Sony DSC-P50 Review
The CyberShot DSC-P30 and the DSC-P50 are Sony's first digital cameras to use either common AA size batteries or the InfoLITHIUM NP-FS11 rechargeable battery pack. This lets you use "off the shelf" batteries to power the camera or you can purchase the optional battery pack and AC charger/power supply. When using the battery pack you always know how much runtime is left as it is displayed on the LCD screen. The best performance from AA type batteries will be realized by using high-power (1500mAH or better) NiMH cells, alkaline batteries should be used only in emergencies. The P30 and P50 cameras have a slightly different color scheme on the outside and on the inside they are identical except for image resolution; the P30 is 1.3-megapixels and the P50 is 2.1-megapixels. Which camera you would buy depends mostly on your printing needs, 1.3-megapixels makes excellent 4x6" and good 5x7" prints but if you want 8x10" sized prints you need 2-megapixels or more.
This pocket-sized camera is anything but small on features. The 2.1-megapixel CCD yields up to 1600 x 1200-pixel images. JPEG standard or high quality, TIFF uncompressed, special e-mail and text modes as well as MPEG-EX movie mode with recording duration limited only by available space on the Memory Stick. New Sony 12-bit DXP A/D conversion insures better tonal range and highlights. Sony 3x 41-123mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom with high speed AF, 5 preset focus distances, dedicated macro mode and 37mm threads for filters and add-on lenses. It even has an autofocus illuminator to assist the focusing system when the ambient light conditions are dim or dark. It lacks shutter or aperture priority modes but the Program AE system does have: user-adjustable ISO sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200 or 400), exposure compensation (+/-2EV), matrix or spot metering, flash with redeye reduction and output power settings, variable image sharpness (+/-2), picture effects (solarize, b&w, sepia, negative art) and date stamping. Other hardware features include a bright and very readable 1.5-inch color LCD, real image optical viewfinder, video out (NTSC or PAL) and a speedy USB port for downloading to the computer.
Last year's (2000) DSC-S30 and DSC-S50 were good cameras but they lacked optical viewfinders and didn't fit in average sized pockets well. The P30 and P50 address those two problems quite nicely. The user interface to the camera is still via the color LCD as both cameras do lack information LCD panels found on many other cameras. The menu system is clean and easy to navigate but it does mean that the color LCD has to be powered up to change most camera options. Luckily these are basically point and shoot cameras so the average user will probably only use the menu to change the image size, the operational mode of the camera can be selected from the mode dial on top. When you do need to change settings like the ISO speed or metering, they are easy to get to via the popup menu and 4-way selector switch on the back. You might have to shield the LCD with your hand in high-noon type sunshine but otherwise it is very useable outdoors.
The P30 and P50 feature the MPEG-EX movie recording mode which no longer limits you to clip lengths of 5, 10 or 15 seconds as with previous models. There is no microphone for audio recording but you can capture motion video in 160x112 or 320x240 resolution at 8fps with the duration being limited only by available storage space on the Memory Stick. Forty-five minutes of action can be captured when using a 64MB size stick. Another unique capture mode is the Clip Motion mode that lets you turn up to 10 small (160x112 or 80x72) images into an animated GIF file. Still images can be captured at 1600x1200, 1600x1072 (3:2 ratio), 1024x768 or 640x480 with two different quality levels of JPEG or as uncompressed TIFF images.
Overall the image quality is good to excellent for a camera in this resolution range. Color and saturation was usually very true to the original and the sharpness can be set to your liking but be careful not to over-sharpen or detail will be lost. There is little to no chromatic aberrations (purple fringe) visible. The zoom lens exhibits a little barrel distortion at full wide angle and some pin cushioning at full telephoto but no more than most other digicams (in other words, acceptable.) The flash is on the weak side but this is normal for compact cameras using small flash tubes. Don't expect to be lighting up subjects beyond six feet from the camera unless you're in Twilight mode. The most disappointing feature to me was the optical viewfinder. It is small and has a narrow field of view, not good for those wearing any kind of glasses. You will always capture a lot more in your picture then you see through the viewfinder, its coverage is no more than maybe 70% at best. However, any optical viewfinder is better than NO optical viewfinder at all. The color LCD when used as a viewfinder is much more accurate and shows almost 100% of the actual capture angle but of course it really drains the battery if used too often.
The camera proved to be quite "fast" in normal use. When you first turn it on it takes about 5 seconds before you can capture the first picture, this is somewhat slow but most everything else was surprisingly fast for such an economical camera. The average shot to shot time is less than three seconds no matter what size image you capture (with the exception of uncompressed TIFF images.) The shutter lag (time from pressing the shutter button to actual capture) is less than a second in normal autofocus mode, that drops to a little more than a quarter of a second if you use a manual focus preset. To eliminate most shutter lag you pre-focus by pressing the shutter release halfway and holding it there until you press all the way to capture, in this manner the camera will be as fast in AF as it is in manual focus mode. Going from Record to Play mode brings up the last image captured on the LCD in less than two seconds and going from Play back to Record is almost instantaneous.
All things considered I think Sony has another winner here, I'm sure we'll see a lot of them in the hands of happy tourists this summer. . As I said at the beginning of the conclusions, which one you buy depends on your printing needs. If you want or need even more image resolution then look at the DSC-S75 with its 3-megapixel imager and Zeiss lens. For pocket-size fun it is going to be difficult to beat the P30 or P50, they generate beautiful images and are very affordably priced.
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