Sony DSC-L1 Review
The Cyber-shot L1 is another ultra-compact point-n-shoot from Sony this
year (2004), which offers users 4-meagapixels of resolution combined with
a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3x optical zoom lens. The beginner to
intermediate user will have the ease of a fully automatic "Auto" exposure
mode, including 7 pre-programmed scene modes when wanting to explore their
creative side. There's also a Program AE mode for those who like to change
settings for exposure compensation, focus mode, ISO, white balance,
sharpness, saturation, etc.
I was pleased with the ergonomics of this camera. Even though it is about the size of a Snickers candy bar, its controls are well placed and functional, which makes one handed shooting a snap. The menu system is logically organized and when using Program mode it allows you to quickly change settings. There is one feature however that I feel could be improved; the size of its LCD. This is the only viewfinder and at 1.5-inches it's quite small when you compare it to other cameras in this class. There is plenty of room on the back to accommodate a larger display. This is a transflective display that works great outdoors, even in extremely bright situations. However, when using it indoors in low-ambient lighting, it fails to "gain up" and is difficult to frame with.
Shooting performance was very robust. Power up to first image captured measured about 2 seconds. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, averaged less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and just 2/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot-to-shot delay measured 1.4 seconds without the flash and 1.6 seconds using the flash. The L1 offers two sequential shooting modes (Burst, Multi Burst.) With Burst mode, I was able to capture 4 frames in about 2.5 seconds. It then takes about 3 seconds to clear a full buffer. Using Multi Burst with the interval set at 1/30, I captured 16 frames in 4/10 of a second; these frames are then saved as a single 1-megapixel animated image. When using either burst mode, the LCD flickers between blank and the last image captured. This makes it very difficult to follow fast moving subjects. Switching from Record to Playback mode takes less than a second and vise versa. Our test were done using a Sony 256MB Memory Stick PRO Duo card, Large/Fine quality, Program mode, flash off, preview off, and all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The overall image quality when using 4M Fine mode was good. When shooting outdoors, it captures sharp images with good color balance. The Carl Zeiss lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle, but almost no pin cushioning present at full telephoto. I noticed very little noise in high and low contrast areas, with slight traces of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) around highlights. Our indoor portrait samples showed true skin tones, although it would benefit from a stronger flash. Most ultra-compact cameras have this problem; increasing the size of the flash results in decreasing battery life. Its autofocus system is fast and accurate and thanks to an AF-assist lamp, you can focus on a subject in almost complete darkness.
The L1 also features a high-quality VGA (640x480) sized movie mode. You can choose either standard or fine quality as well as a 320x240 mode that's great for sending movies via email. Our movie samples were good with slight compression noise. The autofocus system did well at keeping up with fast moving objects, but you can see it constantly adjusting the exposure.
This tiny camera is powered by a small but beefy 3.6v 2.4Wh InfoLithium battery pack. Sony claims you can capture 240 shots per charge. I was able to capture our sample photos (over 100 images) and conclude our other tests before the battery was close to being exhausted. However we do recommend the purchase of a second pack (about $60) just in case. Also the purchase of a larger 256MB to 512MB Memory Stick Duo card would be a good idea, it's supplied with a 16MB card; which is only sufficient to capture about eight 4-Megapixel Fine images.
Bottom line - the Sony Cyber-shot L1 is a definite winner. It will make a great choice for anyone who wants an affordable "pocket-rocket" that captures pleasing images. With 4- megapixels, you can create photo-quality 8x10-inch or larger prints. Retailing for about $300, the L1 offers an excellent value and will make a perfect addition to your holiday gift list.
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