DSC-F88 ($450) brings an unique Sony camera
design back to life. Long ago there were the DSC-F1,
DSC-F55, and DSC-F77 (the latter was never sold
in the U.S.), all of which had a clever inner-rotating
lens. The DSC-F88 is the next generation version,
using that same lens design but adding a 5.1 Megapixel
CCD, manual controls, and a VGA movie mode.
it may look like a big camera in pictures, the F88
is actually quite compact. It's not as small as Sony's
DSC-P100 but it's still smaller than most cameras.
The rotating lens is just an added bonus!
does the F88 hold up in our tests? Find out now.
in the Box?
DSC-F88 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll
5.1 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-F88 camera
Memory Stick card
charger / AC adapter
featuring Sony Picture Package software and USB
page camera manual (printed)
includes a 32MB Memory Stick card with the DSC-F88.
That doesn't hold a whole lot of 5 Megapixel photos,
so you'll want a larger card right away. I'd suggest
128MB as a good starter size (though a larger card
wouldn't hurt!). You can use regular Memory Sticks
(limited to 256MB) or the new Memory Stick Pro cards,
which have a larger capacity (up to 1GB) and higher
transfer rates. Memory Stick Pro cards tend to be
a little more expensive than other formats (such
F88 uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery known
as the NP-FR1. This battery has a fairly average
4.4 Wh of energy, which translates into spending
165 minutes (330 photos) in record mode and 400 minutes
in playback mode. Those are pretty good numbers for
a smaller camera, comparable to Sony's DSC-W1 which
uses AAs batteries.
of which, as you know I'm not a huge fan of proprietary
batteries like this. They're expensive ($50 each)
and you can't just pop in some AA alkalines to get
you through the day. With that in mind, I highly
recommend purchasing a spare battery. One thing I
like about Sony's InfoLithium batteries is that they
tell you precisely how many minutes are left before
you're out of juice.
it's time to charge the battery, plug the included
AC adapter into the camera. It takes approximately
200 minutes to fully charge the battery. The AC adapter
can also be used to power your camera in a studio
setting or when you're transferring photos to your
of a lens cap or cover, you just rotate the lens
to the closed position. Pretty neat!
F88 on the optional camera dock. Image courtesy of
interesting accessory for the F88 is the Cyber-shot
Station camera dock ($70). It serves three purposes:
your battery while the camera is on the dock
to your television for viewing slideshows. A remote
control is included.
connect to PictBridge-enabled printer for quick
wide-angle conversion lens. Image courtesy of Sony
are several other accessories available for this
camera. If you're frustrated with the 38 mm wide-angle
end of the lens then consider the VCL-07FEB 0.77X
wide converter ($50), which lowers the lower end
of the focal range down to 29 mm. Another cool accessory
is the SJK-FEC weather resistant sport jacket ($40).
This will let you use the camera out in the elements
(you know: rain, sleet, snow) without worrying about
damaging it. Keep in mind that this is NOT an underwater
case (Sony does not offer one for this camera). Two
non-weatherproof leather carrying cases are also
available, with a price range of $27 - $37.
power accessories worth mentioning include a portable,
compact battery charger (model# BC-TR1, $50) as well
as a car battery charger (model# DCC-L1, $60).
last accessory of note is the ACC-CFR Accessory Kit
($70). This gives you a spare battery, carrying case
(not the leather one described above), and a memory
Picture Package viewer (Windows
have changed in the software department, though not
necessarily for the better. Sony now includes Picture
Package for Windows as the main image viewing application.
And "viewing" is about all it does -- it's
supposed to let you print and rotate images, but
it never gave me that option. Another thing PP can
do is save your images on CD-R discs. Unfortunately
the software couldn't detect the CD writer in my
new PC, so that didn't work. Finally, Picture Package
can create slideshows complete with music.
ImageMixer VCD2 (Mac only)
users are really left out in the cold. Before we
used to get ImageMixer 1.5, which wasn't Mac OS X
native, but it still worked. Now you get ImageMixer
VCD2, which burns images to video CDs (and that's
it). It's OS X native, as well. Mac users should
look to iPhoto for image viewing instead.
Life (Windows only)
best part of the software package is the Cyber-shot
Life tutorial, which is Windows only (groan). Here,
a girl and her dog show you how to use your camera.
While it's a little cheesy, the tutorial is far more
useful for learning the ins and outs of your camera
than the manual. Do note that it's not camera-specific:
this is the same tutorial that came with the DSC-W1.
manual included with the DSC-F88 is average at best.
Expect lots of fine print and a cluttered layout,
just like the manual that came with your VCR or DVD
DSC-F88 has a unique design that will certainly get
attention wherever it goes. It has an internal-rotating
lens, kind of like the ill-fating Nikon Coolpix 2500
and 3500 from a few years ago.
lens can rotate a total of 300 degrees, from pointing
straight down (which is the closed position) to straight
up to backwards (great for self-portraits). As was
the case with the Nikon inner-swivel cameras, moving
the lens feels a little awkward but you get used
to it. I should add that to turn the camera on you
just rotate the lens out of the closed position.
rotating lens comes in handy in many situations.
Want to shoot over the heads of people in front of
you? Taking pictures of pets or kids at ground level?
With the rotating lens these shots are easy.
F88 is made of a mixture of metal and plastic. While
it feels different in your hand that most cameras
it's still comfortable and the main controls are
easy to get to. The camera isn't terribly small but
it will fit in most of your pockets.
official dimensions of the DSC-F88 are 97.8 x 74.4
x 25.6 mm / 3.9 x 3.0 x 1.1 inches (W x H x D) and
it weighs 163 grams / 5.7 ounces empty.
take a closer look at this unique camera, starting
with the front.
the camera with the lens pointing forward. The lens
on the F88 is a fairly slow F3.5-4.2, 3X optical
zoom Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar model. The focal length
is 6.7 - 20.1 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114
mm. The lens is not threaded but you can add a wide-angle
conversion lens which clips onto the rotating part
of the camera body.
two circles above the lens are the AF-assist lamp
and optical viewfinder. The AF-assist lamp is used
for focusing in low light situations.
the left of the lens is the built-in flash. This
flash has a fairly small working range of just 0.15
- 2.2 m at wide-angle and 0.25 - 2.0 m at telephoto.
Keep this in mind if you take a lot of flash pictures.
You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.
the Sony logo is the camera's microphone.
DSC-F88 has a 1.8" LCD display with 134,000
pixels. This high resolution screen is plenty sharp,
and motion is fluid as well. Brightness is adjustable
in three steps in the setup menu. The camera does
not automatically brighten the image on the screen
in low light conditions, making it difficult to compose
shots in those situations.
the top-left of the photo is the optical viewfinder,
which is average-sized. There is no diopter correction
knob, though, which is used to focus what you're
to the right of the LCD are the display (toggles
LCD and what's shown on it on/off) and menu buttons.
Continuing to the right, we find the four-way controller,
which is used for menu navigation, adjusting manual
settings, and changing the following:
- Flash (Auto, forced flash, slow synchro, no flash)
- Quick Review (shows the last photo you took)
the lower-right of the four-way controller is the
image size / delete photo button.
final item to mention here is the zoom controller,
which is at the far right of the photo. The zoom
controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto
in about 2.3 seconds. What impressed me most was
just how quiet the lens was -- it's virtually silent.
Quick presses on the controller can make precise
adjustments in the focal length as well -- you can
move in 0.1X increments pretty easily.
only thing to see on the top of the camera is the
shutter release button. I did not care for the feel
of the button. The button was very mushy, with no
defined halfway point (which is where the focus would
lock). I found myself pressing it down all the way
when I really wanted to pause halfway. Since this
could just be on my camera, your mileage may vary.
only thing to see here is the DC-in port, which is
under a plastic cover. You can get an idea about
how thin the F88 is in this shot.
the other side of the camera you'll find the mode
dial (with power button inside it) as well as the
memory card and battery compartments.
items on the mode dial include:
record - point-and-shoot, some menu items locked
mode - still point-and-shoot but with full menu
mode - you set the shutter speed and the aperture;
choosing from shutter speed range of 30 - 1/500
sec and aperture range of F3.5 - F9.0; at each
zoom position you will have three apertures to
choose from: at wide-angle they are F3.5/F5.6/F8.0
and at telephoto its F4.2/F6.3/F9.0. In between
there may be different values available
mode - you choose the situation and the camera
uses the proper settings
glass mode - described below
snap - warm color tones plus soft focus
shutter mode (for action shots)
- described later
mode - more later
mode - more later
you can see, the F88 has a manual exposure mode.
My only complaint about it is that you only have
three apertures to choose from at any one time.
is the magnifying glass mode? I'm not sure how it
works, but it will enlarge objects by up to a factor
of 2.1. The closer you get to the subject, the more
it is magnified. The focal range in this mode is
1 - 20 cm, which is closer than you can get in macro
mode (perhaps this is Sony's version of the "super
macro mode" found on other cameras?). The lens
is locked at the wide-angle position, though.
to the tour now. Beneath a plastic cover of questionable
strength is the battery compartment and memory card
slot. The F88 can use Memory Stick or Memory Stick
Pro cards. The included battery is shown at right.
final stop on our tour if the bottom of the DSC-F88.
Here you'll find the dock connector (which is also
where you'll plug in the USB and A/V out cables)
as well as a metal tripod mount and the speaker.
F88 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard. Don't
worry, it will still work if you're still using USB
the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F88
the time you've rotated the lens into position, the
F88 is ready to start taking pictures.
A histogram is shown on the
LCD in record mode
DSC-F88's autofocus was about average. It took about
0.6 seconds to lock focus at wide-angle, and 1.1
seconds when it had to "hunt" for focus
on telephoto subject. Using Monitor AF can help reduce
these times. The camera focused well in low light
thanks to its AF-assist lamp.
lag was very low, even at slower shutter speeds,
as has been the case with other Sony cameras this
speed was excellent, with a delay of around a second
between shots (assuming the post-shot review feature
is turned off).
delete a photo right after it is taken, you must
enter the QuickReview mode.
here's a look at the image size/quality choices on
photos on included 32MB Memory Stick
(2592 x 1944)
/ 3:2 ratio
(2592 x 1728)
(2048 x 1536)
(1280 x 960)
(640 x 480)
no RAW or TIFF mode on the F88.
file numbering system used by Sony is quite simple.
Files are named DSC0####.JPG, where #### = 0001 -
9999. The numbering is maintained as you erase and
swap Memory Sticks.
F88 uses the same menu system as the other 2004 Sony
cameras. The menu is overlay-style, meaning that
its shown on top of the image you're preparing to
shoot. I think most people will find it very easy
to use. Here are the menu options on the F88 (keeping
in mind that you may not see all of them in Auto
(Candle, fireworks, high-speed shutter, beach,
snow, soft snap, landscape, twilight portrait,
twilight, magnifying glass) - only displayed when
mode dial set to SCN
compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
(Multi AF, center AF, 0.5/1.0/3.0/7.0 m, infinity)
- the Multi AF mode automatically chooses one of
five focus points
mode (Multi, spot)
balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten)
- no manual white balance to be found
(Auto, 100, 200, 400)
Quality (Fine, standard)
- regular shooting
- takes up to 9 shots in a row at the highest
quality setting, at a rate of around 1 frame/second
burst - takes 16 shots in a row (at interval
selected in menu) and compiles them into
one 1 Megapixel image (like a collage)
interval (1/30, 1/15, 1/7.5 sec) - for the multi-burst
feature described above
Level (Low, normal, high)
Effects (Off, black & white, sepia)
(Low, normal, high)
(Low, normal, high)
(Low, normal, high)
F88 has a pseudo-manual focus feature, where you
can choose a preset focus distance. It's not as nice
as real manual focus, but it's still better than
nothing. The three focus modes in the same menu control
which autofocus mode the camera uses.
also a setup menu, which has the following options:
mode (Single, monitor) - see below
zoom (Off, smart, precision) - see below
(Off, date, day & time) - whether date/time
is printed on your photos
Review (on/off) - shows images on LCD after
it is taken
rec folder - manage folders on the memory
backlight (Bright, normal, dark)
(Shutter only, on, off)
(English, Japanese [I assume], Spanish, French,
number (Series, reset)
connect (PictBridge, PTP, normal) - you may
need to change this depending on the operating
system on your computer
out (NTSC, PAL)
AF is just like you're used to: press the shutter
release halfway and the camera locks focus. Monitor
AF lets the camera focus constantly, even without
the shutter release pressed, which helps reduce the
time required to take a picture.
F88 has two types of digital zoom. Precision digital
zoom is the same old "enlarge the center of
the frame" system that you should avoid at all
costs. Smart Zoom lets you enlarge the image without
a loss in quality, with the catch being that you
can't use much of it unless you're at a low resolution.
For example, at 3M, you can only use about 1.2X --
but at the VGA resolution, you can use 4X.
move on to photo tests now.
DSC-F88 produced a very "smooth" rendition
of our famous macro subject. Colors look very close
to the original. Despite not having a custom white
balance feature, the F88's tungsten mode worked well
with my 600W quartz studio lamps.
macro mode you can get as close to your subject as
8 cm at wide-angle and 25 cm at telephoto -- pretty
average. For ever closer shots you'll want to use
the Magnifying Glass mode I described earlier.
had a bit of trouble with the night shots on the
F88. My first attempt in the usual spot resulted
in a very yucky image.
It shouldn't be blurry due to camera shake: I used
a tripod, self-timer, and infinity focus. But all
12 of my photos looked that bad.
attempted to reshoot the Treasure Island night shot
but unfortunately the whole city was fogged in (it
after all). Since I now live 50 miles away it's not
so easy to go back whenever I want anymore. So I
went for plan B and got a nice shot:
F88 did a great job with SF's amazing City Hall.
As you can see, it was pretty foggy here too. The
exposure is nice and noise levels are low. I did
use the tungsten white balance to get more accurate
color than what auto white balance was producing.
Something else that surprised me: no purple fringing.
Usually this shot brings out the worst in a camera.
Good job Sony!
can't explain what happened on Treasure Island that
night -- hopefully it was just a fluke. The image
above shows what the F88 is capable of.
the night shot above, here's a look at how changing
the ISO sensitivity affects image noise:
things considered I'd say that the F88 does a pretty
good job at keeping noise levels down, even at ISO
it had less of a redeye problem than I expected,
you should plan on removing redeye in software if
you buy the F88. Other suggestions: add more light
to the scene or take the photo two times (the second
time should have less redeye).
F88 has mild barrel distortion at the wide-angle
end of the lens. I didn't see any vignetting (dark
corners) or blurry corners.
image quality on the DSC-F88 was good but not great.
Color and exposure were both accurate, and purple
fringing levels were quite low. What bothered me
the most were the muddy/fuzzy details and above average
noise levels. Things like grass and trees look like
they've been grabbed from a video camera, with fine
details washed away (giving images a "soft" look).
For small prints this will not be an issue, but I
printed gallery photo #9 at 8 x 10 and some of the
foliage detail was lost, so you've been warned. Noise
levels seemed a bit high as well, most notably in
shadow areas. This
picture is a great example of both issues.
you can be the judge of the camera's photo quality.
Check out our photo gallery and
print them if you'd like. Then decide for yourself
if the F88's pictures meet your expectations!
DSC-F88 features Sony's MPEGMovie VX mode, but not
the "Fine" mode found on some of their
cameras. You can still record at 640 x 480 (with
sound) until the memory card fills up, but the frame
rate is 16 fps instead of 30 fps as you'd find in
Fine mode. The included 32MB Memory Stick holds a
grand total of 87 seconds of video at this quality,
so you'll want a larger memory card if you're serious
low resolution movie mode is also available. You
can store almost 22 minutes of video at this 160
x 112 size.
cannot use the zoom lens during filming, which surprised
me since the lens moves so quietly. Movies are saved
in MPEG format.
a fun sample movie for you, taken at the VGA setting:
to play movie (2.1 MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)
play it? Download QuickTime.
DSC-F88 has a pretty standard (though well-implemented)
playback mode. Basic features include slide shows,
DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode,
and "zoom & scroll". The F88 is PictBridge-enabled,
allowing direct printing to compatible photo printers.
zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom
up to 5X into your photo, and then scroll around
in it. This us useful for checking the focus in a
photograph. When zoomed in, you can also use the
trimming feature I'll describe in a second.
of the more advanced playback features include:
- change an image's size. The original image is
- cut sections of movies
- 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).
do appreciate how the F88 lets you delete a group
of photos, instead of just one or all of them. (To
do this, you must be in thumbnail mode.)
F88 gives you quite a bit of information about your
photos, including a histogram.
camera moves between images extremely quickly in
playback mode, instantly moving from one photo to
Does it Compare
those people looking for a smaller camera with a
high resolution CCD and the very useful rotating
lens, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F88 is a good choice.
I just wish the photo quality was better.
let's talk about the good stuff. The F88 has a fairly
compact body with a lens that can rotate 300 degrees.
While it may sound like a gimmick, it's a really
nice thing to have. Most folks will find the camera
easy to hold and operate, despite its unconventional
design. In terms of performance, the camera is above
average in most areas. Startup time is very quick,
with the camera ready to shoot by the time you have
rotated the lens into position. Shutter lag was short
and shot-to-shot speeds were good. Thanks to its
AF-assist lamp, the F88 focused well in low light.
The camera has a fair amount of manual controls,
though it could use more. It features selectable
shutter speeds ranging from 30 - 1/500 seconds and
three aperture choices. The F88's movie mode is good,
but not as good as other Sony cameras with the MPEGMovie
VX Fine mode.
the bad news. While image quality is good overall,
it's kept from greatness for two reasons. Number
one is that images have a fuzzy, "video capture" look
to them, which tends to blur out details. Secondly,
shadow noise seems a bit high. These issues will
be a concern only if you're printing 8 x 10's or
larger, or viewing your photos at 100% on-screen.
I will compliment Sony on their good color and low
purple fringing, though. As I mentioned, the F88's
manual controls are a bit limited. I would have liked
to have seen more aperture choices, custom white
balance, and a real manual focus feature. While I
like the F88's design there are two things that annoyed
me a bit: the mushy shutter release button and flimsy
plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment.
The F3.5 - F4.2 lens is on the "slow" side,
its flaws I do recommend the DSC-F88 but mostly for
those seeking the rotating lens. If you're set on
a smaller 5 Megapixel camera you'll get better image
quality from something like the Sony DSC-W1 or Canon
body design, rotating lens
noise levels at high ISOs
movie mode (though only 16 fps)
wide-angle conversion lens
2.0 High Speed support
in record and playback mode
silent lens movement (but still no zoom in movie
I didn't care for:
tend to be fuzzy, lacking detail; some shadow noise
short flash range
manual controls would be nice
difficult to see in low light
plastic door over memory card / battery slot
shutter release button (could just be my camera,
software bundle (except for tutorial); not very
Mac friendly either
other cameras in this class have the rotating lens.
Some other compact 5MP cameras worth checking out
include the Canon
PowerShot S500, Fuji
FinePix F450, HP
Photosmart R707, Kodak EasyShare CX7530 and LS753,
Konica Minolta DiMAGE G500 and X50, Nikon
Coolpix 5200, Panasonic
Lumix DMC-LC80, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P93, DSC-P100, DSC-T1,
always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store
to try out the DSC-F88 and its competitors before
out the photo
quality in our gallery!
a second opinion?
Feedback & Discussion
you have a question about this review, please send
them to Jeff.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail
me asking for a personal recommendation.
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