Sony F707 Digital Camera
March 21, 2002 People with ten thumbs and an IQ equivalent to their shoe size can take amazing pictures with this camera. It also takes five megapixel images (2560 x 1920) and it takes pictures in the dark without a flash due to its infrared capabilities - we're not talking poor lighting conditions here - we're talking about shooting a piece of coal on black velvet at the bottom of a mineshaft at midnight on a cloudy night. That was the rough wording of a magazine article I read at a newsstand in Singapore airport that convinced me to let the moths out of the wallet and I have never regretted the purchase. The NightShot mode is a very useful feature for candid photographs at parties without alerting the subjects with a flash - the quality is grainy and monochrome but the priceless shots it produces are ideal for capturing moments in time without destroying them.
As the first of the five megapixel cameras, Sony's F707 is an evolution of the previous three megapixel 505 model, with a couple of extra features.
Most significantly, the F707 is capable of true infrared photography, meaning that extreme low light (indeed, no light) photography is possible. This is fantastic for many different situations, particularly for portrait work and documenting social occasions - as the 707 will enable you to take pics in the dark, it's possible to get pictures without alerting the subjects via the flash.
It's also very suitable for situations where a flash would be entirely inappropriate, as can be seen in the pics below. The first time you see a set of images from the F707 you realise 2560 x 1920 pixels is a very large image, and the quality of the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens is immediately evident. Incredible detail is contained within the roughly 2Mb JPEG image which the camera stores on the Sony memory stick (at maximum quality), and the standard 16Mb stick will fit only eight such images. We used a 128MB stick to fit around 70 shots but the full story is even better.
As the 707 enables you to examine your pics, either through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen on the back of the camera, it's possible to cull the gallery to free memory space. You can therefore be rid of those Sunsets that don't work, or take half a dozen candid shots in search of a certain angle, choose the best and chuck the rest. Everyone got into this "polaroid" feature and when you're shooting a virtually unlimited roll of film, and seeing the results on-the-fly as you go, you get very good, very quick.
Couple this with the hologram laser focus assist, exposure metering, multi-pattern metering and TTL pre-flash exposure control plus the ability to control the exposure to the limit of your knowledge, and VIEW THE RESULTS, and you get a very versatile package. People who never thought of themselves as photographers were suddenly getting creative and more importantly, getting rewarded with fabulous pictures. Whoever used the 707, the result was invariably a full stick of red hot pics. It quickly became standard practice at social events to take the 128MB stick home, burn its contents to a CD-ROM, and give it to the host(ess) as a present to commemorate the event - all for a cost of around $1.00.
The other factor that contributed greatly to this was the battery life of the camera - even with liberal use of the LCD viewing screen to show off results to the throngs, there were very few occasions where the batteries didn't go the full distance, and they were invariably because the batteries weren't fully charged before the event.
Like most digital cameras these days, the 707 can be used in MPEG mode and capture a 320 x 240 movie at 16fps or 160 x 112 at 8fps - it's convenient if you want a quick mpeg for your web site, or you're in the right place at the right time and want to sell your movie to the TV News - but stick to video cameras for any other purpose.
The length of the clip is limited only by the capacity of the Memory Stick being used and the MPEGs chew up memory very fast. There's also a Clip Motion mode which is essentially designed for creating animated GIFs - it will take up to ten sequenced images (at 160 x 120 or 80 x 72) which can be processed into a small set of moving pictures ideal for a space-efficient animated GIF for your web site. Indeed, as we found over the last month or two, the 707 is an incredibly useful camera if you are in the web development business.
The 5X optical zoom has a 35mm equivalent of 38mm to 190mm, while the digital zoom is really a fop - it offers nothing you couldn't do with Photoshop after the dust has settled.
This offers a fairly flexible set up which although clumsy looking, fell easily to hand for everyone who used it. If you are a photography buff, you'll probably be lusting after one of the serious Canon or Nikon professional digital cameras - those cameras produce images much larger than the F707 but in most cases, that's the only major advantage. Right now, the 707 is one of the few cameras in the medium range which can take a professional quality picture, but won't set you back $10,000 plus. It took many of the pics in the first issue of the magazine and its technological features are worth reading up on, cos they're more than we have the time or the space to list in this review.
Infrared illuminators built into the front of the lens have also been added , enabling two new exposure modes:
1 - the NightShot mode is similar to that used on Sony camcorders and lights the shot with invisible infrared light, enabling image capture in total darkness. This is a very useful feature for candid photographs at parties without alerting the subjects with a flash - the quality is grainy and monochrome but the priceless shots it produces are ideal for capturing moments in time without destroying them. No doubt the functionality could be effectively used for blackmailers and surveillance too.
2 - the NightFrame mode allows shot composition (framing) with the infrared but uses normal color mode with the built-in flash to capture the final image.
The verdict: we liked it so much, we bought the camera - at full retail!
It will be the yardstick by which we judge other digital cameras and in the meantime, it takes many of the pics used in Gizmag's print magazine.