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Digital Camera Review: Sony DSC-F828
Posted by: Dale Franks on Saturday, December 18, 2004

Since there seems to be a lot of people in the blogosphere talking about digital cameras today, I thought I'd throw my two cents in about my camera, the Sony DSC-F828.

The F828 is an 8 megapixel prosumer camera, and it's the first one that replaces the three-color RGB chip with a new four-color RGEB imaging system. In addition to the regular Green color receptor, the F828 also has an additional Emerald color receptor that helps it render truer color for the green-blue portion of the spectrum.

The lens is Sony's "Carl Zeiss" optics system, which gives you a much better set of optics than the usual consumer digital camera. Having said that, however, it's not quite as sharp as the optical setup you'll get with a full-fledged digital SLR. Still, it's a combination wide-angle/Zoom lens with a 28mm-200mm optical range, giving it a 7x optical zoom. On top of that, there's a 10x digital zoom, which works very well, giving you quite a versatile range. The optical zoom works manually, rather than with a zoom button, allowing you to zoom much more quickly than most digital cameras. The lens has an aperture that ranges from f2.8 to f8.0.

The construction is fairly heavy duty, and it fits the hand well, making it comfortable to use, with good ergonomics. Additionally, the body swivels, allowing you to hold the camera well above or below eye-level, while simply swiveling the body to see the LCD viewfinder. In addition to the external LCD screen, the camera comes with a traditional viewfinder, which is a real plus when shooting in daylight.

The F828 has a variety of operating modes, ranging from full-program to fully manual, with a variety of option in between including shutter and f-stop priorities. Additionally, it has a macro shooting mode for close-ups, and a variety of scene modes for different conditions such as scenery, portraits, night, etc. It also has 3-shot and 6 shot burst modes, for action shots, as well as a bracketing option for the burst modes, so that you can automatically bracket the exposure time and aperture for a shot.

The built-in flash has the common failing of most built-in flashes, which is that it's so close to the lens that portraits taken with it usually result in significant red-eye. There's a red-eye reduction mode for the built-in flash though, and the camera also has a standard hot-shoe mount so that you can use an external flash. The built-in flash has three different light levels, which adds a little versatility as well.

The camera operates quickly, and is ready to shoot within 1.5 seconds of turning it on, using a CompactFlash type II card, and in about 1 second using the Sony MemoryStick Pro. When not using the burst mode, time between shots is about 1-2 seconds in regular lighting conditions. In low light, the processing time for a picture varies widely, but in general, processing time for a single shot is about equal to the shutter speed, i.e., a picture taken with an 8-second exposure takes about 8 seconds to process.

As I just mentioned, the F828 takes both CF cards and MemoryStick pro as storage media, with a maximum size of 2GB per card. I use a Hitachi 2GB MicroDrive as my primary storage card, and a 1GB CompactFlash card as the backup. The only real difference between using the two types of media is that, when shooting video, the camera can store high-resolution MPEG video on the MemoryStick, but only standard MPEG video on the CF card. A 1 GB memory card will store about 30 minutes of MPEG video.

Photos can be stored in a variety of formats, including TIFF and RAW formats, but the standard photo format is a high-resolution JPG image measuring 3264x2448 pixels. JPG images usually take up about 2.5MB to 3.5MB per picture giving you about 260 pictures per 1GB of storage. TIFF and RAW photos take up much more space, of course, and RAW format photos are quite large. A 1GB storage card will yield about 70 RAW images, but doing darkroom-type manipulation with RAW images yields much better, sharper results.

All this comes with a price tag of just under $1,000.

I like this camera a lot. I do a lot more than just snapshots of the family, so I need a more versatile and feature-packed camera than the run of the mill digital. But, while I need a lot of the features that you usually get on an SLR, I'm not really interested in spending $2,500+ on a full-scale digital SLR. The Digital SLRs that are in my price range, like the D70 or D100 are only 6 megapixels, which isn't quite the resolution I want. Moreover, I already have a Yashica FX-7 film SLR with a full range of lenses, and going the SLR route would not only require buying an expensive SLR, but also spending additional thousands on lenses.

The F828, therefore, gives me great value. It has the features usually only found on more expensive cameras, but at a price that's reasonable enough to make it a real value. It's an extremely fun camera to use, and being able to override the program mode and go to full manual makes it extremely versatile.

There are two problems that you have to be aware of before you rush right out and buy one, however. The F828 allows you to set the ISO manually, or to allow the camera to automatically select the ISO, which runs from a film speed of 64, out to 800. But, at higher ISO settings, the image quality degrades substantially, producing a high level of noise in the picture. As a practical matter, for most purposes this restricts you to using an ISO setting of 64 or 100, and maybe 200 at the outside. If you are going to use the images for online purposes, like I do, then resizing the image to a web-friendly size evens out and eliminates a lot of the noise, but for high-res images, you're really restricted to 64 ISO. If you're like me, and you're happy to lug a tripod around for low-light conditions, then it's not that big of a problem. If you shoot hand-held all the time, though, you'll find that this requires a lot of extra time in the "darkroom", equalizing the image and filtering in Photoshop to get rid of the noise.

Second is what I call the "halo problem". When shooting in low light, light sources in the picture, like streetlights, display an irritating artifact of these odd purple halos that appear at the edges of the light source. The whiter the light, the more noticeable the halo is. This is a little irritating, though it's by no means a show-stopper. But you have to be aware of it, and compose your shots to minimize the halo effect.

With those limitations in mind, you can still take some really great shots with this camera. It's versatile and reasonably priced for the quality and features it provides. It's definitely not for the novice though. To really get the use you need out of it, you need to be at the journeyman prosumer level. If you're looking for a near-SLR quality camera, without having to shell out $2,000 for an entry level SLR, flash and lenses, the DSC-F828 is a pretty good way to go.
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