DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2001
Last Updated: Monday, May 13, 2002

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The review has been updated after using the real, shipping DSC-F707. Product photos have been re-shot where needed. All the sample photos are now from the production camera.

Just when I was getting used to 4 Megapixel cameras, Sony makes another huge jump, this time to 5 Megapixel with the new Cyber-shot DSC-F707 ($999). The new 5.24 Mpixel CCD (same as in the Minolta DiMAGE 7) uses 5.02 million of them, and that's what Sony will market it as (note the 5.0 Mpixel number on the side).

According to Sony, the DSC-F505V that is replaced by this model developed kind of a cult following. I admit that in my travels, I've probably only seen one 505 in the last few years. Never having used the 505, I didn't know what all the hype was about. But after playing with the new F707, I think I understand.

Read on to find out what's new with the DSC-F707!

What's in the Box?

The DSC-F707 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.0 Mpixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707 camera
  • 16MB Memory Stick
  • NP-FM50 Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC Adapter
  • Neck strap
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring MGI PhotoSuite and drivers
  • 111 page Manual (printed)

The F707 has everything you need to get started: batteries, storage, and software.

The battery used here is Sony's M-series InfoLithium battery, the same one as in the S75 and S85. The nice thing about these InfoLithium batteries is that the camera knows about how many minutes are left until you have to recharge it. And charging is easy, thanks to the included AC adapter - just plug it into the camera and the battery will charge in about 2.5 hours.

Sony claims that the FM50 battery will last for 2.5 hours in record mode, or 5.5 hours in playback mode. That's very impressive for a digital camera from my experiences.

I'm a bit spoiled since Sony sent me a 64MB Memory Stick with the (prototype) F707, but the real shipping model will only include a 16MB card. You can fit a grand total of 6 fine quality pictures on that 16MB card, which is disappointing. I'll have the usual chart of how many photos you can store on the memory card later in the review.

Seeing how Canon includes a 32MB card with their PowerShot G2, you'd hope that other manufacturers would follow suit. I'm also not a big fan of the "Sony only" Memory Stick format in general.

Sony has been good about include lens caps with tethers, and they include one here to protect the Carl Zeiss lens.

As far as accessories go: the lens is threaded for 58 mm attachments. Sony sells a filter kit (VF-58CPK) and a wide-angle conversion lens (VCL-MHG07A) for it. Other products available include a leather case, wired remote control, and lens hood.


New "flower petal" lens hood ($39)

New wired remote control ($49)

The DSC-F707 is fully compatible with Mac OS X 10.1. If you're using a version prior to 10.1, you'll need to go to the camera's setup menu and change the USB mode to "PTP".

I find Sony's manuals not very user friendly. The layout and organization needs work -- they're just like the one included with your VCR.

Look and Feel

The DSC-F707 is kind of a bizarre looking camera -- it's "all lens". It got some strange looks when I recently took it out for a photo shoot. I overheard one person calling it "ungainly" (of course, they could have been talking about me). Little do they know that this strange looking camera is a photo-taking machine!

The F707 is a little larger than its predecessor. That's because Sony stuck some new stuff in the lens barrel, as you'll see in a minute. The camera is on the heavy side, but then again, it's big, and mostly metallic. This is not a pocket-sized camera in any way - it's aimed more towards enthusiasts than casual shooters. The camera is easy to hold, with a decent-sized grip for the right hand, and that huge lens for the left.

The dimensions of the F707 are 4.75 x 2.75 x 6 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 710 grams with battery, Memory Stick, lens cap, and shoulder strap attached.

One of the tricks of the F707 is the ability to swivel the lens. I can't really photograph it the correct way, so you'll have to look at the above photos and turn your head to see how the lens moves.

While it may not look like it, this is where some of the biggest innovations on the F707 are.

The Carl Zeiss lens (5X optical + 2X digital zoom) is now faster: F2.0 - F2.4. It's focal range is 9.7 - 48.5 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 190 mm. As I mentioned, the lens is threaded for 58 mm attachments. There is also a manual focus ring around the lens, which I'll describe more in a minute. (I'm a bit irked at the fact that Sony slaps "10X precision digital zoom" on the side. I guess it's true but I've had more than one person ask if the zoom was 10X, which is really isn't.)

Those small circles around the lens (3 of them) look innocent enough, but they play a big part in the most interesting new features: Nightshot, and Hologram AF.

Nightshot is the same feature seen on Sony's camcorders. It uses IR illumination (from those circles at the top) and an IR filter to take photos in complete darkness. Sure, everything is green, but it's a neat trick. There is also a feature called NightFraming -- I'll discuss both of these in further detail later in the review.

The other new feature on the front I haven't seen on any other digital camera, and Sony calls it Hologram AF. It uses a Class 1 laser (just right of the lens) to shine a grid of red light on the subject. The camera then looks at the contrast between the laser light and the subject, and focuses. Sony says that this is a step above AF illuminators (which light up a subject so the camera can find the contrast between subject and background).


The laser grid created by Hologram AF

At first glance, you might think that you don't want to take a picture of a person using Hologram AF -- after all, you're not supposed to shine lasers in people's eyes! But, according to the manual, you could stare at it for 30,000 seconds and still not go blind... not that I advise trying!

The F707 also has some new flash tricks as well. It has what Sony called "true TTL flash metering", where the camera actually fires the flash twice. The first time it flashes, the CCD measures the exposure. The second time, it actually takes the photo. This ensures proper exposure of those flash shots. You'd think this would slow things down, but nope, it's barely noticeable. There is still a redeye reduction feature which fires the flash a few times before all this takes place.

The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 4.5 meters. If you want more flash power, you can pick up the HVL-FL1000 external flash, which mounts on the "cold shoe" on the top of the F707.

Here is the back of the F707. The 1.8" LCD display is bright and fluid, and the brightness is adjustable (Normal or Bright) via the setup menu.

A new feature on the F707 is the electronic viewfinder (EVF) over to the left. This is like a little LCD that you're looking into. The benefits are that you're seeing more of the frame than with a regular optical viewfinder, and you can see a lot more information (such as exposure) than with a regular viewfinder. The downsides are that it can be hard to see in bright light, and that the resolution isn't great. There is a diopter correction knob for those of you with glasses. A switch to the right of the EVF lets you switch between the EVF and LCD.

Just below the EVF, under a plastic door, are the A/V out and power-in ports.

Above the LCD are buttons for Display (toggles info on LCD/EVF), Thumbnail mode (in playback), and Menu.

Just right of that is the four-way switch, which also has buttons for:

  • Flash Setting
  • Macro
  • Self-Timer
  • Quick Review (shows the last shot taken)

Here's the top of the DSC-F707 (and what would I do without that Olympus lens cap to hold the thing up!). You can see just how big the lens is compared to the body! The flash is seen folded down here -- it's released electronically when needed. Just behind that is the shoe for a (Sony) external flash.

On the main body you'll find:

  • Speaker
  • Microphone
  • NightFraming/Nightshot switch
  • Mode Wheel
  • Shutter release button
  • Exposure compensation button (the usual -2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Thumb wheel (for changing settings in manual mode)

Here's some more information about Nightshot, and also the NightFraming feature. As I mentioned, Nightshot uses IR light to illuminate a subject, and the CCD captures it (in green). It works for stills as well as MPEG movies.

NightFraming takes Nightshot, Hologram AF, and TTL Flash Metering and combines it to help you take night shots. When turned on, the LCD shows everything in green Nightshot mode. You compose the picture, and press the shutter release button halfway. At that point, the IR filter turns off (so back to normal colors now), the Hologram AF uses the laser to focus, and the flash double-fires. Thus, you can easily take flash photos in almost zero light. It's a little awkward at first, but soon it becomes almost second nature.


A shot of a sunflower using Nightshot mode. You can see the flower in normal light in the gallery.


Here's the same shot, taken via NightFraming. Keep in mind that it was almost totally dark when these were taken.

The mode wheel (which has the power switch below it) has a very "notchy" feeling (that's a good thing) and has the following options:

  • Setup
  • Scene Mode
  • Full Manual
  • Aperture Priority
  • Shutter Priority
  • Auto Record
  • Playback
  • Movie Mode

Some further explanation on these:

  • Scene Mode: Choose between Twilight, Portrait, and Landscape. The camera picks the best settings for these situations. You can finally switch modes without having to go to Setup like on previous Sony cameras.

  • Aperture Priority: You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The choices range from F2 - F8 and will vary a bit depending on the focal range used. Once nice thing about the lens on the F707 is that the minimum aperture is just F2.0 at wide-angle, and F2.4 at full telephoto.

  • Shutter Priority: exactly the opposite, you choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 30 sec - 1/1000 sec.

  • Full Manual: You choose both the shutter speed and aperture. The values available are the same as above.

Another new feature on the F707 is noise reduction -- two types, actually. The first is called Clear Color NR, which is always enabled. This helps reduce color noise. The second is subtractive noise reduction, which is activated at shutter speeds slower than 2.5 seconds. This helps make those long exposure shots a lot cleaner.

Here is one side of the F707, with even more buttons! I'll work my way from left to right.


Zoomed in while in manual focus mode

The manual focus ring can be seen here, and it's activated when you turn on manual focus. Like the Fuji FinePix 6900 Zoom and the Canon PowerShot G2, the F707 will "blow up" part of the image so you can check the focus when in manual mode.

Next, we have the zoom controls. I would've preferred a control on the back of the camera, which I find more comfortable. The zoom itself is quite fast moving, and smooth too.

The next switch is for toggling between Auto and Manual Focus. The three buttons after that are for AE Lock, Spot Metering, and White Balance. The F707 has manual white balance, meaning you can shoot a piece of white or gray paper, and use that as your baseline white color.

Here is the other side of the F707. Here you'll find the battery/Memory Stick compartment, as well as the USB port (far right, under metal cover). Also, at the top-center of the photo, under a rubber cover, is the accessory port, which is where you plug in the external flash and (get this) other accessories.

Here's a closer look at the battery/stick compartment, with the FM50 battery and 16MB stick shown.

Finally, here is the bottom of the DSC-F707. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount. (Again, I'm using my Olympus lens cap to hold the camera steady, so that's why you see it lower-left.) As you can tell, this is a production model complete with serial number.

Using the Sony DSC-F707

Record Mode

Since the lens is fully enclosed and doesn't need to extend, the F707 is ready to go in just 2 seconds after you turn it on. When you depress the shutter release halfway, the focus is locked in a second or so (depending on what the subject is). Depressing the button all the way results in the photo being taken with almost no lag.


You'll see the same thing on the EVF and LCD

Considering the size of the images, shot-to-shot speed is excellent on the F707. You'll wait roughly 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot, even at the highest quality. The longest delay is when a TIFF file (14 MB) is written, and that's just over 40 seconds (the camera is locked up during that time).

Here's a look at the image size and quality options available on the 707:

Image Size # photos on 16MB Memory Stick
Standard Quality Fine Quality
2560 x 1920 11 6
2560 (3:2 aspect ratio) 11 6
2048 x 1536 18 10
1280 x 960 44 24
640 x 480 240 96

Like I said at the beginning of the review, the 16MB Stick is too small, so you'll probably want to pick up a larger one.

The F707's menu system is pretty simple, since many functions are buttons rather than menu choices. Let's take a look at the various menu items and what they do:

  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Image Size (2560 x 1920, 2560 (3:2), 2048 x 1536, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
  • Photo Quality (Fine, Standard)
  • Rec Mode (TIFF, Voice, E-Mail, Exposure Bracketing, Burst3, Normal) -- more on this below
  • Flash Level (High, Normal, Low)
  • Photo Effects (Solarize, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
  • Sharpness (-2 to +2)

Here's more details on those Rec Mode choices:

  • TIFF: uncompressed large image - only one fits on 16MB Stick.
  • Voice: Records an audio file along with a still image
  • E-mail: Records a 320 x 240 image in addition to the recorded image
  • Exposure bracketing: three shots in a row with different exposure compensation values (chosen in the setup menu)
  • Burst3: Records three images continuously, at 2 frames/sec.

In Setup Mode, there are a number of other options available. Here are the interesting ones:

  • Expanded Focus (on/off) - whether or not the image is enlarged in manual focus
  • Moving Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion) - explained later
  • Date/Time (off, date, day & time) - imprint date on images
  • Digital Zoom (on/off)
  • Bracket Step (1.0EV, 0.7EV, 0.3EV) - for auto bracketing function
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Hologram AF (on/off)
  • File numbering (series, reset)
  • Conversion lens (on/off)
  • LCD/EVF brightness
  • USB connect (normal, PTP) - put it in PTP mode for Mac OS X only.

The camera faired very well in the usual macro test. The colors are right-on, which is nice considering how bad the lighting is in this room. You can get as close as 2 cm in wide-angle, or 90 cm in full telephoto when in macro mode.

The camera did equally well in the night shot test, taken from the usual spot on Twin Peaks. Check out the detail on the buildings both near and far. I was also impressed with just how little noise is in this shot.

Overall, the photo quality on the F707 was stellar. Where the Coolpix 950 was the benchmark for photo quality a few years ago, I think the F707 will be the new benchmark going forward -- at least for a while. I've got a ton of photos to back this up too -- check out the Yosemite gallery as well as the double-size standard gallery! The last photo in the Yosemite gallery was the only photo with really noticeable chromatic aberrations.

Movie Mode

Sony's movie modes is one of the best out there: the video and audio quality is very good, and you can fill up the Memory Stick with video in non-HQ modes (this is called MPEG MovieEX).

Since the microphone is away from the lens, you can use the optical zoom during filming!

Also, you can use the Nightshot feature while filming, but not NightFraming.

There are three sizes available in movie mode:

Movie Size # of seconds on 16MB Memory Stick
320 (HQ) 42 (clips can be 15 sec max)
320 x 240 172
160 x 112 667

The quality is highest in 320 (HQ) mode, but you're limited to 15 second clips. In the other modes you can record until the Stick fills up.

Here's an exciting sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (2.9MB, MPEG format)

Another movie-like feature is called ClipMotion, which will take 10 images and put them into an animated GIF for you.

Playback Mode

The DSC-F707's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on most cameras. Those "basics" include slideshows, DPOF print marking, protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom & scroll".

These advanced features include:

  • Copy - copies an image
  • Resize - change an image's size
  • Rotate
  • Divide - splits movies in half
  • Trim - when zoomed into an image, you can crop the image down to the selected area. You choose the resolution of the new image (the old one is kept). The only thing to remember here is that if you take a small area of an image and then blow it up, you'll lose image quality.

The zoom and scroll feature is a bit slow (compared to Canon and Toshiba at least), but is still better than average. You can zoom in as much as 5X, in 0.1X increments.

You can get more information about photos by pressing the thumbnail button twice. You'll get a scrollable list of information that you can see above.

I also would've liked a delete button, rather than having to invoke the menu every time I want to remove a photo.

The F707 moves between images quickly in playback mode, and it shows a low res version before a high res one replaces it. The low-res image shows up almost instantly, with the high res arriving three seconds later.

How Does it Compare?

I think Sony caught many manufacturers by surprise with their announcement of the DSC-F707 -- especially the $999 price point. Olympus, Nikon, and Minolta are all selling 4-5 Megapixel cameras for more than the F707. While I haven't used the Coolpix 5000 yet, I have used the Minolta DiMAGE 7, and I can say that the F707 is a lot nicer for much less money. The F707's photo quality is outstanding, the feature-set strong, and the 5X zoom much better than the usual 3X zoom. The camera also has -- get this -- a proprietary battery that actually lasts a long time! The things I'm not enthused about are few in number: I don't like the Memory Stick (in general), and would prefer a RAW mode instead of the massive TIFF files that the camera saves. If I didn't already own an Olympus E-10, this would be the camera I'd buy myself, most likely.

What I liked:

  • 5 million pixels for under $1000!
  • Feature packed
  • 5X optical zoom
  • Excellent photo quality
  • Very good bundle (except for Memory Stick)
  • Manual white balance and other manual controls
  • Battery lasts a long time

What I didn't care for:

  • Proprietary Memory Stick, flash support
  • A RAW mode would be nice
  • No true continuous shooting mode

Other 4/5 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot G2, Casio QV-4000, Fuji FinePix 6900 Zoom (I guess), Minolta DiMAGE 5 and 7, Nikon Coolpix 5000, Olympus C-4040Z and E-20N, Sony DSC-S85, and the Toshiba PDR-M81.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DSC-F707 and its competitors (if there are any when you're there) before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our Yosemite and standard photo galleries!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the DSC-F707. The Imaging Resource Page and DP Review have them as well.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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