Sony DSC-P200 Review
The Sony CyberShot DSC-P200 is the successor to last year's very popular P150 and currently holds the "top of the line"
spot in Sony's ultra-compact "P" series (as of July 2005.) It offers many high-quality features
like its Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens, 640x480 VX Fine movie mode, 2.0-inch
LCD and 7.2-megapixel imager. This ultra-compact and durable digicam can be used
by everyone in your household. When the Mode Dial is set to Auto (the green
camera icon), it offers point-n-shoot simplicity, while the SCNene position
allows you to explore your creative side with its 9 pre-programmed exposure modes.
For those who like more control, the Program AE and Manual modes give access
to a wide variety of exposure options.
Like the previous P-series models, the P200's ergonomics are great. Its controls are well-placed and functional, and the menu system is very easy to navigate. One-handed shooting was a snap and thanks to the responsive shutter lag, you can just "mash" the shutter without having to use the "half-press" technique. Its large 2.0-inch color LCD is great for framing or reviewing your images. Sony uses a high quality non-glare surface on their LCDs, which makes them very useable in the bright sunlight. When shooting indoors, at first it's hard to frame your subject because the LCD does not "gain up" in dim lighting. After a half-press of the shutter release, the Focus-assist lamp fires and brightens up the subject for a brief moment.
Shooting performance was quite impressive. From power up to first image captured it measured an extremely quick 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag (the delay from pressing the shutter button until a picture is actually captured) was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and under 2/10 of a second including autofocus. In Program AE mode the shot to shot delay was approx. 1.3 seconds without the flash and just 1.8 seconds with the flash (depending on subject distance.) There are two Burst modes, Burst and Multi Burst. Burst mode captures a maximum number of images depending on the Size/Quality settings. In 7MP/Fine mode, it captured 5 images in about 4 seconds. It then takes about 5-6 seconds for the camera to process a full buffer. Shooting in Multi Burst mode, with the interval set at 1/30, captured 16 images in 4/10 of a second. With Multi Burst mode, the image size is locked at 1MP and all 16 images a recorded within a single animated frame. When using either of these modes, the LCD briefly displays the last image captured, which makes it difficult to follow moving subjects; this is a good time to use the handy optical viefinder. Switching from record mode to playback or vise versa takes less than a second. All of our tests were done using a Lexar 256MB Memory Stick PRO card, with the image size/quality set at 7M/Fine mode, Program AE mode, preview off, the flash off, ISO 100, with all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.
If you like recording video, the P200 offers three quality choices. Its 640x480 "VX" Fine mode (30fps) is great for high-quality movies that can be displayed on your television or the 640x480 Standard (15fps) mode will allow you to conserve space on your memory card. When using the "VX" Fine mode, a Memory Stick PRO Card is required because of its faster read/write speeds. There is also a 160x112 mode (8fps) that is great for sending clips via email to friends and family who couldn't be at the reunion, wedding, etc. Overall it captures good- quality movies. The autofocus does a good job of keeping up while panning and there is very little compression noise, but then again a 10 sec. movie consumes around 14MB.
I was pleased with the overall image quality in 7M/Fine mode. Our outdoor samples are both sharp and well exposed, with colors being nicely saturated. I saw very little noise in high and low contrast areas, and almost no CA (Chromatic Aberration, aka "purple fringing") in high contrast areas. Its Carl Zeiss lens produced sharp results throughout its 38 - 114mm (35mm equivalent) range, with moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle and slight pin cushioning at full telephoto. The zoom mechanism is smooth and quiet throughout the 3x range. For those who need a broader focal range, Sony offers three conversion lenses when using the optional VAD-PHC adaptor. The VCL-DH0730 0.7x Wide angle lens is perfect for landscapes and large group portraits, while the VCL-DH1730 1.7x Telephoto and VCL-DH2630 2.6X Super Telephoto lens will bring distant subjects up close and personal. I found the P200's "Auto" white balance setting works great for all types of outdoor shooting as well as indoor flash shots. When shooting available light shots of our M&M man in mixed lighting, images were a bit warm, but there's a noticeable improvement over the P150.
Indoors, it produced good overall results. The P200 is equipped with a focus-assist lamp which it uses automatically when needed; as a result its low light autofocus performance is exceptional. The flash has a good range of about 11 feet, which is sufficient for most indoor situations. We found its Red Eye Reduction mode provided very little red eye in our flash portrait samples. When shooting in a large open room or anytime you need more flash power, you can use the optional HVL-FSL1B Slave Flash unit (about $100). It's designed specifically for use with Sony Cyber-Shot models and includes a handy mounting bracket.
Bottom line - like its predecessor the P150 , the CyberShot DSC-P200 is hands down an awesome digital package. Its 7.2-megapixel imager and Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom produced sharp and colorful images, and there's plenty of resolution to create photo-quality 13x19-inch or larger prints. With a street price of around $400, we feel it offers an excellent value for those in the market for a durable high-quality digicam that can be slipped into almost any size pocket or purse. You might also want to look at the DSC-W7, another very good 7-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot camera.
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