Price: £796.96 plus VAT
Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-F707 is by no means cheap, but it’s probably the most full-featured digital camera we’ve ever tested. The highlights are: 5-megapixel CCD, 5:1 optical zoom f/2 lens, infrared night-vision capability with built-in infrared lamp, and a laser rangefinder. The Sony F707 is related to the earlier 2.6-megapixel DSC-F505, but is essentially a brand-new model with a lens that can illuminate a full 5.0mp CCD, a new LCD monitor, and an electronic viewfinder. The ISO range is improved to 100-400, and there’s a new noise-reduction feature. As usual with Sony cameras, construction quality is excellent (the structure is magnesium alloy), and the attention to detail is amazing. The rear body rotates up and down, allowing you to angle the monitor and viewfinder. Maximum output resolution is 2,560-x-1,920 pixels (4.92mp), with several lower settings available. A burst mode can take up to three shots at 0.5-second intervals, with the option of bracketing the exposures. On top of that, you get 320-x-240-pixel MPEG video and sound recording with playback. The lens is a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar unit equivalent to 38-190mm (the wide-angle end is limited, but a £100 0.7x adaptor lens is available). The big ring at the front is used for manual focus, when the screen preview jumps to 200 per cent to help you judge sharpness, and there’s a power zoom rocker switch on the lens barrel. This has fast and slow positions, which is useful. If you use autofocus in low light conditions, the camera shows one of its tricks: it projects a bright red (but eye-safe) Hologram AF laser range-finding pattern onto the subject. A sophisticated 49-point metering pattern means that auto-exposure usually works well, but there are centre-weighted and spot-metering alternatives. Exposure modes include aperture and shutter priority, manual, and program. The control set is a bit strange, though: everything you need is there, but the buttons and I/O sockets are scattered all over the place. The 1.8-inch LCD monitor is clear and includes an effective anti-reflection coating, but the on-screen menus are too small for easy reading. The secondary eye-level electronic viewfinder is better than most. NightShot is one of this camera’s unusual features: it lets you shoot in total darkness. The system flips up the internal infrared blocking filter, making the CCD extremely sensitive to infrared light. Two IR lamps in the lens barrel project an invisible beam that illuminates the subject over surprisingly long ranges. It works extremely well, and you see the image in the viewfinder and the subsequent photograph with an eerie green glow. Shutter speeds might be a bit low for moving subjects, though. Another setting – Night Framing – displays the IR image on the monitor to aim the camera in total darkness, then takes a conventional flash exposure. The built-in pop-up flash is reasonable for its class, and there’s a flashgun bracket above the lens, but no electrical contacts. The battery is a big Li-ion unit that can be charged inside the camera. Its capacity is good, though you might want to carry a fully charged spare. Unfortunately, Sony supplies only one 16MB Memory Stick card. This is pathetically inadequate for a 5mp camera, as it holds only five full-resolution images with ‘fine’ compression. Software includes a USB driver, MGI PhotoSuite III and VideoWave III SE for Windows, and PhotoSuite SE 1.1 for Macintosh.