By Movable Type Admin
We now have a production version DSC-S75 with a serial number so I feel confident enough to add my conclusion comments. Sony has greatly improved last year's S70 camera with many exterior (ergonomic and cosmetic) changes, added dedicated buttons for the most often changed settings and made some significant internal improvements as well. The S70 was a good camera but it looked and operated like a digital camera. The S75 is designed with the photographer in mind, it's obvious that Sony listened to our complaints and made a lot of the necessary changes in the new camera.
The minute you pick up the S75 you can appreciate the larger handgrip, it gives the camera a real solid feeling in your hand. Sony uses the same excellent Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens as the S70 but it is now centrally located in the body rather than being stuck off on the side. It doesn't make the camera function any better but it does look more "proper" with the lens in the middle. It must still be extended when the camera is powered up and this requires about six seconds before you can take the first picture. If you forget and leave the lens cap on it just beeps at you and displays a "Lens cap attached" message on the LCD. You remove the cap and the camera continues its power up sequence without having to be turned off and on again. The lens is sharp and fast with a F2.0 maximum aperture, it is a good low-light performer. The zoom mechanism is too fast however, it needs to have more step positions to make it less sensitive.
Sony has added a focus assist lamp on the S75 and most all of its other year 2001 digital cameras. It allows the camera to operate in complete darkness up to a range of about 9 feet. Not only does it aid the autofocus system it also brightens up the LCD viewfinder image enough to make it useable in the complete darkness too. The autofocus system is quick and very accurate, under normal conditions it attains a solid focus lock in a second or less. The S75 is an excellent macro performer with a close focusing distance of about an inch and a half. And when you need it, the focus can be set manually with one of thirteen preset distances. You press the FOCUS button on the back and then use the Jog Dial to pick the appropriate distance. You can see the effect of changing the focus settings on the color LCD. The one thing I wish it did was magnify the view when changing the focus, the Olympus cameras do this and it makes critical focusing a lot easier.
Sony has now grouped all of the control buttons on the rear of the camera along with the monochrome data LCD. This makes changing most camera settings a breeze as you can push a button to go into macro mode, change the flash mode, set the self-timer, enable spot metering, change exposure compensation, set the AE Lock or go into manual focus. The mode dial on the top is large and easy to operate and has positions for Program AE, Shutter speed priority, Aperture priority, Manual, Movie, SCeNe (landscape, portrait or twilight depending on menu setting), Playback and Setup. When in shutter, aperture or manual mode, the Jog Dial is used to change the settings - it's very intuitive and easy. The Jog Dial is also used for changing the manual focus presets and the exposure compensation values. Located around the Mode Dial is the power switch which is large and easy to operate with your thumb. It has been positioned so that it is not accidentally switched on inside the camera bag. The 4-way selector switch is used to navigate the simplified menu system and to select images during playback. In record mode when the menu is not displayed the 4-way switch selects the functions of four different camera features, very nice engineering.
Placing many of the major functions on external buttons has made the record mode menu system drastically simpler. You can easily change white balance settings between auto, indoor and outdoor and there is now a "one push" custom setting. It could be improved even further if there were the usual presets for incandescent, flourescent, sunny and cloudy, hopefully we will see that on the next model. The ISO speed is Auto by default but you can lock in 100, 200 or 400 if desired. Still image size options are available for 2048x1536, 2048 (3:2) for "perfect" print size, 1600x1200, 1280x960 or 640x480. And now you can choose between Fine and Standard JPEG compression quality or pick the uncompressed TIFF setting for ultimate printing quality images. There is a "Burst 2" position for capturing a two picture sequence but it still lacks a real continuous burst mode. Other exposure options include Text, Email and a Voice mode that lets you attach an audio note to a still image. The flash output intensity has three levels; High, Normal and Low to better handle those difficult lighting conditions. Image sharpness is user selectable for 2 steps to sharper or softer, just remember that an over-sharpened image is not a good thing. And for those that like their pictures a little "different," there are the picture effects; solarize, B&W, sepia or negative art.
If you like capturing moving images you now have several options. Motion JPEG with sound can be recorded up to the capacity of the Memory Stick in MPEG EX mode. The image size can be 320x240 or 160x120 but the capture rate is only 8 frames per second. The MPEG HQ mode has a 16fps capture rate but is limited to a maximum clip length of 15 seconds. You can also select the Clip Motion mode which will take up to ten pictures at 160x120 or 80x72 resolution and generate an animated GIF file. Both movie and Clip Motion files can be played back on the LCD or output to a television set via the Audio-Video Out cable.
The S75 is more robust in its shot to shot time than the S70, it requires about three and a half seconds to process the large/fine mode JPEG images. The S70 was slower than most competing 3-megapixel cameras last year with an average shot to shot time of five to six seconds. The S75 still lacks a real continuous mode because it has no large RAM buffer like those found in the Olympus C-3030 and others. There is a "Burst 2" setting that lets you capture two pictures in sequence at 1.4fps which works out to 0.7 seconds per shot and then it takes about six seconds as it writes the data to the Memory Stick before you can take another burst sequence. The uncompressed TIFF images may offer the best possible image quality but it takes thirty seconds to process and store each image during which time you can do nothing but watch a progress bar on the LCD screen.
Power is no problem thanks to the Sony InfoLITHIUM battery system. The S75 uses the "M" series 7.2v battery that packs enough power for over two hours of recording. As with all the InfoLITHIUM-equipped cameras, the S75 displays the battery runtime on the color LCD in minutes so you never have to wonder how much battery power you really have left. I can't say enough about this as every other camera has a battery level display with four or five bars that stays on full right up to about the last two minutes just before it goes dead. NiMH batteries are good but lithium is undoubtedly the best and Sony proves this camera after camera. The battery is located behind a large door on the bottom of the handgrip, you'll also find the Memory Stick card slot down there too. While we're talking about the bottom, the tripod socket is badly positioned off to one side but I think it was done so as to give better access to the battery compartment.
The color LCD is a 1.8-inch TFT type with excellent readability even in bright light thanks to a very bright backlight. It has a protective covering that makes it easy to remove nose prints and resist scratching. If used as a viewfinder it gives you as close to a 100% coverage preview as possible, it is very accurate. Downloading images is quick thanks to a speedy USB port connection. There's an accessory shoe on the top to accomodate the HVL-F1000 external flash that plugs into the TTL connector on the side. Image playback is more robust than previous cameras thanks to a low-res thumbnail that is presented while the full size image is being decoded. The real bottom line for any camera is image quality and the the S75 has got that in spades. Thanks to its 14-bit DXP A/D converter and 3-megapixel imager the camera captures an image with a wide dynamic range and this equates a better looking image with very true colors.
Sony appears to be sending a clear signal to the other camera makers that it intends to further dominate the digicam market. The new S75 is priced at $699 which is a hundred dollars less than the S70 was selling for last year. This makes it more than competitive against all the other three-megapixel cameras out there plus you get the excellent rechargeable battery and AC power supply as part of the base package. If you're in the market for a high resolution digicam this one is going to be very difficult to pass by.
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