Sony DSC-V3 Review
The DSC-V3 is Sony's 2004 upgrade to the 5-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-V1 we reviewed in 2003. In addition to the improvement in resolution courtesy of Sony's 1/1.8" 7.2 Megapixel Super HAD CCD, the V3 includes a higher capacity battery, a larger 2.5-inch LCD monitor, and the ability to record on both Memory Stick and CompactFlash Type I media. Many of the V1's advanced features were in no need of improvement; the V3 has retained its rich set of exposure modes, and unique Hologram AF illuminator, Night framing and Night shot features. While the V3's rich feature set is designed with the advanced user in mind, its Automatic and Scene modes provide even the most inexperienced user with the tools to capture impressive images.
The V3's body is slightly larger than the V1's, necessary to accommodate the large 2.5-inch LCD and the Compact Flash memory slot. The grip is more substantial, providing a more comfortable and secure feeling. The controls are ample and well-positioned, with nothing located where it might be accidentally activated. I favor the trend among 4x zoom digicams in providing an optical viewfinder rather than an EVF. The V3's shows about 80-85% of the captured image, but with a 7-megapixel imager there's plenty of content to allow large prints from the cropped image. I was disappointed, however, that the V3's optical viewfinder does not offer a diopter adjustment. The V3's LCD is used for image review, camera setup, and as a viewfinder; it is large, bright and has an effective anti-glare coating that made it usable even in the brightest Florida sun.
The V3's 4x zoom lens provides an extra measure of versatility compared to the 3x zooms of most consumer digicams. Its 35mm-equivalent zoom range is adequate for most interior shooting at its 34mm wide angle extreme, and offers a nice moderate telephoto focal length of 136mm at full telephoto. Chromatic aberration (purple finging at the high contrast areas) is nearly absent throughout the zoom range, but there is quite noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle and moderate pin cushioning at telephoto. The lens produced sharp results throughout its zoom range but images shot at F8 were noticeably softer that those shot at wider apertures; see our Sample Photos for a comparison of F4 and F8 images of the red brick building. I also noticed vignetting at the corners shot at the 34mm full wide angle end of the zoom range.
We tested both of Sony's conversion lenses, the VCL-DEH07VA wide angle and VCL-DEH17VA telephoto. The 0.7x wide angle lens converts the V3's zoom into a fixed focal length 23.8mm lens; the zoom can not be used. The wide angle lens produced sharp results without adding to chromatic aberration, but it increased barrel distortion noticeably; your wide angle shots of architectural subjects may suffer as a result. The 1.7x telephoto converter also produced sharp images, but added a degree of chromatic aberration and slightly increased the normal lens pin cushioning distortion. The zoom can be operated with the teleconverter attached, but vignetting will occur at shorter focal lengths; the effective zoom range with the telephoto converter is approximately 190-231mm in 35mm-equivalence. Both conversion lenses block the optical viewfinder; you will be forced to use the LCD. Both lenses also interfere with the internal flash, Hologram focus assist and infrared lamps; if you will be shooting in conditions that require flash, focus assist or night framing with these lenses, Sony recommends using its HVL-F32X external flash and HVL-IRM infrared light.
The V3 is a robust performer. It took 3 seconds to capture the first image following power on. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured less than 1/10 second when pre-focused. Shutter lag including AF delay measured an equally impressive 3/10 second in average lighting conditions, a time that rivals many dSLR's. If you are using the LCD viewfinder, add about 1/10 second to shutter lag due to the delay in the LCD's live image. Rapid shooting in normal recording mode captured images at a rate of 1 per second; with flash, the capture interval ranged between 2 and 10 seconds, depending on the distance to the subject.
The V3 has two high speed shooting modes. Burst mode captured 15 images in 12.7 seconds, taking an additional 13 seconds to clear its buffer to a 512 MB Memory Stick Pro, or 14 seconds to a SanDisk Extreme 1GB Compact Flash card. Speed Burst captured 8 images in 2.6 seconds, taking an additional 10 seconds to write its buffer to a Memory Stick Pro, or 10.3 seconds to the CF card. The LCD viewfinder displays a only brief glimpse of the last image captured in either Burst mode, limiting the camera's effectiveness at following a moving subject.
Things slow down considerably when shooting in the V3's uncompressed modes. Shot-to-shot times capturing TIFF images measured 9 seconds recording to Memory Stick Pro, and 9.5 seconds to CF. RAW images were captured at 12 second intervals with Memory Stick Pro, and 12.5 seconds with CF. Burst mode can not be used when shooting TIFF or RAW.
The V3's indoor results were good. The moderately wide 34mm focal length and 10-foot flash range will limit your shots to small rooms and portraits of small groups. The V3's red eye reduction flash mode was effective. Focus was always spot-on regardless of ambient light level thanks to Sony's Hologram AF assist feature. The V3's night framing feature compliments the AF-assist nicely, allowing you to compose a shot even in complete darkness using the LCD viewfinder. When not using Night Framing, the LCD "gains-up", intensifying the live image in low ambient light; when the flash is disabled, the "gain-up" remains until you capture the image, but when using flash, the live image is intensified only during autofocus - the viewfinder darkens once focus lock is established.
Outdoors, the V3's exposure and autofocus systems produced pleasing images, except for the softness at F8 issue I discussed earlier. White balance was accurate and images were richly saturated. Shutter speed is limited to a maximum of 1/1000 second in manual and shutter priority modes, but the camera will select a speed of up to 1/2000 second in automatic mode. In aperture priority mode, the V3 will select a shutter speed of 1/2000 second only if the aperture is set to F5.6 or narrower; I don't understand why 1/2000 is not available at wider apertures where it is more needed. This issue limits the V3's effectiveness in capturing sports images. The V3 also seems to have a preference for shooting at F8 in bright sunlight, using the lens at what we found to be its least effective aperture in terms of sharpness. Images were essentially noise free at ISO 100, but noise became detectable at ISO 200, noticeable at ISO 400 and objectionable at ISO 800. Automatic noise reduction at long shutter speeds was effective.
I was happy with the V3's battery life. I captured 230 images with full time use of the LCD with the V3's battery meter indicating 23 minutes of usage left. The battery is a proprietary design with no off the shelf replacement, so I recommend that you obtain a second NP-FR1 and keep it fully charged to avoid the disappointment that a dead battery brings to a unique photo op. I also recommend that you obtain a sizable Memory Stick or CF card; the V3's 7-megapixel Fine quality JPEG images consume an average of over 3-megabytes each.
With its 7-megapixel imager, responsive performance, and rich feature set, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 promises a lot, and if most of your shooting occurs indoors you'll be satisfied. But venture outdoors and you'll find soft images at F8, significant distortion at wide angle, and difficulty in achieving shutter speeds faster than 1/1000 second. The V3 is not the all-around digicam that its specifications imply, and I would recommend that you instead consider the Canon PowerShot G6, the best of breed camera in this class. Please have a look at our side-by-side comparison of the G6 and V3, and see the differences for yourself.
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