Photographer Gordon Laing of Camera Labs is back with another edition of his retrospective “Retro Review” video series. This time, Laing focuses on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC F505, a consumer-oriented digital camera released 24 years ago.
The vintage F505 sports a distinct L-shaped appearance, with its body split into two halves. One half comprises the lens, image sensor, and some camera controls. The other half includes the screen, battery, card, and primary controls.
At its release in 1999, the $1,100 Cyber-shot camera’s 2.1-megapixel image sensor was relatively robust. The sensor is paired with a Carl Zeiss-branded 5x optical zoom lens. Due to the camera’s rotating body design, it was possible to flip the main camera body up so photographers could more easily shoot at waist level. It was a clever alternative to today’s popular tilting rear displays. The F505 can even rotate in the other direction, allowing easier shooting when holding the camera above the head.
The F505’s built-in lens offers an equivalent 38-190mm zoom range, which is relatively long at both ends of the zoom. Laing notes that only some of the F505’s contemporary rivals started at a much wider focal length, which does little to lessen the disappointment in 2023 when practically every all-in-one camera offers a wide-angle focal length. As Laing shows, the F505’s zoom rocker switch delivers impressively smooth control over the camera’s zoom. The lens stays bright throughout its range, ranging from f/2.8 to f/3.4.
Along the lens barrel are buttons for macro mode, white balance, spot metering, and a switch to swap between autofocus and manual focus. Atop the lens sits a pop-up flash. As Laing observes, the bottom of the lens includes a tripod thread, which is cleverly located beneath the optical axis, allowing free movement of the rear camera body section while mounted.
The F505 lacks a viewfinder, leaving the camera’s two-inch display as the only means of composition. The screen uses a “transflective Hybrid panel which can either reflect ambient light to save power or switch to a conventional backlight under dimmer conditions,” says Laing. The panel can be excellent in the right light but challenging to see in other conditions.
Returning to the image sensor, the F505 uses a 2.1-megapixel half-inch type charge-coupled device (CCD) image sensor. The resulting 1600 x 1200 resolution seems paltry today but was reasonable in 1999, especially given high storage costs at the time.
The F505 also records video, enabled with a still/movie switch. Video performance is abysmal, with resolution ranging from 160 x 112 to 320 x 240 at 15 frames per second for up to 15 seconds. It’s possible to record at the lower resolution for a full minute, assuming the user keeps the shutter release depressed. Even though the video specs are laughable today, the fact that the F505 records audio alongside the video, and allows for relatively quiet optical zoom during recording, sets it apart from its rivals.
Like many of Sony’s cameras, the F505 records to proprietary memory — Sony’s new-at-the-time Memory Stick format. Sony bundled its F505 camera with a “meager 4MB card, good for around eight photos using the best quality settings,” says Laing. “Thanks for that.”
Combining a new proprietary format and a lackluster bundle didn’t win many favors.
The camera is powered by an NP-FS11 InfoLithium battery, which tells the user how many minutes are remaining — a clever feature. The F505 includes a proprietary USB plug, for some reason, but the camera did ship with a cable to connect the camera to a computer.
“I’m not ashamed to admit I loved the F505 when I originally reviewed it back in 1999, and my feelings haven’t changed today,” remarks Laing. “Like many in the F series before and after, it represented Sony’s design and engineering teams at the top of their game, not afraid to experiment but delivering products that were surprisingly intuitive to use.”
Laing found his used model for a mere £15, or about $18 — money well spent.
Laing’s full written review on Camera Labs includes additional sample images, plus an in-depth comparison with a few of Sony’s other F-series cameras, including the controversial F505 successor, the F505v. Additional camera and tech-related videos are available on Laing’s YouTube channel, DinoBytes.
Image credits: Gordon Laing