Conclusion - Pros

  • Still the best resolution of current five megapixel digital cameras
  • Improved colour response, far less "Sony like" and much more natural
  • Good dynamic range, exhibits good detail from shadow through to highlight
  • Low noise levels compared to other five megapixel digital cameras
  • Improved white balance options
  • Fast AF, improved ability to select AF area, low light AF good
  • Proportional by-wire zoom ring, works well
  • High quality, sharp and very fast (F2.0 - F2.4) 5x optical zoom lens (some macro distortion)
  • Flash Hot-shoe seems to work well with external flash in manual mode
  • Fast startup and operational times, short write times
  • Good selection of manual controls (although processing parameters missing)
  • Swivel body - you either love it or hate it
  • Well implemented manual focus (live view magnified, weighty, smooth focus ring)
  • EVF and LCD provide >98% frame view, High quality EVF
  • LCD anti-reflective coating
  • Live view and playback histogram (both very useful)
  • NightFraming feature is useful, NightShot of questionable use
  • Most camera controls / settings on exterior case of camera
  • Excellent long exposures (up to 30 seconds, including noise reduction)
  • Unlimited MPEG movies with audio (limited only by storage space)
  • USB 2.0 connectivity (measured at 1.2 MB/sec)
  • Well positioned tripod mount
  • Superb battery life, still the best we've tested
  • Excellent build quality

Conclusion - Cons

  • Storage capacity - Memory Stick still limited to 128 MB
  • No ability to control colour saturation, tone or noise reduction
  • No user settings / memories
  • Limited burst ability, very fast but only 3 frames
  • Visible sharpening 'white halo' around black lines
  • Visible lens distortion with wide angle macros
  • Some barrel distortion at wide angle
  • Only two JPEG compression levels
  • Auto / Program AE limited by minimum 1/30 sec shutter speed
  • TIFF file save locks camera during write operation
  • Some may not like the design, camera must be held unconventionally
  • No highlight indication in record or playback modes

Overall conclusion

Here's my rating of the Sony DSC-F717: (5 megapixel prosumer)

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Construction 9
Features 8
Image quality 9
Lens / CCD combination 9
Ease of use 8
Value for money 8

Sony could be accused of going down the easy 'product refresh' route, and indeed to a large degree the DSC-F717 is a 'refresh' of the DSC-F707. That said the DSC-F707 was such a good camera that the new DSC-F717 was bound to be good. Even a year on from my DSC-F707 review I find myself unable to name a new five megapixel prosumer digital camera which takes better pictures than the DSC-F717, and that is saying a lot.

The key to the success of the DSC-F707 and F717 is the flexibility and quality of that fast F2.0 - F2.4 five times optical zoom lens. It's sharp and fast with a trademark silent focus and zoom system which must be carried over from Sony's camcorder line. Sony has also proved that they listen to users, the F707 wasn't without its problems, a few of which were fixed in that model, the rest of which appear to have been addressed in the F717. Most notable is colour balance which is greatly improved, no more washed out and oversaturated reds, no more 'glowing greens', while these traits may have delivered more immediately 'pleasing' images on the F707 they certainly limited the amount of post-processing which could be carried out and were ultimately less accurate.

Other improvements such as the implementation of the zoom ring, live view histogram, selectable white balances, selectable AF areas, slow-sync flash and a flash Hot-shoe have improved the camera's feature set notably compared to the old camera. That said we can not ignore the fact that models such as Minolta's DiMAGE 7Hi and Nikon's Coolpix 5700 do have a more comprehensive and flexible feature set than the F717, this is something you may wish to consider.

The F717's biggest limitation must be storage. For whatever reason Sony haven't managed to keep up their promise of larger Memory Stick's. This means a maximum of 50 images on the largest capacity Memory Stick, not really acceptable considering the capacities and low price of Compact Flash (and soon also Secure Digital).

But, taking all this into account the DSC-F717 is still one of the best five megapixel prosumer digital cameras and certainly deserves a 'Highly Recommended' rating. Sony have done enough with this 'product refresh', they have not only added new software features and new hardware features but have also improved image quality and that makes the DSC-F717 one of the most attractive proposals for the price.

Highly Recommended

So which one should I buy? A question I get asked several times a day, and I wouldn't like to say. In a new addition to my reviews (after the amount of feedback I normally get) I've added a link to a specific forum in which you can discuss the review or ask me specific questions which I've not answered in these pages.

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