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Sony DSC-F717 My Impressions


Sony DSC-F717

What is in the box?
    • 1 - Camera
    • 1 - NP-FM50 Battery
    • 1 - 32MB Memory Stick
    • 1 - Audio/video cable (length = 56 inches)
    • 1 - AC power adapter
    • 1 - USB cable (length = 56 inches much longer than the F707 USB cable)
    • 1 - Lens cap
    • 1 - Lens cap cord (length = 10 inches)
    • 1 - Neck strap (length = 47 inches)
    • 1 - Ferrite core for the AC adapter
    • 1 - Camera manual booklet (123 pages)
    • 1 - CD-ROM
What is on the CD-ROM?
  • USB Driver - for non Windows XP computers
  • Image Transfer - Camera to computer downloading aid
  • Pixela ImageMixer - Displays and edits images
  • Need to download the driver? Use the F505 driver (it's the same driver) located here:
    Note: you don't need a driver if using Windows XP
Lost your manual??
Windows XP and the F717
    I plugged the F717 into the computers USB socket and the computer auto detected the camera and loaded a default driver. I was able to download images without using the included CD-ROM's driver.
What I had to turn off / remove to maintain sanity
  • The beeps and shutter sound - ah peace and quiet
  • There is only one sticker on the camera - correction, there was a sticker
  • There is a cardboard info thingy strapped to the battery door neckstrap eyelet - gone
How long does the battery take to recharge?
  • Charging the battery the first time took 2 hours and 10 minutes for the charging light to go out.
  • The manual states it will take 150 minutes to charge a dead battery
  • The manual also states that charging is done when the light goes out.
How long does the bettery last?
  • Camera states 232 minutes remaining when first turned on.
How long does it take to download pictures?
    It averages 2 minutes 20 seconds for a full 128MB stick on my non-USB 2.0 laptop. If you have USB 2.0 it should go faster.
How many images fit on an 128MB memory stick?
  • Fine JPG = 51
  • Standard JPG = 96
  • TIFF = 8
What does the camera feel like?
    It feels solidly built, and a tad lighter than the F707. The pivot of the lens seems stiffer too, I doubt the lens will sag under it's own weight anymore. The new silver color is nice and does not seem like a glaring change from the grayish F707, it strikes me as looking "cleaner" more than silver. I like it. The battery compartment feels solid. I don't think we will be hearing people complain about the battery door being "loose". The power on/off switch seems to also operate smoother. The buttons in general have a nice tactile feel to them as well.
Camera Performance
    Startup time is noticeably faster than the F707. In fact everything seems faster, or at least snappier.
1/2000 shutter speed
    In auto mode, 1/2000th shutter speed will be chosen only after the aperture reaches f/8. If you are in aperture priority mode, then you can go down to f/5.6 and the shutter speed can go to 1/2000th of a second. If you choose f/5 or wider aperture the camera will only go up to 1/1000 of a second. In shutter priority and manual mode, only 1/1000th of a second is available.
The Histogram
    The histogram at first seems like it would be a little on the small side. But you can see everything you need to to get the exposure set accurately. The histogram stops showing changes in the exposure once the shutter speed is slower than 1/2 second. It is semi transparent and does not seem to get in the way of composition and is easy to turn off when it is no longer needed. Three cheers for the histogram!

    So what does the histogram actually show us?

    Notice that this scene has four different density targets, a gray card on the left, a white piece of paper on the bottom, some tan fabric on top, and black fabric on the right. I spot metered off each target and noted the meter reading (in EV) on each target. Now look at the histogram, you will see 4 distinct spikes in the graph. Each one corresponds to one of the targets visible in the scene. The black fabric is represented by the 1st peak on the left of the histogram, the gray card is next (no surprise it is in the middle of the graph, they don't call it middle gray for nothing), followed by the tan fabric, and finally the white paper shows up in the graph on the far right. So this tells us that the histogram will show us, from the left to the right, increasing brightness in the scene. It does not show us color distribution, just brightness.

    We can use the histogram to augment the meter. We can see if the range of tones matches where they should be distributed. If we have something black in the scene but it does not show up in the histogram on the left hand side, we know that we may have to change the exposure. Similarly, if nothing in the scene is bright white, we want to make sure there is no data on the far right. Otherwise the exposure will come out looking wrong.

    This may take a little getting used to, but once you see that certain tones fall on the same part of the histogram, you will be able to tell from the histogram how good your exposure is.

Meter Accuracy
    In manual mode, the meter is only accurate in it's full range from 1/1000th to 1/2 second using ISO 100. This looks to be similar to the shutter speed limitations of the histogram. At ISO 200 the range is 1/1000ths to 1/4th of a second. At ISO 400 the range is 1/1000ths to 1/6th of a second. At ISO 800 the range is 1/1000ths to 1/8th of a second.

    Once the shutter speed is slower than 1/2 second (at ISO 100), the meter reading will progressively become more inaccurate. For every shutter speed slower than 1/2 second the camera will add .3EV to the meter reading until the shutter speed reaches 8 seconds. If you have a shutter speed of 1 second, you will not be able to accurately meter anything dimmer than -1EV. At 2 seconds, you cannot meter anything dimmer than 0EV, and at 8 seconds, you cannot accurately meter anything, the meter will be pegged at +2EV even with the lens cap on.

    So if you are in low light conditions (at ISO 100), you will want to meter using a wide aperture and pick a target that should be 0EV (like a gray card) and keep the shutter speed 2 seconds or faster. You could also meter something that should be +2EV (like a piece of paper, white clothing, white painted walls, etc) and keep the shutter speed 4 seconds or faster and extrapolate from there if you will ultimately be using slower shutter speeds.

When does the noise reduction kick in?
    Noise reduction activates at 1/25th of a second. It will take the same amount of time for the camera to take the dark frame as the original exposure. So if your exposure is 1 second, then the dark frame will take an additional 1 second to complete.
What does the noise look like?
    ISO 800 noise is very strong and most likely will not be suitabLe for astrophotography but will probably be acceptabLe for action shots with adequate light (EV 7 and brighter)

  • F707 (f/4 - 8 seconds - ISO 100)

  • F717 ISO 100 image needs to be reshot. I will try to get that done tomorrow.

  • F717 (f/4 - 1 second - ISO 800)
What do the reds look like?
  • f/4 - 1/1.6th of a second - ISO 100 - Auto WB

    The flashing white areas show where the red pixels have a value of 255. Since they take on a spotty nature, this shows the reds are not pegged unnaturally. You would see wide monolithic areas if that were the case. So I am very pleased Sony was able to maintain the vividness of the reds without blowing them out of the water as could happen with the F707.

    This shot was taken in heavy overcast light using the cloudy white balance setting. There was no red blow out.

    f/4 - 1/80th second - ISO 100

What about BFS? (Blue Flash Syndrome)
    There is no sign of it.

    BFS would randomly give flash photos a blue cast. Some of the flash shots had the blue cast, some didn't. Early model F707's had this problem.

What about LEVBFS? (Low EV Blue Flash Syndrome)
    It is still there sort of. as the shutter speed gets faster when using small apertures (e.g. f/8) it starts to get bluer, but if you keep going faster it starts to go away. It is less noticable now and I doubt it will pose the problem it did on the F707. Sony has done a good job keeping this under control.

    This seems less a "syndrome" than a natural consequence of changing lighting conditions. It is not a random condition like BFS was.

What about DLS? (Dark Left Side)
    It ran away with BFS and they are living comfortably in the tropics. Finally a happy ending :-).

    DLS effected later model F707's. It showed up as a darkening of the left hand side of the image, making panorama shots tough to stitch together.

What is the auto focus like?
    The auto focus on the F707 was already good, and now it is a little faster too. There are now selectabLe zones to can tell the camera to pay attention to when looking for focus which helps when framing your shot. Now you don't have to point at what you want to focus on, half press and reframe. Now you can in most cases select the area you want the camera to focus on which speeds up and simplifies the photography process. Add to that the laser assist device and you can get sharp focus even in no light at all.

Are there focusing problems with the camera?
    My thanks to Ulysses for helping with the testing of the low light focusing.

    I do not find any inherent low light focusing problems with the camera. The focus fails in low light without the laser assist at expected levels, and with the laser assist, it will fail when the camera cannot distinguish the laser from the surroundings. The photographer needs to be aware of the situation and manual focus when conditions are difficult for the camera to operate.

    The first test:

    I set the camera up 2 meters from a white wall. With the lights turned out, I auto focused on the wall by half pressing the shutter release using the laser assist. Once the auto focus had locked, I slide the focus selector switch to manual focus and noted the reported focus distance. The reported distance never varied from 2.0m after a total of 20 tests.

    This tells me the system works reliably under controlled conditions.

    Next, testing to see what will cause the focus to fail:

    Phil's review shows that the ambient lighting limit for non laser assisted shots is EV0. My tests agree with this too if the scene is ideal. The more a scene strays from ideal the more light you need to achieve an accurate focus lock without the laser assist.

    The ambient lighting should probably be around 2EV or brighter (absolute) in real conditions. You can go 0EV (absolute), but you risk having intermittent focus failure the more the scene is not ideal. So the minimum lighting conditions (ideal including +2EV padding) without using the laser would look like this at ISO 100 metering off a gray card at 0EV (meter reading) or a white card at +2EV (meter reading):

    Aperture f/2 f/2.2 f/2.5 f/2.8 f/3.2 f/3.5 f/4 f/4.5 f/5 f/5.6 f/6.3 f/7.1 f/8
    Shutter speed 1" 1.3" 1.6" 2" 2.5" 3" 4" 5" 7" 8" 10" 13" 15"

    Note: Increasing the ISO does not seem to help in getting a focus lock in low light. Conversely, smaller apertures do not harm the ability to get a good focus lock. If the ambient lighting is lower than 2EV (absolute), you will want to use the laser.

    Things that make it hard for the laser to work:

    If the scene does not reflect the laser well, the focus will fail.

    If the ambient lighting is close to the same brightness as the laser, the camera will have a hard time seeing it and focus failure will result.

    The further away the reflecting surface is from the camera the harder it will be for the camera to lock on.

    The more the surface of the target reflecting the laser is heavily textured and or broken up (e.g foliage), dark (e.g. black cloth), or not perpendicular to the camera, the harder it will be for the camera to lock on to the focus.

    So, in low light (darker than the chart above), and or, scenes with poor laser reflectivity/contrast, manual focus will give better results than relying on the auto focus which can be off by many meters in these conditions. Otherwise, if the scene has enough light or contrast, the focusing system does work as expected.

    Update: Sony has acknowledged that some early cameras had a problem. After calling Sony and confirming the problem, I sent my camera in for the fix and the low light focusing has become much better.

Deleting Photos?
    Deleting all images now seems instantaneous. You had to wait quite a while on the F707 to delete, this has been radically shortened.
Depth of field
    You can get out of focus backgrounds that make portrait shots look great by using wide apertures (f/2.4) and maximum zoom.

Quality differences between fine and standard JPG and TIFF
    Fine and standard JPG compression look very similar to each other. If you are short on space on the memory stick, don't hesitate to use JPG standard to give you more shots per stick. If memory space is not a concern, then use fine compression for best results.

    Interestingly, the TIFF mode tends to show little difference between JPG fine and standard, save for one thing I just noticed. There is a certain red artifact in the JPG photos that does not show up in the tiff shot. In the JPG it looks like the red does a weird stair step pixelation, which is absent in the TIFF version. I suspect that blue would show the same as red. And I now wonder if green will as well.

    200% enlargement (nearest neighbor) of TIFF

    200% enlargement (nearest neighbor) of JPG

5x optical zoom
    There is still no on screen indictor showing the focal length. There is only a sliding bar to show your relative amount of zoom. So there is no way to zoom in the same amount as a previous photo, so if you are shooting the same scene for a long time (a time lapse photo for example) make sure you have a freshly charged battery, because if the camera turns off, you will loose your zoom setting.

    The 5x optical zoom continues to provide the same good results obtained from the F707.

Digital zoom
    The digital zoom provides the same good results that were found on the F707. You can't get a better enlargement in PSE than you can in camera. So if you want to use the digital zoom, feel free.

    F717 full optical zoom and enlarged 200% with bicubic interpolation

    F717 full optical zoom and 2x digital zoom

How large is the spot meter
    The spot meter takes up an area no larger than a circle with a diameter of the cross hairs
Which sharpening mode alters the image the least?
    In general the "0" setting will give cleaner results while keeping sharpening halos and noise under control.

    +2 sharpening

    +1 sharpening

    0 sharpening

    -1 sharpening

    -2 sharpening

Will the flash launch small projectiles when it pops open?
    The flash popup has been redone. Where the F707 would frighten the unwary when it snapped open, the F717 now seems to pop open with less force and noise. While it may still startle a first time user, it won't take their breath away hehehe. If this is the first time you have used this camera, pay close attention to the flash when it pops up to avoid being startled. I was not able to launch a AAA battery beyond the camera body. So with the lower opening force and lower opening noise, I can recommend it to even the jumpiest conspiracy theorist out there ;-)
Zoom ring and toggle switch operation
    I had a Sony camcorder before I got my F707, and for the first month or so, the zoom switch of the F707 was confusing, I got used to it, but it still wasn't "intuitive". Now that the F717 has the same type zoom as the camcorder, it feels much more natural to use, and the zoom ring has become my favorite way to use the zoom. Rotating to the right for zoom and to the left for wide angle seems to be the most natural way for me to use it. I am glad Sony included the option to change the way the ring rotates and changes zoom.
Hot Shoe
    This is a most welcome feature. On the F707, there was no internal spring to keep things (e.g spirit levels, flash units, etc) that were inserted into the cold flash from sliding back out again. On the F717, the hot shoe is now spring-loaded, so if you put a spirit level in place for example, it wont slide back out on it's own, but stay firmly in place. Thank you Sony! External flash units only fire once as opposed to the double flash of the onboard flash.
Flash shots with the F1000 flash
    The flash fits the hot shoe much better now that there is a spring loaded insert in the hot shoe flash. The flash unit plugs into the ACC port and continues to provide better light than the onboard flash, and is positionable to point anywhere from straight up to parallel with the lens.
Let there be light - The LCD brightening feature
    When the flash is activated (onboard or external) the LCD screen (and the EVF) will brighten as the aperture and shutter speed change to maintain a viewable image you can use to frame your subject. This is a very welcome change from the F707, which would give a black LCD screen if the aperture was narrow and or the shutter speed was too fast for the lighting of the scene.
Vignetting Be Gone
    It's gone!
    My F707 had dark corners all the way around that would show up too often in my photos. Thankfully the F717 shows no sign of this. It now provides a nice even lighting throughout the image, corner to corner.
CCD Fingerprint - The good, the bad, and the ugly
    The CCD fingerprint of my F707 had an area in the upper right hand corner that was less sensitive to light than the rest of the CCD. The hot pixels of the F707 were many but in the acceptabLe range. The CCD fingerprint of the new F717 is much better. I still see one area where there is less sensitivity but the hot pixels appear to be gone or at least of a different nature than the F707. The dark frame images are much cleaner than before

    This image shows the area of the CCD that has a different sensitivity.

    Note the above image shows a series of 30 second images that have had auto levels applied to greatly exaggerate the noise so that the sensitivity differences of the CCD can be determined. These images do not represent what a dark frame looks like in real life.

ISO 800 Performance
    ISO 800 f/4 - 1/4 second (1:1 crop)

    ISO 100 f/4 - 2 seconds (1:1 crop)

    Of course the noise is greater than an ISO 100 shot, but still usable in certain situations. The noise is greater than I would like though. I tried stacking 5 night scene images to reduce the noise, and while this did help, it was still pretty strong. I think ISO 800 will be of limited use.


White Balance - Getting your whites...white
    Your best friend will continue to be the manual white balance mode, it is the most accurate and gives the best results. But, there are times when you just don't have time to set your shot up the way you would like, or you left your white balance target at home, or a bear just ate it, or whatever. In this case, the auto white balance and the new and improved presets are there to save the day.
  • Auto - If you are in a hurry, this is the mode for you. Set it to auto and forget it.
  • Sunny - You are outside on a nice sunny day.
  • Incandescent - If you are indoors with regular light bulbs, use this mode.
  • Florescent - Inside with florescent lighting, stores, office buildings, etc.
  • Cloudy - When the weather turns inclement, and the suns refuses to cooperate, use this mode to makes things look not so drab.
  • Manual - Your most accurate mode. You will need a white balance target (a white or gray card). This will let you get accurate color rendition in good lighting situation. If the light is low you may have difficulty setting the white balance manually using a gray card.

      Minimum light levels to achieve white balance lock:

    • ISO 800: EV 1 (white card) - EV 3 (gray card)
    • ISO 400: EV 2 (white card) - EV 4 (gray card)
    • ISO 200: EV 3 (white card) - EV 5 (gray card)
    • ISO 100: EV 4 (white card) - EV 6 (gray card)
Movie Mode - Quiet on the set
  • 320x240 16fps - I am very glad they beefed this mode up, it now lasts 5 minutes 54 seconds instead of 15 seconds, opening up more options for making higher quality movies by combining clips together later on the computer. The sound is also noticeably better in this mode.
  • 320x240 8fps - On the F707 this was my work horse video mode, and it remains the workhorse because it has "good enough" quality and lasts 23 minutes 38 seconds.
  • 160x112 8fps - I don't use this mode very much due to the low quality, but when I need the recording time, up to 1 hour 31 minutes (which does come up on occasion) I am very glad it is here.
Video Focus Performance
    The F707 would tend to hunt around trying to get focus filming some videos. So far I have noticed a slight improvement in the cameras ability to achieve focus and maintain it as the scene changes.
Video Editing: In-camera
    You can now edit your movie in camera. You can create clips and delete portions you don't want. Handy if you are watching your memory stick capacity. There is a frame rewind and frame forward control in the menu to get fine control over where you cut the movie. The new cut scene will have a new file number. You can delete clips you no longer need.