Sony DSC-P32 Review
The Cyber-shot P32 is a compact 3.2-megapixel digicam that delivers good images. It's the little brother of the DSC-P72 and DSC-P52. The DSC-P32 has no optical zoom. The DSC-P52 features a 2x optical zoom lens and the DSC-P72 has a 3x zoom and a Smart Zoom. The Smart Zoom is a new feature for these cameras and is usable at 2.0M resolution or less. I was surprised to find that this feature worked exceptionally well. The pictures created with Smart Zoom did not exhibit the usual "enlarged-jaggies" that we see from all the other digital zoom cameras out there.
The power source is 2-AA type batteries. Sony includes two very healthy 2100MAh NiMh AA rechargeable batteries and the compact BC-CS2A/CS2B 13 hour charger with faster chargers available optionally. I was happy to see that Sony is using standard AA size batteries to power the P32. Too many cameras these days use proprietary battery packs which are expensive and often obscure. It's nice to be able to use rechargeable or "off the shelf" batteries. There's many brands of NiMH AA size rechargeable batteries to choose from as well as fast AC or portable 12v chargers. You can use alkaline type batteries, just expect a much shorter runtime from them. NiMH rechargeable cells are the way to go and will power this digicam for up to 90 minutes with the LCD display ON (recording one image every 3 seconds for about 1800 images according to Sony's specs.) I found battery life when using the high- capacity 2100mAH NiMH was very good even when using the color LCD frequently to check the pictures.
The P32 features a fixed focal length 5mm (33mm equivalent in 35mm photography) lens with a fast F2.8 maximum aperture which makes it a better than average performer in low-light situations. Auto focus works down to about 4 inches (in macro mode) and allows you to shoot closeups of small objects. The lens exhibits mild barrel distortion. When you turn off the camera the built-in lens protector closes automatically. It is recessed from the front of the camera amply to prevent damage to the lens or the cover itself - and no more lost lens caps!
The P32 has a 1.5" TFT color LCD (61,000 pixels) for viewing or reviewing. The typical LCD is fairly useless in direct sunlight but Sony took a few extra steps to make this a more useable LCD. The biggest help is the non-glare surface of the LCD and the LCD BackLight set to Bright. The wide angle view is a dead giveaway that this is not the least expensive LCD they could have used. The color saturation and contrast helps considerably when deciding which images to keep while reviewing in the field.
The camera can't do its magic to capture great images unless the lens focuses properly. Unlike some of the other manufacturers, Sony did not drop the ball on low light level focusing. The P32 has an AF illuminator lamp that allows auto focus lock in low or no-light conditions. It also has a three area multi-point auto focus system that helps pick out your subject even if it's not in the center of the frame. The Multi-Pattern light metering uses 49 independent points of the frame to more accurately meter the subject in the scene and pick an optimum exposure for you. Simply, it does more for you if all you want to do is "point-n-shoot."
The P32's performance is impressive with just a 1.5-second start-up time from power on to the capture of your first image. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter and capturing the image, is about .3 second when pre-focusing, and .5 second including focus time. The shot to shot time is less than two seconds even at the largest image size and highest quality. Add about another 3-4 seconds if using the flash. Using Burst 2 shooting mode, we were able to capture two images in .7 second when pre-focused. All of these times were obtained using a 256MB Memory Stick PRO. The time it takes to write to the media is not an issue, it's less than three seconds. There's no need to wait for it to finish writing either, it streams the data to the Memory Stick so you can just keep on shooting. I shot about forty frames one after the other without noticing any processing delay; I stopped not because the camera slowed, but because my finger grew tired! If you have ever been disappointed by a camera whose lack of responsiveness caused you to miss shots of your childs unrehearsed special moments, you'll be pleased with the the robust shooting performance of the P32.
The P32's Movie mode has the updated MPEG VX resolution that yields a 640x480 size movie at 16fps with audio, the length is limited only by the storage media's capacity. It streams the data to the Memory Stick so additional movies can be shot almost instantly. Those big movies are nice but they really eat up the memory space, a 10-second clip consumes about 3.5MB.
The Program AE modes make it easy for the beginner or experienced photographer to capture that special moment. For pure Point-n-Shoot convenience use the AUTO mode. Landscape mode sets the focus to infinity, while the Night scene modes use slower shutter speeds (to 2 seconds) and Slow-Syncro Flash to illuminate foreground objects. There is no direct control of the shutter speed or aperture but by selecting the Twilight or Twilight+ modes you can capture some amazing low light or nights shots. The P32 has automatic Noise Reduction when the shutter speed is longer than one half a second which reduces the red-green-blue "Christmas light" look (electronic noise) to the shadow area of a long exposure. Sony introduced two new scene modes with the 2003 DSC-Pxx series of cameras: Beach and Snow. The Beach mode worked well to bring out the aqua blue color of the ocean.
The DSC-P32's images are very good. It may be fairly small in size but there's nothing small about the 2048 x 1536 pictures that it creates and 8x10" prints that you'll be proud of. The indoor pictures of people with flash do very well and print nicely (see Sample Photos page). You can even include yourself in group portraits because of the DSC-P32's self timer and tripod mount. The P32 is accurate even in low-light conditions. The overall image quality, sharpness and color balance is on the same level as much larger and more expensive cameras with the same image resolution capabilities.
The DSC-P32 is a good choice for anyone wanting a "pocketable" camera that delivers high quality images. The sharp and bright Sony lens, robust shooting performance, 2048 x 1536 image size, and the VGA-size movies are great features -- at a $230 price point (as of 08/2003) it won't dig too deep in the pocketbook or take up too much space in it! I feel the Sony CyberShot DSC-P32 will make a great camera for new or experienced users, just be sure to purchase a larger Memory Stick and another set of NiMH batteries. If you want the same image quality and features in a camera with a real zoom then look at the Sony DSC-P52 with a 2x optical zoom or the Sony DSC-P72 with a 3x optical zoom.
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