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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717

Sony updates their already-impressive five megapixel F707, with improved user controls, better color, amazing white balance performance, and an external flash hot shoe!

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Page 1:Intro and Highlights

Review First Posted: 9/2/2002

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5.0-megapixel CCD for resolution to 2,560 x 1,920 pixels
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Faster autofocusing and accurate results with NightShot, NightFraming, and Hologram Autofocus technologies
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Dramatically improved white balance performance, better color
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Ultra-sharp 5x zoom lens (f/2.0-2.4 too!), now with manual zoom control via lens ring.
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Excellent color (improved over F707), automatic noise reduction
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Manufacturer Overview

Sony Electronics Inc. has long held a dominant position in the digicam marketplace, with a wide range of models enjoying enormous popularity with consumers. Currently, they're maintaining what's arguably the broadest line of digicams in the industry, with multiple models in a number of distinct product lines. Last year, they rocked the camera world by introducing the F707, a five megapixel model with a tack-sharp Carl Zeiss lens and a host of unprecedented features, all for under $1,000. The F707's infrared-based Night Shot and Night Framing modes and the completely unique Hologram Autofocus created a camera that could quite literally shoot (and focus) in total darkness.

This year, Sony's obviously listened hard to feedback from the F707 users (and reviewers! ;-) and came out with an impressive update in the form of the F717. While basic specs are still the same (the same lens and CCD), the new model incorporates numerous improvements across the board. The user interface has been revamped, so the lens ring can now control both focus and zoom. (A subtle change that makes a noticeable difference in the camera's usability.) Autofocus speed has been markedly improved, as have color rendering and white balance performance. (The F717 now holds the title of the fastest-focusing (across its full zoom range) consumer digicams I've tested so far, as of 8/29/2002) The F717's autofocus system is also considerably more sophisticated than that in the F707, incorporating the 5-zone AF system first seen on this year's Mavica CD-400. I don't know to what extent my own harping on the issue may have contributed (this was an issue I'd really climbed on my soap box over with all the high-end Sony cameras), but Sony has now included a generic hot shoe flash connector on the F717, allowing users to couple generic auto flash units and studio strobes to the camera.

The individual improvements in the F717 range from subtle to obvious, but taken collectively they result in a dramatic upgrade to the F707. Model upgrades of this sort are almost never enough to tempt owners of the previous model to trade in their cameras for the new version, but I think the F717 will be an exception to that rule. The overall improvement in camera performance (AF speed), capability (the hot shoe), ease of use (the combined zoom/focus ring), and image quality (color rendition and white balance) are enough that there's a compelling case to be made for current users to sell their 707's and upgrade to the new F717. If you liked the F707, I can guarantee you'll love the F717. If you were drawn to the F707, but couldn't get past limitations like the missing hot shoe, or its overzealous rendering of certain shades of red or green, the F717 may very well win you over.

Sony has always done very well in the "consumer" space, but has had difficulty making inroads with the true "enthusiast" market. The DSC-F717 could easily change all that: If advanced users give it an honest look, setting aside their "Sony isn't a camera company" prejudices, I'm confident a lot of them will end up buying the 717.

This review is still a "first look," as Sony told me they're still tweaking image parameters (color, tone, etc) as of the version of firmware in the model I have. - So final judgement will have to await my testing of a production model. I have to say though, that what I've seen in the prototype is very, very encouraging. The color has none of the oversaturation problems the F707 had with bright greens and reds, and the auto white balance processing is flat-out among the very best I've seen in any camera at any price. Stay tuned for test images from a production model at some point in the (hopefully near) future, but in the meantime, start saving your pennies - You're going to want one of these!



High Points
  • 5.0-megapixel CCD delivering image resolutions as high as 2,560 x 1,920 pixels. (4.94 million effective pixels.)
  • 1.8-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) with data display.
  • Optional "live" histogram display in viewfinder.
  • 5x optical zoom with 2x Precision Digital Zoom.
  • 9.7-48.5mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens, equivalent to a 38-190mm lens on a 35mm camera
  • Five-point autofocus for challenging lighting situations, plus Manual focus option and adjustable AF area.
  • Industry-leading autofocus speed and shutter delay.
  • Hologram AF assist light for low-light and low-contrast focusing.
  • NightShot and NightFraming IR modes for "no light" framing and shooting.
  • Through-the-lens (TTL) flash metering.
  • Adjustable apertures from f/2.0-2.4 (!) to f/8.
  • Full Auto, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual exposure modes, plus four preset Scene modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 30 seconds.
  • Adjustable ISO with sensitivity equivalents of Auto, 100, 200, 400, and 800.
  • White Balance setting with five presets and a manual setting.
  • Dramatically improved automatic white balance operation.
  • Improved color rendering.
  • Multi-Pattern, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering options.
  • Built-in, pop-up flash with four modes.
  • External flash hot shoe and connection socket.
  • HQX Movie with sound recording mode (recording duration limited only by memory card capacity).
  • "Burst 3," Auto Exposure Bracketing, E-Mail, Voice, and 10-second Self-Timer modes.
  • Uncompressed TIFF, GIF, and JPEG image file formats (movies saved as MPEG).
  • Image storage on Sony Memory Stick (16MB stick included).
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • Power from Sony NP-FM50 lithium-ion battery pack or AC adapter (included).
  • Significantly improved battery life relative to the F707 (an hour more in record mode, more than four hours more(!) in playback).
  • AV Cable with NTSC and PAL format options
  • USB cable (supports USB 1.0 and 2.0) and software CD for quick connection to a computer.
  • Dimensions of 6.31 x 4.88 x 2.63 inches (162 x 124 x 68mm), 23 ounces (658 grams).



Comparing the Sony DSC-F717 to the previous DSC-F707

For those readers already familiar with Sony's DSC-F707 (or perhaps owning one and contemplating an upgrade to the DSC-F717), here's a concise list of differences between the two models. (I'm not positive this list is exhaustive, as I don't have a comparison of this sort from Sony, but I think I've managed to hit all the major points.) Some of the information below is from the camera's specification chart and manual, other data is based on my own performance tests.

Feature
DSC-F717 DSC-F707
 
Observations from my own testing
Color rendering Much more neutral Tended to oversaturate strong greens and reds. (Effect was strongest on colors that were already highly saturated.)
Auto White Balance Performance Exceptional - Handles an enormous range of color temperature very well, including mixed sources. Not bad, in fact a bit better than average relative to other cameras I've tested. Not on the same level as that of the F717 though.
Shutter Lag
  • Autofocus: 0.63-0.65
  • Manual Focus: 0.136
  • Prefocus: 0.120
  • Autofocus: 1.06-1.11
  • Manual Focus: 0.60
  • Prefocus: 0.18
Startup Time 1.8 seconds 2.6 seconds
Battery Life
  • Capture/LCD: 233 min. (!)
  • Playback: 522 min. (!!)
  • Capture/LCD: 180 min.
  • Playback: 286 min.
Macro area, resolution (no change)  
Specs from the datasheet, manual, and fiddling with the camera
User Interface Elements
  • Lens collar controls zoom and focus
  • Repositioned controls on left-hand side of lens
  • Added Full Auto position on mode dial
  • Lens collar controls focus only
Autofocus
  • Wide central-area focus
  • 5-point selectable "spot" AF
  • Wide central-area focus
Exposure Modes
  • Full Auto
  • Program AE
  • Aperture Priority
  • Shutter Priority
  • Full Manual
  • Scene
  • Program AE
  • Aperture Priority
  • Shutter Priority
  • Full Manual
  • Scene
Scene Modes
  • Twilight (long shutter times, w/o flash)
  • Twilight portrait (long shutter times, w/flash)
  • Landscape
  • Portrait
  • Twilight (long shutter times, w/o flash)
  • Landscape
  • Portrait
ISO Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800 Auto, 100, 200, 400
White Balance
  • Auto
  • Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Fluorescent
  • Incandescent
  • 1-push (custom/manual)
  • Auto
  • Daylight
  • Incandescent
  • 1-push (custom/manual)
Shutter Speed
  • 30-1000, 46 steps
    (Manual, Shutter Priority)
  • 30-1/2000, 49 steps
    (Program AE, Full Auto, Aperture Priority, for apertures f/5.0 and smaller)
  • 30-1/1000, 46 steps
    (All modes)
External Flash
  • Sony proprietary "ACC" connector for auto flash connection
  • Standard "Hot" shoe for generic flash units & studio strobes
  • "Cold" shoe and Sony proprietary "ACC" connector only.
Noise Reduction
  • Dark frame subtraction
  • "Clear Color"
  • "Luminance NR"

(This seems to bethe source of some confusion among reviewers, as the 717 spec says NR is applied at shutter speeds of 1/25 and slower. For the record, this applies to the "Clear Color" and "Luminance" NR, not the dark frame subtraction, which applies to exposures longer than 2 seconds, as always. I'm quite certain that Clear Color NR always applied to shorter exposures with the 707, Sony just didn't call it out in their specs. Luminance NR is new on the 717 though, and as I understand it actually begins to take effect at longer shutter times than those at which the Clear Color algorithm cuts in.)

  • Dark frame subtraction
  • "Clear Color"
Movie Modes
  • MPEG Movie
  • Clip Motion
  • Multi Burst
    (Sixteen 320x240 shots, stored as single 1280x960 image file, played back as slow-motion movie on camera's LCD)
  • MPEG Movie
  • Clip Motion
Movie clip length All quality/size options for MPEG movies are limited only by available memory card space. HQ mode limited to 15 seconds in a single clip. Normal quality 320x240 and 160x120 limted only by available memory card space.
Supplied Memory 32 MB 16 MB
JPEG format EXIF 2.2 (ExifPrint) EXIF 1.1
USB Connectivity USB 2.0 USB 1.1
Memory Stick options
  • Folder creation/selection
  • Memory Stick - Memory Stick copy
Onscreen Info Display
  • Optional "live" histogram in record and playback modes.
  • In playback mode, optional exposure info overlay, (with histogram)
  • No histogram in record or playback modes
  • No exposure info overlay in playback mode.
Playback scrolling Some confusion between reviewers, or differing firmware versions? My unit doesn't scroll between images in delete/protect/DPOF operations (as reported on DP Review) but rather between folders. No scrolling in delete/protect/DPOF modes (But it makes sense you couldn't scroll between folders, since the 707 didn't support multiple recording folders, as does the 717.)
Weight 23.2 oz, 664 g
(with battery & card)
23.8 oz, 682 g
(with battery and card)



 

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