Sony DSC-M1 Review
One of the more unique digicams we have seen (as of 5/2005), the Sony
Cyber-Shot DSC-M1 is a stylish and durable point-n-shoot that offers
users 5-megapixels of resolution, VGA sized MPEG4 movies, and a fully
articulating 2.5-inch LCD. It can be used by every member in your household
with its Program AE mode, and the creative scene modes will allow you to
get better pictures in a wide range of often challenging conditions.
Ergonomics were unusual to say the least. The controls are grouped into a rather cramped area and some of the buttons are small, round-topped and recessed which makes them difficult to operate, the menu system is easy to navigate. Like many super-compact cameras, you have to "learn" how to hold it. I found the most comfortable method was holding the LCD with your left hand (index finder and thumb) and using your right hand to cradle the body. When doing this your thumb will fall naturally over the Photo and Movie shutter buttons as well as the zoom controls. The large 2.5-inch LCD offers versatility with viewing angles that are just not possible with typical "fixed" position LCDs. I found it worked well outdoors, and only under extremely bright conditions did I need to shade the monitor to see the image. When shooting in low-ambient lighting, the LCD image does not "gain up", however the AF-assist lamp did help by momentarily illuminating the subject.
The M1's shooting performance was very robust. Power up to first image captured measured only 1.6 seconds. Shutter lag, the time from depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous when pre-focused and only 1/10 of a second including autofocus. In single record mode, the shot-to-shot delay averaged 1.2 seconds without the flash and 1.9 - 2.2 seconds with the flash. The M1 offers two Burst modes (Speed and Multi.) Using Speed Burst, I was able to capture 4 frames in 8/10 of a second. Shooting in Multi Burst mode, with the interval set at 1/30, captured 16 images in 3/10 of a second. When using Multi Burst mode, the image size is locked at 1MP and all 16 images a recorded within a single animated frame. Switching from record mode to playback or vice versa takes less than a second. All of our test were done using a Sony High-Speed 1GB Memory Stick Pro Duo card, with the image size/quality set at 5M/Fine, Program AE mode, preview off, the flash off, ISO 100, with all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.
The M1 offers three recording size choices for Movie mode. You can use the 640x480 Fine mode (30fps) for high-quality movies that can be displayed on your television. There's also 320x240 Fine (30fps) and Standard (15fps) modes to conserve space on your memory card. Audio is recorded in Stereo thanks to the two (right and left) microphones. When using the 640 Fine mode, a Memory Stick Pro Duo Card is required. Overall it captures good-quality movies, with average amounts of compression noise. The autofocus does a good job of keeping up while panning and zooming. You must be careful when using the zoom control or you will shake the camera when going from telephoto to wide angle. A sturdy camera support like a monopod is recommended but the oddly located tripod socket does not itself well to this.
I was very pleased with the overall image quality when using the 5M/Fine mode. Outdoors it captured tack sharp images. Our samples are both well exposed and richly saturated. I saw very little noise in low contrast areas, and almost no CA (Chromatic Aberration) in high contrast areas. It also does a very good job of exposing the sky, with beautiful cloud detail. The Carl Zeiss lens produced sharp results throughout its 38 - 114mm (35mm equivalent) range, with moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle and slight pin cushioning at full telephoto. The zoom mechanism is smooth and quiet throughout the 3x range. The "Auto" white balance setting works great for all types of outdoor shooting as well as most indoor flash shots. However when shooting available light shots of our M&M man in mixed lighting, images seemed a bit warm.
Indoors it also produced good results but the flash has a very short range of around 5 feet, which is only sufficient for close-ups or solo portraits, group shots are out of the question. The red-eye reduction mode worked well considering how close the flash is located to the lens - we saw only a few instances of red eye in our "people" pictures. The focus-assist lamp is activated automatically when needed; as a result the low light autofocus performance is very good. Close-up macro shots with the flash were excellent, the camera "throttles down" nicely for nearly perfect exposures every time.
Bottom line - the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-M1 is the camera for those who are looking for a uniquely designed hybrid still/movie camera that fits in your pocket. It's stylish and easy to use with excellent image quality, robust performance, and a durable metal body. It does some practice to learn how to hold it properly and you must be willing to work within its limited flash range. The M1's 5-megapixel images have enough resolution for photo-quality prints up to 13x19". With a street price of around $499, it offers a good value and makes a great gift for dads and grads who like the unusual. If you like the function and style of the M1 then check out the Sanyo Xacti C5, it's very similar but easier to operate.
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