Sony DSC-P31 Review
The CyberShot DSC-P31 is an ultra- compact 2.0-megapixel digicam that delivers good images. It is the little brother of the 2.0 MP DSC-P51. The DSC-P31 has a 3x Digital zoom and no optical zoom whereas the DCS-P51 has a 2x optical and a stepless 3x digital zoom for about $80 more than the approx. $199 street price of the DSC-P31. The P31 has the ability to record still images as well as movie clips without sound and features a number of exposure options even though it is basically an automated point-n-shoot camera. The P31 can capture still images in up to 1600x1200 size in JPEG format. If printing 4x6" prints, you can select the 1600x1272(3:2) format which is the perfect ratio for non-cropped prints. When you want a smaller image select a size from 1280x960 or 640x480.
The power source is 2-AA batteries. Sony includes two healthy 1750MAh NiMh AA's and the BC-CS1 13 hour Charger with faster charging options available. I was impressed that Sony did not take the path that many manufacturers are at this price point of camera and did include the NiMh batteries - not 2 AA alkaline batteries that end up in the land fill. NiMh rechargeable cells are the way to go and will power this digicam for up to 120 minutes with the LCD display ON or about 2400 images according to Sony's specs. I had my doubts about the Memory Stick modules when they first appeared but they are now plentiful, larger in capacity (up to 128mb as of 04/2002) and have been reduced in price. Memory Sticks are slower at Read/Write operations than CompactFlash but Sony still promises performance improvements with the larger cards coming in the near future. I find the inclusion of an 8 MB Sony Memory Stick with the capacity of about eight images (1600x1200) a little less than could be included as the retail of 8MB and 16MB Memory Sticks are presently the same.
The P31 is equipped with fixed 5.0mm (33mm equivalent)lens with a fast F2.8 maximum aperture which makes it a better than average performer in low-light situations. A continuous focus down to about 4 inches allows you to shoot closeups of small objects. The lens exhibits the usual amount of optical distortion as most in its class and there's mild barrel distortion in full wide angle. When you turn off the camera the built in lens cap closes automatically. It is recessed from the front of the camera amply to prevent damage to the lens or the cover itself. This is less troublesome than other lens covering designs.
The DSC-P31's performance is very impressive. The start-up time is less than three seconds from turning on the power until you can capture the first image. The shot to shot time is about 2-3 seconds even at the largest image size and highest quality. Add about another one to two seconds if using the flash. The writing time is not Movie mode has the updated MPEG and HGX resolution and yields a 320x240 16fps movie whose length is now determined by the storage media's capacity. It streams the data to the card so additional movies can be shot almost instantly.
The Program AE modes make it easy for the beginner or experienced photographer to capture that special moment but Program mode does limit the slow shutter speed to 1/30th second. Landscape mode sets the focus to infinity, Night scenes use slower shutter speeds (to 2 seconds) and Slow-Syncro Flash to illuminate foreground objects. There is no direct control of the shutter speed or aperture but by selecting the Twilight or Twilight+ modes you can capture some amazing low light or nights shots comparable to the P51 sample night shot. The DSC-P31 has automatic Noise Reduction when the shutter speed is longer than one half a second.
The DSC-P31's performance is fairly impressive. It may be small in size but there's nothing small about the 1600x1200 pictures that it creates. The focus and imaging system have some issues in the P9 but the P31 seems to remedy them by matching the optics' ability with a 2 megapixel imager. The indoor pictures of people with flash do very well and print nicely. The P31 is accurate even in low light conditions. The overall image quality, sharpness and color balance is on the same level as cameras with its physical size with larger resolution capabilities.
The DSC-P31 is a good choice for anyone that wants a camera that can be easily carried in their pocket or purse and wants to just point-N-shoot. An optical zoom is a useful feature but it does take you over that $200 price point of this camera (as of 05/2002) and moves you to the approx. $280 price point of the DSC-P51. We feel the Sony CyberShot DSC-P31 will make a great camera for those going on vacation, just be sure to purchase a larger Memory Stick and a second set of batteries.
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