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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 Digital Camera Full Review
by  -  3/30/2007

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 was announced in mid January of this year.  The S series from Sony is their affordable, entry level line.  A previous model, the S600, ended up doing very well in the market.  The S700 is a 7.2 megapixel camera with 3x optical zoom and a 2.4 inch LCD.  A stylish metal body makes the camera look and feel like a more expensive one.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700
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The S700 is meant to be an easy to use camera.  There isn’t a ton of shooting options, but it’s easy to use the ones that are there.  This class of camera is typically powered by AA batteries so entry level users aren’t intimidated by extra chargers and batteries.

NUTS & BOLTS

Image Sensor

The S700 has a 7.2 megapixel, 1/2.5” CCD imaging sensor.  Full size images are 3072x2304 pixels in size.

Viewfinder/LCD

The S700 has only a 2.4 inch LCD with 112,320 pixels of resolution.  The colors displayed on the LCD are accurate and the brightness gains up and down depending on the lighting conditions.  It is very difficult to preview images on the display on a bright day.  Refresh rates are good enough to provide a smooth preview of your shot.  Also, the fairly low pixel count leads to a preview that isn’t that sharp and it’s hard to see details.

Zoom

This camera gets a fairly typical 3x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 35-105mm.  The maximum aperture ranges from f2.8 to f4.8, depending on the zoom setting.

Focus Modes and Focus Ranges

As this is a fairly entry level camera, you simply get a normal focus and macro focus.  In normal mode, you can focus as close as 19.75 inches.  In macro mode, you can focus on something as close as 2 inches.

Auto focus is quick and accurate as long as you’re in the right focus mode.  A green light on the LCD stays solid when a focus lock is achieved.  Focus is determined by a center AF area.  There is no multiple-area AF mode available on this camera.

Flash

The built-in flash has a range of 0.5 – 3.5 meters at wide angle and ISO set to Auto.  If you zoom in to something, this range narrows to 0.5 – 2.0 meters.  The flash can be set to auto, always on, disabled, and slow synchro.  If you want red eye reduction, you have to enable it via the setup menu.  Flash modes are set by using the up direction on the control pad.

Memory Media

The S700, like the rest of the Sony cameras, use Memory Stick Duo media.  There is also about 24MB of internal memory.

Image/Movie File Format(s)

Still images are recorded as JPEG only.  Movies are captured as AVI files (Motion JPEG).

Connectivity

There is a multi-connector that handles USB 2.0 Full Speed and A/V out.

Power

Typical of entry-level models, the S700 is powered by 2 AA batteries.  You can use alkaline or rechargeable batteries.  NiMH rechargeables will provide better battery life.  Sony claims 100 shots with the included AA batteries and 460 shots on Sony NiMH batteries (NH-AA-2DB).  I highly recommend that you use high capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries with this camera.  Not only will you get much better battery life, but they’ll be much cheaper just after a few charge cycles.

EXPOSURE

Auto/Program Mode

As the S700 is an entry-level camera, there are no manual exposure modes.  However, you get an auto mode and a program auto mode.  All the shooting modes of the camera are available in the mode dial on the top, which makes for easy operation.  Auto mode is the mode with the green camera icon on the mode dial.  In auto mode, your options are limited – you can choose if you shoot a single or burst, the exposure compensation, flash mode, timer mode, and macro mode.  If you switch to program auto (P on the mode dial) – you can adjust more settings and the camera is still essentially in “auto”.  In program auto, you can change color settings, metering modes, white balance, ISO, JPEG compression level, flash level, and sharpness.

The burst mode on the S700 can take three shots at 1.5 second intervals at full resolution.

Scene Modes

I’ve always liked the way Sony does the scene modes.  There aren’t 800 different options in the camera menu system, but you’ll find a select few available right on the mode dial.  As you turn the mode dial, a short description appears on the LCD.  A High ISO mode boosts the ISO and disables the flash.  The other modes are: Soft Snap (for portraits), Twilight Portrait, Twilight, Landscape, Beach, and Snow.

Movie Mode

There aren’t a lot of options during movie capture.  Movie mode is another slot on the mode dial allowing easy access.  The S700 captures movies at a single size (320x240 at 30fps).  You can adjust the color, metering method, and white balance.  Mono sound is recorded and optical zoom is not available during movie capture.

Metering

While in program auto mode and the movie mode, you can choose the metering method between spot metering and "multi" metering.

White Balance

During movie capture, you can set white balance to auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent, and incandescent.  For still capture, in program auto mode, you get an additional choice of flash.  Some white balance settings will be unavailable at different times.  For example, if you have the flash set to always on, you can only set the white balance to auto or flash.

Sensitivity

The camera has an ISO range from ISO 100 – 1000.  Control over the ISO setting is only available in program auto mode.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

Besides being able to adjust things like color (B&W, sepia, natural, rich, and normal) and sharpness during image capture, there aren’t a lot of other options.  Post-capture, you can resize and rotate your images.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

The S700 is pretty compact.  Not quite an ultra-slim, but still pretty tiny.  Its measurements are 5.6 inches x 2.5 inches by 1.1 inches.  It weighs in at 7 ounces with 2 batteries.  The metal body feels sturdy and still manages to stay lightweight.  The brushed metal finish on the front of the camera adds a nice touch of style to the camera.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700
Sony S700 on left, Sony W35 on right (view large image)

The controls are straightforward.  The mode dial and shutter release on the top are easy to operate.  The zoom rocker is a bit tiny as is the button in the middle of the control pad.  The Disp, Menu, and delete buttons are just a tad too recessed to be easy to push.

In addition to the lens on the front of the camera, you’ll see the flash, self-timer lamp, and microphone port.

The top of the camera has the power button, mode dial and shutter release.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700
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The back of the camera is mostly taken up with the 2.4 inch LCD.  Above the LCD is the button to access playback mode.  The zoom rocker switch is just to the right of this.  Moving down, the Disp button changes display modes and the Menu button accesses the menu system.  The control pad lets you navigate menus and change flash, timer, exposure compensation, and macro settings.  The quality/delete button lets you change the capture resolution during image capture and delete images during playback.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700
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The right side of the camera has the wrist strap attachment point.

The left side of the camera has a plastic door over the multi-connector (USB and AV).

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700
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The bottom has a tripod mount and door to the battery/memory media compartment.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700
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Included

Included with the camera are 2 AA batteries, USB cable, AV cable, wrist strap and CD-ROM of software (and manual).

PERFORMANCE

Image quality, for such an entry level camera, was good.  Colors are bright (reds are a too bright for my taste), and images are fairly "contrasty".  When viewed at 100% size on the computer screen, details are soft, especially in shots with tree branches or rocks.  If printed to a 4x6, however, the image would look very nice.  I took the camera to Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati during an orchid show and the camera took excellent macro shots of the orchid displays.  The default exposure was very good.

Also during closer inspection of the images, chromatic aberration (color fringing) is pretty heavy in high contrast transition areas.  Barrel distortion (straight lines bow out away from center) is above average at the wide angle.  Pincushion distortion (straight lines bow towards center of frame) that occurs at telephoto, is also above average.


100% crop showing chromatic aberration

Noise levels at anything higher than ISO 200 are fairly noticeable.  However, I was able to capture some great snaps (taken at ISO 320 and 400) of my son in a fairly dim restaurant that would still make a nice 4x6 print.  Noisiness is something that you’ll have to figure out your tolerance for since it depends a lot on how the image is displayed (computer, printed, photo frame).

The claimed flash range is 3.5 meters (just under 11.5 feet), but that is a pretty ideal number. In a fairly dark room taking a picture of a dark object (very difficult conditions for a flash), flash range was much less. The flash in the S700 is not strong at all. If you need more distance, you'll definitely want to increase flash output and increase the ISO.


Flash shot (view large image)

Sample Images

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 sample image
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 sample image
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Timing/Shutter Lag

For an entry level camera, the speed of operation was very good.  Shutter lag, when you’ve already achieved a focus and exposure lock with a partial press of the button, was around 0.2-0.3 seconds.  If you have to resort to a complete press of the button, shutter lag was around 0.5 seconds. 

The cycle time (time between shots) was also very good.  I turned off the post-capture review and was able to take successive shots, without flash, at less than 2 seconds apart.  If you use the flash, you’ll have to add a few more seconds on to give the flash time to charge (this also depends heavily on battery condition).

Focus times were also very good.  In well-lit conditions, focus was achieved in just under 0.5 seconds.  In darker conditions, it takes just a bit longer, but still under one second.

A Few Concerns 

Sorry, but I have a little rant here: The first thing that you’re going to want to do is turn off the sounds of the camera.  You can choose for sounds to be on for essentially every button press, or just for the shutter.  Either way, the default sounds (which are the only sounds to choose from) are EXTREMELY annoying.  I don’t know why a shutter “sound” has to be anything other than something that sounds like a shutter or just a simple beep.

Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S700 is an entry-level camera meant for first time digital camera buyers or someone who wants an easy to use camera.  Quick performance, excellent battery life, and good image quality make this camera worthy of consideration.  The controls aren’t very comfortable, so definitely try before you buy, but the build quality is very high with a stylish metal body.  The single movie mode (320x240 at 30fps) is a bit disappointing, but I would rather have the 30fps at a smaller resolution that the S700 has than 15fps at a higher resolution.  There are other cameras in this entry-level class that I prefer the image quality from, like the Nikon Coolpix L series, but the Sony S700 definitely beats the speed of operation of the Nikons and still has good image quality.

Pros

Cons