White Balance

The Cyber-shot F88 only offers 5 white balance settings - automatic, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent and tungsten. There is no manual white balance option, but the automatic WB coped well in virtually all the everyday shooting situations we threw at it, except indoors at night, when shooting under tungsten produced a strong orange cast. Switching to the preset tungsten WB setting solved this problem. The studio test shots (below) show that the Auto White Balance is nigh on perfect in daylight, and produces images with a very mild (and very easily corrected) green cast under fluorescent lighting.

Outdoor - Auto WB Fluorescent - Auto WB Incandescent - Auto WB

Flash Performance

Despite a slightly cool tone and small amount of underexposure in our test shots, real world flash performance was actually pretty impressive. The small flash isn't powerful enough to go much beyond about 2M, but in normal social shooting exposures were excellent and the color cast all but unnoticeable. Flash quenching has been improved considerably over earlier Cyber-shot generations, meaning you can happily shoot as near as 10 or 12cm without the flash blowing out all detail.

Skin tone - slight blue/green color cast, very slight underexposure Color chart - Slight under exposure, small (5%) blue/green color cast

Macro Focus

The F88's macro mode is good - especially at the mid-zoom setting, where you can focus in on something just over 35mm wide. There is some distortion (barrel at the wide setting, pincushion at the mid zoom and tele setting), and some fall off of sharpness towards the edges, but neither is enough to spoil real world pictures.

Wide macro - 90 x 59 mm coverage
29 px/mm (727 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: low
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Mid Zoom macro - 36 x 20 mm coverage
70 px/mm (1784 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 114 mm

Magnifying Glass mode

Hidden away in the scene mode menu is a 'Magnifying Glass' mode, similar to the Super Macro mode found on other digital cameras. You can't use the zoom (it's fixed at the wide end) and the operating distance is limited to around 1cm - 20cm, but it's very impressive, allowing you to focus in on an area of around 25x15mm.

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

For such a compact lens the F88's Carl Zeiss zoom does a pretty good job of controlling distortion, with just over 1% barrel and just under 1% pincushion at the extreme ends of the zoom - barely enough to be noticeable in normal, scenic shots - though enough to put you off if by any chance you intend to use the F88 for copying original documents or artworks.

Barrel distortion - 1.2% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.9% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 114 mm

Specific image quality issues

Overall image quality from the F88 is good, though by no means class-leading. Despite the Carl Zeiss lens there is a lack of critical sharpness in scenic shots containing a lot of fine detail (foliage in particular can look a little mushy). For prints at 'normal sizes' (up to about 5x7 inches) this is unlikely to be seen, and scenes with less fine detail - portraits and close ups in particular - look superb. There is little or no evidence of Chromatic aberration, and color and exposure are generally excellent. The default settings tend to produce images that look a little flat, and which benefit from some judicious sharpening and saturation boosting. For the kind of point and shoot audience the F88 is aimed at the results are unlikely to cause concern.

Purple fringing and blooming

The Vario Tessar lens may not offer the biting sharpness or contrast associated with the Carl Zeiss name in film photography, but at least it seems to have chromatic aberration well controlled. We could find virtually no evidence of it in even situations normally guaranteed to have the purple fringes appearing. What we did see more of than we'd like is blooming - extreme highlights 'bleeding' into darker, neighboring areas. The only time this was a serious problem was when shooting foliage in front of a bright sky, though there was also some burning out and blooming around bright/specular highlights in more general scenes.

38 mm equiv., F3.5

Contrast/dynamic range

The F88 struggles to capture the extremes of highlight and shadow found in scenes of high contrast, meaning it's not unusual to see blown out skies and filled-in shadows in the same image if you're shooting in bright sunshine. The culprit - common in cameras aimed at casual snappers - seems to be too much contrast, designed to add a little 'punch' and produce vivid-looking snaps in a wide range of less than perfect conditions. Turning the contrast down in-camera helps a little, but not much, suggesting the F88 does not have the widest dynamic range.

38 mm equiv., F3.5