IRL review DSC-F717 and DSC-F707

Annnnnd I’m back doing IRL reviews; its been a while. Life got busy and I focused on other things than writing, but reflecting on vintage electronics still very much is my jam.

The DSC-F717 and DSC-F707 were sort of legendary items in my mind; I knew about them and saw them in marketing but never saw them IRL or in store; at the time of their release, I wasn’t super into digital photography mostly because of cost, and also because I was more into audio than anything. I had seen them in the Sony EVOLVE catalogues and knew they were very expensive; well above my spending means. The F717 was the one I was more familiar with; I remember the marketing when the F828 came out to replace it and my college buddy told me how the F828 nailed all the shots, more so than the F717; they were a well off family with access to these cameras at the time and I was sort of jealous. I had just got my DSC-F77 camera and I wasn’t all that interested in a big bulky camera- small was in at the time and all the miniscule cameras were all the rage rather than the big prosumer cameras- at least for mass market. The pros wanted those big cameras.

Years later I became interested in picking up these bodies as I had known they held a special status with their fast Zeiss lenses and weird body designs. Also somewhat drawing me was the fact that they used the M batteries, something that I very much actively use with my a-mount cameras still. I managed to find an f707 locally first off. Funnily the seller said he didn’t think anyone would be interested in something like this. He’s probably right. Released in 2001, its 21 years old at this point. Highlights over its predecessor include an EVF vs LCD only, 5MP sensor vs the handicapped sensor in the f505v that only allowed a portion of the MP to be available, hologram laser AF, and faster lens although focal length is the same; at the tune of 2200 CAD in 2022 dollars. Pricey for a collage kid for sure. For me the highlights would have been the EVF now – it seems odd to shoot at its telephoto length of 190mm esp with no EVF, although at the time, people were trying to be hip and say that they were not shooting like film at the eye. No AF assist lamp and having hologram laser AF assist is a big deal. Night vision is neat but more of a party trick. The MP is big- at the time of the MP wars, 5MP was a big step up. MP would have been one of the major selling points. I wouldn’t have recognized it at the time, but now thinking of the fast lens of the f707, it was a big step up to get an f2-f2.4 38-190mm lens. The handling was very neat as well- very similar to a DSLR, which would have been anti digital at the time- people were very much trying to move away from that vibe. But it was a unique design that started with the f505 and made handling easy with two hands.

The f717 was the next major upgrade- it brought a new paint job, selectable AF points, memory stick Pro support- while I barely knew of the f707, mostly through catalogues, I became aware of the f717 through review sites as I started to get more into shooting.

Typical for non-DSLRs, the start up time for both cameras is very very slow. AF acquistion….also very very slow even in good light. However, at the time, reviews stated it was fast with AF – obviously unfair to judge it from 20 year later standards. Write speeds in 2020 to memory card are ….slow. Burst mode, something I never really needed until kids, at least is an option, but writing 3 images….is slow. You get it.

IQ- typical for the time being ISO limits the camera severely. 100 ISO shows noise. While the f717 offers the advantage over the f707 with ISO 800, its not really usable with how much noise it introduces. And noise reduction, while available, just wasn’t very good. Either it didn’t do much, or it was way too aggressive like in the Panasonic Venus engine that would just make a big paint smear out of the details. However for me, its part of the fun in shooting a more than 20 year old camera- its going to make noise. I shoot at ISO 800 knowing full well it won’t match an a9.

The second part of IQ after the sensor is the lens. Both of these cameras were known for having the Zeiss branding, a relatively recent addition after the f505 shifted from Sony lens branding only. While this always continues to be a debate of how much Zeiss is actually involved in the lens design, they were considered good lenses. Certainly I’ve felt they appeared quite good, but I’ve never really critically examined center and border sharpness on these, as they are just too old for me to care about that stuff. Its more branding for me than anything.

Handling- I love the handling of these cameras- they were built around the lens and designed for two hand shooting. The lens is cupped by the left hand and the grip, the right hand. Buttons appear to be in a generally accessible place. I find the buttons on the lens are a little more challenging to remember placement and not really optimal vs just being in the back of the camera. The grip is a little more squared off than I would like, esp compared to the f828. I also find the smooth silver body a bit less rugged feeling than the f828 and plastic R1 bodies. I also like the split body design which later ended with the f828. It keeps the hand grip in an ideal position vs just a flip out lcd and straining the wrist. Its obviously a more complicated design though vs a flip out LCD so away that design went. You can see the body being very different than a conventional prosumer camera of the same time era the dscv1. It’s very different. But the f707 and f717 have much faster lenses and bigger focal ranges.

Oddities- the f707 doesn’t support more than 128MB memory sticks. Its atrocious. I would have been so choked having such an expensive camera and like max 50 images on a card. The argument at the time was this was similar to a roll of film, but that’s just small. The f717 while not officially stating MS Pro support, reads my 4gb memory stick pro fine. The challenge was that was not available at the time – just small sticks.

Battery life- these M batteries are great. Lots of stamina in them with big capacity. I get miniaturization as a trend, but to go from the M batteries to the W batteries in their prosumer bodies was a mistake later on like in the a6xxx and RX10 bodies for example.

Concluding thoughts- I think in a time of perfect images and full frame and APSC cameras being very affordable and attainable, it might seem odd to go back to the f707 and f717. They were clearly peak early 2000s tech and they have from a spec point a very decent read out. I like esp the big battery, the fast zoom CZ lens, and unique two part body design. It really shows the price point at its time of release. However, that would soon encrouch on DSLR territory a few generations later and the prosumer body would eventually get pushed to the side after the f828 and R1.

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