• Price: £765

  • Company: Sony

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Most digital cameras are rather boxy in shape, so Sony’s higher end cameras are a little different. The DSC-F828 – like its predecessor, the 5-megapixel DSC-F717 – is L-shaped, thanks to its massive lens barrel to one side at the front. The two sections of the unit 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 foldout LCD panels – you can turn the body so that the viewfinder can be seen from nearly any angle, for easier low-angle shots.

Most digital cameras are rather boxy in shape, so Sony’s higher end cameras are a little different. The DSC-F828 – like its predecessor, the 5-megapixel DSC-F717 – is L-shaped, thanks to its massive lens barrel to one side at the front. The two sections of the unit 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 foldout LCD panels – you can turn the body so that the viewfinder can be seen from nearly any angle, for easier low-angle shots.

The DSC-F828 boasts a black finish – standard for advanced cameras – and Sony’s four-colour CCD. The F828 was the first camera to use this chip, but others are now available, including Nikon’s Coolpix 8700, reviewed on page 52. According to Sony, the CCD should record more-accurate blues, blue-greens, and reds – in other words, colour reproduction 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.

However, Sony’s claims in terms of colour accuracy were not backed up by our testing. Our image-quality tests, taken with the camera’s default, automatic settings, had generally accurate exposures and colours, and with the flash on, the camera did a fine job of reproducing skin tones. However, the photos of our daylight-balanced, floodlit still life were less impressive. Whites were a bit off, and reds and yellows looked muted.

The new green pixel seems to do little for the colour quality. In deliberately green-heavy testing, the green looked a little less vibrant than the real thing. In this instance, calibrating the white balance offered no improvement, and both JPEG and RAW settings offered similarly disappointing results.

On the other hand, the F828 stands out in terms of image sharpness. The camera’s 8-x-10-inch prints looked sharper than any of those produced by competing advanced cameras. The camera’s 8-megapixel CCD obviously plays a part, with some help from the high-quality Zeiss T* lens.

Barrel of laughs

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 fixed-lens digital cameras.

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 labelled, it will take some time using the camera before your fingers automatically find them.

Sony has adopted an on-screen carousel of choices – a navigation system first seen on Olympus cameras. 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 – the F828 lacks the kind of custom user settings found in competing cameras from Olympus, Nikon, and Canon. These can be useful for quickly setting the camera for different shooting situations.

There are some ergonomic irritations too. For example, you can’t disable the automatic power-off function, and you have to manually flip a switch to change from the electronic eye-level viewfinder to the LCD panel, but these are minor gripes. It’s a shame it doesn’t deliver on its enhanced colour claims, but ultimately the F828 is a solid performer.