Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717Sony 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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F717 Sample ImagesReview First Posted: 9/2/2002
Digital Cameras - Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-F717 Test Images
|I've begun including links in our reviews to a Thumber-generated index page for the test shots. The Thumber data includes a host of information on the images, including shutter speed, ISO setting, compression setting, etc. Rather than clutter the page below with *all* that detail, we're posting the Thumber index so only those interested in the information need wade through it!|
The extreme tonal range of this image makes it a tough shot for many digicams, which is precisely why I set it up this way, and why I shoot it with no fill flash or reflector to open the shadows. The object is to hold both highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors, and the DSC-F717 performed very well.
The shot at right was taken with a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment, which brightened the midtones while still holding almost all the highlight detail. (The F717's 14 bit A/D converter seems to really excel at holding highlight detail under high-contrast lighting.) I chose the Auto white balance as the most accurate overall, though the Daylight setting produced similar results. The Manual setting was close but slightly warm.
Skin tones look very good, and the blue flowers in the bouquet are nearly right. (This is a very difficult blue for many digicams to get right, and the DSC-F717 does produce slightly purplish tints in them. For reference, the flowers are a pretty pure light navy blue.) The F707 had a hard time with strong reds and greens, tending to oversaturate them quite a bit. The F717 seems to have largely cured that problem (particularly with the greens), but there's still hints of it remaining, as can be seen here in the red flowers. The F717 renders them as a very highly saturated yellow-red, while the originals are less yellow, and not as saturated. Still, an improvement over the F707 in this area.
Resolution is excellent, with a lot of fine detail visible throughout the frame, even in the shadows. Details are also sharp, and image noise the shadows is quite low. An excellent job all around.
To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files F717OUTAP0.HTM through F717OUTAP3.HTM on the thumbnail index page.
Excellent resolution and detail.
Overall results are similar to the wider shot above, and the DSC-F717's 5x zoom lens helps prevent distortion of Marti's features. Detail is outstanding, with sharp details in Marti's face and hair. (Almost an embarrassing amount of detail, I won't show this to Marti 1:1 on-screen. - This would be a great camera for dermatologists.) The shot at right was taken at the default exposure setting, which produced a nicely balanced exposure with only the strongest highlights blown out. Shadow detail is again strong, with only moderate noise.
To view the entire exposure series from -0.3 to +0.3 EV, see files F717FACAM1.HTM through F717FACAP1.HTM on the thumbnail index page.
Indoor Portrait, Flash:
Good intensity and coverage with the built-in flash, good color as well.
The DSC-F717's built-in flash does a good job illuminating the subject, producing a bright image with good color at its normal intensity setting. The background incandescent lighting results in an orange cast on the back wall, which spills onto Marti's features, but overall color wasn't bad. Still, I somewhat preferred the high intensity setting, as it brightened the image a bit and reduced the cast from the background lighting. I also shot with the camera's Twilight exposure mode, and again found the best results with the flash at the High intensity setting. The brighter exposure decreased the orange cast slightly, but also resulted in stronger bluish tints on the Marti from the flash. Finally, I connected Sony's nice little HVL-F1000 external flash unit and used a combination of bounce and direct/diffused illumination for more even lighting. (I bounced it off the ceiling, but held a sheet of white paper in front of it to catch some of the light, diffuse it, and direct it toward Marti. Here, the best results were at the Low intensity setting. Though there's a slightly warm cast overall, the stronger external flash largely eliminated the orange cast from the room lighting.
The shots below show the results of the three different flash exposure settings with each of the flash options I tried (normal, Twilight Portrait mode, and external flash):
Indoor Portrait, No Flash:
Most accurate color with the Manual white balance option, but surprisingly good results with Auto. Twilight mode necessary for adequate exposure, but lots of exposure compensation needed.
This shot is always a very tough test of a camera's white balance capability, given the strong, yellowish color cast of the household incandescent bulbs used for the lighting. While the DSC-F717's Manual white balance produced the best color, the Auto option produced a quite acceptable picture. (Incandescent really had trouble though.) Marti's skin tone is pretty good here, although the blue flowers came out quite dark and purplish. (Probably to be expected, considering the light source.)
To get around the F717's minimum shutter speed limitation of 1/30 second, I shot these tests using its "Twilight" mode. When I first played with a prototype F717, I had hopes that Sony had eliminated the strong negative exposure bias in Twilight mode that marks all their year-2002 digicams. Alas, this proved not to be the case, as witness these examples, which were all shot with an exposure compensation of +2.0 EV. This is a *lot* of compensation required for what should be a pretty routine picture, and none of the shots are any too bright. (I would have liked to boost the exposure slightly more, but +2.0 EV is as far as the 717's exposure compensation adjustment goes.
This matter of the exposure bias in Twilight Mode is one that I've been harping on Sony about all year. - They no doubt do it to avoid washing out bright lights in outdoor night scenes (which it does in fact help with), but it's a huge problem with any shot where you need to access the longer shutter times, but have a fairly evenly-lit subject. I really, really think Sony should consider either removing the negative exposure bias in Twilight Mode, or perhaps split the current Twilight Mode into to options - "Twilight" mode with the current exposure bias for outdoor shooting, and "Evening" mode for evenly lit subjects like this one. OK, flame off, I just hope the Sony engineers are reading this someplace and take it to heart - In my mind, this is the single biggest problem in Sony's entire camera lineup.
Great resolution, detail, and color.
The DSC-F717's Manual white balance setting
produced great results here, with the most accurate white value on the
house trim. The Auto setting was nearly accurate,
though slightly warm, and Daylight white
balance resulted in a yellow cast. Resolution is very high, as the tree
limbs and shrubbery show a lot of fine detail. (In fact, the F717 is
probably starting to really stretch the limits of this poster as a test
target. - Even though the poster was made from a 500 MB scan of a 4x5
negative shot with a tack-sharp lens, the 717 is pretty close to extracting
all the detail that's to be found here.) Details are also sharp throughout
the frame, with only a hint of corner softness in the top left corner.
A great job.
Excellent resolution and detail, with a good dynamic range.
This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.
This is my ultimate "resolution shot," given the infinite range of detail in a natural scene like this, and the DSC-F717 does an excellent job. The tree limbs over the roof and fine foliage in front of the house show strong detail, especially in the leaf patterns. In-camera sharpening does a good job here, with crisp details throughout the frame. The top corners of the frame betray some softness, however. The camera picks up good detail in the bright white paint surrounding the bay window, a trouble spot for many digicams. (The F717's 14-bit A/D really seems to make a difference here.) Detail is also strong in the shadow area above the front door, further evidence of the DSC-F717's excellent dynamic range. Overall color looks good, and exposure is about right. The table below shows a standard resolution and quality series, followed by ISO and sharpness series.
Lens Zoom Range
Excellent 5x zoom range.
I routinely shoot this series of images to show the field of view for each camera, with the lens at full wide angle, at maximum telephoto (5x, in this case), and at full telephoto with the digital zoom enabled. The DSC-F717's lens is equivalent to a 38-190mm zoom on a 35mm camera. That corresponds to a moderate wide angle to a pretty substantial telephoto. Following are the results at each zoom setting.
Pretty good color, albeit slightly cool-toned, and good detail.
This shot is often a tough test for digicams, as the abundance of blue
in the composition frequently tricks white balance systems into producing
a warm color balance. The DSC-F717's Auto
white balance setting did the best job here, with good skin tones, though
a slightly cool color balance overall. The Daylight
setting was just a hint too warm, and the Manual
setting seemed a little cool to my eye. Even with the slightly cool
Auto white balance, the blue background has purplish tints that aren't
in the original image. The blue robe looks nearly right, although again
purplish in the shadow areas. Resolution is very high, with great detail
in the embroidery of the blue robe. (This original data file for this
poster was only 20 MB though, so cameras like the F717 are definitely
capable of showing more detail than the poster has in it.)
Very tiny macro area with great detail.
The DSC-F717 performed well in the macro category, capturing a tiny
minimum area of only 1.65 x 1.24 inches (42 x 31 millimeters). Resolution
is very high, with strong detail in the dollar bill. The coins and brooch
are soft due to the very short shooting distance (two centimeters!).
Corner softness is much stronger in this shot, and extends down the
entire left side of the frame. - This is a very common failing of digicam
lenses in ultra-macro shots, most likely caused by the optical phenomena
called "curvature of field." Because of the close shooting
range and the DSC-F717's very long lens barrel, the flash was ineffective
with this shot. (Plan on using external illumination for super-closeup
shooting with the F717.)
"Davebox" Test Target
Slight underexposure, but excellent color and good saturation. (Slightly "hot" additive primaries though, particularly the bright red.)
The Auto white balance produced the best color here, with the most accurate white value in the mini-resolution target and large, white color block. Manual white balance looked good as well, though slightly cyan, and the Daylight setting produced a rather warm image. Exposure looks about right, and the DSC-F717 has no trouble distinguishing the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target. Colors are bright and vibrant in the large color blocks, although I found the additive primary colors (red, green, and blue) a tad oversaturated. The previous F707 had trouble with strong greens and reds. The F717 went a long ways toward correcting that problem, but there are still hints of it in highly saturated examples of those colors. The shadow area of the charcoal briquettes has strong detail, with pretty low noise, and the last steps of both gray scales are barely distinguishable. Further evidence of the F717's excellent dynamic range.
Really excellent low-light performance: Great color balance, low noise, and accurate framing & focusing in total darkness!
Like the F707 before it, the F717 really excels at low light photography. Its full manual exposure control and maximum exposure time of 30 seconds are the basis of its good low-light capabilities, but it goes quite a bit beyond that. The infrared-based Night Framing option literally lets you frame your (flash) photos in total darkness, and the Hologram Autofocus is easily the most effective AF-assist illuminator system I've seen.
The F717 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all four ISO settings. (While the F717's auto white balance system is generally quite a bit more capable than that of the F707 the 707 seemed to do a bit better at achieving a neutral color cast under extreme low light conditions.) It's worth noting too, that the 717 had plenty of legs to go to even lower light levels too, thanks to it's super-fast f/2.0 lens. (f/2.1 in the shots below because I was zoomed very slightly away from the wide angle setting.) Even at ISO 100, the longest exposure I used here was 15 seconds, only half of the maximum shutter time the 717 can go to.
The F717 automatically employs two different Noise Reduction systems at shutter speeds slower than 1/25 second, which does an excellent job of keeping noise in check. (I'm guessing here, but based on what I know from conversations with digicam engineers at other companies, I believe the camera's Clear Color (chrominance-flattening) noise reduction cuts in first at the shortest shutter speeds. At somewhat longer shutter times, its Luminance Noise Reduction cuts in, and the at shutter speeds slower than 2 seconds, it adds a dark-frame subtraction technique.) Even at ISO 800, noise is surprisingly low. Really, just an amazingly good job at low light shooting. The table below shows the best exposure we were able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all of our sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.
Flash Range Test
A powerful flash, only a little falloff at the 14 foot limit of our test. (Sony states 16.4 foot range with the lens in its wide angle position, the shots below are slightly towards tele.)
Sony rates the F707's flash as effective from 1.6 to 16.4 feet (0.5 to 5.0 meters), at the normal intensity setting. In my testing, the flash illuminated the test target all the way out to 14 feet, without any significant decrease in intensity. Below is the flash range series, with distances from eight to 14 feet from the target.
Very high resolution, 1,200 lines of "strong detail". Average barrel distortion, higher than average pincushion though.
The F717 performed very well on our "laboratory" resolution test chart, turning in the same excellent numbers as did the F707 before it. (No suprise, it's the same lens and sensor.) It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least1,200 lines, although you could perhaps argue for as high as 1250 lines in the horizontal direction. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,650 lines. It's impressive how closely the F717 matches the performance of digital SLRs like the Canon D60 and Nikon D100, even when the latter are used with $1,000+ lenses.
Optical distortion on the F707 is about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 0.8 percent barrel distortion. (This is about average among cameras I've tested, but I'd really like to see much less geometric distortion in digicam images than that.) The telephoto end fared only slightly better, as I measured a 0.6 percent pincushion distortion. The 0.8% barrel at the wide angle end is fairly typical of digicam zooms I've tested, but the 0.6% pincushion is higher than average. (Admittedly most cameras have 3x zooms, so their average 0.3% or lower pincushion perhaps isn't as impressive, but I'd still like to see less pincushion at the F717's telephoto end.) Chromatic aberration is very low, showing only about two or three pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) Apart from the somewhat high pincushion distortion, the F717's lens is of very high quality.
Resolution Series, Wide Angle
Resolution Test, Telephoto
The F717 has a fairly wide range of options for its in-camera sharpening. I found though, that even the "No Sharpening" option still does apply some sharpening to the images, as witness the very slight "halo" around the res target elements with that setting. For a camera that produces pro-level results like the F717, I'd really like to see a true "no sharpening" option, to match that on high-end SLRs like the Nikon D100 and Canon D60.
Viewfinder Accuracy/Flash Uniformity
Excellent accuracy from the electronic viewfinder.
The F717's electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) is very accurate, showing 99+ percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor is also very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the F717's LCD monitor is essentially perfect in that regard. Flash distribution is fairly even at wide angle, with just a little falloff at the corners and edges of the frame. At telephoto, flash distribution is even more uniform.