Sony DSC-S40 Review
The Cyber-Shot DSC-S40 is one of Sony's entry-level "Stamina" series models for
2005. It features 4-megapixels of resolution combined with a high-quality Carl Zeiss
Vario-Tessar 3x optical zoom lens. Designed more for the beginner to intermediate
user, it offers point-n-shoot simplicity with a wide variety of fully automatic
exposure modes as well as a high-end VGA (640x480 pixel) MPEG movie mode.
I was pleased with the ergonomics of this camera. Even though it is compact, the controls are well placed and functional, and one-handed shooting was a breeze. The menu system is logically organized and in Program mode it allows you to quickly change settings. There is one feature however that I feel could be improved; the size of its LCD. Luckily this is not the only viewfinder and at 1.5-inches, it's quite small when you compare it to other cameras in this class. There is plenty of room on the back to accommodate a larger display. This is a transflective display that works great outdoors, even in extremely bright situations. When shooting in low-light situations, the LCD does not "gain up" to aid in framing your subject. However, the AF-assist lamp does help by momentarily brightening your subject.
Shooting performance was very robust. Power up to first image captured measured just 1.8 seconds. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, averaged less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and just 2/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot to shot delay measured a blazing fast 1.1 seconds without the flash and only 2 seconds using the flash. The S40 offers two sequential shooting modes (Burst, Multi Burst.) With Burst mode, I was able to capture 4 frames in about 1.7 seconds. It then takes about 3 seconds to clear a full buffer. Using Multi Burst with the interval set at 1/30, I captured 16 frames in 4/10 of a second; these frames are then saved as a single 1-megapixel animated image. When using either of the two continuous capture modes, the LCD flickers between blank and the last image captured making it difficult to follow moving subjects; this is when the optical viefinder comes in handy. Switching from Record to Playback mode takes less than a second either way. Our tests were done using the camera's 30MB internal memory, Large/Fine quality, Program mode, flash off, preview off, and all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality was great for a camera in this class. The Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens produced sharp images throughout its 32 to 96mm (35mm film equivalent) range. We noticed only slight amounts of chromatic abbreviation (purple fringing) present around extreme highlights as well as moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle, but virtually no pincushioning at the telephoto end of the zoom range. Outdoors, it captured images with good color balance and accurate exposure. In high/low contrast areas, I saw virtually no noise, even when viewing images at 100%. Our indoor portrait samples showed natural skin tones, and the built-in flash does an excellent job of illuminating subjects in small to medium sized rooms. I found its Red Eye reduction flash mode worked very well; check out our Samples page for an example with and without using this mode. The S40 features a 5 Area Multi-point, contrast detection autofocus system and we found it was quite fast and accurate. You should have no problems focusing on subjects in low-ambient lighting within the range of its AF-assist lamp. For those times when you're 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 for wireless use with Sony Cyber-Shot models and includes a mounting bracket.
The MPEG VX movie mode allows you to capture 640x480 sized clips at either Standard (15fps) or Fine (30fps) quality as well as a 160x120 mode that's great for posting on the web or sending movies via email. A Memory Stick Pro card is required to use the Fine quality mode. Our Standard movie sample was relatively good with average amounts of compression noise. The autofocus system did a good job of keeping up with fast moving objects, and wind noise was not an issue due to the positioning of the built-in microphone. When using the 640x480 Fine mode, it consumes approx. 1.3 MB per second compared to the Standard mode's 350KB per second.
The S40 is powered by two AA batteries, alkaline or NiMH type cells. Sony states that users should Not use manganese, lithium or NiCd type batteries. The S40 is one of Sony's new "Stamina" series digicams and they claim you can capture up to 480 shots with the LCD turned on or 580 shots with the LCD turned off (not including use of the flash) when using NiMH rechargeable batteries. We had no problems capturing our sample photos (about 90 shots) and concluding our other tests with a set of 2400mAh batteries. With the average file size of its 4M Fine images being around 1.5MB, we recommend the purchase of a 256 - 512MB Memory Stick PRO card; the ~30MB of internal memory only allows you to capture about 16 large/fine images.
Bottom line - the Sony Cyber-shot S40 will make a great choice for those who want to dive into the digital age, but don't want to reach too far into their pocketbook. Its combination of speedy performance, good overall image quality and affordable $199 price tag, makes it a worthy competitor in the entry-level digicam class. The only thing we found it to be lacking was its small 1.5-inch LCD. Don't forget to check out our review of the more versatile Cyber-Shot S60 , which can be had for about $50 more.