First Thoughts on the Sony F828

As a background, I've been fortunate to try various consumer digicams over the years, starting with a 640x480 Sony digicam at the dawn of the consumer digicam age. While I have had some hands-on experience with DSLR's, I don't have extensive experience with 'em, nor am I "professional" photographer. I'm just a computer "geek/jock" who enjoys shooting pictures, especially of his family.

My primary digicam for the last year or so has been the Canon G3. I played around with a G5 for a bit, but felt the G3 was actually a superior camera in terms of image quality (less noise) and also noticeably quicker in terms of shutter release and general operation - heck, even my wife noticed it was slower! ;-) You can read more about that here. I've also played around with various Nikon models over the years; and a few other models.

I was fortunate to be get to play with an eight megapixel Sony F828 for several weeks; which included a week in Hawaii with family - so plenty of outdoor shooting. Note that while more megapixels (IF all else is equal) is a good thing, speed/useability/noise of the digicam are more significant issues for me. I've read various reviews on the various Internet sites - one of the best that seems to closely match my experience was the Luminous Landscape review titled "A Flawed Jewel" ... which captures my thoughts too; as noted below, it's a nice digicam, but some simple things could be fixed that would certainly help the shooting experience.

To me, this is a "crossover" digicam - unlike most consumer digicams that I have used, you manually rotate the barrel for zoom and (optionally) focus rather than use levels/motors. While I grew to like this a LOT, it makes for a bigger digicam, so there is a trade-off with portability. Note that the lens is not removeable like an SLR, although the 28-200mm covers a pretty nice range.

In summary, I like this digicam ... I REALLY like it ... has been fun to shoot with and takes great pictures - I've done 10X15" blowups ($2.99 at Costco - hard to beat, eh?!?) that look just awesome - check out this picture of my dad teeing off on the 13th hole at Kaneouhe Marine Golf Course, Hawaii. In fairness, I have not had any hands-on experience with the other soon-to-be-released 8MP prosumer digicams from Canon, Nikon, etc., and I expect those to also be fairly impressive, but Sony has done an impressive job with the first entry in the 8MP digicam race and with the manual zoom/focus, has some semi-unique useability features ... although with just a little bit of work, they could have really nailed it IMHO. So in semi-random order, here are some of my personal thoughts/comments/ramblings on the Sony F828:

  1. Camera has a nice feel - fits well in a single hand, and with some work, you can maniulate buttons if your other hand is carrying something else; like your golf driver as I was ... and I didn't feel it would slip out of my hands. With two hands in shooting mode, everything just "fits" as your left hand slides over the barrel and you are ready to go.
  2. 28-200mm zoom is GREAT ... about time someone added more wide-angle! I assume hard to do from an optics point-of-view, but I've wanted more wide-angle for a long time, and happy to give up some top-end zoom; "big gun digicams" are overrated unless you are doing wildlife/sports/etc.
  3. Manual zoom (and focus if selected) is very nice/fast/precise/intuitive. While this makes for a larger form factor (versus tucking the lens inside), I found this clearly superior than fiddling with tele/wide/focus levers. The manual zoom ends up being very useful in movie mode, as the auto-focus would sometime "hunt" a bit on long range shots - ditto for some ocean and/or sky shots where there is sometimes lack of contrast.
  4. In terms of image quality, I thought it was overall darn good - colors were pretty good IMHO, and the "Standard color" setting seemed to add a nice saturation without too much Disney effect for ocean shots; although I mostly shot in "Real color" mode. I shoot JPEG fine, and the resulting file sizes were 3+ MBytes - these "seemed" kinda big and typically 3 times as large as the 4 megapixel Canon G3 pictures.
  5. In terms of noise, I was totally spoiled playing around with a friend's Canon 10D and 300D - the complete lack of noise on these is amazing! However, I didn't feel the Sony was excessive in good light (I force set the ISO to the lowest value) and the images will print fine. I did a few test shots at ISO 800 just for grins and these are REALLY noisey. BTW, marketing folks might have you believe that megapixels are everything, but the quality of the six megapixel Canon DSLR's versus the eight megapixel Sony clearly show how sensor size and other factors make a BIG difference.
  6. I did see some purple fringing, but it was not noticeable except in very high contrast pictures (as expected) and I didn't find it objectionable except for one picture that in fairness was a real torture test - directly into Sun shining through tree leaves.
  7. Movie mode is GREAT and very smooth (I'm used to 320X240). Every digicam these days should be able to shoot at least 640X480 30fps! And the ability to manually zoom (and focus) as the movie is being shot is VERY useful.
  8. Related to that is Continuous shooting mode - while the 828 was kinda nice that it could do 7 frame at FULL image size, what was lame IMHO was that if I reduced the image size (even to VGA!), it would still only do a total of 7 frames. When I was shooting family on the boogie board in the waves, this was somewhat limiting - seems with a little bit of smarts/buffering, you ought to be able to increase this number at lower resolution - the Canon G3 could shoot over 50 frames if I scaled back to VGA resolution - seems like with a little bit of logic and buffering, I could not only increase the number of frames, but ideally the frame rate which should be selectable. And start writing the output right away - it takes "forever" to write those 7 images to the memory card since I think it doesn't write until they are all over.
  9. The F828 has a 16-frame burst mode that has selectable rates (good!) down to 1/30 of a second between frames. GREAT for golf swing analysis; but resolution is marginal - per comments above, a little more resolution, or more frames (if slower frame rate selected) would be nice - I find it hard to believe this is not doable with minor software tweeks.
  10. Shutter speed (and auto-focus) is FAST ... next to Canon 10D/300D, it's the fastest I've seen ... and I LIKED it - very addicting and it would be hard to go back to a SLLOOOWWWWW digicam.
  11. Ditto for power-up (no need to extend lens, so ready fairly quickly). One suggestion would be add a "standby" mode so that when you hit the power, it's ready PDQ!
  12. If not obvious allready, I like my camera to be waiting for me ... not me waiting for it. The manufactureres should take a break from the megapixel wars and place more emphasis on speed of the camera. A lot of this can be done in software by making "smart" use of the memory buffer so control is returned to the user, not only in shoot mode, but also playback.
  13. I liked the EVF ... a lot! I was initially turned off on EVF's by the Nikon 5700 - when you shot a picture, the EVF blanked out for like a half second ... which made it basically worthless for sports/action photography - you could not track stuff. The Sony is MUCH quicker ... and the ability to see/adjust camera settings while staying glued to the target was quite useful at times. Would be nice if the black-out period was reduced ever more though.
  14. Having said the above, I found myself checking images on the LCD, lifting the camera to shoot ... and then realizing I had not switched to viewfinder mode. Add a third option to the switch ("Auto") which detect if your eyeball is at the viewfinder and switch for me. This is a major useability issue!
  15. I like the swivel feature ... although I'm still partial to Canon's approach which swivels the LCD screen and is more flexible IMHO.
  16. You can set time delay for self-portrait ... but only 10 seconds is available. Canon allows 10 or 2 ... later ends up being useful for hands-off shutter releases - should be easy software fix to make this selectable.
  17. Remove playback as a seperate "hard" mode. I.e. I should ALWAYS be ready to shoot when I press that shutter release - but if I put it in playback mode, that it NOT the case. Yes, I can review the last picture while in shoot mode, but that's not enough. This would require a re-design, but is another major useability issue.
  18. Maybe I have been spoiled/used-to Canon, but the Sony F828 playback just seemed like more work to me and the button placement is awkward. It also wasn't as fast as the Canon, plus only doing 5X doesn't allow for precise viewing - just do 10X as Canon does - easy software change to at least change to 10X and cut-out the decimal zoom stuff - just let me zoom in/out FAST. Would be more work on the button placement and user interface stuff is always hard since lots of opinions on that. I did grow to like the Sony's button left/right/top/bottom/push; but found reaching for the initial magnify button to be a reach.
  19. BTW, the playback between images was MUCH faster than the Canon and is a great thing when doing slide shows to the family on the TV screen; there is no excuse NOT to do this since the digicam should buffer before/after images while viewing the current one.
  20. F828 allows you to preview (or not preview) images after the shot. But the duration of the preview time is fixed ... whereas the Canon allows you to adjust the number of seconds for preview which is better; easy software fix.
  21. F828 has a fixed "power off" time of 3 minutes, whereas the Canon allows the user to select this time - again, much better/flexible; easy software fix.
  22. You can only adjust the Flash to Low/Normal/High, whereas the Canon provides more granualarity which is useful - easy software fix.
  23. Oh yeah, almost forgot about the Night Shot/Night Framing. I didn't use this much in sunny Hawaii, but I did play around with it a bit and this is pretty handy/nifty - I can see the Night Framing being especially useful for shooting cute pictures of sleeping kids.