Sony DSC-V1 Review
The DSC-V1 Cyber-shot is a compact camera that's loaded with powerful features such as a Carl Zeiss 4x optical zoom lens and a high resolution 5-megapixel imager. The V1 is a very easy to use in the Auto or Program AE modes and when you want to exercise your creative side there are many ways to do so. Sony calls it an "enthusiast's" camera and it's certainly that as it offers a full range of exposure modes and some you won't find anywhere else like NightShot and NightFraming. Advanced features like adjustable white balance, ISO sensitivity, exposure metering, saturation, sharpness, contrast and color effects. All of this is wrapped up in a stylish, durable and lightweight metal alloy body.
The V1 is a very robust performer. Press the power button and it's ready to go in about three seconds. In Single advance mode and shooting at full 5M resolution in Fine quality the shot to shot time is about a second, it takes a little longer to process but it's done in the background and won't slow you down. Shooting in TIFF mode is a very different experience. After taking the picture the camera is "frozen" for about 35 seconds as it process and saves the image. Digital cameras are totally optimized for processing and saving JPEG images and you'll have no trouble making photo quality prints from the Fine quality JPEG images. The Burst 3 mode captures three frames sequentially and the actual frame rate will depend on the shutter speed used. It takes about 13 seconds for the V1 to process a buffer full of burst mode images and then you can shoot another burst. In playback you can go from picture to picture in about a second for the initial preview and another two seconds for the entire image to load and then display sharply. The thumbnail index is built almost instantly and displayed just as fast. The magnified "zoom-in" function is quick and smooth as is the scrolling of an enlarged image.
As expected the Carl Zeiss lens is superbly sharp and free from any signs of chromatic aberrations. Where most other cameras use a 3x zoom, the V1's 4x lens will help you get a little closer to that elusive subject. At full wide angle there is mild amount of barrel distortion but not enough to cause any major distortion in your subjects. The V1's 5-point auto focus is a little quicker than some of the other 5mpixel cameras and is aided in low- light by the Sony exclusive Laser Hologram AF system. It uses a Class 1 laser to project a grid pattern up to 4.5 meters to achieve the necessary contrast for focusing. It is perfectly safe even when aimed at someone's eyes and works incredibly well. The macro focus mode is good but not great, you can focus as close as 3.9 inches from the lens and the flash does an excellent job of "throttling down" so as not to overexpose macro subjects. And when the need arises you can manually select one of thirteen focus distance presets or infinity.
Ergonomically the V1 is well designed except when you are using the camera's built-in flash. There's not a lot of camera to grab with your left hand and when the flash is popped up there's no "right" place for your fingers at all. This leaves you with a rather shaky camera whenever you use the flash and this is when you need to hold it the steadiest. When the flash is down then it's no problem, you can lay your index finger across the top of the camera. The lack of grip area is also going to be a problem when using an external flash unit as it adds more mass and makes the camera top-heavy. Speaking of which, the V1 can use the HVL-F1000 or the new HVL-F32X Sony flash unit via its hot shoe. If you're a left- eyed shooter like me you won't find your nose in the color LCD. However, the majority of the users are right-eyed so be prepared to wipe your nose grease off of the monitor's screen. The color LCD is very resolute and has excellent color rendition. My only complaint is the highly reflective clear cover they put over it. Olympus and others have proven the practicality of non-glare coatings on color LCDs, it makes them easier to see outdoors and easier to keep clean too.
The battery life is somewhat disappointing. The V1 uses the NP-FC11, the same as the DSC-P8 and DSC-P10 cameras. This is a small 3.6V 2.8W infoLithium battery and packs less than half the power of the NP-FM50 used in other Sony cameras. It also captures less than half the number of pictures but for its size it's still not too bad at 175 pictures (50% with LCD turned on.) As with all Sony cameras using an infoLithium battery, the remaining runtime in minutes is displayed on the color LCD so you know how much time you have left. This is the only power source for this camera, no other type of battery can be used so we recommend the purchase of a second battery or else your shooting is over once the battery dies. It takes about two and a half hours to recharge and of course you need to be close to an AC power outlet to accomplish this. And while we're talking about things to purchase, you'll want a bigger Memory Stick card. Unless you shoot everything in VGA size you will fill up the included 32MB card rather quickly. Luckily the price of Memory Stick cards has dropped radically in the last year so a 128MB size card won't set you back too far. The V1 is Memory Stick Pro compatible so you can also use a 256MB, 512MB or 1GB size card but these new cards are still quite expensive, often 2-3 times as expensive as CompactFlash cards of the same capacity. It is easier to unload these big cards, the V1 has a USB 2.0 interface and the 5M Fine images (average size 2.25MB) transferred to my computer in about two seconds each.
The V1's image quality is excellent, for the most part the default settings produce well saturated and properly exposed pictures. Some might say that the reds and greens are a little too saturated but that's all very subjective. The user can control the saturation, contrast and sharpness so you can "dial in" just the right look for your images. I found that the automatic white balance did its job well and only under some very mixed lighting did I need to manually set the color temperature. The one-push white balance works well as you can see from the 8-second exposure of my M&M guy on the table on our sample photos page. And you can also see from the two different 8-second sample images that Sony's NR (Noise Reduction) works very well, there is only a slight hint of noise in the night shot and almost none in the M&M shot. One note about the night shot - I did use PhotoShop to adjust the levels as it was shot in the wrong white balance but other than that it is "out of the camera." Images shot in the NightShot mode are only so-so as this mode works best with ISO at auto and the camera will run that all the way up which makes for green-tinted grainy/noisy pictures. The infrared illuminators can only light up subjects that are quite close so this mode is more of a gimmick than anything else. Now the NightFraming mode is great, it uses the infrared to illuminate the subject in the darkness and then captures a normal color image using the flash.
All in all the V1 is an excellent performer, it's robust and delivers the kind of image quality that you expect from a "top of the line" camera model. We mentioned it before and I'll say it again, the camera is somewhat grip challenged. I highly recommend that you see this camera in person and hold it in your hands before you buy it. Be sure to pop the flash up as this is where the problem lies. Other than that we have few things to complain about. This is a very nice camera that's loaded with features and options and is sure to please even discriminating users. It's compact but not pocket size, it's a little too thick to be called pocketable although it is far from being a "big" camera.
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