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Sony DSC-F505V

Sony updates their popular DSC-F505V with a 3 megapixel sensor (2.6 million effective pixels) and all-new electronics!

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Page 1:Intro and Highlights

Review First Posted: 06/01/2000

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2.6 million effective pixels for 1856 x 1392 uninterpolated image size
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12 bit digitization for improved highlight detail
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Greatly improved low-light performance
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Improved aperture and shutter control
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External flash option

 

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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. At the high end of the market though, Sony has developed a compelling line of products, incorporating high-quality Zeiss optics and advanced features found on few competing camera models.

Late in 1999, Sony introduced a 2 megapixel design with an incredibly sharp 5x zoom lens by Carl Zeiss. The DSC-F505 was hugely popular, and Sony's problem seemed to be largely one of trying to satisfy the level of demand for the product. In early 2000, the 505 came into very short supply, with most dealers out of stock. This led to speculation that Sony was about to upgrade the unit. This was confirmed when Sony finally announced the F505V as the upgraded version.

The new model is somewhat unusual in its resolution specifications. The camera sports a 3.34 megapixel Sony CCD sensor chip (the same chip essentially everyone making 3 megapixel digicams is using at the moment), but only about 2.6 million of its pixels are actually being used. This reduced "effective pixel" count caused much speculation on the web as to what might account for it, but the answer in fact appears to be fairly simple: Rather than re-engineering the entire optomechanical system of the F505, Sony simply dropped the 3.34 MP sensor into the original body. As is commonly the case, the internal design of the camera was set up to mask the original 2.11 megapixel array slightly, to allow for dark-current calibration of the CCD. Some simple back-of-the-envelope calculations reveal that the same size mask applied to the 3.34 megapixel sensor would yield about 2.7 million "effective" pixels. Allowing for errors in the calculations due to different sensor geometry and layout of the active elements, a final pixel count of 2.6 million seems very reasonable.

We expected a strong performance for the F505V, given the excellent sharpness the original F505 showed. We were surprised though, to find that the 505V's resolution in fact challenges some of the "true" 3 megapixel cameras on the market. For more on this, see our "First Look" article on the camera, or our test results page.


What's New
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As noted, the DSC-F505V is an update to the original (and hugely successful) DSC-F505. For those readers already familiar with the original DSC-F505, here are a few quick notes about the camera itself: Physically, it is identical to the original F505, which should please many of those who were been waiting to buy one of the earlier units, but couldn't find them on store shelves as it neared the end of its product life cycle. Beyond the case and optics though, Sony has added several significant enhancements to the electronics relative to the original model. We covered some of these in our "First Look" article, but have expanded on the list somewhat since then. Here's a quick rundown:

  • 12 bit digitization: This is a pretty significant improvement, IOHO, borne out by the results we observed in our test subjects: The increased digitization accuracy has indeed resulted in significant improvements in subtle color and tonal rendering, particularly in strong highlights.

  • Improved aperture & shutter control: Another pretty significant improvement. The F505V has full 1/3 stop control over shutter and aperture, giving much more precise control over these exposure parameters.

  • External flash option: Supports the same (proprietary connection) HVL-F1000 external flash unit that we reviewed with the Sony S70. External flash was a frequently requested capability on the original DSC-F505.

  • TIFF file format option: The new F505V can save images in uncompressed TIFF format at all but the largest (interpolated) image size. - Another much-requested option.

  • Improved manual focus operation: This is a feature brought over from Sony's new "Y2K" Mavica line. Whenever you touch the focus ring on the new F505V in manual focus mode, the display immediately shifts to a magnified view. This makes it much easier to focus manually using the LCD for feedback. (Although the little in-focus indicator dot is still very welcome.)

  • Improved macro performance: The new DSC-F505V now focuses as close as 2cm, a significant improvement over the original F505's 8cm limit. (You do pay some price for this though, in the form of increased barrel distortion when you're that close.

  • Greatly improved low-light performance. The original F505 struggled to get down to light levels of 2 foot-candles (22 lux), while the new 505V works reasonably well all the way down to 1/8 of a foot-candle (~1.3 lux), and quite well at 1/4 of a foot-candle (2.7 lux). A very impressive improvement in performance!

  • Improved processing speed: The new camera electronics use a special Sony single-chip CPU design that eliminates the need for separate "scratchpad" and "buffer" memory. The result should be faster cycle times and (possibly) lower power consumption. The higher level of integration could also lead to lower levels of image noise. We were rather puzzled when we tested the F505V's cycle time then, and found it to actually be slower than the original 505, at roughly 6 seconds in highest-resolution mode, to the original's 3.5 seconds. (?)

  • Improved interpolation algorithm: One consequence of the increased processor horsepower appears to be that the Sony engineers could undertake much more sophisticated image preprocessing. Specifically, they were able to include a mode that interpolates the image data directly as it comes from the CCD array, rather than after it's gone through a JPEG process first. Sony's claim for this technique is that it improves detail rendition, and reduces image noise up to 16x. (Actually, the 16x claim is a little unclear, as it most likely also involves the impact of the improved digitization accuracy.)

Other than these changes, the new F505 functions virtually identically to the original. Other than specific performance issues, most of what follows will be a duplicate of our earlier DSC-F505 review.


Highlights

  • 3.3 megapixel (2.6 million effective pixels) CCD delivering up to 2240 x 1680 pixel images with interpolation, 1856x1392 uninterpolated.
  • Two inch hybrid TFT LCD panel.
  • 5x optical zoom with 2x precision digital zoom.
  • 7.1 to 35.5mm Carl Zeiss rotating lens (equivalent to a 38 to 190mm lens on a 35mm camera) with apertures from F/2.8 to F/8.0.
  • Manual focus option with magnified focus-assist LCD viewfinder mode.
  • Full automatic exposure control and Program AE options (Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, Twilight, Twilight Plus, Landscape and Panfocus).
  • Shutter speed from eight to 1/1000 seconds.
  • Manually adjustable white balance with four modes (Automatic, Indoor, Outdoor, One-Push).
  • Popup flash with four modes.
  • USB or RS-232 computer interface.
  • Magnesium alloy body.
  • MPEG movie capability with audio.
  • JPEG and uncompressed TIFF still image formats.
  • Image capture on Memory Stick.

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