Sony DSC-F828 Digital Camera IRL Retro Review

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Sony DSC-F828 Cybershot Digital Camera IRL Review:The Sony DSC-F828 was announced in 2004, and was the successor to the DSC-F717 Cybershot digital camera. It was Sony’s flagship and amongst the first wave of 8 MP cameras (Canon Powershot Pro1, Nikon Coolpix 8800, Konica Minolta Dimage A1, and Olympus C8080, almost all using the same Sony developed sensor). It was an incredibly impressive looking machine and the MP was an impressive amount for its time nearly 12 years ago. After years reading about this camera, I managed to land one in the used market last year. This is my IRL (In Real Life) review of the Sony DSC-F828 digital camera.

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Design- Man I remember when I saw this camera I was just blown away by its design. Its like my favorite airplane, the A-10 Warthog. Its brutish in looks and doesn’t try to be elegant like a retro camera. It honestly looks like they just forced a bunch of design elements together to make it work. I’ve read reviews stating the flash unit looks like a block that was glued onto the lens. I agree. And that’s why I like it. Its bulky and unflattering. Its the last of its generation before Sony switched to the unibody design in the DSC-R1, and then the more traditional DSLR design in the RX10 series. I believe it started with the F505, with the giant hunk of glass, that swivels on the body. Later on, that complex design was mitigated by a swiveling LCD (to help with weird angle shots). I love it. I can’t imagine the mechanical complexity to make this happen though. When I got it, it was extemely loose, and reading up on this, it is a common problem with this model. A quick disassembly and tightening of some internal screws fixed it right away. I like how imposing its look is. Especially the greenish coating on the Zeiss lens, contrasting the black body. I remember seeing that in the marketing materials all the time.

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In terms of design in specs, I find this camera super intriguing. Its a 2/3 inch sensor mated with a very nice (even in 2016 terms) piece of glass (28-200 mm f2.0-2.8). Very fast indeed (my P7700 was 28-200mm f2.0-4.0, albeit much smaller). Really wished there was OSS on this, but this was back in 2004. While I didn’t realize how great that speed was before, I was excited about it later, only to be let down by the sensor. Fast glass is one thing, but it can’t compensate for a crappy sensor. More on that later. I also love the giant control rings here (but you can’t reassign the focus control ring, so that kind of sucks). I still don’t really need dual memory card slots now, so that doesn’t benefit me.

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Handling- handling is a bit off- theres quite a few buttons on the left, including macro, flash, metering, braketing, nighshot and focus. This is a two handed camera, due to the heft, and your left thumb will nicely access all those buttons. The rear has controls for switching between the LCD/EVF, timer, magnifying the image in playback, return, switching between the two memory cards (MS and CF), AE Lock, Menu and a crappy joystick nav button (crappy because its so small). Oh and a jog dial. You really have to play around to find out what the jog dial changes in each setting. On top is a small LCD (yay!) showing some basic settings like shutter speed, and aperture (wish it showed ISO). Theres also a control dial, an EV button, WB and turning on the LCD backlight (its green). Theres no second jog dial (I wish there was for this camera).

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I personally find the switch between LCD and EVF cumbersome- I’m used to it being auto on my a6000. I use the EVF for framing and the larger LCD for checking the image , and switching is a bit of a pain. That being said, the auto switch in the successor, the DSC-R1, is really sensitive to the point of being annoying, so its not that big of a loss. I also HATE that they didn’t put a button for ISO here. And maybe that’s telling that they didn’t provide an access button for it, because anything above ISO 100 looks TERRIBLE. More on that later. I do understand that LCDs were tiny back in the day, but the 1.8 inch LCD is pretty crap nowadays- slow refresh and poor viewing angles amongst my complaints. I also never really liked the grip on this- its nice and big for handling, but it doesn’t narrow down for my fingers in the right areas, so it feels like I am shooting with a big Duplo block.

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Even with the crazy laser hologram auto focus assist light (it paints a laser pattern on the subject to acquire focus), its SUPER SLOW. Again, I know I am spoiled by 2016 standards. Just expected more. Its the last time Sony had this in a flagship, as the DSCR1 acquired a more typical LED light for AF assist. Shot to shot times are also slow, but that’s expected for a camera this old. I never understood why write times were so slow for small sensor cameras but not large sensor cameras. I also forgot to mention this has Nightshot- it uses infrared sensors to take pictures completely in the dark (also helps with framing too I believe). Its a neat feature, but not that useful unless you like shooting in Paranormal Activity style photos. And its slow to focus in this setting too. It is neat to be able to shoot in pure darkness though.

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Build Quality- this is a great feeling camera- its the kind of product that can be used as a weapon if you were attacked. A good majority of the camera is made of magnesium, and it just feels luxurious. Even in this day and age of 2016, it still stands out as a premium product, and it feels loads better than the metal design of my a6000 and nex-5. I spoke a little about the lens/body having lose issues, but that is easily remedied.

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Image Quality- I really can’t tell how good that lens is, because the sensor SUCKS. I know its 2004, so I can’t expect much in terms of noise management, but its unreal how the flagship couldn’t handle anything above ISO 100. That fast lens can’t compensate for much in slightly lower light conditions, if you must lock it to ISO 100. Its really not a camera I find I can use in everyday shooting right now, but more one that I would use for kicks, knowing the extreme limitations of the sensor. It wasn’t just Sony. The Powershot Pro1 and a few others also suffered from purple fringing and other IQ issues, leading to a general consensus at the time, that the 8MP camera line from everyone was mostly underwhelming. Images just don’t pop here, in a larger un analytical/empircal sense. They do not look marketedly different from other typical small sensor cameras of its time, including the DSC-F77/F88, V1 and V3. EDIT- the DSC-F828 is not as bad as I thought it was- it certainly does not stand the test of time compared to other small sensor cameras, never mind large sensor cameras. However, shooting with its same aged peers like the DSC-F88 shows a clear advantage – the F88 looks completely awful- no sharpness/everything looks washed out. 

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Conclusion- cameras were REALLY crappy in 2004. The IQ was quite quite low, even in the flagships, and amazing fast glass could not fight the terrible sensor quality. While the design is remarkable, and the build quality outstanding, the most important thing, the image quality, was mostly underwhelming, and nothing particularly better than much cheaper digital cameras, even in Sony’s own stable. A great collectors item for sure, but something that doesn’t stand the test of time well. EDIT- I have been shooting with my DSC-F88 and the DSC-F828 is CLEARLY better – the F828 is not as bad as I thought it was, because I forgot how bad the F88 was. 

TLDR- Pros- amazing build quality and fugly standout design, nice fast glass; Cons- poor noise performance above ISO 100, single jog dial for control, no dedicated ISO button, poor LCD refresh rate, manual switching between lcd and evf, slow focus even with fancy pants laser hologram assist (by 2016 standards though!), image quality not distinctly better than much cheaper cameras in its time (including Sony’s own stable).

 

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