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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717

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

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Page 3:Design

Review First Posted: 9/2/2002

As the much-anticipated update to the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-F707, the DSC-F717 looks almost identical to the earlier model, with the same rotating lens barrel and compact body, but a range of improvements hidden inside. Externally, superficial differences in the F717 are a silver-colored body, and an improved control layout. (The latter really amounting to fairly substantial difference in how the camera feels to operate.) The F717 incorporates all the features that made the F707 such a dramatic entry on the digicam scene, but adds a more versatile and much faster autofocus system, expanded movie recording, and greatly improved color rendering and white balance performance.

The rotating lens barrel that makes up a large portion of the F717's bulk continues to be one of my favorite design features. You can rotate the lens approximately 135 degrees -- from straight up to about a 45 degree downward angle. Since the tripod mount is on the bottom of the lens barrel, you can easily tilt the camera body upwards to view the LCD monitor more clearly when the camera is mounted on a tripod, something I really appreciate when working in the studio. As I've noted on previous digicams of this design, the rather large lens requires a different grip than most people are accustomed to, but it's fairly intuitive once you get a feel for it. On the F717, the addition of zoom control to the focus/zoom ring on the front of the lens has had a significant impact on the camera's general "feel," and how comfortable it is to use. Being able to control the lens zoom via the zoom/focus collar makes for much more intutive operation than was possible with the F707's toggle-only zoom control. The large lens is heavy though, contributing to the camera's hefty 23 ounce (658 gram) weight, and therefore requires that you use your left hand to support the lens. The body itself is relatively compact (smaller than the lens, in fact), but with overall dimensions of 6.31 x 4.88 x 2.63 inches (162 x 124 x 68mm), the F717 certainly doesn't qualify as a pocket camera. It's best used with the accompanying neck strap, and I suggest investing in a small camera bag or soft cover to protect the LCD monitor and optics. A tethered, spring-loaded lens cover accompanies the camera.

As seen in the shot above, aside from the long lens barrel that dominates the front of the camera, the Shutter button, Exposure Compensation button, and Command dial reside on a sloping ledge off the camera's top panel. Surrounding the edge of the lens barrel is a ridged control collar, repurposed on the F717 to operate both focus and zoom, depending on the Focus mode selected. The collar works much like a focus ring on a conventional 35mm camera lens, but you can program it to adjust clockwise or counterclockwise through the Setup menu. (Note that this is still a "fly by wire" control, which simply tells the camera which way to adjust the settings, as opposed to coupling to the optics directly.) On the face of the lens are two high-output infrared LEDs which extend the camera's low-light capabilities through the Hologram AF and Night Shot/Night Framing features (more on these later). A rather substantial hand grip is built into the camera's right side, which helps counterbalance the weight of the lens when holding the camera. (The handgrip is also large enough to be comfortable for large, American-sized hands.)

On the right side panel is a neck strap attachment eyelet, positioned just above the battery and Memory Stick compartment. The compartment door features a locking catch that must be released before sliding the door open. Also visible in this view is the "ACC" Sony accessory connection jack on the top of the lens barrel, which connects Sony accessories, such as the HVL-F1000 flash unit. The small hatch built into the side of the lens barrel itself hides the USB connector.

The left side of the camera holds no fewer than six control buttons, arranged along the side of the lens barrel. From left to right, they include the Focus switch, Zoom rocker button, AE Lock button, Spot Metering control, and White Balance (WB) adjustments (One-Push button for manually adjusting white balance and main White Balance button for choosing a preset). All of these controls are within easy reach of your left hand when holding the camera two-handed, and the position of the auto/manual focus switch makes it easy to switch back and forth between focus and zoom operation via the front control ring. Also on the left side of the camera is the second neck strap attachment eyelet.

The camera's top panel holds several key camera controls, including the Shutter and Exposure Compensation buttons (mentioned earlier), a Command dial (located in front of the these two buttons), the Mode dial, NightFraming / NightShot switch, and the Power switch, all clustered on the right-hand side. The camera's microphone and speaker grilles appear just above and to the left of the Night framing/shot switch.

Atop the lens barrel is the pop-up flash compartment, with a standard hot shoe flash mount just behind it. (This is a welcome improvement over the F707, which featured only a "cold" shoe mount, greatly limiting external flash options.)

The remaining camera controls are located on the F717's rear panel, along with the LCD monitor and electronic viewfinder (EVF) eyepiece. Just above the viewfinder eyepiece, a dioptric adjustment dial corrects the viewfinder for near- or farsighted users. Across the top of the rear panel are the Display, Index, and Menu buttons, to the left of the Four Way Arrow pad. A sliding switch above the LCD monitor determines which viewfinder display you use, selecting either the LCD monitor and EVF. The eyepiece itself is surrounded by a soft rubber eye cup that does a good job of blocking extraneous light. In the bottom left corner of the rear panel are the DC In and A/V Out connection jacks, protected by a spring-loaded hinged plastic door. A large thumb rest near the top right side of the rear panel protrudes slightly from the battery compartment door, contributing greatly to the secure purchase provided by the F717's hand grip design. The rear panel also features a very tiny LED lamp, located above the center of the LCD monitor, that shows when the flash is charging.

The bottom panel of the F717 is flat and featureless, with the exception of the all-metal tripod mount on the bottom of the lens barrel. The USB compartment is also located on the underside of the lens barrel, covered by a lightweight plastic door. Kudos to Sony for keeping the memory card and battery compartments away from the screw mount, making it easy to change batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod. (I always take note of this, given the amount of studio work I do, and I find it particularly important with feature-laden cameras like this one.) I don't know if the tripod socket is exactly under the optical center of the lens, but it's certainly on the lens centerline at least, making alignment for panorama shots much easier. I don't think I called attention to it on the F707, but one thing I like about the tripod mount here is that it includes a socket for the second "lock" pin found on some professional tripods. - This provides for a much more secure mount between camera and tripod, without having to crank down so tightly on the tripod mounting screw.

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