacturers will follow Sony's lead in bringing this level of control to the serious amateur and professional photographer.

Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a Sony DSC-D770 camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at photos@imaging-resource.com, we'll list the album here for others to see!

 

For More Info:
View the data sheet for the DSC-D770

View the test images from the DSC-D770

 

Reader Comments!
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