Sony Digital Cameras

Due in large part to the company's reputation for quality in consumer electronics, Sony digital cameras rank among the most popular models world-wide. From the pocket-sized DSC-P72 to the high-end F828, Sony cameras offer a range of prices and features. On this page you can view ratings, features, and prices of the Sony digital camera line.
 

Encompassing the most popular Sony digital cameras, the Cybershot line ranges from tiny 2-megapixel point and shoots to the advanced 5-megapixel DSC-F717. With new models continually being added, the CyberShot lineup is representative of the latest Sony technology. Check back frequently to see reviews and pricing for the rest of Sony's Cybershot digital camera line.
 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F88 Digital Camera

Sony Digital Cameras Camera QuickLook
By
Dave Etchells
Review Date
09/01/2004
User Level

Novice

Product Uses

Family / Travel / Special Events

Digicam Design

Point and Shoot

Picture Quality
Great, 5.1-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Up to sharp 11x14s
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)

$449


Introduction


The Sony digital camera DSC-F88 is one of the latest Sony Cyber-shot digital cameras, dramatically advancing the flip lens design seen previously in the DSC-F55 and F55DX. The DSC-F88 uses the lens and sensor technology first developed for Sony's DSC-T1, the ultra-compact assembly letting Sony pack a 5 megapixel sensor, 3x Carl Zeiss zoom lens and an optical viewfinder into a surprisingly small, swiveling lens assembly molded to fit the smooth curve of the camera's top. In addition to the 5.1 megapixel CCD and 3x zoom lens, the Sony F88 offers an optional full manual exposure mode, no fewer than 10 preset scene modes, and PictBridge support for direct photo printing without the need for a computer. All in all, an impressive collection of features and capabilities in a surprisingly compact and stylish package, easy to use for beginners, but with the exposure control that advanced users crave. Read on for all the details!

 Camera Overview

With its thin body and clever rotating lens design, the Cyber-shot DSC-F88 presents yet another twist in Sony's innovative Cyber-shot digicam line. While the idea of a rotating lens is nothing new, Sony's implementation of the concept has evolved to handle changing consumer needs and camera attributes. With the DSC-F88, the rotating component of the camera is oriented horizontally and very compact, so it protrudes only slightly from the front panel in its operating position. Thus, the DSC-F88 has small, pocket-friendly dimensions (at least for larger coat and shirt pockets), while offering the benefit a 300-degree lens rotation. The lens component also acts as a power switch, activating the camera when rotated from its "stowed" position. The camera's thin, almost square shape and control layout take a little getting used to, but the DSC-F88's operation becomes intuitive fairly quickly. Because the lens front can be neatly stowed away, there's no need for a lens cap, as the lens is protected by the camera body when closed. The DSC-F88's 3x zoom lens features automatic focus control, with several fixed focus settings available, as well as an adjustable focus area. The 5.1-megapixel Super HAD CCD produces high resolution, print quality images, with a range of lower resolutions available as well. Combine this with the availability of both manual and automatic exposure control, a large selection of preset "scene" modes, and the quality of the Cyber-shot line, and the DSC-F88 is an excellent choice for novices and more experienced users alike.

The DSC-F88 is equipped with a 3x, 6.7-20.1mm internal-zoom lens, equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera (a slightly conservative wide angle to a moderate telephoto). Normal focus ranges from approximately 19.7 inches (50 centimeters) to infinity, with a Macro setting that lets you get within 3.1 inches (8 centimeters) when the lens is zoomed to its wide angle position, and 9.8 inches (25 centimeters) at its telephoto setting. The DSC-F88 also offers a Magnifying Glass preset scene mode, which lets you focus on objects as close as 0.4 inches (1 centimeter). In addition to automatic focus control, the DSC-F88 offers a range of fixed focus settings through the Record menu, as well as Center AF and five-point Multipoint AF focus area options. You can also choose Single or Monitoring AF modes through the Setup menu. (In Monitoring AF mode, the camera continuously adjusts focus as the subject moves.) An AF illuminator lamp on the front of the camera helps focus at low light levels, a very useful tool in poorly-lit surroundings. The DSC-F88 employs Sony's "Smart Zoom" technology, which offers a maximum of 4x digital zoom. According to Sony, Smart Zoom lets you digitally enlarge the image without any significant loss of image quality. It does this by avoiding resampling of the cropped image, limiting the amount of zoom available based on the currently selected image size. The DSC-F88 also features Sony's Precision Digital Zoom, to a maximum of 2x. Only one digital zoom mode is available at a time, and the setting is made through the Setup menu. Keep in mind though, that any form of digital zoom trades off image resolution for magnification. For composing images, the Sony F88 offers a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.8-inch, color LCD monitor with adjustable backlight setting and live histogram display mode.

Exposure can be automatically or manually controlled on the DSC-F88, meeting the needs of novices and casual users looking for simplicity, as well as those of more advanced digital photographers. An On/Off button on the side of the camera powers the camera on, or you can simply turn the lens to face forward. A Mode dial quickly selects between Playback, Auto, Program AE, Manual, Scene, Setup, and Movie modes. The Automatic setting turns the F88 into a pure "point & shoot," removing all user control, with the exception of flash, macro, and resolution. Program mode keeps exposure control automatic, but you now have control over all other exposure variables. The Manual setting is a full manual exposure control mode, letting you adjust both aperture and shutter speed using the arrow keys of the Four-Way Arrow pad. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 30 seconds, depending on the exposure mode. Scene mode offers a nice selection of preset shooting modes for special situations, including Magnifying Glass, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, High Speed Shutter, and Candle modes.

 

The Record menu offers additional exposure options, including White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Incandescent settings), Exposure Compensation (+/-2 exposure equivalents, EV, in one-third-step increments), Spot Metering, and ISO (Auto, 100, 200, and 400 equivalents). The DSC-F88 also offers a Picture Effects option, which lets you record images in black and white or sepia monotones. Image sharpness, contrast, and saturation settings are also available, increasing the camera's flexibility. The DSC-F88's flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync modes, with an adjustable intensity setting. (The Red-Eye Reduction setting is enabled through the camera's Setup menu.)

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures either 640 x 480-, or 160 x 112-pixel resolution moving images with sound for as long as the memory card has available storage space. (Sony has been one of the leaders in continuous video recording in digicams.) A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the time that the camera actually takes the picture, giving the photographer time to run around and get into the picture. Also available on the DSC-F88 are Burst and Multi Burst modes. Standard Burst mode captures a series of nine images at approximately 1.6 frames per second while the Shutter button is held down (depending of course on the resolution and quality settings, and the amount of memory card space). Multi Burst mode captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a selectable rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second. Multi Burst shots are played back as a slow-motion animation on the camera, but appear as a single large file with 16 sub-images in it when viewed on a computer. (This is a great tool for analyzing golf and tennis swings.)

The DSC-F88 stores images on Sony Memory Sticks, available separately in capacities as large as one gigabyte. A 32MB Memory Stick comes with the camera, but I'd recommend also purchasing a larger capacity card so you don't miss any shots. For power, the DSC-F88 uses a single NP-FR1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, but does not come with a battery charger. Instead, the included AC adapter can charge the battery in-camera, and is also useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images. I'd recommend picking up and additional battery and charger, and keeping one battery freshly-charged and on-hand. The DSC-F88 features a Video Out jack, for connecting to a television set, and a USB jack for downloading images to a computer. (A USB multi-cable is included for connections to computers and printers.) A software CD is loaded with Picture Package and Cyber-shot Life for Windows users, and Pixela Image Mixer VCD2 software for the Macintosh, enabling image downloading and organizing. USB drivers are also included, though on Windows Me, 2000, or XP computers, or Macs running OS 8.6 to 9.2, no separate USB driver software is needed. The camera shows up on the desktop automatically when it is plugged in.

Basic Features

  • 5.1-megapixel Super HAD CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.8-inch color LCD monitor with backlight.
  • Glass, 3x zoom lens, equivalent to 38-114mm on a 35mm camera.
  • Maximum aperture of f/3.5 - f/4.2, depending on lens zoom position.
  • As much as 4x digital "Smart Zoom," and 2x Precision Digital Zoom.
  • Automatic and full manual exposure control.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 30 seconds.
  • Built-in flash with five modes and adjustable intensity.
  • Memory Stick storage, 32MB card included.
  • USB computer interface and supplied multi-cable.
  • Power supplied by a single lithium-ion battery pack or included AC adapter.
  • Picture Package, Cyber-shot Life, and Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with sound recording.
  • 10 preset "scene" modes.
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Picture Effects menu with Black-and-White and Sepia effects.
  • Macro (close-up) lens setting.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with five modes.
  • Burst and Multi Burst continuous shooting modes.
  • Multi-Pattern and Spot metering modes.
  • Sensitivity setting with three ISO equivalents (100, 200, 400) and an Auto setting.
  • Five (optional) fixed focus settings.
  • Adjustable autofocus area and mode.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • Video cable for connection to a television set.


Recommendation
Leveraging the lens technology originally developed for the DSC-T1, the DSC-F88 is a surprisingly full-featured digital camera in a very compact package. Unlike some subcompact models, the F88 sports both optical and LCD viewfinders, the optical viewfinder coming in handy in bright lighting. The horizontal rotating lens is efficient and low-profile, keeping the camera compact and easy to use. The DSC-F88 offers the convenience of point-and-shoot simplicity, combined with more advanced features to tackle more challenging situations (low light, fast action, etc.). The 5.1-megapixel Super HAD CCD delivers high quality images, appropriate for any use from printing to distributing via e-mail, and its compact design makes it a good candidate for travel. Overall, the DSC-F88 is a good choice for anyone wanting a capable, portable camera that takes good photos in a variety of circumstances. It would be a good choice for anyone looking for a camera that could be shared by both advanced and novice users.

 Design

With its compact body and versatile rotating lens design, the DSC-F88 is yet another evolution in the Sony Cyber-shot line. The lens component rotates 300 degrees, enabling you to take pictures at a variety of angles. (I can see where this would be useful for snapping images above a crowd, or getting around obstacles such as fences, signs, etc.) More significant than the simple fact that the lens element rotates though, is that it also incorporates an optical viewfinder, unusual to find in such a small rotating element. The camera's sleek, smooth styling is free from any significant protrusions when the lens is stowed, and the lens projects less than half an inch beyond the front of the camera in its front-facing position. The DSC-F88's dimensions of 3.8 x 3 x 1.06 inches (98 x 74 x 26 millimeters) makes it just small enough to fit into larger shirt pockets, as well as most coat pockets and purses. (It's about the same size as a typical men's wallet.) The all-plastic body keeps the DSC-F88 light weight as well, at just 5.7 ounces (163 grams) with batteries and memory card.

Sony Digital Cameras

The front of the DSC-F88 is flat when the lens is closed, with only a very small raised ridge of a finger grip on the right (viewed with the camera facing away from you) and the camera's tiny microphone just beneath the Sony logo. With the lens facing forward, the flash, optical viewfinder window, and Self-Timer / AF Illuminator LED are also visible.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) are the battery / memory card compartment, Mode dial, and Power button. A sliding plastic door protects the compartment, which locks into place to prevent it from accidentally flying open while shooting. The outside edge of the Mode dial features a textured surface, making it easy to turn the dial with your right thumb and forefinger while holding the camera in shooting position.

The opposite side of the camera features only the DC In connector jack, beneath a flexible, rubbery flap that remains tethered to the camera.

The DSC-F88's top panel is rounded when the lens element is closed, with the optical viewfinder window and LEDs recessed into the left side. The Shutter button remains fixed on the right side when the lens swivels. A series of ridges on the top of the lens component makes it easy to turn with your right thumb, though you'll need your right fingers to complete the turn.

Sony Digital Cameras

The remaining few camera controls are on the back panel, along with the 1.8-inch LCD monitor. When the lens faces forward, the optical viewfinder window is also visible from the rear panel. Three LED lamps next to the optical viewfinder report camera status, indicating when focus is set or the flash is charging. A series of raised bumps in the upper right corner provide a thumb grip. Below these is the Zoom rocker button. The Display, Menu, and Image Size / Erase buttons surround the Four Way Arrow pad, which dominates the right portion of the rear panel. Also visible is the eyelet for attaching the wrist strap, in the lower right corner.

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the DSC-F88's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the DSC-F88's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge!

  • Color: Good color overall, slight oversaturation about average for consumer cameras. A little trouble with incandescent lighting, but not too bad. The DSC-F88 produced good color overall, with accurate hue and the slight oversaturation that's typical of consumer digicams. Skin tones were natural (though slightly warm), and the blue flowers of the bouquet in the Outdoor Portrait were only a little darker and more purplish than in real life. The Auto white balance setting typically produced good results, though it couldn't handle the very warm-hued incandescent lighting in the Indoor Portrait shot. The Incandescent setting also produced warm results indoors, but within what I'd consider to be an acceptable range. Colors were pretty accurate in the large color blocks of the Davebox, with only the red swatch being significantly oversaturated.

     
  • Exposure: Generally good exposure accuracy, slightly less exposure compensation required than average. The DSC-F88 handled my test lighting quite well, accurately exposing most shots. It underexposed the very high-key "outdoor" portrait shot slightly at the default setting, but a relatively small amount of positive exposure compensation brightened the midtones without sacrificing too much highlight detail. The Indoor Portrait (without flash) also required less than average exposure compensation, though the flash exposure needed a boost in intensity. The DSC-F88 had no trouble distinguishing the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target of the Davebox, and shadow detail was often pretty good. However, on the outdoor house shot, the exposure was so bright that highlight detail was lost in the brightest areas, limiting the dynamic range.

     
  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,300 lines of "strong detail." The DSC-F88 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height vertically, and about 800 lines horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,500 lines.

     
  • Image Noise: Lower than average image noise for a compact 5-megapixel model. While some noise was visible in the F88's images, even at ISO 100, noise levels increase relatively slowly with increasing ISO, and even at ISO 400, the image noise is within what I would consider to be the acceptable range. ("Acceptable" will depend a lot on your own personal tastes though, so check my test photos to see what you think of it yourself.)

     
  • Closeups: A small macro area with good detail. The flash throttles down pretty well, but is off-center for the closest shots. The DSC-F88 performed pretty well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 2.34 x 1.75 inches (59 x 45 millimeters). Resolution was very high, showing a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Corner softness was strong in the two upper corners of the frame. The DSC-F88's flash throttled down quite well for the macro area, fooled by the direct reflection from the brooch into underexposing the image slightly overall. A bigger issue was that the flash was a bit too far to one side of the lens to provide even illumination for the very closest photos. (Plan on using external lighting for your closest shots.) Still though, a very good macro performance for a compact digicam.

     
  • Night Shots: Surprisingly good low-light performance, with good color, focusing, and exposure, even at very low light levels. With a maximum exposure time of 30 seconds, the DSC-F88 is well-equipped for low-light shooting. The camera produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all four ISO settings. (Actually, the shot was slightly dim at the 1/16 foot-candle setting at ISO 100, though you could arguably still use the image.) Image noise was low at ISOs 100 and 200, though it became quite visible at ISO 400. Still, results were better than average even at ISO 400.

     
  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but nearly accurate LCD monitor. The DSC-F88's optical viewfinder was quite tight, showing only about 78 percent of the final frame at wide angle, and about 84 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved much more accurate, though the bottom lines of measurement were cut off and I couldn't measure the exact accuracy. Still, frame accuracy was much closer to 100 percent, which is generally where I prefer LCD monitors to be.

     
  • Optical Distortion: Higher than average barrel and pincushion distortion. Optical distortion on the DSC-F88 was high at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 1.14 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared only slightly better, as I measured a 0.61 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was very low, showing only about two or three pixels of very faint coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The camera's images were also quite sharp from corner to corner, with relatively little of the softening in the corners that is so common in digicam lenses.

     
  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Surprising speed for a compact digicam! Overall, the DSC-F88 is a surprisingly fast camera, particularly so given its compact size. Because it doesn't have to wait for its lens to telescope in or out, it starts up and shuts down quite quickly. When running, its shutter lag numbers are very good, with full-autofocus lag times of 0.43 - 0.68 second, and prefocus delays of only 0.016 second. Shot to shot cycle times are good, if not blazing, at 1.8 seconds between shots in large/fine mode. - But the buffer memory never seems to fill, so you can shoot at that pace all day long (or until your memory card fills). Continuous-mode speed is good if unspectacular at just right around 1.1 frames/second, but buffer capacity is very good at 9 frames that quickly before you have to wait for the memory card to catch up. Although its images are rather small, "Multiburst" mode is great for studying things like golf and tennis swings, with its blazing speed, ranging from 7.5 - 30 frames/second. All in all, surprising speed, particularly for a compact digicam.

     
  • Battery Life: Really excellent battery life, particularly for a compact model. With a worst-case run time (capture mode, with the LCD turned on) of nearly 200 minutes with a fully-charged battery, and run time of nearly 400 minutes in playback mode, the DSC-F88's battery life is little short of amazing for such a compact camera model. I almost always advise readers to purchase a second battery along with their cameras, but in the case of the F88, you may very well be able to get away without one.


Conclusion

Sony's Cyber-shot line of digicams have consistently offered a winning combination of build quality and image quality, with feature sets that satisfy a range of interests from novice to enthusiast. The DSC-F88 delivers exceptional capability in a very compact package, with good to excellent image quality, a sharp lens, good color accuracy, lower than average image noise, surprisingly long battery life, and an amazing macro capability. The light weight, smooth profile, and excellent battery life all make the DSC-F88 a superb traveling companion. Its dead-simple full-auto mode and rich set of 10 preprogrammed scene modes make it a good choice for novices, while its optional full-manual mode, saturation and contrast adjustments and 30-second maximum exposure time offer the sort of control craved by enthusiast shooters. All in all, a great camera for all-around use, travel, use by families with both novice and expert shooters, or for duty as a "second" camera for the pro or advanced amateur.
 

 

 

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