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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828

Sony extends their high end to encompass 8(!) megapixels and a sharp 7x Zeiss zoom lens. - And Sony's new RGB+E sensor technology for more accurate color!

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Page 7:Shutter Lag & Cycle Time Tests

Review First Posted: 08/15/2003, Updated: 02/05/04

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a digital camera, there's usually a delay or "lag time" before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms to do their work and can amount to a significant delay in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported by manufacturers or reviewers, and can significantly affect the picture-taking experience, I routinely shutter lag and cycle times using a proprietary electronic test setup with a resolution of 0.001 second.

Sony DSC-F828 Timings
Time (secs)
Power On -> First shot
Time from power on to first shot captured. Very fast. (There's no lens to telescope out, but even so the startup time is faster than I'd have expected.) Time measured with Memory Stick Pro.
No lens to retract, so "shutdown" time is effectively nil. Depending on the memory card in use though, it could take 20 seconds or more to finish writing a large RAW-format file. (Worst case with a Memory Stick Pro is only 10 seconds though.)
Play to Record, first shot
Time to capture image from quick review mode, lens set to manual focus. Very fast. (Time would be somewhat longer in autofocus mode, particularly with the lens set to full telephoto, due to autofocus time.)
Record to play, quick view mode, camera finished processing previous shot.
~ 0.4
Initial image display is very fast in quick review mode, and there doesn't seem to be any additional time required for the display to sharpen-up. (Playback zoom also operates very quickly.)
Record to play, normal playback mode
2.3/0.4 Time from switch to playback mode to image displayed, large/fine mode images. First time is for immediate switch after an image is acquired, second is for switch with camera done processing the last image. Pretty fast when camera is quiescent, but time for immediate switch is average.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
First time is with lens set at wide angle, second time is with lens set to 100mm equivalent focal length, third time is with lens set to full telephoto. All times are very fast, wide angle and 100mm times are blazing. (By far the fastest prosumer camera I've tested.)
Shutter lag, continuous autofocus
0.42 As is generally the case with cameras I've tested, continuous autofocus doesn't improve the shutter lag at all, although it may be helpful for moving subjects. (This time measured with the zoom set to 100mm.)
Shutter lag, manual focus
Blazingly fast.
Shutter lag, prefocus
Yes that's 9 milliseconds! I repeated my measurements 3 times (total of ~40 shots) to be sure. For this particular parameter, this is the fastest camera of any sort that I've tested. (I'm fortunate to have a test system that's fast enough to record this - Most methods of measuring shutter lag have a resolution of only 0.1 second.)
Cycle Time, Memory Stick Pro, max/min res
These times are for a Memory Stick Pro card. Almost identical times for large/fine and small/normal files, the small files taking slightly longer, apparently as a result the resampling of the image. No detectable buffer, the camera ran this fast for 27 consecutive shots, until I got tired of pressing the shutter button. VERY fast!

NOTE in all these cycle time numbers, that the F828 "penalizes" you for trying to fire the shutter too quickly. If you do so, the camera will just sit there until you release and re-press the shutter button.
Cycle Time, CF card, max/min res

(All CF timings here gathered with Lexar 512MB 24x card)

1.26/1.37 Times with a CF card. CF cards are slower in other tests, but seemingly no impact in single-shot mode cycle times. Once again, VERY fast.
Cycle Time, RAW file format, Memory Stick Pro/CF card
13.49/15.33 First time is for Memory Stick Pro, second is for CF card. No buffering of files in RAW mode, you have to wait for each to write to the card before you can grab the next shot. Here, the Memory Stick Pro showed its higher transfer rate, although the difference wasn't dramatic.
Cycle Time, TIFF file format, Memory Stick Pro/CF card
8.82/12.52 First time is for Memory Stick Pro, second is for CF card. No buffering, you have to wait for the camera to finish writing to the card before you can snap the next shot. Oddly, TIFF write times are faster than those for RAW format. (Usually, the opposite is the case.) Once again, Memory Stick Pro is the faster media.
Cycle Time, "S" continuous mode

(In Speed burst mode, the camera viewfinder blanks until the sequence of shots is completed.)

(2.65 fps)
Same speed regardless of card used, and regardless of size image captured. Seven shots in the buffer, also regardless of image size or card type. After 7 shots, there's a long pause before the next shot (for large/fine images, it's 11 sec for MS Pro, 13.4 sec for CF, for small/normal, the numbers are 5.29 and 4.07 respectively). After that though, the camera will continue snapping additional images every ~2.7 sec for large/fine, or every ~1.6-1.7 sec for small/normal. NOTE though, that you have to press the shutter button repeatedly after the initial burst of 7 shots, to get the shutter to fire. If you get past the long pause and into the slower shot to shot time regime, the "buffer" clears very quickly, in a time equivalent to the cycle time at that point.
Cycle Time, "F" continuous mode

(In Framing burst mode, the camera viewfinder displays a "preview" of each image briefly between shots, slowing the frame rate slightly.)

(2.43 fps)
Essentially identical behavior to the "F" continuous mode (7 shots in sequence regardless of file size or card type, long pause after the 7th shot, followed by longer shot to shot cycle times), the only difference being that the shot to shot time stretches a few hundreths of a second.
Cycle Time, "M" continuous mode

(In this mode, the camera records 16 tiny 320x240 images in a single 1280x960 frame.)

(29.94 fps)
No surprises here - Only 16 images (played back as a slow-motion sequence on the camera, but arranged in a 4x4 array in a single image file), but 30 frames/second capture speed. (Can be set via a menu option to 15 or 7.5 frames/second.) Camera is ready for the next sequence almost immediately. (About as fast as you can release and re-press the shutter button.)

Sony makes a great deal of the F828's speed in their marketing pitch for the camera, and the numbers above show that there's a good reason for this: The F828 is by far the fastest prosumer-grade camera I've tested to date, and is the fastest camera at any price point when it comes to shutter lag in the pre-focused mode. (That is, the shutter lag after you've half-pressed and held down the shutter button, prior to the exposure itself.) Other reviewers have reported this lag time as 0.1 second, but that's probably just the resolution of their test setup. I was so astonished at the 0.009 second prefocus lag that I repeated my tests three times, for a total of about 40 shots, and got the 9 millisecond number very consistently. Of course, normal full-autofocus lag is what really matters to most shooters, and the F828 excels there as well. - At maximum wide angle, it routinely focuses and shoots in only 0.25 seconds. This time stretches to a still-fast 0.69 seconds at full telephoto, but is a very fast 0.42 seconds with the lens set to the 100mm equivalent focal length, still a reasonable telephoto. Shutter lag in manual focus mode is also exceptionally short, at only 0.20 seconds.

Cycle times are also quite impressive, with a minimum cycle time of only 1.26-1.27 seconds in manual focus mode with the auto review display turned off. Add ~0.05 seconds for autofocus at wide angle, or ~ 0.75 seconds for autofocus at maximum telephoto. Most impressive is the fact that the F828 appears able to write its image files to the memory card at this rate, without having to slow down to wait for the card to catch up. - There's no sign of a buffer, or if there is one, it holds more than the 27 shots I snapped at maximum resolution before I got tired of pressing the shutter button. Continuous-mode operation is also impressive, capturing up to 7 frames (regardless of image size or JPEG quality setting) at a rate of 2.65 frames/second. Finally, a "Movie" continuous mode shoots 16 tiny 320x240 images at a selectable frame rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames/second, storing them in a single 1280x960 image file.

The camera slows a fair bit when recording full-resolution RAW or TIFF files, although its performance there is still very much in the top echelon, particularly considering that it's saving 8 megapixel images. It really would be nice to see some level of buffering applied to RAW and TIFF files though, as a lot of prospective users of the F828 are likely to want to shoot in RAW mode.

Overall, the F828 is easily the fastest "prosumer" non-SLR camera on the market, by a wide margin. With its long 7x zoom lens, it'll make an excellent camera for sports shooters. (Although it'd be nice to see something like Fuji's "Final 5" shooting mode, for capturing critical moments despite lagging reflexes on the part of the photographer.

The only complaint I have about the F828's timing performance is that it's one of the (unfortunately many) cameras that "penalize" you for pressing the shutter button too quickly after the previous shot is taken. If you click and hold down the shutter button immediately after a shot is taken, the camera will save that shot to the memory card and then just sit there. You have to release the shutter button and press it again to take the next photo. In practice, you can develop a pretty good sense of how long to wait before pressing the shutter button, and so avoid the "penalty," but it's easy to get a little over-eager in the face of fast-breaking action. And the camera should really handle this anyway. Why can't the camera simply notice that the shutter button is still down and fire off another frame as soon as it's able? As noted, this is an unfortunately common behavior among even the higher-end digital cameras I've tested, but one that I'd really like to see done away with.

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