Okay, so I only used the F-828 in the title because it rhymes with "late" and "great." The subject at hand is a whole series of related Sony cameras made between August of 1999 and roughly 2006. The series began with the F505, an odd-looking digicam that amounted to a hunky Zeiss zoom lens with a tiny articulating camera body sticking off to the side at one end. The series continued with the F707 two years later; the F717 a little more than a year after that, in September of '02; the strange-looking F828 (sometimes called the "dark angel" or "black angel" because of its color and swoopy excrescences) followed in August of 2003, and finally, at the very end of the "bridge camera" era, the relatively short-lived R1 of August 2005.
I owned an F707 for about a year when it was current. Its neatest trick was that it could photograph in the dark—it featured IR illumination built into the front of lens, which could be used either to set the focus distance and flash exposure, or to actually take an IR picture. The F717 was possibly the purest expression of the admittedly odd design, embodying as it did the furthest refinement of the original F505 concept.
The redesigned F828 (right) added a new zoom lens that went wider (to 28mm-e) and had a number of new features, but, all in all, seemed to take the camera further than the tiny 2/3" sensor wanted to follow. Although the CCD sensor sported a number of innovations and improvements, including a fourth color photosite, 3 million more pixels, and a top sensitivity of ISO 800, real-world quality fell somewhat short of the theoretical. Although the camera was popular and many people liked theirs, its execution never quite rose to the level of its ambition.
The ill-fated R1, a brilliant camera in its own way, took the design much further by featuring a 10-MP, APS-C sensor. It departed from its immediate predecessors in important ways, however—it didn't have a "swiveling handle" body, and the articulated viewing screen was on the top of the lens. But it was the first non-SLR-type to feature a big APS-size sensor, and users report both excellent image quality and excellent usability features.
Any of these could be used as "waist level" cameras, and their shutters were silent.
A sad consequence of Sony's both-feet-first jump into the DSLR arena with the acquisition of Konica-Minolta's DSLR assets in 2006 was the company's abrupt loss of interest in the former top-of-the-line R1. Evidently sales had not been encouraging anyway. DSLRs were the up and coming market opportunity, so that's where the investment and the R&D efforts went. The R1 was forsaken and, with little fanfare, dropped.
Most cameras that make their way into the darkness of history are little noticed and less missed, but the F707 remains the most fun camera I've owned over the past twelve or so years, and the #1 most fun digital. Its only problem was its results—although image quality could be very pleasing under just the right conditions, it suffered from all the drawbacks of early sensors—limited DR, sometimes funky color, and loads of noise at modest ISOs.
It's too bad the species had to come to an end—I still sometimes muse quietly about a camera with a large sensor and the R1's lens, a swiveling body like the F707 and F717, and Super Steady Shot. I'd make the sensor square, too.
Such a beast might not be "practical," i.e., marketable, but it sure would be fun.
Featured Comment by Peter F: "The passing of the great bridge cameras is something many fresh casual photographers would mourn if they understood what it meant. Known in my circle as 'the photography guy,' I'm routinely approached by friends who are 'thinking about buying a digital SLR' and want some guidance. They see everyone and their grandmother with one and figure that's what a camera needs to be. In some cases, I know a DSLR won't be their best bet, but the alternatives are a dying breed. I think the economics of the camera world (with entry-level DSLRs crowding out the high end bridge cameras) have done casual shooters a big disservice. Although on apples-to-apples terms no bridge camera has the power and flexibility of a DSLR, I firmly believe that the 'average' consumer is better served more than half of the time by a lightweight, compact, all-in-one solution. They will carry it more, so they will use it more. It's that simple. So when these friends ask me what camera they should get, I often find myself thinking of product lines and design philosophies that have died out thanks to the disconnect between what people think they want and what will actually serve them best (not, as is tragically showcased in certain contemporary democracies, always the same thing)."