Sony DSC-N2 Review
Building on the success of its predecessor, the DSC-N1 from 2005, Sony has released a new upgraded model called the DSC-N2. While these models share the same body design and almost all of the same functions, the N2 includes more resolution at 10-megapixels, a broader sensitivity range up to ISO 1600, as well as a new High sensitivity exposure mode. Shared features include a massive 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD, Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens and VGA (640x480) movie mode. This is a point-n-shoot consumer model that can be used by anyone, regardless of their photography background.
The only change in the appearance of this new model is the stylish color of the durable all-metal body. Being very compact, I found it still fits nicely in your hands, especially when using the "Pinch" technique. Controls on the back are almost non-existent thanks to that 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. Just like we saw with the N1, I only had difficulties when using manual mode, which 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. Unlike the N1, the N2's LCD was very usable in marginal lighting, "gaining up" to help you frame the subject. The display also did not seem to get grainy like we saw with the N1.
We also saw very similar shooting performance results. Power up to first image captured was impressively fast, at under 2 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 1.9 seconds without the use of the flash and 2.3 - 3 seconds with the flash, depending on whether Red-eye Reduction is on or off as well as subject distance and battery life. The N2 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 3 frames in about 2.4 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 are 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 512MB Memory Stick PRO Duo card, with the image size/quality set at 10M 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.
When using the 10M Fine setting the images look great. Outdoors, capturing photos that are sharp from edge to edge isn't a problem, along with showing accurate exposure and color balance. You can also dial in your very own "look" with various image adjustments like color modes, sharpness, and contrast. The Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens helped produce sharp images throughout the 38-114mm (35mm equivalent) range. I did notice some traces of chromatic aberration around subjects with high contrast. At full wide angle there is a moderate amount of barrel distortion, but not enough to cause any major problems with your subject(s). Noise isn't much of an issue with the N2. I found ISO 400 and below looked good, and even 800 doesn't look bad. ISO 1600, however, does show a lot of artifacts, even with this there shouldn't be a problem making usable 4x6-inch prints.
The N2 also does very well in the portrait department, even though there isn't a dedicated "Portrait" exposure mode offered. While using program mode, there was no problem producing pleasing results both inDOORS and out, with sharp facial features and natural skin tones. I did notice above average amounts of red-eye, even with the reduction mode enabled. This, however, is a common issue with compact digicams. There's also the new High sensitivity mode, which will allow you to capture blur-free images in lower than normal lighting conditions without the flash, by boosting the ISO sensitivity, which in turn increases the shutter speed. I found noise levels do tend to rise. You do, however, have to be viewing an image at 100% to see this and the usefulness of this mode makes it to be worth while.
You can also record motion video with Movie mode. There are three different 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 which 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 the faster read/write speeds. Our movie samples were good, with very little compression artifacts. Be sure to see our samples page to see all of our photo and movie examples.
Power is supplied by a tiny NP-BG1 3.6v 3.4Wh proprietary lithium ion battery pack. Sony claims you can capture 300 shots on a single charge. I found battery life was pretty awesome when you consider the energy needed in order to power that large LCD screen. We were able to capture about 178 images and conclude all of our other tests before there was any need to be recharged. Because this is a proprietary battery that is charged outside of the camera, we recommend the purchase of at least one extra pack; You wouldn't want to miss a spontaneous photo opt due to a dead battery!
Bottom line - Like its predecessor, the N2 is a very nice compact digital camera. Offering great performance, pleasing image quality, various exposure modes, and let us not forget the massively "Cool" 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD, I do believe that the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-N2 is sure to be a very popular model this year. With an MSRP of US$399, there won't be too hard of a tug on your pocket book, especially for a feature packed 10-megapixel digicam. And with that much resolution, printing ideas are almost endless!
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