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Quick Review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F88 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
By
Dave Etchells
Review Date
09/01/2004
User Level
Novice
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Great, 5.1-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Up to sharp 11x14s
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$449


Introduction
Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion


The Sony DSC-F88 is one of the latest Sony Cyber-shot digital cameras, dramatically advancing the flip lens design seen previously in the DSC-F55 and F55DX. The DSC-F88 uses the lens and sensor technology first developed for Sony's DSC-T1, the ultra-compact assembly letting Sony pack a 5 megapixel sensor, 3x Carl Zeiss zoom lens and an optical viewfinder into a surprisingly small, swiveling lens assembly molded to fit the smooth curve of the camera's top. In addition to the 5.1 megapixel CCD and 3x zoom lens, the Sony F88 offers an optional full manual exposure mode, no fewer than 10 preset scene modes, and PictBridge support for direct photo printing without the need for a computer. All in all, an impressive collection of features and capabilities in a surprisingly compact and stylish package, easy to use for beginners, but with the exposure control that advanced users crave. Read on for all the details!

 

Camera Overview

With its thin body and clever rotating lens design, the Cyber-shot DSC-F88 presents yet another twist in Sony's innovative Cyber-shot digicam line. While the idea of a rotating lens is nothing new, Sony's implementation of the concept has evolved to handle changing consumer needs and camera attributes. With the DSC-F88, the rotating component of the camera is oriented horizontally and very compact, so it protrudes only slightly from the front panel in its operating position. Thus, the DSC-F88 has small, pocket-friendly dimensions (at least for larger coat and shirt pockets), while offering the benefit a 300-degree lens rotation. The lens component also acts as a power switch, activating the camera when rotated from its "stowed" position. The camera's thin, almost square shape and control layout take a little getting used to, but the DSC-F88's operation becomes intuitive fairly quickly. Because the lens front can be neatly stowed away, there's no need for a lens cap, as the lens is protected by the camera body when closed. The DSC-F88's 3x zoom lens features automatic focus control, with several fixed focus settings available, as well as an adjustable focus area. The 5.1-megapixel Super HAD CCD produces high resolution, print quality images, with a range of lower resolutions available as well. Combine this with the availability of both manual and automatic exposure control, a large selection of preset "scene" modes, and the quality of the Cyber-shot line, and the DSC-F88 is an excellent choice for novices and more experienced users alike.

The DSC-F88 is equipped with a 3x, 6.7-20.1mm internal-zoom lens, equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera (a slightly conservative wide angle to a moderate telephoto). Normal focus ranges from approximately 19.7 inches (50 centimeters) to infinity, with a Macro setting that lets you get within 3.1 inches (8 centimeters) when the lens is zoomed to its wide angle position, and 9.8 inches (25 centimeters) at its telephoto setting. The DSC-F88 also offers a Magnifying Glass preset scene mode, which lets you focus on objects as close as 0.4 inches (1 centimeter). In addition to automatic focus control, the DSC-F88 offers a range of fixed focus settings through the Record menu, as well as Center AF and five-point Multipoint AF focus area options. You can also choose Single or Monitoring AF modes through the Setup menu. (In Monitoring AF mode, the camera continuously adjusts focus as the subject moves.) An AF illuminator lamp on the front of the camera helps focus at low light levels, a very useful tool in poorly-lit surroundings. The DSC-F88 employs Sony's "Smart Zoom" technology, which offers a maximum of 4x digital zoom. According to Sony, Smart Zoom lets you digitally enlarge the image without any significant loss of image quality. It does this by avoiding resampling of the cropped image, limiting the amount of zoom available based on the currently selected image size. The DSC-F88 also features Sony's Precision Digital Zoom, to a maximum of 2x. Only one digital zoom mode is available at a time, and the setting is made through the Setup menu. Keep in mind though, that any form of digital zoom trades off image resolution for magnification. For composing images, the Sony F88 offers a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.8-inch, color LCD monitor with adjustable backlight setting and live histogram display mode.

Exposure can be automatically or manually controlled on the DSC-F88, meeting the needs of novices and casual users looking for simplicity, as well as those of more advanced digital photographers. An On/Off button on the side of the camera powers the camera on, or you can simply turn the lens to face forward. A Mode dial quickly selects between Playback, Auto, Program AE, Manual, Scene, Setup, and Movie modes. The Automatic setting turns the F88 into a pure "point & shoot," removing all user control, with the exception of flash, macro, and resolution. Program mode keeps exposure control automatic, but you now have control over all other exposure variables. The Manual setting is a full manual exposure control mode, letting you adjust both aperture and shutter speed using the arrow keys of the Four-Way Arrow pad. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 30 seconds, depending on the exposure mode. Scene mode offers a nice selection of preset shooting modes for special situations, including Magnifying Glass, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, High Speed Shutter, and Candle modes.

The Record menu offers additional exposure options, including White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Incandescent settings), Exposure Compensation (+/-2 exposure equivalents, EV, in one-third-step increments), Spot Metering, and ISO (Auto, 100, 200, and 400 equivalents). The DSC-F88 also offers a Picture Effects option, which lets you record images in black and white or sepia monotones. Image sharpness, contrast, and saturation settings are also available, increasing the camera's flexibility. The DSC-F88's flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync modes, with an adjustable intensity setting. (The Red-Eye Reduction setting is enabled through the camera's Setup menu.)

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures either 640 x 480-, or 160 x 112-pixel resolution moving images with sound for as long as the memory card has available storage space. (Sony has been one of the leaders in continuous video recording in digicams.) A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the time that the camera actually takes the picture, giving the photographer time to run around and get into the picture. Also available on the DSC-F88 are Burst and Multi Burst modes. Standard Burst mode captures a series of nine images at approximately 1.6 frames per second while the Shutter button is held down (depending of course on the resolution and quality settings, and the amount of memory card space). Multi Burst mode captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a selectable rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second. Multi Burst shots are played back as a slow-motion animation on the camera, but appear as a single large file with 16 sub-images in it when viewed on a computer. (This is a great tool for analyzing golf and tennis swings.)

The DSC-F88 stores images on Sony Memory Sticks, available separately in capacities as large as one gigabyte. A 32MB Memory Stick comes with the camera, but I'd recommend also purchasing a larger capacity card so you don't miss any shots. For power, the DSC-F88 uses a single NP-FR1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, but does not come with a battery charger. Instead, the included AC adapter can charge the battery in-camera, and is also useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images. I'd recommend picking up and additional battery and charger, and keeping one battery freshly-charged and on-hand. The DSC-F88 features a Video Out jack, for connecting to a television set, and a USB jack for downloading images to a computer. (A USB multi-cable is included for connections to computers and printers.) A software CD is loaded with Picture Package and Cyber-shot Life for Windows users, and Pixela Image Mixer VCD2 software for the Macintosh, enabling image downloading and organizing. USB drivers are also included, though on Windows Me, 2000, or XP computers, or Macs running OS 8.6 to 9.2, no separate USB driver software is needed. The camera shows up on the desktop automatically when it is plugged in.

Basic Features

  • 5.1-megapixel Super HAD CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.8-inch color LCD monitor with backlight.
  • Glass, 3x zoom lens, equivalent to 38-114mm on a 35mm camera.
  • Maximum aperture of f/3.5 - f/4.2, depending on lens zoom position.
  • As much as 4x digital "Smart Zoom," and 2x Precision Digital Zoom.
  • Automatic and full manual exposure control.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 30 seconds.
  • Built-in flash with five modes and adjustable intensity.
  • Memory Stick storage, 32MB card included.
  • USB computer interface and supplied multi-cable.
  • Power supplied by a single lithium-ion battery pack or included AC adapter.
  • Picture Package, Cyber-shot Life, and Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with sound recording.
  • 10 preset "scene" modes.
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Picture Effects menu with Black-and-White and Sepia effects.
  • Macro (close-up) lens setting.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with five modes.
  • Burst and Multi Burst continuous shooting modes.
  • Multi-Pattern and Spot metering modes.
  • Sensitivity setting with three ISO equivalents (100, 200, 400) and an Auto setting.
  • Five (optional) fixed focus settings.
  • Adjustable autofocus area and mode.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • Video cable for connection to a television set.


Recommendation
Leveraging the lens technology originally developed for the DSC-T1, the DSC-F88 is a surprisingly full-featured digital camera in a very compact package. Unlike some subcompact models, the F88 sports both optical and LCD viewfinders, the optical viewfinder coming in handy in bright lighting. The horizontal rotating lens is efficient and low-profile, keeping the camera compact and easy to use. The DSC-F88 offers the convenience of point-and-shoot simplicity, combined with more advanced features to tackle more challenging situations (low light, fast action, etc.). The 5.1-megapixel Super HAD CCD delivers high quality images, appropriate for any use from printing to distributing via e-mail, and its compact design makes it a good candidate for travel. Overall, the DSC-F88 is a good choice for anyone wanting a capable, portable camera that takes good photos in a variety of circumstances. It would be a good choice for anyone looking for a camera that could be shared by both advanced and novice users.

 

Design

With its compact body and versatile rotating lens design, the DSC-F88 is yet another evolution in the Sony Cyber-shot line. The lens component rotates 300 degrees, enabling you to take pictures at a variety of angles. (I can see where this would be useful for snapping images above a crowd, or getting around obstacles such as fences, signs, etc.) More significant than the simple fact that the lens element rotates though, is that it also incorporates an optical viewfinder, unusual to find in such a small rotating element. The camera's sleek, smooth styling is free from any significant protrusions when the lens is stowed, and the lens projects less than half an inch beyond the front of the camera in its front-facing position. The DSC-F88's dimensions of 3.8 x 3 x 1.06 inches (98 x 74 x 26 millimeters) makes it just small enough to fit into larger shirt pockets, as well as most coat pockets and purses. (It's about the same size as a typical men's wallet.) The all-plastic body keeps the DSC-F88 light weight as well, at just 5.7 ounces (163 grams) with batteries and memory card.

The front of the DSC-F88 is flat when the lens is closed, with only a very small raised ridge of a finger grip on the right (viewed with the camera facing away from you) and the camera's tiny microphone just beneath the Sony logo. With the lens facing forward, the flash, optical viewfinder window, and Self-Timer / AF Illuminator LED are also visible.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) are the battery / memory card compartment, Mode dial, and Power button. A sliding plastic door protects the compartment, which locks into place to prevent it from accidentally flying open while shooting. The outside edge of the Mode dial features a textured surface, making it easy to turn the dial with your right thumb and forefinger while holding the camera in shooting position.

The opposite side of the camera features only the DC In connector jack, beneath a flexible, rubbery flap that remains tethered to the camera.

The DSC-F88's top panel is rounded when the lens element is closed, with the optical viewfinder window and LEDs recessed into the left side. The Shutter button remains fixed on the right side when the lens swivels. A series of ridges on the top of the lens component makes it easy to turn with your right thumb, though you'll need your right fingers to complete the turn.

The remaining few camera controls are on the back panel, along with the 1.8-inch LCD monitor. When the lens faces forward, the optical viewfinder window is also visible from the rear panel. Three LED lamps next to the optical viewfinder report camera status, indicating when focus is set or the flash is charging. A series of raised bumps in the upper right corner provide a thumb grip. Below these is the Zoom rocker button. The Display, Menu, and Image Size / Erase buttons surround the Four Way Arrow pad, which dominates the right portion of the rear panel. Also visible is the eyelet for attaching the wrist strap, in the lower right corner.

The DSC-F88 has a flat bottom panel, which holds the metal tripod socket, speaker, and USB connector jack.

 

Camera Operation

The DSC-F88's user interface is very straightforward, with only a few external controls and a very concise LCD menu system. While reminiscent of previous Sony Cyber-Shot menu designs, the DSC-F88's LCD menu has an updated graphic appearance, though the general layout is the same. A series of option tabs line the lower portion of the LCD display, and pop-ups appear for each element in turn as you scroll through the list with the arrow keys (the center OK button confirms any changes). The arrows of the Four-Way Arrow pad not only navigate the menu options, but also control aperture and shutter speed in Manual exposure mode. The camera's Mode dial lets you quickly set the main operating mode, with just a quick turn. The menu system is so simple and intuitive I think even novice users will be able to become completely familiar with it in an hour or less.

Record Mode Display: In any record mode, the LCD monitor offers an informative display, reporting exposure mode, image settings, memory card information, the amount of remaining battery power, and focus brackets. Pressing the display button enables a live histogram, for checking the exposure. A third press of the Display button cancels the histogram and part of the information display, while a fourth press disables the LCD altogether. A fifth press restores both the image and information displays.


Playback Mode Display: In Playback mode, the information display reports battery level, Memory Stick information, file size, file number, and the date and time of capture. Pressing the Display button enables a histogram and a basic exposure information readout. A third press disables the information and histogram displays entirely. As in Record mode, a fourth press disables the display, and a fifth restores the original display.


 

External Controls


Shutter Button
: Located on the far right side of the top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Rotating Lens
: Taking up most of the top portion of the camera's top panel, this rotating lens component turns the camera on when turned. Likewise, it turns the camera off when closed.


Power Button
: Surrounded by the Mode dial on the camera's right side, this button powers the camera on and off.

Mode Dial: Encircling the Power button on the right side (see above), this dial offers the following camera modes:

  • Playback: Replays captured still images and movie files, with options for image management and printing.
  • Auto Record: Places the camera in Record mode, though only flash mode, zoom, and drive settings are available.
  • Program AE Mode: This mode leaves the camera in charge of aperture and shutter speed settings, but provides access to all other exposure options.
  • Manual Mode: Gives you complete exposure control, including aperture and shutter speed.
  • Scene Mode: Offers 10 preset shooting modes, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Candle, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, High Speed Shutter, and Magnifying Glass.
  • Setup: Displays the Setup menu, for changing camera settings.
  • Movie: Records moving images with sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has space.


Zoom Rocker Button
: Located in the top right corner of the rear panel, this rocker switch controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode.

In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of captured images and accesses the index display mode. (The "T" side zooms in, the "W" side zooms out. Zooming out from the normal-sized single image view brings up an index display of tiny "thumbnail" images.)


Display Button
: Located beside the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button controls the LCD monitor's display mode. In both Record and Playback modes, the button cycles through the image and information displays, activates a histogram display, and turns the LCD monitor on and off.


Menu Button
: Next to the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button displays or dismisses the settings menu in any Record mode or in Playback mode.


Four Way Arrow Pad
: To the right of the LCD monitor, this five button control pad features four arrow keys and a center "OK" button. The arrow keys navigate through any settings menu, and the OK button confirms menu selections.

In any record mode, the up arrow controls flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, Slow-Sync, and Suppressed modes (it only activates Red-Eye Reduction mode when enabled through Setup menu). The down arrow activates the Self-Timer option, while the right arrow controls the Macro mode. The left arrow calls up a quick review of the most recently-captured image. In Manual exposure mode, the up and down arrow keys adjust the shutter speed, while the right and left arrows adjust aperture (after selecting these functions by pressing the OK button).

In Playback mode, the left and right keys scroll through captured images on the memory card, while the up and down arrows control playback volume. When an image has been enlarged, all four arrow keys move around within the enlarged view.


Image Size / Erase Button
: To the right of the Menu button, this button activates the Image Size setting in any Record mode. In any still image mode, resolution options of 2,592 x 1,944, 2,592 (3:2), 2,048 x 1,536, 1,280 x 960, and 640 x 480 pixels are available. Movie mode options include 640 x 480 and 160 x 120 pixels.

In Playback mode, this button pulls up the single erase menu, letting you delete the currently displayed image.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Auto Record: Places the camera in Record mode, though only flash mode, zoom, and drive settings are available.

Program AE Mode: This mode leaves the camera in charge of aperture and shutter speed settings, but provides access to all other exposure options.

Manual Mode: Provides complete exposure control to the user, including aperture and shutter speed.

Scene Mode: Offers 10 preset shooting modes, including Magnifying Glass, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, High Speed Shutter, and Candle. Both Twilight modes capture images in low light, although the Twilight Portrait mode automatically enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash mode, combining it with a slower shutter speed to let ambient lighting brighten the background as well. Because the camera employs a slower shutter speed in both Twilight modes, a tripod is highly recommended to prevent blurring from camera movement. Landscape mode sets the focus at infinity and uses a smaller lens aperture to capture sharp details both near and far away. Soft snap mode enhances skin colors while keeping a soft focus for a pleasing glow. Snow and Beach modes optimize the camera for bright situations and prevent color loss from overexposure. High speed shutter mode biases the exposure sytem toward higher shutter speeds to freeze action with fast-moving subjects. Fireworks mode forces the camera to use its longest exposure time of 2 seconds to capture fireworks streamers, along with its smallest aperture setting, to preserve color in the displays. Candle mode is just for candlelit scenes, great for birthdays or services. A tripod is once again recommended. Magnifying Glass mode is a "super macro" mode, allowing you to focus on objects actually pressed against the camera's front bezel (at which point, an area of just 12x16mm will fill the frame). When you get that close, getting enough light in to illuminate the subject can obviously become an issue, but backing off just a little will let you get some amazing photos.

Movie: Records moving images with sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has space.

Record Menu: Pressing the Menu button displays the Record settings menu, with options varying depending on the exposure mode selected:

  • Scene: (Appears in Scene mode only.) Offers Magnifying Glass, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, High Speed Shutter, and Candle preset shooting modes.
  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments.
  • Focus: Changes the focus area to Multi AF or Center AF, or selects from a range of fixed focus settings (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, or 7.0 meters, or Infinity).
  • Metering Mode: Selects Spot or Multi Metering mode. (Multi Metering is the default.)
  • White Balance: Sets the color balance to Auto, or adjusts for Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • ISO: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, or to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
  • Image Quality: Sets the JPEG compression level to Fine or Standard.
  • Mode: Sets the recording mode to Normal, Burst, or Multi Burst.
  • Interval: Selects the Multi Burst frame rate. Options are 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second. (Menu item is only active when Multi Burst mode is selected, not shown in screen shot sequence above.)
  • Flash Level: Adjusts the flash intensity to Normal, Low, or High. (Menu item active only when Flash is enabled.)
  • Picture Effects: Applies creative effects like Black and White or Sepia, or turns Picture Effects off.
  • Saturation: Adjusts the color saturation level to Normal, High, or Low.
  • Contrast: Controls the image contrast, with three settings (Normal, High, or Low).
  • Sharpness: Sets the level of in-camera sharpening. Choices are Normal, High, or Low.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images on the memory card, erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, etc. When playing back movie files, you can also opt for "frame-by-frame" playback, which plays back the movie file slowly, several frames at a time. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

  • Folder: Selects the folder of images to be played back.
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image, or removes protection.
  • DPOF: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device, or removes the print mark.
  • Print: Enables direct printing to a PictBridge enabled printer.
  • Slide: Enables a slide show of all images captured on the Memory Stick. You can control the interval between each image as well as whether or not the slide show repeats.
  • Resize: Resizes the current image to one of the camera's four available resolution sizes.
  • Rotate: Rotates the current image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Divide: Divides movie files into segments, providing a very basic editing tool you can use to "trim" your movies to just the portion you want to keep.

Set-Up Mode: The following four-page Set-Up menu automatically displays when entering this mode:

  • Camera:
    • AF Mode: Sets the autofocus mode to Single or Monitoring (continuous AF).
    • Digital Zoom: Sets the Digital Zoom to Smart Zoom (variable, up to 4x) or Precision (2x), or turns digital zoom off. Smart Zoom offers a variable maximum digital zoom level, ranging from zero at the full 5 megapixel sensor resolution to 4x at 640x480. Precision Zoom permits a variable amount of digital zoom up to a maximum of 2x.
    • Date/Time: Controls the date and time display, options are Day & Time, Date, or Off.
    • Red-Eye Reduction: Enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash (which will fire with all flash modes), or turns it off.
    • AF Illuminator: Puts the AF Illuminator into Auto mode, in which it will illuminate whenever the camera feels its necessary, or simply turns it off.
    • Auto Review: Enables an Auto Review function, which automatically displays the most recently captured image.

  • Memory Stick Tool
    • Format: Formats the Memory Stick, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Create Rec. Folder: Creates a new folder for recording images.
    • Change Rec. Folder: Changes the folder that images are recorded to.

  • Setup 1
    • LCD Backlight: Controls the LCD backlight feature, setting it to Normal, Bright, or Dark.
    • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sound, setting it to Shutter, On, or Off.
    • Language: Changes the camera's menu language.

  • Setup 2
    • File Number: Specifies whether file numbering resets with each new Memory Stick or continues in a series.
    • USB Connect: Places the USB connection into PTP/PictBridge or Normal modes.
    • Video Out: Specifies the camera's Video Out signal as NTSC or PAL.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock.

In the Box

The DSC-F88 ships with the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • 32MB Memory Stick.
  • USB cable.
  • AV cable.
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack.
  • AC adapter.
  • Software CD.
  • Instruction manual and registration card.

 

Recommended Accessories


Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Specifications

See the specifications sheet here.

 

Picky Details

Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Sample Pictures

See our sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

"Sunlight"
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

We also have a "gallery" of more pictorial photos available, shot with the DSC-F88. You can see it on our Photo Gallery sub-site.

 


Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the DSC-F88's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the DSC-F88's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the DSC-F88 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Good color overall, slight oversaturation about average for consumer cameras. A little trouble with incandescent lighting, but not too bad. The DSC-F88 produced good color overall, with accurate hue and the slight oversaturation that's typical of consumer digicams. Skin tones were natural (though slightly warm), and the blue flowers of the bouquet in the Outdoor Portrait were only a little darker and more purplish than in real life. The Auto white balance setting typically produced good results, though it couldn't handle the very warm-hued incandescent lighting in the Indoor Portrait shot. The Incandescent setting also produced warm results indoors, but within what I'd consider to be an acceptable range. Colors were pretty accurate in the large color blocks of the Davebox, with only the red swatch being significantly oversaturated.

  • Exposure: Generally good exposure accuracy, slightly less exposure compensation required than average. The DSC-F88 handled my test lighting quite well, accurately exposing most shots. It underexposed the very high-key "outdoor" portrait shot slightly at the default setting, but a relatively small amount of positive exposure compensation brightened the midtones without sacrificing too much highlight detail. The Indoor Portrait (without flash) also required less than average exposure compensation, though the flash exposure needed a boost in intensity. The DSC-F88 had no trouble distinguishing the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target of the Davebox, and shadow detail was often pretty good. However, on the outdoor house shot, the exposure was so bright that highlight detail was lost in the brightest areas, limiting the dynamic range.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,300 lines of "strong detail." The DSC-F88 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height vertically, and about 800 lines horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,500 lines.

  • Image Noise: Lower than average image noise for a compact 5-megapixel model. While some noise was visible in the F88's images, even at ISO 100, noise levels increase relatively slowly with increasing ISO, and even at ISO 400, the image noise is within what I would consider to be the acceptable range. ("Acceptable" will depend a lot on your own personal tastes though, so check my test photos to see what you think of it yourself.)

  • Closeups: A small macro area with good detail. The flash throttles down pretty well, but is off-center for the closest shots. The DSC-F88 performed pretty well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 2.34 x 1.75 inches (59 x 45 millimeters). Resolution was very high, showing a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Corner softness was strong in the two upper corners of the frame. The DSC-F88's flash throttled down quite well for the macro area, fooled by the direct reflection from the brooch into underexposing the image slightly overall. A bigger issue was that the flash was a bit too far to one side of the lens to provide even illumination for the very closest photos. (Plan on using external lighting for your closest shots.) Still though, a very good macro performance for a compact digicam.

  • Night Shots: Surprisingly good low-light performance, with good color, focusing, and exposure, even at very low light levels. With a maximum exposure time of 30 seconds, the DSC-F88 is well-equipped for low-light shooting. The camera 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. (Actually, the shot was slightly dim at the 1/16 foot-candle setting at ISO 100, though you could arguably still use the image.) Image noise was low at ISOs 100 and 200, though it became quite visible at ISO 400. Still, results were better than average even at ISO 400.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but nearly accurate LCD monitor. The DSC-F88's optical viewfinder was quite tight, showing only about 78 percent of the final frame at wide angle, and about 84 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved much more accurate, though the bottom lines of measurement were cut off and I couldn't measure the exact accuracy. Still, frame accuracy was much closer to 100 percent, which is generally where I prefer LCD monitors to be.

  • Optical Distortion: Higher than average barrel and pincushion distortion. Optical distortion on the DSC-F88 was high at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 1.14 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared only slightly better, as I measured a 0.61 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was very low, showing only about two or three pixels of very faint 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.) The camera's images were also quite sharp from corner to corner, with relatively little of the softening in the corners that is so common in digicam lenses.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Surprising speed for a compact digicam! Overall, the DSC-F88 is a surprisingly fast camera, particularly so given its compact size. Because it doesn't have to wait for its lens to telescope in or out, it starts up and shuts down quite quickly. When running, its shutter lag numbers are very good, with full-autofocus lag times of 0.43 - 0.68 second, and prefocus delays of only 0.016 second. Shot to shot cycle times are good, if not blazing, at 1.8 seconds between shots in large/fine mode. - But the buffer memory never seems to fill, so you can shoot at that pace all day long (or until your memory card fills). Continuous-mode speed is good if unspectacular at just right around 1.1 frames/second, but buffer capacity is very good at 9 frames that quickly before you have to wait for the memory card to catch up. Although its images are rather small, "Multiburst" mode is great for studying things like golf and tennis swings, with its blazing speed, ranging from 7.5 - 30 frames/second. All in all, surprising speed, particularly for a compact digicam.

  • Battery Life: Really excellent battery life, particularly for a compact model. With a worst-case run time (capture mode, with the LCD turned on) of nearly 200 minutes with a fully-charged battery, and run time of nearly 400 minutes in playback mode, the DSC-F88's battery life is little short of amazing for such a compact camera model. I almost always advise readers to purchase a second battery along with their cameras, but in the case of the F88, you may very well be able to get away without one.


Conclusion

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Sony's Cyber-shot line of digicams have consistently offered a winning combination of build quality and image quality, with feature sets that satisfy a range of interests from novice to enthusiast. The DSC-F88 delivers exceptional capability in a very compact package, with good to excellent image quality, a sharp lens, good color accuracy, lower than average image noise, surprisingly long battery life, and an amazing macro capability. The light weight, smooth profile, and excellent battery life all make the DSC-F88 a superb traveling companion. Its dead-simple full-auto mode and rich set of 10 preprogrammed scene modes make it a good choice for novices, while its optional full-manual mode, saturation and contrast adjustments and 30-second maximum exposure time offer the sort of control craved by enthusiast shooters. All in all, a great camera for all-around use, travel, use by families with both novice and expert shooters, or for duty as a "second" camera for the pro or advanced amateur. Highly recommended, and an easy "Dave's Pick."

 

 

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