Sony F717 [2002]

Lots of people better qualified than I have conducted very detailed reviews of the Sony F717 digital camera. This is not an amateur's attempt to match those professional reviews but rather and enthusiast's opinions of his camera. I've been using the F717 as my main camera since December 2002. Prior to that I used an Olympus 2000Z for three years which I was happy with but which was starting to show its age.

What the F717 is not

  • It's not a professional camera:
    The F717 can be used to obtain professional quality results and I have one friend who is a professional who uses the F717 as her digital rig but she is still primarily a film photographer. The category pro-sumer is very apt for the F717 even though I hate the label. This camera is too big and expensive for an average consumer and not quite serious enough (i.e. lacking interchangeable lenses and an optical viewfinder) for a professional. It is perfect for a photography enthusiast not prepared to fork out the money for a DSLR quite yet or not wanting to go back to carrying a huge camera bag again.
  • It's not subtle
    It's pretty big, it's flashy and sexy, silver alloy case make it stand out from the crowd. This can be a hindrance if you're trying to surreptitiously take a candid. That huge lens can also be a little intimidating to your subject. With my old, small Digicam people either didn't mind being photographed by it or didn't even notice that they were being photographed. Pointing that big piece of Zeiss glass at people can inspire your subjectto freeze up or pose rigidly.

What it is

  • Fast
    Compared to the previous generation of digicams that I was familiar with the F717 is fast. It's fast to start up from cold. Fast to focus. Fast to take the shot (although there still can be a little shutter lag it can be greatly reduced by pre-focusing). Fast to transfer shots from memory to the memory stick. Fast to download shots (USB 2 and native Windows XP support make downloading to your PC fast and easy). Top shutter speeds are also fast. It's also fast and easy to access most functions of the camera; many have their own dedicated buttons and the menu system is relatively shallow. Of course that big lens is also fast although, for best results, I find it performs much better stopped down to the F4 to F5.6 range.
  • Long legged
    The F717 has stamina. My old Digicam ate batteries. I never went anywhere without 3 sets of AA NHiMs for the day and I would constantly be turning the screen off, or the camera off altogether, to conserve power. The Sony I charge up over night before taking it out for the day and then I never even think about the battery again. It holds hours of power. I've never even considered buying a spare battery.
  • Well designed
    As with most things Sony, the design of the F717 is both sexy and well thought out. The unusual L-shaped format takes a day or two to get accustomed to but then it starts to make perfect sense. It feels heavy until you work out that you hold the lens not the camera part. Sure, for best effect it needs to be held in both hands, but this gives you a solid platform to shoot from. Being able to zoom in and out using the front lens ring also feels familiar and SLR-like. Lessons have been learnt and adapted from the 505 and the 707. All the buttons and controls make sense and you soon find yourself being able to locate most features without removing the camera from your eye.
  • Quiet
    When you turn the F717 on there is no mechanical or electrical whir as the lens expands out to the appropriate focal length as the Zeiss lens is already where it need to be to shoot on or off. This also helps in the exceptionally fast boot time. When you zoom in and out, again, the F717 is virtually silent. Once you turn off the factory default, synthesized, gimmicky shutter 'click' taking a shot results in the faintest of clicks. As the F717 hunts for focus you feel it through the alloy case more than you hear it. All of this is great for not audibly attracting attention to the camera and yourself while you shoot.
  • Versatile
    In it's simplest valet mode you could hand this camera to any waiter and they could get a good shot of you and your friends. In manual mode you can experiment with the most complex of techniques. The hybrid nature of the F717 makes this camera ideal for the photography enthusiast who is looking for one camera to do it all and doesn't want to buy both a pocket and a serious camera. It's 35-190mm zoom lens, although not extreme, is versatile enough for most situations. The macro facility allows good close ups. The infrared night mode is a bit of a novelty but occasionally useful, however, the hologram assisted focus and TTL flash metering makes low light shots and onboard flash snaps a doddle. Want to play with infrared phtography? Buy a couple of filters and you're good to go. Need more range from the zoom? For a price nice auxilary lenses are available.
    I have friends who own and use DSLRs and they are really nice cameras. DSLRs are even available for about the same price as the F717's sucessor, the F828, however, I don't yet feel the need to 'upgrade'. Let's face it, Canon's digital rebel changed the equipment landscape for enthusiastic, digital, ameteur photographers in the second half of 2003 with a DSLR with lens for less than $1000. Let's also face it, the lens that comes with the rebel is not as sharp, fast, and does not have the range of the F717's Zeiss glass. I'm sure that I'll own a DSLR one day but, as the F717 already does all that I need and more, that day is still in the future

    One feature I never even considered is the video feature. I've never owned a camcorder so I didn't think I needed one. Indeed, if I'd bought one I doubt that I would have used it. However, I often find myself making little minute or longer video clips. Unlike a lot of other digicams that take video that cripple functions available, the F717 is very useable. Full zoom is available and the limit on the clips you can take is only limited by the memory you have available.


  • The F717 seems to favor the landscape format. For me this might be something of a good thing as I tend to favor the portrait format and the F717 encourages me with this bias to shoot a more balanced mixture of the two. The camera's bias is, in some part, due to its lens body swivel feature. This allows you to turn the viewing screen and body of the camera to face you while holding the camera and waist level or lower. This is a great feature for taking candids as people people seem to feel stared at if your looking through something held at eye level and are staring at them. They don't seem to notice as much and relax more if you are looking down at a camera at your belt level rather than staring directly at them. It also helps when you want get low level shots for example, it has saved me a lot of knee wear taking shots of my puppy on the floor. It both these situations, however, you're limited to the landscape format. Switching over to portrait means bring the camera back to your eye or getting back down on the floor with your puppy.

Link to pictures taken with this camera in the photoblography.

Related links

Just Say 'NO' to Digital SLRs!
dpreview on the F717
imaging resource on the F717
digital secrets
Steve's Digicams on the F717


do u think it is the good idea to buy f707 instead of f717

Posted by: murat koşar at January 1, 2005 3:39 AM

I would go w/ the 717. I am a F717 user and must say for being my first and only digicam, I am impressed. Sweet investment for inspiring photogs who dont wanna come out of pocket almost double the price for a SLR. The 717 does the trick everytime. Good luck

Posted by: Chris at November 16, 2005 7:09 PM

I really enjoy reading your articles. Keep up the great work.

Posted by: Tom at March 7, 2006 8:25 AM

anyone want to sell me a used one of these? cant seem to find one..thanks

Posted by: patti white at August 12, 2006 2:18 PM