Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828
At a Glance
In a world of boxy digital cameras, Sony's 8-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-F828 is truly unique. Like its predecessor, the 5-megapixel DSC-F717, this camera has the shape of an L, with a massive lens barrel making up one leg, and the chunky body the shorter leg. The two sections are joined by a hefty hinge that lets the lens rotate on a perpendicular axis to the body. The effect is much like cameras with fold-out LCD panels--you can turn the body so that the viewfinder can be seen from nearly any angle, for easier low-angle or overhead shots.
New to the DSC-F828 are a black body--now seemingly obligatory for advanced cameras--and Sony's four-color CCD. (The F828 is the first camera to use this chip, but cameras from other makers will follow soon.) According to Sony, the CCD should record more-accurate blues, blue-greens, and reds--in other words, color that's closer to what the human eye sees. It does this by adding an emerald-green pixel to the standard mix of red, green, and blue pixels.
If the CCD truly can record more-accurate color, however, we did not see it in the images we took. Our image-quality tests, taken with the camera's default, automatic settings, had generally accurate exposures and colors, and with the flash on, the camera did a fine job of reproducing our model's skin tones. However, we were less impressed with the photos of our daylight-balanced, flood-lit still life. Whites were a bit off, and reds and yellows looked muted. We also took some test photos of a green toy frog outdoors in the morning sun, using both JPEG and RAW settings. In both formats, the green looked a little less vibrant than the real thing. In this instance, calibrating the white balance offered no improvement.
On the other hand, image sharpness was where the F828 stood out. Its 8-by-10-inch prints looked sharper than any of those produced by the competing advanced cameras we've tested recently. The camera's 8-megapixel CCD obviously plays a part, with some help from the high-quality Zeiss T* lens.
With its oversize lens, the F828 is too heavy for easy one-handed shooting. But two-handed it feels like an SLR, and in many ways it works like one--right down to its minimal shutter delay. Rather than the usual rocker buttons to control the zoom, this model has a wide ring on the lens barrel. A twist of the wrist moves you from a 28mm focal length (35mm equivalent) to 200mm. The focal length is conveniently marked on the lens barrel--something you rarely see in digital cameras with noninterchangeable lenses.
Changing the camera's other settings is fast, for the most part. This camera has a slew of dedicated control buttons, many located along the lens barrel. Though they are well-labeled, it will take some time using the camera before your fingers automatically find them. But Sony has also adopted a settings-selection system we first saw on Olympus cameras: an on-screen carousel of choices. Turn the selector dial to pick a shutter speed, for example, and a circle of available speeds appears in the LCD. It's a small, but helpful advance.
Advanced photographers may miss a couple of features on the F828. It does not have custom user settings--found in competing cameras from Olympus, Nikon, and Canon--which are useful for quickly setting the camera for different shooting situations. You also can't disable the automatic power-off--a capability that a significant number of digital photographers need, judging by the e-mails messages we receive. Another smaller irritation: You must manually flip a switch to change from the electronic eye-level viewfinder to the LCD panel (many other cameras with both switch automatically).
Fast, powerful, and enjoyable to use, this camera should please advanced shooters, as long as they can live without refinements like user settings and the ability to disable the camera's auto power-off.