Sony DSC-P72 Review
The Cyber-shot P72 is a compact 3.2-megapixel digicam that delivers very good images. It's the big brother of the DSC-P52 and DSC-P32. The DSC-P72 has a 3x zoom (39 to 117mm equivalent) and a Smart Zoom. The DSC-P52 features a 2x optical zoom lens and the DSC- P32 has no optical zoom. The Smart Zoom is a new feature for these cameras and is useable at 2.0M resolution or less. I was surprised to find that this feature worked exceptionally well. The pictures created with Smart Zoom did not exhibit the usual "enlarged-jaggies" that we see from all the other digital zoom cameras out there.
The power source is 2-AA batteries. Sony includes two very healthy 2100MAh NiMh AA rechargeable batteries and the compact BC-CS2A/CS2B 13 hour charger with faster chargers available optionally. I was happy to see that Sony is using standard AA size batteries to power the P72. Too many cameras these days use proprietary battery packs which are expensive and often obscure. It's nice to be able to use rechargeable or "off the shelf" batteries. There's many brands of NiMH AA size rechargeable batteries to choose from as well as fast AC or portable 12v chargers. You can use alkaline type batteries, just expect a much shorter runtime from them. NiMH rechargeable cells are the way to go and will power this digicam for up to 90 minutes with the LCD display ON (recording one image every 3 seconds for about 1800 images according to Sony's specs.) I found battery life when using the high- capacity 2100mAH NiMH was very good even when using the color LCD frequently to check the pictures.
I had my doubts about the Memory Sticks when they first appeared but they are now plentiful, larger in capacity and are competitively priced against CompactFlash and other memory cards. All of the new 2003 Sony cameras will be able to use the higher capacity Memory Stick Pro cards as well as original Memory Sticks. I find the inclusion of an 16 MB Sony Memory Stick a little stingy as it has the capacity of about four images (2048x1536 Fine) or one 20 second movie clip. The P72 has video output (NTSC/PAL switchable) which allows connecting to a TV for "slide shows" (cable included.) In any event, it's a must to get an extra set of batteries and a BIG memory card so you don't have to worry about running out of "digital film" when there's an important picture to capture.
The P72 features a 3x Zoom, 6 to 18mm (39 to 117mm equivalent), lens with a fast F2.8 maximum aperture which makes it a better than average performer in low-light situations. Auto focus works down to about 4 inches (in macro mode) and allows you to shoot close ups 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 zoom lens retracts into the camera and the built-in lens protector closes automatically. It is recessed from the front of the camera amply to prevent damage to the lens or the cover itself - and no more lost lens caps!
The P72 has a 1.5" TFT color LCD (61,000 pixels) for viewing or reviewing. The typical LCD is fairly useless in direct sunlight but Sony took a few extra steps to make this a much more useable LCD. The biggest help is the non-glare surface of the LCD and the LCD BackLight turned to Bright. The wide angle view is a dead giveaway that this is not the cheapest LCD they could find as some tend to be. The color saturation and contrast help considerably in confidently deciding whether or not to keep images while reviewing in the field.
Lenses and imagers can't do their magic to capture great images unless they can focus. Unlike other manufacturers, Sony did not drop the ball on low light level focusing. The P72 has an AF illuminator lamp that allows auto focus lock in low or no-light conditions. It also has a three area multi-point auto focus system that helps pick out your subject even if it's not in the center of the frame. The Multi-Pattern light metering uses 49 independent points of the frame to more accurately meter the subject in the scene and pick an optimum exposure for you. Simply, it does more for you if all you want to do is "point-n-shoot."
The P72's performance is impressive with just a four-second start-up time from power on to being able to capture your first image. The shot to shot time is less than two seconds even at the largest image size and highest quality. Add about another 3-4 seconds if using the flash. The time it takes to write to the media is not an issue, it's less than three seconds. There's no need to wait for it to finish writing either, it streams the data to the card so you can just keep on shooting. I shot about twenty frames one after the other without any processing delay noticed. Movie mode has the updated MPEG VX resolution that yields a 640x480 size movie at 16fps, the length is limited only by the storage media's capacity. It streams the data to the memory card (correction "stick") so additional movies can be shot almost instantly. Those big movies are gorgeous but they do eat up the memory space, a 10-second clip consumes about 3.5MB.
The Program AE modes make it easy for the beginner or experienced photographer to capture that special moment. For pure Point-n-Shoot convenience use the AUTO mode. Landscape mode sets the focus to infinity, while the Night scene modes 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. The P72 has automatic Noise Reduction when the shutter speed is longer than one half a second which reduces the red-green-blue "Christmas light" look (electronic noise) to the shadow area of a long exposure. Sony introduced two new scene modes with this camera the Beach and Snow. The Beach mode worked well to bring out the aqua blue color of the ocean.
The DSC-P72's images are excellent. It may be fairly small in size but there's nothing small about the 2048 x 1536 pictures that it creates and 8x10" prints that you'll be proud of. The indoor pictures of people with flash do very well and print nicely (see Sample Photos page). The P72 is accurate even in low light conditions. The overall image quality, sharpness and color balance is on the same level as much larger and more expensive cameras with the same image resolution capabilities.
The DSC-P72 is a good choice for anyone wanting a "pocketable" camera that delivers high quality images. The sharp and bright 3x optical zoom, the 2048 x 1536 image size and the VGA-size movies are great features -- at a $330 price point (as of 03/2003) it won't dig too deep in the pocketbook either. I feel the Sony CyberShot DSC-P72 will make a great camera for new or experienced users, just be sure to purchase a larger Memory Stick and another set of NiMH batteries.
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