Sony DSC-P73 Review

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P73



Steve's Conclusion

The Cyber-shot DSC-P73 is the 2004 upgrade to Sony's popular DSC-P72 we reviewed last year. The upgrades include an increase in resolution to 4-megapixels, an improved 5-point AF system, enhanced shooting performance, and the ability to attach conversion lenses. The P73 is also a better value than its predecessor; it not only offers improved features, but its MSRP is $30 less than DSC-P72 at the time of its introduction. The DSC-P73 appeals to the beginner with its point-n-shoot automatic mode, and satisfies the needs of the intermediate shooter with 6 scene modes plus programmed auto and full manual exposure mode.

The DSC-P73 is an attractive package. Its plastic body is both stylish and durable, and it's small enough to carry in your pocket or purse. The camera controls are logically arranged so that they're not accidentally activated, an achievement for such a small camera. The lens extends from the camera body when in use, and is protected by a shutter mechanism when retracted; there's no lens cap to lose. The 1.5-inch LCD is used as a live viewfinder, to review images, and to access the camera's menu system; it's usable in conditions ranging from bright sunlight to normal room lighting. The LCD viewfinder's image is not intensified when using flash, so you'll be happy that the DSC-P73 is equipped with a small but useful optical viewfinder. My only complaint with the LCD as a viewfinder is the small size of the icons and exposure information it presents.

The P73's small size is achieved in part because it uses only two AA batteries for power. But their small size doesn't mean short life; I was able to capture nearly 250 images before the capacity of the supplied 2100mAh NiMH rechargeables was consumed, and that included extensive use of the LCD as a viewfinder, to test the camera's menu system, and to field check the test shots. Sony also includes a small NiMH charger that can handle two AA or two AAA size batteries.

The P73's shooting performance belies its small size and price. From power-on till the first image was captured took only 2.5 seconds, helping you to capture those unposed spontaneous moments that some other cameras miss. Shutter lag (the delay between pressing the shutter button and capturing an image) was a fast 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and only 4/10 of a second including autofocus. In single shot mode, shots could be captured at a rate of one every 1.2 seconds without flash, or 1.4 seconds with flash. Burst mode captured 4 images in approx. 2.1 seconds, taking 3.5 seconds to process the full buffer before the next burst could be taken. These results were obtained using a 256MB Memory Stick Pro card, with the image size/quality set at 4M(2304x1728)/Fine mode and the flash off. The P73's responsiveness will contribute a great deal to your picture-taking enjoyment.

I was pleased with the P73's outdoor results. Our test shots were both well exposed and richly saturated. There was a bit of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high contrast areas at the wide angle end of the zoom range, but it diminished to near zero in the telephoto range. The lens produced sharp results throughout its 39 - 117mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom range, but with a moderate degree of barrel distortion that was most pronounced at extreme wide-angle. It zooms smoothly, but not continuously, throughout its 3X range, having nine distinct steps between full wide angle and telephoto. The camera's auto white balance system produced realistic colors in all outdoor shooting conditions.

I usually advise folks to avoid using the digital zoom feature. In most camera's, it simply enlarges the central area of the image sensor by interpolating it up to the full sensor image size, degrading image quality. The DSC-P73, however, has a "Smart" digital zoom feature that crops the central portion of the image and produces a high-quality uninterpolated image of smaller size. The smart digital zoom expands the 3x optical magnification to 3.4x when shooting 3-megapixel images, 5.4x when shooting 1-megapixel images and 10x when shooting VGA-sized images. You'll find the P73's Smart digital zoom of benefit if you need greater magnification than the 3x optical zoom can provide, and you don't need the camera's full 5-megapixel resolution for those shots.

If you need greater magnification and full resolution, Sony offers two optional telephoto conversion lenses, the $100 1.7x VCL-DH1730, and the $130 2.6x VCL-DH2630; both attach to the camera via the VAD-PEB lens adaptor. We tested the 2.6x lens, and found it to be a good match for the P73, producing sharp results but with an increased level of purple fringing in high contrast areas. With the 2.6x lens attached, vignetting occurs at all optical zoom settings except full telephoto, effectively converting the zoom lens into a fixed focal length of 304mm in 35mm-equivalence. While the optical results were good, I was disappointed with the mechanical connection between the camera and the lens adaptor; it had a lot of play and the locking mechanism did not feel secure. The adaptor SONY provided was pre-production; I hope they improve the final product.

I was pleased with the P73's indoor results. Because of the limited flash range (12.5 feet) and limited field of view provided at the camera's 39mm wide angle focal length, you'll obtain the best indoor results when shooting portraits of individuals or small groups; the flash is simply not powerful enough to illuminate a large room. Flash portraits produced natural skin tones and were absent red eyes when using the flash red eye reduction mode. The focusing system is an excellent performer in low ambient light because the P73 is equipped with a focus-assist lamp; it activates automatically when needed. The P73 is very effective at squelching its flash at macro range, making it a good choice for capturing images of small objects for inclusion in online auction listings.

With its small size, stylish design, 4-megapixel resolution, high-quality 3x zoom lens, 640x480 30fps movie clips and $300 MSRP, the DSC-P73 is a great value. Your children will get excellent results in Auto mode, yet its more advanced features will encourage the creativity of experienced users. Its excellent exposure system, accurate autofocus, realistic color balance, and 4-megapixel imager will produce photos you'll enjoy viewing on your computer or printing at 8x10 inches to hang on your wall. If you like the P73's features but want a bit more resolution, consider the DSC-P93; at an MSRP of only $50 more, it's a great value in the 5-megapixel class. Please have a look at our sample photos to see what this camera is capable of.




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