Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717
Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, September 1, 2002
Tuesday, October 8, 2002
review has been finished using a production model camera. Product
shots have been updated where necessary, and all sample photos are
from this shipping model.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707 (see
our review) was one of the big hits of the last year. It offered
the best photo quality (for a 5MP camera) in many people's opinions,
a fast 5X optical zoom lens, laser focusing system, manual controls,
and much more. It's design is also very unique, to say the
word began to surface of a replacement for the F707, speculation
was rampant. Would it be 6 Megapixel? 10 Megapixel? Would it use
the Foveon X3 sensor? And what about the same? The most common guesses
that I saw were the F707V and F909.
it turns out, the new Cyber-shot
DSC-F717 ($999) is more of an evolutionary upgrade to the F707,
rather than something totally new. It takes the already excellent
features of the F707 and improves on them even more. The lens and
CCD are identical on both cameras.
a nutshell, here are the differences:
manual focus and manual zoom ring
point (manually selectable) Multi-point AF system
faster startup time (50% faster)
Faster shot-to-shot speed
white balance modes
now goes to 800
32MB Memory Stick
me now as I cover these new features and more in our review of the
Sony's newest digital camera!
in the Box?
DSC-F717 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
5.0 Mpixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717 camera
Li-ion rechargeable battery
featuring Pixela ImageMixer and drivers
page manual (printed)
F717 has everything you need to get started: batteries, storage,
included Memory Stick has doubled in size since the F707, to 32MB.
It's an improvement, but still pretty small for a 5 Megapixel camera.
You'll want to buy a larger card for it.
F717 uses the same FM50 InfoLithium battery as its predecessor.
The InfoLithium batteries are nice because they tell you how many
minutes are left before you're out of juice. It's also a very powerful
battery -- it's also found on Sony's camcorders -- with 8.5 Watt/hours
of power. For the sake of comparison, the EN-EL1 battery used by
the Nikon Coolpix 5700 is just 4.8 Watt/hours. Sony estimates that
you'll get nearly 3.5 hours of use per charge!
you need to recharge, you plug in the AC adapter into the camera,
and the battery charges in 2.5 hours. You can also use the AC adapter
to power the camera in a studio setting, or if you're transferring
photos to your computer.
downside with these proprietary batteries is the cost ($60) and
the fact that you can't use standard batteries (as you can with
AA-based cameras) if you're in a bind.
protect your Carl Zeiss lens, Sony includes a lens cap with retaining
DSC-F717 is compatible with many accessories from Sony. This includes
conversion lenses (wide and tele), filters (polarizing), and flashes.
You can also get a lens hood and wired remote control. A carrying
case is also available.
includes Pixela ImageMixer for viewing and editing your photos.
I still haven't had a chance to try it. The camera is compatible
with Mac OS X and I assume Windows XP as well.
F717's manual is a definite improvement over the F707's. It's arranged
better and is easier to read -- and less like a VCR manual.
DSC-F717 is kind of a bizarre looking camera -- it's "all lens".
You either love it or hate it.
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.
dimensions of the F717 are 4.75 x 2.75 x 6 inches (W x H x D), and
it weighs 696 grams with battery, Memory Stick, lens cap, and shoulder
of the tricks of the F717 is the ability to swivel the lens. It's
hard to show in pictures, but above is my attempt. The LCD is always
facing the right-hand side of the picture, so you can see how much
it swivels in each direction.
The "shooting over heads" example
feature comes in handy in many situations. The one I always think
of involves Disneyland, one of my favorite places. Let's say you're
in the back row of people watching a show or parade. Here you can
just hold the camera above the heads in front of you, swivel the
LCD down, and voila -- you can see what you're photographing.
may look like just the lens, but there's a whole lot more hidden
inside! More on that in a bit.
Carl Zeiss lens (5X optical + 2X digital zoom) is quite fast: F2.0
- F2.4. The focal range is 9.7 - 48.5 mm, which is equivalent to
38 - 190 mm. The lens is threaded for 58 mm attachments.
is also a manual zoom/focus ring around the lens, which I'll describe
in more detail later in the review.
small circles around the lens (3 of them) look innocent enough,
but they play a big part in the most interesting features of the
F717: Nightshot, and Hologram AF.
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.
other neat feature on the front I haven't seen on any other digital
camera (aside from Sony's MVC-CD400) is called 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).
laser grid created by Hologram AF
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!
caveat about those lasers and lights around the lens is that they
become useless when you screw on a filter or conversion lens.
the lens is the pop-up flash. Like the F707, the F717 uses "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. The whole thing happens in a split
working range of the flash is 0.3 - 4.5 meters. If you want more
flash power, you can add an external flash. You guessed it -- more
on this later. One thing to note is that if you use a conversion
lens, you may block the flash.
is the back of the F717. The 1.8" LCD display is bright and
fluid, and the brightness is adjustable via the setup menu. When
you turn the flash on, the image on the LCD brightens, as well.
to the left of the LCD is the electronic viewfinder, or EVF. This
is like a little LCD that you look 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. As EVFs go,
the one on the DSC-F717 is pretty good.
is also a diopter correction knob for those of you with less than
perfect vision. A switch to the right of the EVF lets you switch
between the EVF and LCD.
below the EVF, under a plastic door, are the A/V out and power-in
the LCD are buttons for Display (toggles info on LCD/EVF), Thumbnail
mode (in playback), and Menu.
right of that is the four-way switch, which also has buttons for:
Setting (Auto, forced flash, no flash)
Review (shows the last shot taken)
the top of the DSC-F717 -- you'll have to excuse the lens cap down
at the bottom, which I used to prop up the camera. 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.
below that is one of the best new features of the F717 -- a hot
shoe! You can use Sony's HVL-FL1000 (which also plugs into the ACC
port) or any commercially-available flash. Sony advises you to use
the camera in manual or aperture priority mode while using the flash,
though the other modes will work.
the main body you'll find:
compensation button (the usual -2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
wheel (for changing settings in manual mode)
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.
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. Below are two examples
from the old DSC-F707 that illustrate how this works.
A shot of my home office using Nightshot mode.
the same shot, taken via NightFraming.
View full size image
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 menu. More on this later in the review.
between Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Portrait, and Landscape.
The camera picks the best settings for these situations.
pick the aperture and shutter speed. See below for values.
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.
choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture.
You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 30 sec -
chooses shutter speed and aperture but all menu options are
unlocked. Shutter speed range of 1/30 - 1/2000 sec.
as programmed auto, but with very limited menu options
case you skipped over the chart, there are some shutter speed quirks
on the F717. The shutter speed range in programmed or fully automatic
is 1/30 - 1/2000 sec. Put it in shutter priority or full manual
mode, and the range is 30 - 1/1000 sec. This means that 1) low light
shooting in auto mode isn't going to work well, and 2) you can't
select the 1/2000 sec shutter speed.
little jog dial is used for changing things like shutter speed,
aperture, and exposure compensation, plus it's also used for the
F717's new 5 point selectable autofocus feature. You can switch
between center, left, right, bottom, or top. If you want point and
shoot focusing, just put it in Multipoint and the camera will focus
on the left/center/right areas of the frame.
you can see, the F717 is slightly different on this side compared
to its predecessor.
biggest change on the camera is the new manual zoom/focus ring.
When the focus is set to auto, this ring will be your main way of
operating the zoom lens. Just like a "real" SLR camera,
you rotate the ring to zoom in and out. The big difference is that
this is an electronic, rather than mechanical system. Because of
that, you can choose which direction does what. For example, if
you want to turn the ring clockwise to zoom in, you can do that
-- and vice versa -- via the setup menu.
has done a great job making this zoom ring "feel right".You
can quickly zoom from wide to telephoto in just over a second, but
it can be very precise for small zoom changes as well. It takes
a bit of getting used to but I think most people will like it quite
to the right of the zoom/focus ring is a switch which toggles manual
focus on and off. When you turn on manual focus, the zoom ring now
works the focus instead. If you want to zoom, you'll need to use
the zoom buttons located to the right.
The subject is enlarged in manual focus mode
you're manually focusing, the camera enlarges the image so you can
make sure your subject is in focus. The LCD/EVF show you the current
focus distance, instead of the useless meter that most cameras show.
already mentioned the additional zoom controls. If you don't like
using the zoom ring, you may find these controls more comfortable.
It is a two-stage button meaning there is a fast and slow zoom speed.
to the right, we find buttons for AE lock, metering (multi-pattern,
center-weighted, spot), and white balance.
F717 has new white balance modes that bring it up to date with the
rest of Sony's cameras. The choices are auto, one-push (manual),
daylight, cloudy, fluorescent, and incandescent. With one-push white
balance, you can use a white or gray card to get accurate white
balance in nearly any lighting.
the other side of the DSC-F717, with everything closed up. The metal
ring for the neck strap can get in the way of opening and closing
the battery compartment door. Let's take a closer look at this side
of the camera.
you can see the battery compartment opened up. Inside is where you'll
put the NP-FM50 InfoLithium battery as well as your Memory Stick
(both are shown here).
a closer look at the lens barrel on this side of the camera. You
can see the ACC port for the Sony HVL-FL1000 flash, and the USB
port down at the bottom. The F717 is the first digicam that I've
seen that supports USB 2.0! Most computers don't support it yet,
though. One issue that kind of makes USB 2.0 irrelevant is that
the Memory Stick read/write speed is 2.5MB/sec, so you can't really
take advantage of the speed increase offered by USB 2.0.
here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the dual tripod mounts
(both are metal), and also the cover on the USB port. That other
tripod mount (non-threaded) is often found on video tripods, and
keeps the camera from rotating while on the tripod.
the Sony DSC-F717
the lens is fully enclosed and doesn't need to extend, the F717
is ready to go in just 1.6 seconds after you turn it on (this is
faster than the F707). When you depress the shutter release halfway,
the focus is locked in a second or so (depending on what the subject
is and the focal length). Depressing the button all the way results
in the photo being taken with almost no lag.
speed has been greatly improved on the F717. This is one of those
cameras where you can really shoot as fast as you can compose. One
area which has not improved is the amount of time you'll wait (nearly
a minute) for the camera to record a TIFF image.
new feature on the F717 is a live histogram in record mode. It is
disabled at the 3:2 ratio image size, though.
has brought the F717 up to date with their latest noise reduction
systems (there are three of them). There's one for chrominance (Clear
Color NR), another for luminance (Luminance NR), and finally, one
for noise (Slow Shutter NR). When shutter speeds drop below 1/25
sec, the "Slow Shutter NR" noise reduction mode kicks
in. This results in a longer wait for the image to be recorded,
but you'll be rewarded with a less noisy image.
a look at the image size and quality options available on the 717:
photos on 32MB Memory Stick
(3:2 aspect ratio)
I said at the beginning of the review, the 32MB Stick is too small,
so you'll probably want to pick up a larger one.
menu system has not changed on the F717. It's still the same overlay-style
menu that all Sony cameras use. Let's take a look at the various
menu items and what they do:
(Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800) - the 800 option is new!
Size (2560 x 1920, 2560 (3:2), 2048 x 1536, 1280 x 960, 640 x
Quality (Fine, Standard)
uncompressed large image - only one fits on 16MB Stick.
Records an audio file along with a still image
Records a 320 x 240 image in addition to the recorded image
bracketing: three shots in a row with different exposure compensation
values (chosen in the setup menu)
Records three images continuously, at 2 frames/sec. Too bad
the burst mode wasn't improved upon on the 717.
Level (High, Normal, Low)
Effects (Solarize, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
(-2 to +2)
Setup menu has been expanded. Here are the interesting items:
Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion, Multi Burst) - explained later
(Off, date, day & time) - imprint date on images
AF (Auto, off)
Focus (on/off) - whether or not the image is enlarged in manual
Step (1.0EV, 0.7EV, 0.3EV) - for auto bracketing function
ring setup - choose which way you rotate the zoom ring for wide/tele
Stick Tool (Card format, create/change folder) - a better folder
brightness (Bright, normal, dark)
backlight (Normal, bright)
numbering (Series, reset)
connect (Normal, PTP)
Out (NTSC, PAL)
about menus, let's talk about photo quality.
night test shot came out very well, but isn't perfect. It's soft,
and there is some noise that reduces some detail in the image. Take
a look at the sculptures just above the lower columns (I believe
this is called the pediment) to see what I mean. Some chromatic
aberrations can also be spotted.
F717 has four different ISO values, so I thought I'd take this same
shot at each ISO value. I've cropped out the same piece in each
image for easy comparison.
images were taken at 1/3 second. After cropping they were resaved
at "maximum" quality in Photoshop, so JPEG compression
shouldn't affect what you see here.
DSC-F717 did a nice job with our 3" tall macro subject. The
colors look good (very saturated, especially the reds) and the image
is well focused, even the nose (though I had to use aperture priority
mode to get that in focus). It's a bit soft, but certainly acceptable
to me. You'll be able to get as close as 2 cm at wide-angle, and
90 cm at telephoto, while in macro mode.
F717's pop-up flash is well away from the lens, meaning redeye won't
be a problem. My example above should illustrate that. This image
was slightly enlarged so you can see the detail.
taken by the F717 are some of the best you'll find. The camera has
incredible resolution, good sharpness, mostly accurate color, and
low noise. It's not perfect, but as good or better than almost everything
else. Images are sharp, but in the corners it may seem soft in some
situations. Colors are good are saturated -- too much so in the
case of reds. There is a bit of noise in the sky and in shadows,
but as I said, it's no worse than any other high end digicam out
there. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) were rarely seen
in my tests. Take a look at our photo gallery
and judge the F717's image quality for yourself!
DSC-F717 uses Sony's new MPEGMovie HQX mode and that's great news.
First, some history. A few years ago, Sony came out with the MPEGMovie
HQ mode, which was higher quality (though still 320 x 240) than
most digital camera movie modes. Then came MPEGMovie EX, which got
rid of time limits on video (until your memory card filled up),
though not at the HQ setting. MPEGMovie HQX allows you to do it
-- direct writing of HQ video until you run out of space.
can fit up to 87 seconds of HQX quality video on the included 32MB
Memory Stick. Buy a larger card, and you can record for even longer.
Sound is recorded as well.
F717 is a good camera for making movies not only because of what
I just described, but also because it allows for the use of the
zoom during filming.
a quick sample movie:
Click to play movie (3.9MB, MPEG format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
playback mode is basically the same as on the F707. Basic playback
features include slide shows, DPOF print marking, protection, thumbnail
mode, and "zoom & scroll".
advanced features include:
- change an image's size
- splits movies in half
- 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
zoom and scroll feature is a bit slow, but is still better than
average. You can zoom in as much as 5X, in 0.3X increments. This
feature comes in handy when you want to insure that your picture
was properly focused.
More info in playback mode. Note the picture
of my feet.
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.
F717 moves between images at an average speed in playback mode.
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.
one new thing here in playback mode is the addition of the histogram,
as you can see above.
Does it Compare?
new Sony DSC-F717 is an excellent 5 Megapixel camera, and a nice
upgrade to the F707. It offers stellar resolution, excellent focusing
ability, a good deal of manual controls, a nice 5X zoom lens, a
hot shoe, and the second best movie mode out there (after Fuji's
FinePix S602 Zoom). The new zoom ring is a nice touch as well.
the same time, it's not as much of a standout as the F707 was a
year ago, now that Nikon and Minolta have caught up with their Coolpix
5700 and DiMAGE
7i cameras. The DSC-F717 has a fair amount of manual controls,
but really doesn't compare to those offered by Nikon and Minolta.
Those two companies offer controls like white balance bracketing,
fine-tunable white balance, saturation controls, RAW image modes,
and more. Many were hoping that Sony would add these to the F707,
but it didn't happen.
I recommend the DSC-F717? Absolutely, without hesitation. Would
I take a close look at offers from other manufacturers before you
buy? You'd be crazy not to.
5 Megapixel photos
of bells and whistles such as Nightshot, and zoom ring.
Fast F2.0, 5X optical zoom lens
shoe and histograms, at last
of the best movie modes out there
for USB 2.0
for conversion lenses and filters
I didn't care for:
- Missing a lot of manual controls found on other cameras at this
are "too red" (and not a lot you can do about it)
- Loss of sharpness in image corners
speed limited to (no slower than) 1/30 sec in programmed/fully
true continuous shooting mode
RAW mode would be nice
Memory Stick format
4/5 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon
PowerShot G2, Fuji
FinePix S602 Zoom, Minolta
DiMAGE 7i, Nikon Coolpix 5000
and the E-20N.
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out
the DSC-F717 and it's competitors before you buy!