Sony DSC-N1 Review
The Cyber-shot N1 is one of the latest offerings from Sony this year (2005), and is the first ultra-compact model we have seen that offers a massive 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD. Other features include an 8-megapixel CCD imager, Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens and VGA (640x480) movie mode. This consumer model offers the typical Auto and Program exposure modes for point-n-shoot simplicity as well as 8 scene modes that are pre-programmed for various shooting environments. There's also a full Manual mode that gives users more control over the exposure process, allowing them to choose Shutter speed and Aperture values.
This durable and stylish model is not much larger than a deck of cards, yet it still fits comfortably in your hands, once you learn the "Pinch" technique. Controls on the back are almost non-existent thanks to its awesome 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD. Only the Menu, Display, and Zoom controls remain. All other options are accessed through a well organized onscreen menu. You simply touch the screen to access menu options. Overall I found the touchscreen system works great, allowing for quick changes to camera settings. Only when using manual mode did I have any difficulties and it was mainly due to the fact that you have to enter the Menu system, then select the M-set option to make changes to the aperture and shutter speed values. Outdoors the LCD worked very well, even with the bright sun beating directly onto it. However, when shooting in dim lighting the display does get a little grainy and does not "gain up", making it difficult to use.
The shooting performance was very impressive. Power up to first image captured was a fast 1.7 seconds. Shutter lag was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and only 2/10 of a second including autofocus. In Normal record mode, the shot to shot delay averaged about 1.4 seconds without the use of the flash and 1.6 - 3 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance. The N1 allows users to choose between two burst modes (Burst, Multi Burst). The number of images you can capture when shooting in burst mode depends on the image size and quality settings. Burst mode captured 4 frames in about 2.8 seconds. Shooting in Multi Burst mode, with the interval set at 1/30, captured 16 images in 3/10 of a second. When using Multi Burst mode, the image size is locked at 1MP and all 16 images a recorded within a single animated frame. The LCD briefly displays the last image captured when using either burst mode, making it difficult to follow a moving subject; this is when the optical viewfinder will come in handy. All of our tests were done using a 1GB Memory Stick PRO Duo card, with the image size/quality set at 8M Fine mode, Program mode, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) All times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.
The N1 is the most resolute consumer model we have seen thus far (11/2005), and I was pleased with its 8M Fine images. It offers various image adjustments for sharpness, contrast and saturation, which will allow you to "dial in" that certain look. The Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens helped produce sharp images throughout its 38-114mm (35mm equivalent) range, which are virtually free from any signs of chromatic aberration. At full wide angle there is a moderate amount of barrel distortion, but not enough to cause any major problems with your subjects. Outdoors it captured crisp, well exposed images with good color saturation and contrast. Noise levels were very low outdoors when the ISO speed was at 100 or below, however when shooting at ISO 400 these levels increase dramatically. You can see what I mean by looking at the Ambient light shot of our M&M man.
The 5 Area Multi-point autofocus system is very quick and thanks to the focus-assist lamp, we had few problems focusing on subjects in low-light conditions. Its tiny flash has a respectable range of approx. 16.4 feet at wide angel and ISO Auto. I found it was quite adequate for shooting portraits in small to medium sized rooms, where your subject(s) are not more than 6 to 8 feet away (when using the mid to telephoto end of the zoom range.) Our indoor flash portraits were sharp with good overall exposure and skin tones looked very natural. When using Macro mode, we found that the flash does an excellent job of "throttling down" to ensure that it doesn't overexpose the subject.
Movie mode also produced pleasing results. You can choose from three different movie size choices, 640x480 "VX" Fine mode (30fps) for high-quality movies that can be displayed on your television, 640x480 Standard (15fps) to conserve space and 160x112 that is great for sending clips via email or posting on the web. When using the "VX" Fine mode, a Memory Stick Pro Duo Card is required due to its faster read/write speeds. Overall the 640x480 Fine mode captures high-quality movies, with very little compression noise, and its autofocus system also did well at keeping up while panning.
The N1 is powered by a tiny NP-BG1 3.6v 3.4Wh proprietary lithium ion battery pack. Sony claims you can capture 270 shots on a single charge. It allowed us to capture about 100 images and conclude some of our other tests before it needed to be recharged. Because this is a proprietary battery, we recommend the purchase of at least one extra pack; missing a spontaneous photo opt due to a dead battery can be very aggravating.
Bottom line - the Sony Cyber-shot N1 is a nice digital package that offers great image quality, speedy performance, and a very cool touchscreen LCD. Its 8M Fine images have more than enough resolution to create stunning 13x19-inch borderless prints. We feel it will make a great choice for anyone who wants an extremely pocketable digicam with loads of high-end features. Taking pictures is a snap when using either of its fully automatic modes. With an MSRP of $500, we feel it offers a good value at the time of this review for an 8- megapixel consumer model.
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