Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F88
At a Glance
There's nothing new about a digital camera with a rotating lens--many models with that capability have been around for years. An ease-of-use feature that allows you to hold the camera body comfortably in your hand while pointing the lens up, down, forward, or even backward (for quick self-portraits), the rotating ability typically means that the camera forgoes an optical viewfinder and makes you rely on its LCD. The Cyber-shot DSC-F88 is the only digital camera we can think of that doesn't make that compromise.
Across the top of the camera is a long, rotating cylinder that houses the flash and the 3X optical zoom lens on the front, and an eye-level optical viewfinder on the back. It's nicely designed and quite effective. You'd likely use the viewfinder on bright sunny days, when sunglasses are essential and the glare makes seeing an image on the LCD difficult at best, or for those quick snapshots where framing is less important than catching the action. Macro shots are an occasion when the LCD and rotating lens make an ideal combination. For example, we took closeups of low flowers by rotating the lens perpendicular to the LCD.
Sony has also made this camera quick to operate--better than most. Rotating the lens down so that it is protected by the camera body automatically switches the camera off. Twist the lens up, and you're ready to capture images in about 2 seconds. The shutter trigger also seems faster than that of most of the point-and-shoots we've reviewed. Typically a camera will have little shutter lag if you start with the trigger halfway down (locking the focus and exposure). But often the DSC-F88 tripped its shutter immediately upon a full press of the button (and managed to capture a pretty nice shot in the process).
Beyond that, this model is pretty typical for a Sony point-and-shoot. It has a brushed-chrome metal casing and solid controls, giving it a durable feel. A little bigger than a cassette tape box, it will fit easily in a shirt pocket, but being fairly thick and heavy, it won't sit there comfortably. Most of the exposure controls are in menus--including exposure value, which experienced photographers are likely to use frequently. The menus are simple to work through, but they require a lot of button pressing. And some of the modes settings are cryptically labeled, which could be confusing for infrequent users. We had to look through the manual to understand what they do--a rarity for us.
In our lab-based image-quality tests, the DSC-F88 earned average scores overall, coming in a little below average for exposure and color accuracy, and a little above average for sharpness (due in part to its 5.1 megapixel CCD). Its battery life, on the other hand, was surprisingly good, lasting through 325 shots on one charge of its small lithium ion battery.
The Cyber-shot DSC-F88's design is both clever and functional. A quick trigger and relatively compact design make this model one of the more interesting point-and-shoots we've seen.