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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707

Wow! 5 megapixels, a super-sharp lens, Hologram AF, NightShot, NightFraming and more! Killer technology, great photos from Sony!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 08/20/2001 (Full production model update 11/20/2001)

Executive Overview
"Wow! What a camera!" was our initial reaction to Sony's new DSC-F707. In addition to its super-size, 5-megapixel CCD (5.2 million effective pixels), the F707 offers a host of innovative technologies and improvements over previous Sony digicams. Among the most exciting new features are the NightShot, NightFraming, and Hologram AF technologies. The NightShot technology, borrowed from Sony's consumer camcorder line, allows you to see and capture images in almost total darkness. Capitalizing on the CCD's super sensitivity to infrared light, the F707's NightShot mode removes the IR filter from the front of the CCD and projects IR beams from two small LEDs on the front of the camera. The resulting image is monochromatic, similar to the view through night vision goggles. The NightFraming mode uses the same technique, allowing you to frame dark subjects using the IR beams, but once focus is determined, the camera replaces the IR filter and makes the exposure with normal flash. We can see almost limitless applications for NightShot and NightFraming, such as taking pictures at dimly lit parties or sneaking up on night critters. (We suspect NightShot may result in a lot of these being sold to law enforcement agencies.)

The Hologram AF feature is another Sony innovation that works very well in the F707. It uses a laser diode and tiny holographic diffraction grating to produce a crosshatched pattern of bright red lines on the subject. This projected pattern stays more or less "in focus" almost irrespective of subject distance, so there's always a sharp pattern for the camera to focus on. Hologram AF isn't just for low light, you'll sometimes see the camera using it in fairly normal lighting if there's not enough contrast in the subject to focus effectively with the contrast-detection AF system. We had great focus results in our low-light testing and are duly impressed with this new focusing mechanism. Another first for Sony is through-the-lens flash metering, which provides more accurate light readings than the conventional on-camera sensor (especially in low-light and no-light settings). Many digicams provide flash metering, but the F707 is the only prosumer model we're aware of that offers true through-the-lens metering. (This should contribute to markedly more accurate flash metering with many subjects, particularly when the lens is zoomed to telephoto focal lengths.)

The F707 features the same rotating lens action we so loved on the F505 and F505V models, providing approximately 135 degrees of rotation, for some very versatile shooting options. The camera's overall dimensions are 6.31 x 4.88 x 2.63 inches (162 x 124 x 68mm), but these measurements are somewhat misleading since the camera body itself is only about 2.75 inches deep, and the lens extends nearly 4 inches beyond the body's front panel. Because the lens is so long, the F707 is much too bulky to fit into even a large coat pocket; however, it's reasonably lightweight for its size (22.39 ounces / 635 grams) and therefore easily transportable using the supplied neck strap. Sony also offers a very nice soft case to protect the camera when you're carrying it.

The camera offers two options for precision framing: a large 1.8-inch color LCD monitor on the back panel, and a smaller LCD in the form of an electronic viewfinder (EVF) at the eye-level position. The EVF is designed much like a conventional viewfinder, with a diopter adjustment dial on top to accommodate eyeglass wearers. The same information display is shown on both monitors, reporting battery power, Memory Stick capacity, flash status, and the number of images taken, plus various exposure settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, image size, and quality. A small switch directly above the monitor allows you to switch between the large LCD and small EVF monitors. We're no fans of EVFs, but that on the F707 seems to provide much more resolution than is normally the case. With the optional viewfinder magnification during manual focusing, the EVF is even marginally useful for setting focus.

Carl Zeiss lenses are famous for their high quality and image sharpness. The F707 is equipped with a 5x, 9.7-48.5mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens (equivalent to a 38-190mm lens on a 35mm camera), and in our assessment, performs better than most any other lens we've tested. The aperture can be manually or automatically adjusted from f/2 to f/8, and shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 30 seconds. (Note that this is a noticeably faster lens that the f/2.8 design used on the earlier F505V.) Focus also can be automatically or manually controlled, with a single readout display that shows the distance in metric measurements, and an Enhanced Focus function that temporarily doubles the size of the image in the viewfinder as you're turning the focusing ring (selectable through the Setup menu), for more accurate focusing. Sony's 2x Precision Digital Zoom function is also activated through the Setup menu, increasing the F707's zoom capabilities to 10x (although as always there is a direct decrease in resolution and image quality resulting from digital magnification). Macro performance is very good, with macro focus distances ranging from 0.8 to 19.7 inches (2 to 50cm).

In addition to a full Manual exposure mode, the F707 also provides Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program AE, and Scene exposure modes. Aperture Priority allows you to select the working aperture, from f/2 to f/8, while the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. Shutter Priority allows you to select the shutter speed, from 1/1,000 to 30 seconds, while the camera selects the appropriate aperture. Program AE places the camera in control of both aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure parameters. The Scene exposure mode provides three preset shooting modes -- Twilight, Landscape, and Portrait -- which are designed to obtain the best exposure for specific shooting situations.

Multi-Pattern, Center-Weighted, and Spot Metering options are available in all shooting modes, selectable via the Spot Metering button on the camera's lens barrel. (A crosshair target appears in the center of the LCD monitor in Spot metering mode). White Balance options include: One Push (manual setting), Outdoor, Indoor, and Auto. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments, and the camera's ISO value can be set to Auto or 100, 200, or 400 equivalents, increasing performance in low-light shooting situations. The F707's built-in flash features Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Suppressed operating modes, with a variable flash intensity adjustment. As an added bonus, the F707 offers an external flash connection and cold shoe mount, which allow you to use a more powerful flash with the camera.

The F707 also provides a Movie mode with sound recording, which stores files in the MPEG EX format. (MPEG EX enables continuous MPEG movie recording directly to the memory card in the camera's non-"HQ" modes, for as long as the memory card has space.) A Clip Motion option, available through the Setup menu, works like an animation sequence, allowing you to capture a series of up to 10 still images, which are recorded as GIF file for sequential frame playback. A Picture Effects menu captures images in Solarized, Sepia, and Negative Art tones and a Sharpness setting allows you to control image sharpness.

The Record menu offers a list of Record mode options, including a TIFF mode for saving uncompressed images; a Voice mode for adding sound clips up to 40-seconds long to accompany captured images (great for "labeling" or annotating shots you've taken); and an E-Mail mode that saves a seperate 320 x 240-pixel file, in addition to your normal size image, that's small enough for e-mail transmission. An Exposure Bracketing mode captures three images at three different exposures, so you can choose the best overall exposure, and the Burst 3 mode captures three images in rapid succession with one press of the Shutter button (shot-to-shot frame rates vary with the pixel resolution size and the amount of image information being recorded). Finally, there is a Normal setting for standard JPEG compressed images.

Images are stored as uncompressed TIFFs, JPEGs, MPEGs, or GIFs (depending on the Record mode) on a 16MB Memory Stick included with the camera (higher capacity cards are available up to 128MB). A video cable is also provided with the camera for connecting to a television set. (You can choose between NTSC or PAL video standards via the Setup menu), and a USB cable provides high-speed connection to PC or Macintosh computers. Software supplied with the F707 includes MGI's PhotoSuite SE (Mac and Windows) and VideoWave SE (Windows only) for image downloading, image-correction capabilities, and a variety of creative templates for making greeting cards and calendars, as well as basic video editing utilities.

The F707 uses an NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery pack (M series) and comes with an AC adapter that doubles as a battery charger. We like the InfoLITHIUM batteries because they communicate with the camera, showing exactly how much battery power has been consumed, and reporting the remaining battery time via a small readout on the LCD screen. This is really valuable to avoid lost shots when your batteries die unexpectedly.

We are continually impressed by Sony's innovations and the quality level of each new product that comes along. The 5.02-megapixel F707 is no exception -- capturing high-resolution images with great precision and color. The NightShot technology and Hologram AF focusing systems not only give the F707 a definite edge in the digicam arena, but they take digital photography into territory that's simply unattainable in the conventional film-based world. If the point of having a camera is to bring back great pictures, the F707 will let you do so under a wider variety of conditions than almost any other camera on the market, regardless of price.

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