Operation and controls

Although ostensibly a point-and-shoot 'snapper', the Cyber-shot F88 has a fair amount of control on offer, though - as is increasingly the case with this kind of camera - the emphasis is much more on scene modes than real photographic control. That said, a fully manual mode offers control over shutter speeds (30 secs to 1/500th) and apertures (F3.5 to F8 at the wide end, F4.2 to F9 at the tele end), complete with metering. Although the most commonly used controls are all accessible via on-body buttons, there is also an extensive on-screen menu system (virtually identical to the W1, T1 and new P150) offering control over a wide range of options, including image parameters, special effects and exposure compensation. It is disappointing that the latter doesn't get its own external button, but you can't have everything.

Rear of camera

Virtually all the F88's main controls are found on the the rear of the camera body, the only exception being the main mode dial (see below). Dedicated buttons offer fast access to flash mode, macro mode, self-timer and image size (but not quality). There's a 'quick review' button (which displays the last image captured), an LCD monitor on/off switch (which can also be used to activate the live histogram) and a menu button, used in conjunction with the four directional keys and a central 'set' button.

Side of camera

On the right hand side of the F88 (as viewed from the rear) sits the main mode dial and power switch (the camera can also be switched on and off by rotating the lens). The knurled steel dial has nice positive click stops for each mode (in start contrast to the soggy shutter release) and it is rare for it to be moved accidentally - even when the camera is being carried in a bag or pocket. There are seven positions on the dial; full auto, program (fully automatic but with more overrides available), manual exposure, scene mode (SCN), setup, movie mode and playback. Scene mode adds an extra menu item offering 10 different shooting modes; magnifying glass (for extreme close ups), twilight, twilight portrait, landscape, soft snap (for portraits), snow, beach, sports, fireworks and candle. In most of these modes white balance, AF and burst mode controls are set by the camera, and are no longer user-accessible.

Display and menus

As we've come to expect from Sony, the on-screen display and menu system is exemplary, offering a good level of control in an attractive, easy to understand and - importantly - fast interface. Unlike many 'point and shoot' cameras the menu system is designed to make access to the features as fuss-free as possible - everything is no more than a couple of button presses away, and - aside from AE compensation - most everyday functions can be accessed without using the menus at all.

The most basic display in full auto record mode (before pressing the shutter). The only indication is the focus mode. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. The F88 has 5 area autofocus, though you can change this to center focus only.
Pressing the display button allows you to increase the amount of information shown or - as here - bring up the live histogram. Changing modes with the main mode dial brings up this cute rotating animated display, so you don't need to take your eye off the screen
In all but the fully auto mode, pressing the menu button activates a neat menu bar along the bottom of the screen. Navigate left or right to the control you wish to change, up and down to actually change the setting. It's fast - and easy. Options include AE compensation, saturation, contrast, sharpness, white balance, ISO, image quality, metering and focus mode and flash output level. It's not all fully automatic; here's the full manual mode in operation. Shutter speeds and apertures (well, three aperture values) can be set independently, and the preview screen adjusts the brightness of the image to give an idea what the picture will look like (the meter also shows how far you are from the correct exposure).

Playback mode offers three levels of information; none, basic (frame number, resolution and date/time) and advanced (adds exposure information and histogram). Press the right side of the zoom rocker and you can zoom - very quickly - to 5x, scroll round zoomed images and trim (crop). Press the right zoom button and you can view 3x3 thumbnails.
Pressing the menu button in playback mode gives access to a range of fairly standard controls, including protecting files, DPOF print ordering, direct printing, slide shows and rotation. You can play movies (with sound through the tiny speaker), and cut them into smaller clips. Pressing 'set' when any menu item is selected brings up the options available - here a 5MP image is being resized to 3MP.
The setup menu has four pages of options covering camera settings and - rather strangely - focus mode (single-shot or continuous) and red-eye reduction flash (on or off). In movie mode the display is basic - showing elapsed time and time remaining (which is defined by the amount of space left on the card). Despite being totally silent, you can't use the zoom in movie mode.