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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!

Review First Posted: 06/01/2000




MSRP $1099 US

 

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

 

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
?
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:

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

Executive Overview
Given that we enjoyed the earlier DSC-F505 so much, it's no surprise that we really liked the nearly identical design of the DSC-F505V. The main differences between the two models lie in the larger 3.3 megapixel CCD (delivering an uninterpolated image size of 1856 x 1392 pixels, or 2240 x 1680 pixels with interpolation); better highlight detail and low light performance; improved manual focusing, aperture and shutter controls; an uncompressed TIFF format on all but the largest image sizes; and a wider range of exposure compensation settings (from -2.0 to +2.0 in 1/3 EV increments); among other improvements. One of our favorite aspects continues to be the rotating lens which swings nearly 180 degrees. We also enjoyed the fact that the tripod mount is placed on the bottom of the lens instead of the camera body, meaning you can tilt the body up to make the LCD monitor more visible. Although the lens notably prevents the camera from fitting into small pockets, the camera body itself is one of the most compact we've seen, making it quite light weight. (And the huge lens makes it an instant attention-getter, if you're into that sort of thing...) The only viewfinder on the DSC-F505V is the LCD monitor on the back panel, which offers brightness controls and a back light option directly beneath it. We found the LCD monitor to be somewhat difficult to see in very bright conditions (even with the back light function turned off as the manual suggests) and would like to have had an optical viewfinder for reference in those situations. That said, the LCD is much more visible in direct sunlight than most. In very dark conditions though, the opposite situation prevails, with not enough light reaching the CCD for it to produce a usable image in its rapid-refresh "viewfinder" mode. (Overall, we'd really prefer to see some sort of optical viewfinder as an adjunct.) For optics, the DSC-F505V comes with a razor-sharp 7.1 to 35.5mm Carl Zeiss 5x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38 to 190mm lens on a 35mm camera) with apertures from F/2.8 to F/8.0. Focus ranges from 0.5m to infinity in wide angle and from 2 cm to infinity in macro.

The DSC-F505V can digitally zoom up to 2x (for an overall zoom ratio of 10x), but keep in mind that the end result of digital zoom is a lower-resolution image. A manual focus option allows you to focus the lens as you would a standard 35mm camera by turning the notched bezel. Manual focus is especially helpful in macro mode, which on the DSC-F505V captures subjects as close as 0.8 inches (2cm) to the lens. An improvement that we especially appreciate here is that once you begin turning the focus bezel, a magnified image appears on the LCD to assist in fine tuning the focus. This is very helpful, since there is no distance readout to assist you.

The DSC-F505V doesn't offer full manual exposure control, but does give you moderate exposure control with its program AE modes (Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, Twilight, Twilight Plus, Landscape and Panfocus). Aperture Priority and Shutter Speed Priority are self explanatory, letting you control the aperture or shutter speed while the camera adjusts the other setting. Twilight mode helps you capture bright objects against darker backgrounds, while Twilight Plus boosts the light sensitivity of the camera and allows longer exposure times for nighttime photography. Landscape sets the focus for far away subjects and Panfocus allows you to quickly switch focus from far away to close up subjects (setting the lens to it's hyperfocal point?). The pop-up flash on the DSC-F505V works from 11.9 inches to 8.3 feet (0.3 to 2.5m) with choices of Auto (no LCD icon displayed, flash fires whenever the camera thinks it needs it), Forced (flash always fires), Red-Eye Reduction (a small pre-flash fires before the full flash to eliminate the Red-Eye Effect) and Suppressed (flash never fires) modes. You can also control flash intensity via the record menu with choices of High, Normal and Low. A new bonus on the F505V is the external flash connection. You still have control over exposure compensation through the record menu, but now with a wider range, from -2.0 to +2.0 in 1/3 EV increments. White balance continues to offer four modes (Auto, Indoors, Outdoors and One-Push). Auto, Indoors and Outdoors do exactly what you'd expect and balance the white value for specific lighting conditions. We enjoyed the flexibility of the One-Push mode, which adjusts the white balance according to a white value that you establish, and found it able to handle pretty extreme lighting conditions. There's also a 10 second self-timer and a spot metering option for further versatility.

In addition to standard exposure control, several picture effects let you manipulate images in the camera, both before and after recording. Negative Art reverses the color and brightness of the image. Sepia and Black & White change the image into monochromatic tones. Solarize separates the light intensities in the image, making it look more like an illustration. These are fun ways to infuse a little creativity into your shots. Probably the most exciting feature on the DSC-F505V is the ability to record short movies with sound. Movies can be recorded in lengths of five, 10 and 15 seconds, depending on how you set it up. Three movie formats are available: 320 x 240 HQ, 320 x 240 (standard quality) and 160 x 112. You can also record short sound bytes to accompany your still images. We can think of dozens of uses for this in everything from pure image organization to documentation. Movie files are stored in the MPEG3 format

When it comes to storing images, the DSC-F505V utilizes Memory Sticks. These tiny cards (about the width of a stick of gum, but a bit shorter) come in 4MB, 8MB, 16MB, 32MB and 64MB sizes and are easily write protected with a sliding lock on the card itself. The DSC-F505V runs on rechargeable InfoLITHIUM battery packs (S series) or the A/C adapter (which doubles as the battery charger). We really like the "gas gauge" function provided by the InfoLITHIUM system that shows remaining battery charge in minutes of operation for whatever camera mode you happen to be in. US and Japanese models of the DSC-F505V come with an NTSC A/V cable for connection to a television set. (European versions presumably support the PAL standard). Images and movies can be played back and composed using the TV as the LCD monitor. The camera also comes with a USB cable for downloading images to a computer. The included software CD contains PictureGear 3.2 Lite, which basically allows you to download and play back captured images. Although no photo manipulation software comes with the camera, Sony does offer ImageStation on their website, which offers various Internet and printing capabilities. Unfortunately for Mac users, the PictureGear software is only compatible with Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0 (although they do provide a USB driver for Macintosh, so you should at least be able to download images).

Despite the slightly quirky LCD and the limited software options, we really enjoyed this camera. Combine the tack-sharp rotating lens with the movie capability and good exposure control options, and you have a very versatile, simple to operate digicam well-suited to both the average consumer and the photo enthusiast. The variety of features and the overall flexibility make the DSC-F505V handy for the office, home or anywhere. It's compact enough to be portable and feature-laden enough to tackle almost any shooting situation. Overall, it's a fantastic upgrade to what was already an excellent camera, the DSC-F505. We think you'll enjoy it.

Design
The DSC-F505V continues to be quite the eye-catcher (as was the DSC-F505), and on the outside, the two cameras look like identical twins. There are a number of differences between the older and newer models though. The F505V provides the increased accuracy of 12 bit digitization, which improves subtle tonal and color rendering, particularly in strong highlight areas. It also offers improved aperture and shutter control with full 1/3 stops gives more precise adjustment. The DSC-F505V added an external flash connection, which supports the HVL-F1000 external flash unit. Other improvements include an optional uncompressed TIFF file format, improved manual focus operation, faster processing speed and an improved interpolation algorithm for better detail rendering and less noise.

The rotating lens definitely tops our list for flexibility and innovation with its nearly 180 degree rotation. The large lens dominates the design, and leads to a very different way of holding the camera, but we very quickly became used to this. The large lens barrel actually makes for very stable camera support, encouraging a two-handed grip, and providing good support around the unit's center of gravity. Because the tripod mount is actually located on the bottom of the lens, you can tilt the body of the camera up for easier reading of the LCD monitor (no more leaning over). What's more, the rotating lens gives you more shooting options as you can point the lens straight up or nearly straight down, while still viewing the LCD in a normal orientation. The magnesium alloy body remains relatively light weight at 15 ounces (435g) without battery and memory stick. The bulk of the weight lies in the lens. Dimension-wise, the DSC-F505V spans 4.25 x 2.5 x 5.4 inches (107.2 x 62.2 x 135.9 mm). Excluding the large lens, the body itself is very compact. Although the size of the lens prevents it from fitting into small pockets, its functionality well makes up for it. (We're a little confused by the reference to the all-metal magnesium alloy body: Our test unit had a plastic body, at least on the outside: Perhaps what Sony means is that the internal structural body is made of magnesium alloy, although the outer "shell" is plastic.)



The front of the camera basically features the shutter button (angled down from the top a bit) and the lens. On the lens are the pop-up flash, tripod mount, focus control and the macro, white balance and spot meter buttons.



The camera back holds the LCD monitor, a few controls and the external flash connector. There's also a small thumb grip attached to the battery and Memory Stick slot cover.



The side of the camera opposite of the lens holds the Memory Stick and battery compartment, both covered by a locking, sliding door.



The lens itself carries a number of controls on its side, readily accessible to your left hand, which will normally cradle the lens for support.



The remaining controls live on the top of the camera, and include a mode dial, power switch, zoom lever and microphone. The USB and A/V out jacks are also on top of the camera, beneath a sliding cover that flips up to open.



The bottom of the camera is pretty nondescript except for the sound playback speaker and two small rubber pads that cushion the camera slightly when set on a hard surface. As we mentioned earlier, the tripod mount is actually located on the underside of the lens barrel.

Viewfinder
Sony again left off the optical viewfinder on the DSC-F505V, eliminating the option to save battery power by not using the LCD. The LCD monitor itself is an unusual two inch TFT hybrid variety with a total resolution of 122,980 (559 x 220) pixels. Two LCD buttons (- and +) no longer control the brightness of the display, as they did in the DSC-F505. These buttons now adjust the volume in playback mode and the apeture/shutter speed in AE mode...more on this later. (However, an option does exist in the menus to alter the LCD brightness). A Display button to the left of the monitor turns the information and menu display on and off (helpful when you're trying to compose an image).

The LCD monitor used on the DSC-F505V is rather unusual, in that it's a "hybrid" transmissive/reflective design. That is, it can operate normally (transmissive), with the backlight panel providing the illumination you view the image with. It also provides a reflective mode, where it works by reflecting light from the surroundings back at the user. This works reasonably well in very bright direct-sunlit situations, where a backlit LCD would be completely useless. In these situations, you can switch the backlight completely off, and rely on the ambient light to view the LCD by. The downside of this LCD design is that there seems to be an intermediate range of ambient light levels where neither the reflective or transmissive modes work very well. We thus found the LCD rather difficult to view in medium-bright outdoor settings. Optics
The lens on the DSC-F505V is clearly something special, as evidenced by its size and mass. The DSC-F505V comes equipped with a 7.1 to 35.5 mm Carl Zeiss lens (equivalent to a 38 to 190mm lens on a 35mm camera) and a wonderful 5x optical zoom. Apertures range from F/2.8 to F/8.0 in 1/3 stop increments, and are automatically controlled (except in Aperture Priority mode). Focus ranges from 0.5m (~19 inches) to infinity in wide angle and from 0.08m (2 inches) to infinity in macro. An additional 2x digital zoom function (10x total zoom) can be turned on and off via the record menu, but remember that quality is always an issue with digital enlargement. The Focus switch on the side of the lens gives the option of manual focus, which can be adjusted by turning the bezel on the end of the lens (like a standard 35mm camera lens). When using the manual focus option, the camera provides you with a small focus-feedback indicator on the LCD screen, showing when you've attained optimum focus. Although there are no distance markings or readouts anywhere on the camera that would guide you in situations were the focus-determination system may not work, an improvement on the F505V includes a quick magnification of the central focusing area for more fine tuning. We really liked the feel of a digicam with a manual focus option that really works like that on a standard 35mm camera lens. As it turns out, the same focus indicator used in manual focus mode also appears while using autofocus, and is quite handy for determining whether or not the camera has achieved a good "lock" on the focus. As you'd expect from the Carl Zeiss name, the F505's lens is tack-sharp (a prominent feature of the original F505), although we did find some barrel and pincushion distortion at the ends of its zoom range. (See the "Test Results" section at the end of the review for the details on this).

The Macro function of the DSC-F505V is controlled via the Macro button on the side of the lens and allows you to capture objects as close as 0.8 inches (2cm) from the lens. Macro is not available in the Landscape and Panfocus modes. As we mentioned in the Design section, the rotating lens is definitely a winner. (We've had a personal bias toward rotating-lens designs ever since we first saw them 'lo these many years ago). Rotating through about 135 degrees, the lens greatly multiplies your shooting options, and is especially handy for grabbing ground-level macro shots or when holding the camera above your head to shoot over a crowd. Additionally, with the tripod mount on the bottom of the lens barrel, you have greater flexibility when mounted to a tripod for tilting the camera back for easier viewing. Sony offers both wide and telephoto converters as accessories for the DSC-F505V which mount over the lens, using the 52mm filter threads. Exposure
The DSC-F505V offers almost exclusively automatic exposure control with the exception of flash mode selection, exposure compensation (EV) and white balance. There are, however, some program AE modes that allow you to achieve particular effects: Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, Twilight, Twilight Plus, Landscape and Panfocus. A mode dial on top of the camera designates whether you're shooting in Movie or Still mode.

Flash
The pop-up flash on the DSC-F505V covers a range from 11.9 inches to 8.3 feet (0.3 to 2.5m) with choices of Auto (no icon), Red-Eye Reduction (which we were glad to see added), Forced and Suppressed operating modes. Auto lets the camera decide when to fire the flash, based on existing lighting conditions. Red-Eye Reduction tells the camera to fire a small pre-flash before firing the full flash to reduce the Red-Eye Effect. Forced means that the flash always fires, regardless of light, and Suppressed simply means that the flash never fires. Flash intensity can be manually controlled via the record menu with choices of High, Normal and Low. The flash on the DSC-F505V appears to be color-balanced to tungsten (incandescent) lighting, as evidenced both by the yellowish filter that covers the flash window, and by the results we obtained in our own tests. Our tests supported Sony's stated maximum flash range of 8.3 feet, showing good illumination to 9 feet or more. A definite plus on the F505V model is the inclusion of an external flash connection, which greatly increases your flash photography options. (Note though, that the flash connection on the F505V is a proprietary one, requiring use of the dedicated Sony HVL-F1000 external flash unit. You could certainly slave additional external strobes to this one via an optical slave unit, but the main flash will need to be a HVL-F1000.)

Exposure Compensation (EV)
Exposure Compensation on the DSC-F505V is also controlled through the record menu, manually adjustable from -2.0 to +2.0 in 1/3 EV increments. We were very glad to see this increased exposure compensation range (the previous F505 was only adjustable from -1.5 to +1.5 in 0.5 EV increments).

White Balance
You have four white balance modes available on the DSC-F505V: Auto, Indoor, Outdoor and One-Push. Auto puts the camera in control. Indoor and Outdoor adjust for artificial (incandescent) and natural lighting, just as they sound. One-Push adjusts the white balance depending on the light source, meaning that you set the white value by placing a white sheet of paper in front of the lens. Sony suggests using the Auto setting when shooting under fluorescent lighting as opposed to the Indoor setting, for more accurate results. We found that the automatic white balance option produced the best results under normal conditions, but the One-Push option handled extreme color casts much better. (Preset white-balance features like the F505V's One-Push option also allow you to introduce deliberate color casts into your images in a very controlled fashion: Simply use an off-white target to set the One-Push white balance setting, and the subsequent shots will have a color cast opposite to that of the target. For example, a slightly yellowish One-Push target will produce a bluish cast in your final image.)

Picture Effect
The Picture Effect option in the record menu allows you to use a little creativity when composing images. Negative Art reverses the color and brightness of the image. Sepia and Black & White change the image into monochromatic tones. Solarize clarifies the light intensity of the image, making it look more like an illustration. Note that these options are "live" in record mode, so you get a preview of the effect on the LCD monitor before you snap the image.

Program AE Modes
The Program AE (AutoExposure) option under the record menu allows you to exercise a little additional control over your exposure. Aperture Priority mode lets you select an aperture value from F/2.8 to F/8.0. Shutter Priority gives you control over shutter speed while the camera chooses the aperture. Shutter speed ranges from eight to 1/1000 seconds in both NTSC and PAL modes. Twilight mode suppresses the blurring of colors on a bright subject in a dark place, allowing you to record the subject without losing the dark atmosphere of the surroundings. Twilight Plus simply takes the previous setting a little further. Landscape mode sets focus for distant subjects and Panfocus allows you to change focus on subjects quickly from close up to far away. (We confess to being rather confused by the Twilight and Panfocus modes, as the manual provided virtually no detail on their operation.)

Spot Metering
The DSC-F505V normally determines exposure by measuring the brightness of the entire image and taking an average. The spot metering option changes this to a heavily center weighted spot, useful for backlit subjects or compositions with strong contrast. Spot metering is quickly turned on and off via a button on the side of the lens.

Self-Timer
The self-timer function on the DSC-F505V gives you 10 seconds from the time the shutter button is fully pressed until the shutter fires. The timer is accessed under the record menu and a flashing LED on the front of the camera gives you countdown status.

Movies and Sound
The DSC-F505V has a few options for recording sound and movie files. Under the record menu, the Voice option allows you to record quick sound bytes to accompany a still image. To record an actual movie with sound, simply switch the mode dial to the Movie option. Movies can be recorded in preset 5, 10 and 15 second increments, based on the Record Time Set feature in the record menu. Based on the preset, recording continues as long as the shutter button is held down. The DSC-F505V gives you three image size/quality settings for movies: 320 HQ, 320x240 and 160x112. Sony notes that moving images will show up notably softer than still images. Both the self-timer and photo effects capabilities are available in Movie mode, as is the exposure compensation (EV) setting.

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 a special electronic test setup.

As we mentioned earlier, the F505V apparently features increased image-processing power, in that the camera electronics use a special Sony single-chip CPU design which eliminates the need for separate "scratchpad" or "buffer" memory. The result should be faster cycle times and lower power consumption. In our actual tests however, we found the F505V to be somewhat slower than the earlier model from shot to shot.

Switching from Play to Record mode took about 3.68 seconds. Going from Record to Play in the VGA resolution took about 1.2 seconds while doing the same in the maximum resolution setting took about 5.3 seconds. The camera took about 7.2 seconds to get ready for the first picture after being switched on and effectively 0.0 seconds to switch off (because there's no need to wait for the lens to retract or anything else).

Shutter lag with full autofocus operation on the F505V is quite variable, depending on the camera-subject distance: At greater shooting distances, the lag time is about 1.6 seconds. In macro shooting situations though, the shutter lag stretches to 2.3 seconds. When manual focus is used, the lag time drops to about 1.3 seconds, while prefocusing by half-pressing the shutter button before actually shooting the picture reduces lag time to about 0.4 seconds. (The slightly shorter time using prefocus is likely because the prefocus operation takes care of the automatic white balance function as well.) All of the F505V's shutter lag timings are somewhat slow relative to the rest of the 3MP field: This is an area we'd like to see improved in future versions of this product. Here's a table summarizing our results:

DSC-F505V Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
7.2

Shutdown
0
No time required for lens retraction...
Play to Record, first shot
3.68
Time is delay until first shot captured.
Record to play (max/min res)
5.3/1.2
Slower for max res images
Shutter lag, full autofocus
1.6

Shutter lag, macro-mode autofocus
2.3

Shutter lag, manual focus
1.3

Shutter lag, prefocus
0.4



As noted above, cycle times on the F505V were actually somewhat slower than those on the original F505. We were a bit puzzled by this, since the 505V supposedly has a faster CPU inside it. It's of course having to deal with more data than did the 505's CPU, but we still expected to see some improvement. (One possibility is that the expanded 12-bit digitization accuracy and the increased processing associated with the more sophisticated tonal compression that this permits results in a significantly higher processor load.) In any event, cycle time at maximum resolution and quality was about 5.0 seconds in the best case and about 6.0 seconds on average. In minimum resolution, cycle times stayed around 5.0 seconds. Getting the minimum cycle time out of the camera was a bit frustrating though, because if you hit the shutter button and hold it down before the camera is ready to shoot again, the F505V completely ignores your actions. It won't take a picture in this situation unless you let up on the shutter button and then press it again, making it a bit of a gamble to figure out when to press the shutter button to get the fastest response. We'd really like to see a design that notes whether the shutter button is pressed as soon as it's done processing each shot, and immediately grabs the next image if it is. - This business of insisting that you must first let up on the shutter button is really nonsensical. (Not to unfairly single-out Sony for this, as we've seen the behavior on other cameras as well: It's only that we've just now decided to mount a campaign against this particular camera behavior, and Sony is the first manufacturer to be blessed with our attention in this area. ;-) Again, here is a table summarizing our cycle time measurements.

DSC-F505V Zoom Cycle Times/Frame Rates
Mode
Time
(secs)
Frame Rate
(frames/sec)
Notes
TIFF Autofocus
n/a
n/a
(Sorry, we neglected to measure cycle time for TIFF images!)
High resolution, autofocus
5.0-6.0
~0.18
Cycle time was variable, from 5-6 seconds.
High resolution, manual focus
4.5-5.5
~0.2
Again variable, only slightly faster.
Minimum resolution, autofocus
5.0
0.2
Consistent cycle time at low res.
Movie Mode
0.067
15

User Interface
The user interface on the DSC-F505V has a comfortable feel with clear operation, as did the previous DSC-F505. Buttons and controls are well marked and accessible, although people with large hands may feel as we did that the right-hand controls are a little cramped. You could conceivably operate the camera with just one hand, but the weight of the lens begs for two, and a two-handed grip provides excellent camera-platform stability. Also, while the user interface was very easy to understand, we found some of the menu navigation more laborious than we'd have liked, requiring multiple control actuations to navigate to the desired setting. Here's a look at the major buttons and controls:


Shutter Button
Located on the top/front of the camera, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Mode Dial
Located on top of the camera, this dial selects between the following modes:



Power Switch
Located on top of the camera, directly behind the microphone, this switch turns the camera on and off.


Pop-Up Flash Switch
Located on the side of the lens, directly beneath the pop-up flash, this sliding switch pops up the built-in flash.


Focus Control
Located on the side of the lens, this sliding switch puts the camera in either Auto or Manual focus mode. In manual focus mode, the lens is focused via the very standard-looking (and feeling) focusing ring on its front. Focus is indicated by a small >0< icon in the LCD viewfinder.


Macro Button
Located on the side of the lens, to the right of the Focus control, this button turns Macro mode on and off.


White Balance/One-Push Buttons
Located directly to the right of the Macro button on the side of the lens, this button selects the white balance mode:



Spot Metering Button
Located on the side of the lens, directly to the right of the White Balance button, this button turns the spot metering function on and off. When spot metering is enabled, a small "+" sign appears in the center of the viewfinder, centered in the active metering area.


Zoom Lever
Located on the top/back of the camera, marked with a 'W' and 'T', this sliding lever controls the optical and digital zoom (when turned on).


Flash Button
Located on the back panel of the camera, marked with the traditional flash symbol, this button controls the following flash modes:



Program AE Button
Located on the back panel of the camera, directly beneath the Flash button, this button accesses the following Program AE modes:



Menu / Rocker Toggle Button
Located beneath the Program AE button, this rocker toggle button has four arrows (up, down, left and right) and a center dot. In all modes, the arrows navigate through menus and the center dot acts as the ‘OK’ for menu options. In Play mode, the left and right arrow buttons scroll through images. Pressing the down arrow dismisses both the play and record menus while the up arrow recalls them again.


Display Button
Located beneath the rocker toggle button on the back panel of the camera, this button dismisses and recalls the information display on the LCD monitor.


LCD Buttons (- and +)
Located directly beneath the LCD monitor, these buttons no longer control the brightness of the LCD display as they did in the F505. In order to control brightness, you must now go to the Setup options under the individual menus (see more below.) In Shutter and Aperture Priority modes, these buttons control the shutter speed and aperture settings, in addtion to the sound volume while in the Play mode.


LCD Back Light Switch
Also located directly beneath the LCD monitor, this switch turns the LCD back light on and off to assist in power conservation (albeit only slightly), or to accommodate varying ambient light levels (a more significant effect).

Camera Modes and Menus

Mode
Accessed by turning the mode dial to the Play position, this mode allows you to play back captured images and movies along with their accompanying sounds. Pressing the Menu button brings up the Play menu with the following options:


Mode
Accessed by turning the mode dial to the Still position, this mode allows you to capture still images. Pressing the Menu button brings up the record menu with these options:


Mode
Accessed by turning the mode dial to the Movie position, this mode allows you to capture movies with sound. Pressing the Menu button in this mode brings up the following menu:

Image Storage and Interface
The DSC-F505V utilizes Sony's unique (and thus far largely proprietary) Memory Stick for its image storage. A (rather undersized) 8MB card came with our evaluation unit, although we don't know what size will ship in the box with the final production models: Additional units are available in 8MB, 16MB, 32MB and 64MB sizes. The Memory Stick has been the subject of some controversy within the digicam community, with many people (ourselves included) initially asking why on earth we needed yet another memory card format for digital cameras. It's bad enough (the argument goes) that we have to contend with the completely incompatible SmartMedia and CompactFlash standards, why must Sony introduce yet another format into the fray?

However, after all our testing, we actually found ourselves liking the Memory Stick the most. We're still not keen to see yet another memory format muddying the waters for consumers, but have to admit that there's a lot to like about the Memory Stick form factor. Relative to SmartMedia, it feels more rugged, and doesn't expose it's electrical contacts to the environment quite as much. Since insertion travel is much less, it should also be less subject to rubbing wear of the plating on the contacts, something we've observed with SmartMedia. Relative to CompactFlash, it's a fair bit more compact, and doesn't have the dozens of pins that CF requires. (We're firmly of the opinion that the fewer connections there are, the less chances there are for something to go wrong with one of them.)

We also like the way the Memory Stick cards can be write-protected by sliding a tiny switch on their back. (CF cards have no such physical write-protection available, and SmartMedia cards require the use of expendable conductive foil dots that are also subject to failure due to dirt or fingerprints.) While we don't expect the rest of the world to jump onboard the Memory Stick bandwagon anytime soon, we do feel that it's at least a viable and useful solution within the Sony product line.

The DSC-F505V gives you five resolution options (2240 x 1680 (interpolated), 1856 x 1392, 1856 (3:2), 1280 x 960 and 640 x 480), and standard image quality/compression at each image size. The uncompressed TIFF option is available for all but the 2240 x 1680 image size. An additional option of 320x240 pixels at high compression is available in the "email" mode, which we didn't evaluate in our testing. All options are accessible through the record menu. In video mode, image sizes of 320 x 240 and 160 x 112 are available (with an option for a 320 x 240 HQ mode).

Sony took some knocks on the internet shortly after their announcement of the F505V, for their use of interpolation to produce a large image size with more pixels in it than contained on the active CCD sensor area. Interpolation has become such anathema to digicam owners that any mention of its use on cameras brings immediate catcalls and derision. The fact that the F505V carries a "3.3 megapixel" label on the side of its lens barrel (referring to the total sensor size, even though only 2.6 megapixels are actually used) further inflamed the issue. Fortunately, Sony was overall very forthright about how the camera operates, how many pixels are actually in use, and has been very responsible in their labeling of the product packaging, right down to the "hang tag" that is attached to the unit in retail displays. The other saving grace is that the F505V produces such sharp images that it actually bests some of the "true" 3 megapixel cameras on the market! (See our "First Look" review for further details on this, including comparison pictures.) As for the largest image size, we did indeed see a slight improvement in visible detail relative to simply interpolating the 1:1 image size (the 1856 x 1392 pixel size) in Photoshop(tm) using bicubic spline interpolation: There thus does appear to be some merit (albeit slight) to Sony's much-touted interpolation method that works directly from the raw sensor data, rather than from the final processed file. For ourselves, we personally would probably be content to save memory space and just use the 1856 x 1392 pixel image size for most of our shots, rather than looking for the last iota of resolution the interpolated images deliver. At the bottom line though, even the uninterpolated images hold their own very well even against the current crop of 3 megapixel competitors.

Turning back to the storage medium again, you can protect individual images on the Memory Stick from accidental erasure (except from formatting) through the setup menu on the DSC-F505V. As noted above, the entire Memory Stick can be write protected by sliding the lock switch on the card into the lock position. Write protection also prevents the Memory Stick from being formatted. An 8MB Memory Stick accommodates up to 80 seconds of video in Presentation format (320 x 240 pixels) and up to about 320 seconds in Video Mail format (160 x 112 pixels). Here's a look at the average capacity of an 8MB card for still images:


Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity Uncompressed Quality Normal Quality
High
Resolution

(2240x1680)
Images 0 5
Approx. Compression n/a 8:1
Standard
Resolution

(1856x1392)
Images 1 6
Approx. Compression 1:1 6:1
Low
Resolution

(1280x960)
Images 2 13
Approx. Compression 1:1 6:1
VGA
Resolution

(640x480)
Images 8 130
Approx. Compression 1:1 15:1

 


Note that the DSC-F505V differs from most digicams (but is similar to other Sony models) in that it doesn't tell you what the remaining image capacity is. Instead, it tells how many images have been taken and provides a graphic "thermometer bar" type image of the Memory Stick as the space fills up.

The DSC-F505V interfaces to a host computer via a USB interface. We timed the USB transfer of a movie file at 14.8 seconds for 5,359 KBytes. That translates to 362 KB/second, a very reasonable transfer rate for a 2.6 megapixel digicam.

Video Out
US and Japanese models of the DSC-F505V come with an NTSC A/V cable for connecting the camera to a television set (European models come with PAL connectors). You can switch the camera between NTSC and PAL modes via the record menu. All of the playback options are available through the video port, so you can view a slide show of still images or watch your recorded movies with sound. You can also use the television set as an enlarged version of the LCD monitor when composing images, helpful when trying to manually focus macro shots, or in a studio environment where you may need to get out from behind the camera to work with the subject.


Power
The battery power system is one of the real highlights of the DSC-F505V in our opinion: The DSC-F505V runs from an InfoLITHIUM battery pack (S series), which is rechargeable. The camera comes with one battery and a charger/AC adapter. Sony estimates that a fully charged battery pack provides about 80 minutes of recording and about 116 minutes of playback time. The accompanying AC adapter plugs directly into the battery compartment and is heavily recommended when playing back recorded images or downloading to a computer. So what's the big deal about the batteries? Two things: First, Lithium cells don't self-discharge the way NiMH batteries do. This means that you can charge up the battery, stick the camera in a drawer for a month, and find the battery still fully charged when you pick it up again. The second BIG plus has to do with the "Info" in InfoLITHIUM. - Each battery pack includes a tiny "gas gauge" chip in it, which tracks how much power is flowing in or out of the battery. The camera talks to this chip, and between the two of them, they figure out how long the battery's remaining charge will last at the current consumption rate. This is really great!

We've so often picked up one of our cameras and wondered how fresh the batteries are before setting out. Even starting with fresh batteries, we've more than once ended up with the batteries dying on us right in the middle of the best shooting conditions, at the peak of the action, etc. (A corollary of Murphy's Law is clearly that your digicam batteries will always die at the worst possible moment.) Being able to see how many minutes of life the battery has left in it makes it easy to prevent these sort of mishaps. (And we found the indicator to be pretty accurate overall.) We couldn't conduct as extensive power measurements on the DSC-F505V as we usually do with digicams we test, because the camera wouldn't stay running if it couldn't see the InfoLITHIUM chip. Nonetheless, we can report the following battery life numbers, based on the InfoLITHIUM battery's own power-remaining reporting with a full charge:



Operating Mode
Operating Time
Capture Mode, w/LCD
79 minutes
Image Playback
113 minutes



Included Software
The DSC-F505V comes with USB cables for connecting to a PC or Macintosh. A software CD packaged with the camera contains PictureGear 3.2 Lite, the means for transferring images from the camera to the computer. PictureGear is a basic program that allows you to download images, copy images, zoom display, print slides and play movies. PictureGear is compatible only with Microsoft Windows 95, 98 or NT4.0 only. Sony does include a USB driver CD compatible with Macintosh, so you can download images to a Mac without the PictureGear software. (This information is based on the original F505 model, we're assuming the F505V version will be the same.

Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the DSC-F505V'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-F505V performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the DSC-F505V produced really excellent pictures: Color was quite good, with appropriate saturation of strong primaries, but good handling of pastels as well. Overall color accuracy was very high, with only a slight weakness in the bright yellows. Tonal range was really excellent as well, with good shadow detail and unusually good handling of detail in strong highlights.

As noted previously in this review, the big story of the DSC-F505V is immediately evident when you first cast eyes on the camera: The lens! In shot after shot, we were consistently impressed with how sharp the Zeiss lens was, all the more impressive for its long 5x zoom ratio. A downside of the long-ratio zoom though, is the geometric distortion we found at extreme focal lengths: We measured barrel distortion of 0.74% in wide-angle mode, and pincushion distortion of 0.87% in telephoto mode. (These numbers were shifted slightly toward the pincushion side of the scale, relative to our earlier tests of the original DSC-F505. Total distortion is about the same overall though.) These are far from the worst distortion numbers we've seen in digicam lenses, but do stand out a little, relative to the lens' extraordinary sharpness. Chromatic aberration was good, at only abut 0.03%, but we found a little "coma" in the extreme corners of the image. We're perhaps being a little harsh in the extent to which we're calling attention to the distortions and aberrations of the F505V's lens, as we don't normally highlight lens distortions in this summary section to this degree. Our reason for doing so here is that we've been so completely over the top on the lens' sharpness that we wanted to avoid accusations of bias, or that we overlooked its (relatively minor) defects. Our overall judgment is that this is indeed an exceptional digicam lens, but people using the F505 for architectural work will probably want to investigate the new distortion-correcting features of the PhotoGenetics software we've previously reviewed.

In our resolution tests, the DSC-F505V performed significantly better than it's predecessor and other 2 megapixel cameras we've tested, better than some 3 megapixel cameras, but just a bit off the best of the 3 megapixel crowed. We "called" the visual resolution at 750-800 lines per picture height in the vertical direction, and 800-850 in the horizontal, a very good performance indeed.

Its no secret we missed the optical viewfinder on the DSC-F505V: It's LCD viewfinder is more accurate than most, showing just about 94% of the final image area, but we'd have appreciated 100% accuracy in it. Also, while the hybrid transmissive/reflecting LCD is more visible in direct sunlight than any purely transmissive designs we've seen, there's a range of intermediate brightness levels in which the LCD is rather difficult to see, whether the backlight is on or off. Given the camera's greatly improved low light capability, some sort of optical viewfinder is sorely needed for those situations where there just isn't enough light to produce a bright viewfinder display at the high refresh rate required by the LCD.

The DSC-F505V performs quite well in macro mode, with a minimum capture area of only 0.85 x 0.64 inches (21.54 x 16.15 mm). Closest focusing occurs in wide-angle mode, which also introduces a fair bit of barrel distortion. (Not measured, but our impression is that there's more distortion than we saw in the viewfinder test, shot at greater distances.) Of course, the macro capability can be easily extended by adding accessory lenses using the 52mm filter threads on the front of the lens...

Low light performance was perhaps the area showing the most dramatic improvement relative to the earlier DSC-F505. The new 505V model can capture images in light levels as low as 1/8 of a foot-candle (~1.3 lux), and produce genuinely usable ones at levels of only 1/4 of a foot-candle (~2.7 lux). This is an excellent performance, considering that city night scenes under typical street lighting correspond to a brightness level of about 1 foot-candle (11 lux).

Overall though, we were very impressed with the DSC-F505V: It takes razor-sharp pictures with excellent color, and the 5x zoom ratio on the lens is a very nice feature. The new CCD and improved digitization accuracy really show in the improved highlight detail it captures and the excellent low-light performance.


Conclusion
With the DSC-F505V's unique rotating lens and its movie recording capabilities, you get a fun camera that takes great pictures too. The sharpness of the Carl Zeiss optics show in the final images, and we really like the "real camera" manual-focus option (although we'd really like to see some sort of optical viewfinder, even if only a "gunsight" on the top of the lens barrel). The full 5x optical zoom is a big plus that we wish more manufacturers would adopt. While not going quite all the way to full manual exposure control (another feature we keep pushing for), the F505V provides a range of options, including both aperture and shutter-priority exposure programs, spot metering, and an optional preset white-balance setting. Plus, the new model has the added bonus of a larger CCD which delivers a larger (though interpolated) image size and significantly improved highlight detail and low light capability. Overall, a razor-sharp performer for the camera buff, but easy enough for beginners to use in full-auto mode. A very worthwhile upgrade to an already-excellent digicam! Highly recommended.

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