DSC-D770

Sony DSC-D770

Last update October 21, 2000 Version #8

The Sony DSC-D770 was apparently an attempt by Sony to break into the pro market during 1998 and 1999. The camera has an interesting mix of pro only features. Sony appears to have discontinued the camera now, but it is still a fantastic piece of equipment and is certainly a lot of fun to use. When you are using the 770, you can pretend that you are a pro photographer with pro equipment but stay within your budget. The camera will teach you a lot about whether or not you really want to spend some serious money on a digital SLR some day, and still takes very good pictures for its 1.5Mpixel sensor.

This is not a review of the camera, that has been done better elsewhere, but I plan to feature unusual tidbits about the camera on this page. I'll be adding to the page as I become more familiar with the camera.

Battery tidbits.

Based on my own observations, you are not limited to the NP-F550 or F330 Infolithium (tm) batteries recommended for the camera. I have also used Fujitsu CA54200 battery packs (interestingly, these are NOT Infolithium (tm) battery packs. They are lithium battery packs from the Fujitsu Stylistic pen computer with the same capacity as the FP-N550 battery, but without the "smarts". The 770 reports "No Infolithium" for a moment when these batteries are used, and there is no minutes remainding shown on the screen, but they seem to work fine and the charger provided with the camera is able to charge them).

Interestingly enough, when you use these non-Infolithium (tm) batteries, the camera shows the battery voltage on the screen!

I'm not recommending these batteries, just reporting on what works for me.

That weird clicking noise!

Sometimes, the camera will make a weird clicking sound as you use it. You will notice that this clicking correlates with your moving around and pointing the camera at different things. You may also notice that it is more likely to make the sound in bright light, such as outdoors on a sunny day.

Using a flashlight, you can see what is happening. If you point the flashlight down into the lens, you can see the aperture stopping down. At first I thought "oh, the aperture is stopping down to the aperture that the camera is going to use for the shot, and it is smaller in bright light and varies as you swing the camera around, case closed". "maybe they are doing this to preview depth of field"  I thought. However, there is more to it; that is only partially correct.

Here is an experiment. Turn on the LCD so that you can see the shutter speed and aperture. Go into a dimly lit room. Set the camera to shutter priority, and set the time fairly long, like 1/8 second. Now shine the flashlight right up into the lens, you will hear the clicking. However, try this, bring the flashlight into range slowly. You will see the aperture start to climb as the light gets closer and brighter... F2, F4, F6, F11... still no clicking! Bring it in closer... the clicking will start and the aperture will start to close down (you can see it in the lens if you look in), but not until after you have passed the F11 point.

Apparently, the aperture is NOT closing to match the aperture that will be used for the exposure, but is closing in bright light for some other reason. I can think of two reasons that this might be happening... 1) closing to protect the CCD from bright light, such as the Sun. 2) closing to dim the image in the viewfinder which would get too bright. Try looking into the viewfinder while you bring the flashlight in, you will see what I mean, at the point where the flashlight starts to get uncomfortably bright, the aperture starts to close down. Your eye is after all on the other side of a pretty big lens, and even though there is a splitter mirror which attenuates some of the light... what if some doofus points the camera at the sun and looks through the viewfinder!  Better stop the camera down in bright light so that can't happen, and so the users can't burn the CCD with the Sun.

 

Manual focus problems

There have been complaints about problems with manual focus. Some cameras may actually be out of adjustment. In fact. Mike Chaney has posted a technique for adjusting the focusing screen! On mine the focus seems to be fair,  but the focus is very very critical and It is very hard to judge proper focus in the viewfinder at all. Just one or two servo "clicks" from proper focus can wreck a shot at F2.0 because of the small depth of field at that f stop.
 

Update: I adjusted my internal focus on the viewfinder.

(Note, this is just a report of what I did with my own camera, presented for your entertainment. Don't blame me if you were to try this and break your own camera  somehow.)

I decided that the manual focus was off a bit on my camera. I followed Mike Chaney's recommendation for taking the camera apart, it is quite easy to do if you have the right screwdrivers (small long phillips). Once inside, I found my viewfinder focus screw covered with "lock-tite (tm)" that made it harder to adjust. Mike reports that it took several hours of adjusting the focus then adjusting the diopter setting to get the focus right. I tried that technique at first, and ended up spending a lot of time (hours like he said) and chasing the settings all the way to the ends of the adjustments. Now that I am done, I think that the focus is perfect on my camera.

Here is what I finally did, which is a bit different, and using this technique you can adjust your camera in 10 minutes (not including taking it apart and putting it back together!) The key difference is that you don't adjust the diopter setting at all. The overview is

1) you adjust the diopter setting and leave it.

2) you let the camera auto focus on a test chart

3) you adjust the viewfinder focus to be what you consider to be in focus.

 

Here is how to proceed.

* Tape a chart or newspaper with good contrast to the wall about 4 feet away.

* Use very good lighting. I used a halogen lamp

* Set the camera towards the telephoto end of the range, the depth of field is smallest there.

* Set the camera to use F2.4. Depth of field is smallest there. You want to have the smallest depth of field so you can see focus differences.

* Get the camera open, loosen the viewfinder focus screw. Here is a link to a message in which Mike Chaney talks about which screws to remove to open the camera. Follow his instructions to get the camera open.

* Turn the camera on, and adjust the diopter adjustment for perfect focus ON THE GREEN LCD IN THE VIEWFINDER. Don't worry about the image at all. Hopfully the diopter setting will now be near the middle of the range.

* Do not touch the diopter adjustment again during this procedure.

* Take the camera top off. Press the release button with a non-conductive object to get it to auto focus on the chart. Don't short anything out in the camera!  I left the top on with the cables attached during the whole procedure, but I have heard of a person tearing the cables (maybe by allowing the top to fall). Be as careful as you can with this, and consider unplugging the cables if you have to.

* Now turn the camera power off. I'd recommend that you take the battery out so that you don't short anything in the camera out while adjusting the screws, but be sure to return the camera to the exact position on the tripod. The focus will remain at the same position that the autofocus found was ideal for the chart.

* Place a small screwdriver blade in the focus adjustment slot so that one side touches the screw, and the other side touches the raised sides of the slot. (Almost like they planned it this way, eh?) You want to be able to turn the blade and push the screw a little. You have to have just the right sized blade.

* Adjust the screw for perfect focus on the chart while you watch through the viewfinder. Go slow, push the screw back and forth from both sides.

* Again, do NOT adjust the diopter setting or turn the camera on. Move the viewfinder focus instead to get perfect focus. If you move the diopter setting, you have to start over!

* When you think that you have it close, tighten the screw until you can barely move the assembly and check again in case it moved, then tighten it down.

* Pop the top back on without putting in the screws and take test shots. You may have to press on the top to get the buttons to operate because the top will still be a bit loose. Take an autofocus shot, then switch to manual and throw the focus out , then refocus manually and take a shot. Repeat the manual shots a couple of times to assure youself that you got it right. Check the shots on your computer. If they appear idential, you are done! If not, repeat, starting with focusing the diopter setting. There will be some variation in the manual focus shots because the camera is hard to focus manually.

* Put the screws back in. You might want to leave the ones under the flash out for a few days until you are sure that you like the setting because they are so hard to take out.

Some tips on all this...

* You need the exact right sized screwdrivers. Use a phillips with good fit for the external screws, you don't want to score them up.

* The screws under the flash and the one in the battery compartment are the hardest. You need a small driver with about a 2 inch shaft to get to the ones under the flash. To get the one in the battery compartment out, I ended up gripping a small driver with a forceps.

* You can use a flat blade driver on the internal adjustment screw also; at least I did.

* I didn't let the lock tite compound bother me. It will crumble away when you turn the screw.

* Mark the screws that you take out, they are different lenghts.

* Pressing on the back of the camera will let the top pop off. To put the top back on, put the back edge in first. Watch out for the flat cables, don't tear them, and don't allow the top to hang from the cables.

* Again, leave the battery out when having the top open, that way you will not short anything out and wreck your camera.

* When done, blow the camera out with some air from a can to get out any "crumbs".

* Don't take the viewfinder adjustment screw out all the way, just undo it enough so that you can move it. It would be hard to return if you take it out all the way.

* My own personal unofficial unendorsed opinion on this is that this procedure offers very little danger to your camera, however if someone were to try this it would be at their own risk. Doing this probably voids your warranty, if you have any warranty left. There really isn't anything exposed in the camera that you could damage providing that you take the battery out. Just take care not to strip the screws or scratch the case. Please don't blame me if you break your camera doing this.
    

Shooting with the DSC-D770

The 770 is not a point and shoot type digital camera. The biggest difference between the 770 and digital cameras that most people are familiar with is the way in which it handles dynamic range. The 770 falls into the "Pro" approach for digital camera, which means that it tries to preserve as much dynamic range in your shots as it can. This means that your resulting shots can look very "flat" and "low contrast" if you are used to cameras that produce ready to go shots right out of the camera. The 770 shots are meant to be processed in a "digital darkroom" by the user for the best quality for each shot.

The "pro" approach to the dynamic range means that you may want to take some steps when shooting if you want to have shots out of the camera that are closer to usable.

TIP: Use spot metering

If you take the 770 outside, and take a shot centered on the ground but with the sky visible in the top 1/3 of the frame, the camera will try to preserve all of the details in the shot, from variations in the sky to the deepest shadows. Because the brightness difference beteween the sky and the ground is so great, the sky ends up taking most of your dynamic range, and the ground and details end up compressed into the lower end of the range. When you look at this 770 shot, you may see details in the sky, but the ground is very dark. A comparable shot from a point and shoot digital would show the sky completely blown out. To help, try setting spot metering so that the camera meters the ground instead.

TIP: Use +EV compensation all the time

To make the 770 act more like a "normal" point and shoot, consider setting +0.5 EV all the time. This will result in a few "blown" highlights as you loose some dynamic range, but will give overall brighter images more comparable to what you would see from other cameras. This applies to outdoor shooting especially.

TIP: Adjust the LCD monitor to match the actual shots.

Often a shot that you take looks pretty good on the 770 screen, but looks low contrast and washed out on the computer. You can adjust the monitor on the camera to make the shots appear on the camera closer to how they will appear on the computer screen or printed out.

Take a shot with some color in it, transfer it to the computer, then view it on the 770 and the computer and the camera simultaniously. Set your camera to match the screen and you will not be so surprised by shots in the future. I set my 770 to...

Contrast -3

Bright +3

Color -3

Picture +5

Disp area normal

The reduced contrast and color make the shots seen on the camera match the actual shot. Brightness +3 just compensates for the reduced brightness with the lower contrast. I think that Picture just sharpens the image, adjust to taste.

TIP: Infinity focus

Although the camera does not have an infinity marking or setting, you can set infinity focus by twisting the focus ring towards "far" until you hear the servo motor stop adjusting the focus. This appears to be a good infinity setting on my camera.

TIP: User settings.

Because the camera has so many manual controls, it is VERY easy to set some crazy setting and then forget that you have set it (the white balance hold setting usually gets me). I would recommend learing how to use the user settings, they are very easy to use, and it is very easy to call one up later by setting the control dial to User and dialing one up. Store a "default" setting in the first user setting and get in the habit of calling it up each time you start out.

TIP: Sharpening

Well, this might be more of a personal preference, but I find even the "normal" sharpening setting too agressive. To me, even the normal setting gives the shots that "video" look with dark outlines around light objects and light outlines around dark objects. The sharpening is especially objectionable when printed out, again, just in my opinion. If you plan to manipluate your shots later, the sharpening will just get in the way. I wish that there was a setting between normal and soft, but since there isn't I take most of my shots in the soft position now, and sharpen later. Even unsharpened soft shots give a very photographic look when printed out.

Infra Red shooting.

The 770 is sensitive enough to Infra Red that you can take some shots in bright light with reasonable exposures providing that you have a visible light blocking filter.

 

Picture

This was a 1/2 second exposure at ISO 50. I've converted it to pure B&W and adjusted the contrast. I used a home made IR filter, your exposure times might be different with a "real" filter.

Tips for IR shooting with the D770:

* Cover the viewfinder! You will be out in bright sunlight, using long exposures. Light leaking through the viewfinder will result in a circular pattern and central spot on your shot if you don't cover the viewfinder. This is what that little cap for the viewfinder that came with the camera is for.

* I used a tripod and the remote release to reduce shake during the longer exposures.

* I had best results with manual focus. If you autofocus for visible light, then put on the filter and switch to manual, your shots may be out of focus. Also note that the focus is softer near the edges of the lens when using IR. Probably the lens has a little chromatic aberration problem with IR, and does not focus IR perfectly.

TIFF (Super) or High?

Is it worth using TIFF? Well, a picture is worth a thousand words so here,

Look at this...

Black, isn't it? That is the result of taking carefully controlled TIFF and High JPEG shots and subtracting them from each other to show the differences. This is actually quite difficult to do, because the slightest motion of the camera, even a fraction of a pixel or the slightest change of lighting will give a big difference on the final shot. I think that the faint edges that you can see along some objects are due to slight misalignment of the camera between the shots; I was careful, but you still have to touch the camera to change modes. It is very hard to get good comparison shots, which is why sometimes you might believe that you can see a difference if you compare side by side. Most of the differences in those shots are very low level, and are probably just random noise on the shots. Note that I picked a subject with a lot of sharp edges to accentuate any JPEG artifacts.

If you are of the opinion that there is a small difference and it is worth using TIFF, I think that you should try this experiment; take that difference shot that I have provided and add it to any of your shots. Now compare to the original shot... can you detect any difference?

I guess I could see using TIFF "just to be sure", but there does not appear to be any actual advantage to using it.