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Sony DSC-F505 Digital Camera
A 2.1 megapixel sensor paired with an incredible 5x optical zoom lens.
(Review first posted 12/14/99)
||2.1 megapixels, 1600x1200 image size|
||5x Carl Zeis optical zoom lens, f/2.8-f/8.0|
||True manual focus option|
||Spot, aperture priority metering options|
||MPEG movie capture option|
Sony has long been a dominant player in the digital camera field with their Mavica(tm) line of floppy-disk based cameras. (Before you email us, yes, we'll be testing some of the Mavica units in the near future.) 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.
The DSC-F505 is one of Sony's latest offerings (as of early December, 1999), offering a Carl Zeiss zoom lens with a full 5x ratio and 2.1 megapixel resolution. It also uses Sony's proprietary "memory stick" memory technology, that we'll talk more about later. Overall, the we found DSC-F505 to be a powerful entry at the high end of the current crop of 2 megapixel digicams.
We really liked the design of the DSC-F505, one of our favorite aspects being the rotating lens which swings nearly 180 degrees. We also enjoyed the fact that the tripod mount was placed on the bottom of the lens instead of the camera body, meaning that you can tilt the body up and 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 weve 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-F505 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. For optics, the DSC-F505 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 0.08m to infinity in macro
The DSC-F505 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-F505 captures subjects as close as 3.25 inches (8cm) to the lens
The DSC-F505 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 settings. Twilight and Twilight Plus allow you to capture bright subjects with dark backgrounds. Landscape sets the focus for far away subjects and Panfocus allows you to quickly switch focus from far away to close up subjects.
The pop-up flash on the DSC-F505 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) and Suppressed (flash never fires) modes. You can also control flash intensity via the record menu with choices of High, Normal and Low. You do have control over exposure compensation, which can be set from 1.5 to +1.5 in 0.5 EV increments through the record menu. White balance offers 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. Theres 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-F505 is the ability to record short movies with sound. Movies can be recorded in lengths of 5, 10 and 15 seconds, depending on how you set it up. Two movie formats are available: Video Mail, which records at 160 x 112 pixels and Presentation, which records at 320 x 240. 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-F505 utilizes Memory Sticks. These tiny cards (about the width of a stick of gum, but a bit shorter) come in 4MB, 8MB, 16MB and 32MB sizes and are easily write protected with a sliding lock on the card itself. (As we write this, the first 64MB memory sticks are reportedly hitting dealer shelves.) The DSC-F505 only runs on rechargeable InfoLITHIUM battery packs (S series) or the A/C adapter (which doubles as the battery charger)
US and Japanese models of the DSC-F505 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 USB and serial cables 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 somewhat 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-F505 handy for the office, home or anywhere. Its compact enough to be portable and feature-laden enough to tackle almost any shooting situation. We think youll enjoy it.
First of all, what a completely unique design! It really makes the DSC-F505 an eye-catcher (as we noticed in our field tests: "What IS that thing?"). 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). Not to mention the fact that the lens flexibility 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-F505 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 (tilted down from the top) 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 A/V out jack for movie and audio playback. Theres 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 digital I/O 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 under side of the lens barrel.
Sony did away with the idea of an optical viewfinder on the DSC-F505, somewhat affecting the ability to save battery power by not using the LCD. The LCD monitor itself an unusual two inch TFT hybrid variety with a total resolution of 122,980 (559 x 220) pixels. Two LCD Bright buttons (- and +) control the brightness of the display, giving you instant control without fishing through menu screens. A Display button to the left of the monitor turns the information and menu display on and off (helpful when youre trying to compose an image).
The LCD monitor used on the DSC-F505 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.
The lens on the DSC-F505 is clearly something special, as evidenced by its size and mass. The DSC-F505 comes equipped with a 7.1 to 35.5 mm Carl Zeiss lens (equivalent to a 38 to 190mm lens on a 35mm camera), a whopping 5x optical zoom. Apertures range from F/2.8 to F/8.0 in half-stop increments, and are automatically controlled (except in Aperture Priority mode). Focus ranges from 0.5m to infinity in wide angle and from 0.08m to infinity in macro. An additional 10x digital zoom function 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. Unfortunately though, 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. (For instance, very low light settings, where you'll be shooting with flash.) We must say though, that 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, 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-F505 is controlled via the Macro button on the side of the lens and allows you to capture objects as close as 3.25 inches (8cm) 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. 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-F505 which mount over the lens, using the 52mm filter threads.
The DSC-F505 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 certain effects: Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, Twilight, Twilight Plus, Landscape and Panfocus. A mode dial on top of the camera designates whether youre shooting in Movie or Still mode.
The pop-up flash on the DSC-F505 ranges from 11.9 inches to 8.3 feet (0.3 to 2.5m) with choices of Auto (no icon), Forced and Suppressed operating modes. Auto lets the camera decide when to fire the flash, based on existing lighting conditions. 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. We did notice the lack of a Red-Eye Reduction mode. Most photo manipulation software offers an option for taking out Red-Eye, but its nice when the camera provides at least some support. In the case of the DSC-F505, the close proximity of the flash head to the lens opening makes red-eye more likely. The flash on the DSC-F505 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.
Exposure Compensation (EV)
Exposure Compensation on the DSC-F505 is also controlled through the record menu, manually adjustable from 1.5 to +1.5 in 0.5 EV increments. (Quite adequate, but we prefer to see a full 2 EV of compensation, and really like smaller, 1/3-EV adjustment increments.)
You have four white balance modes available on the DSC-F505: Auto, Indoor, Outdoor and One-Push. Auto puts the camera in control. Indoor and Outdoor adjust for artificial 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 F505'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.)
The Picture Effect in the record menu mode 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.
The Program AE 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 1/8 to 1/725 seconds in NTSC mode (PAL runs from 1/6 to 1/600 seconds). 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.)
The DSC-F505 normally determines exposure by measuring the brightness of the entire image and taking an average. The spot metering option changes this focus to a 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.
The self-timer function on the DSC-F505 gives you 10 seconds from the time the shutter button is fully pressed before 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-F505 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 five, 10 and 15 second increments, based on the Record Time Set feature in the record menu. Recording continues as long as the shutter button is held down. Two types of movies can be recorded, Video Mail (160 x 112) and Presentation (320 x 240). 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.
Shutter lag due to autofocus operation on the F505 is quite variable, depending on the camera-subject distance: At longer shooting distances, the lag time is about 0.9 seconds, toward the faster end of the spectrum of current (December, 1999) digicams. In macro shooting situations though, the shutter lag stretches to 2.0 seconds. This isn't uncommon in digicams, but the magnitude of the variation with the F505 is greater than most. When manual focus is used, the lag time drops to 0.33 seconds, while prefocusing by half-pressing the shutter button before actually shooting the picture reduces lag time to 0.27 seconds. (The slightly shorter time using prefocus is likely because the prefocus operation takes care of the automatic white balance function as well.)
Cycle time is fairly fast for a two megapixel camera, and we saw no evidence that it was dependent on a RAM buffer. (Cycle times always stayed about the same, regardless of how many pictures we'd shot in rapid sequence.) At maximum resolution and quality, the minimum shot-to-shot cycle time was 3.5 seconds. In minimum resolution/quality mode, this decreased only slightly to 3.0 seconds. (These measurements were made using manual focus, to avoid the variable of autofocus delays.) The full-resolution cycle time in particular is close to the fastest we've measured.
The user interface on the DSC-F505 has a comfortable feel with clear operation. 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. Heres a look at the major buttons and controls:
Located on the top/front of the camera, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed.
Located on top of the camera, this dial selects between the following modes:
Located on top 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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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 Bright Buttons (- and +)
Located directly beneath the LCD monitor, these buttons control the brightness of the LCD display.
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
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:
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:
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 pulls up the following menu:
Image Storage and Interface
The DSC-F505 utilizes Sony's unique (and thus far largely proprietary) Memory Stick for its image storage. A (grossly undersized) 4MB card comes with the camera and additional units are available to 8MB, 16MB and 32MB sizes. (As this review was being written in December, 1999, we learned that 64MB memory sticks were just appearing on dealer's shelves in the US.) The Memory Stick has been the subject of some controversy within the digicam community, with many people (ourselves included) asking why on earth we need 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?
As noted, we've been strongly in the "oh no, not another memory format" camp ourselves. We were rather surprised then, by how appealing we found the Memory Sticks themselves. Of all the memory formats we've played with to date (December, 1999), 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-F505 gives you three resolution options (1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768 and 640 x 480), and two image quality/compression options (Standard and Fine) at each 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 320x240 and 160x112 are available.
You can protect individual images on the Memory Stick from accidental erasure (except from formatting) through the setup menu on the DSC-F505. 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.
A 4MB Memory Stick accommodates up to 40 seconds of video in Presentation format (320 x 240 pixels) and up to about 160 seconds in Video Mail format (160 x 112 pixels). Heres a look at the average capacity on a 4MB card for still images:
|Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity||
(1600 x 1200)
(1024 x 768)
(640 x 480)
Note that the DSC-F505 differs from most digicams 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-F505 can interface to a host computer either via a traditional RS-232 serial interface (slow) or a newer USB interface (much faster). We timed the USB transfer of a maximum-resolution file at 3.7 seconds for 849 KBytes. That translates to 229 KB/second, a very reasonable transfer rate for a 2 megapixel digicam.
US and Japanese models of the DSC-F505 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
The battery power system is one of the real highlights of the DSC-F505 in our opinion: The DSC-F505 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 each battery pack, when fully charged, provides about 60 minutes of recording with the LCD back light on and about 70 minutes with it off. 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-F505 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 were able to collect the following limited set of measurements:
|Capture Mode, w/LCD||
|Capture Mode, LCD backlight off||
|Half-pressed shutter, w/LCD||
The DSC-F505 comes with USB and serial 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.
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-F505'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-F505 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.
Overall, the DSC-F505 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 very good as well, particularly in the area of shadow detail.
As noted previously in this review, the big story of the DSC-F505 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 0.9% in wide-angle mode, and pincushion distortion of 0.6% in telephoto mode. 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 F505'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-F505 performed right at the top of the 2 megapixel cameras we've tested to date (December, 1999) with a very solid 700 lines per picture height in both vertical and horizontal directions, and detail clearly visible to 800 lines. (A very few other cameras have reached this level, and none simultaneously show the amazing sharpness of the F505.)
Its no secret we missed the optical viewfinder on the DSC-F505: It's LCD viewfinder is a bit more accurate than most, showing a bit over 90% 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.
The DSC-F505 performs reasonably competently in macro mode, with a minimum capture area of 2.7 x 3.5 inches (67.5 x 90.0 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 one of the few areas of disappointment with the DSC-F505: It's only good down to about 2 foot-candles, a bit brighter than city night scenes under typical street lighting. Most competing cameras work well down to at least 1 foot-candle, and many quite a bit lower than that.
Overall though, we were very impressed with the DSC-F505: It takes exceptionally sharp pictures with excellent color, and the 5x zoom ratio on the lens is a very nice feature.
With the DSC-F505s 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. 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 F505 provides a range of options, including both aperture and shutter-priority exposure programs, spot metering, and an optional preset white-balance setting. Overall, a razor-sharp performer for the camera buff, but easy enough for beginners to use in full-auto mode.
See what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about the DSC-F505, or add comments of your own. (Read what's here, then add your own!)
Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a DSC-F505 camera? If you'll post an album of your samples that we can point to with a single URL (not all services permit this, some require you visit the main site and type a name and password) and email us at [email protected], we'll list the album here for others to see!
For More Info:
View the DSC-F505 Sample Pictures Page
View the Imaging Resource Data Sheet for the DSC-F505
Visit the Comparometer(tm) to compare with other cameras.
Visit the Sony home page for the DSC-F505
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