Sony DSC-P93 Review

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P93

Steve's Conclusion

The Cyber-shot DSC-P93 is the 2004 upgrade to Sony's popular DSC-P92 we reviewed last year. It incorporates the same high quality Sony 3x optical zoom lens and 5-megapixel resolution, and adds an improved 5-point AF system, enhanced shooting performance, and the ability to attach conversion lenses. Importantly, it offers something else that we've come to expect from annual product refresh cycles, better value; the DSC-P93's MSRP is $50 less than DSC-P92 at the time of its introduction. The DSC-P93 appeals to the beginner with its point-n-shoot automatic mode, and satisfies the needs of the intermediate shooter with 6 scene modes plus programmed auto and full manual exposure mode.

The DSC-P93, like all members of Sony's mid-sized "P" series, is housed in a stylish and durable body, and it's small enough to carry in your pocket or purse. But despite its small size, Sony was able to arrange the camera controls logically, locating them to avoid inadvertent activation. The lens extends from the camera body when in use, and is protected by a shutter mechanism when retracted; there's no lens cap to lose. The 1.5-inch LCD is used as a live viewfinder, to review images, and to access the camera's menu system; it's usable in conditions ranging from bright sunlight to normal room lighting. The LCD viewfinder's image is not intensified when using flash, so you'll be happy that the DSC-P93 is equipped with a small but useful optical viewfinder. My only complaint with the LCD as a viewfinder is the small size of the icons and exposure information it presents.

The P93's small size is achieved in part because it uses only two AA batteries for power. But their small size doesn't mean short life; I was able to capture about 250 images before the capacity of the supplied 2100mAh NiMH rechargeables was consumed, and that included extensive use of the LCD as a viewfinder, to test the camera's menu system, and to field check the test shots. Sony also includes a small NiMH charger that can handle two AA or two AAA size batteries.

The P93 offers impressive shooting performance for a consumer digicam. You won't miss many unposed spontaneous moments because it can capture an image within 2.5 seconds of being powered on. Shutter lag (the delay from pressing the shutter button until a picture is actually captured) was a fast 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and only 4/10 of a second including autofocus. In Program AE mode the shot to shot time was approx. 1.2 seconds between shots without flash, and 1.4 seconds with flash. Burst mode captured 9 images in approx. 6.1 seconds, taking 8 seconds to process the full buffer before the next burst could be taken. Switching from record mode to playback or vise versa takes less than a second. These results were obtained using a 512MB Memory Stick Pro card, with the image size/quality set at 5M(2592x1944)/Fine mode and the flash off. Your results may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.

I was pleased with the overall image quality in 5M/Fine mode. Our outdoor test shots were both well exposed and richly saturated, and had very little chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high contrast areas. The lens produced sharp results throughout its 38 - 114mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom range, but with a moderate degree of barrel distortion that was most pronounced at extreme wide-angle. It zooms smoothly, but not continuously, throughout its 3X range, having nine distinct steps between full wide angle and telephoto. The camera's "Auto" white balance was effective; there are four pre sets available, but no custom setting for unusual conditions.

I usually advise folks to avoid using the digital zoom feature. In most camera's, it simply enlarges the central area of the image sensor by interpolating it up to the full sensor image size, degrading image quality. The P93, however, has a "Smart" digital zoom feature that crops the central portion of the image and produces a high-quality uninterpolated image of smaller size. The smart digital zoom expands the 3x optical magnification to 3.8x when shooting 3-megapixel images, 6.1x when shooting 1-megapixel images and 12x when shooting VGA-sized images. You'll find the P93's Smart digital zoom of benefit if you need greater magnification than the 3x optical zoom can provide, and you don't need the camera's full 5-megapixel resolution for those shots.

If you need greater magnification and full resolution, Sony offers two optional telephoto conversion lenses, the $100 1.7x VCL-DH1730, and the $130 2.6x VCL-DH2630; both attach to the camera via the VAD-PEB lens adaptor. We tested the 2.6x lens, and found it to be a good match for the P93, producing sharp results with no extra distortion. The P93's zoom range is limited with either telephoto conversion lens because of vignetting; I measured the effective zoom range of the P93 equipped with 2.6 telephoto lens at 257-296mm in 35mm-equivalence. While the optical results were good, I was disappointed with the mechanical connection between the camera and the lens adaptor; it had a lot of play and the locking mechanism did not feel secure. The adaptor Sony provided was pre-production; I hope they improve the final product.

I was pleased with the P93's indoor results. Because of the limited flash range (11.5 feet) and limited field of view provided at the camera's 38mm wide angle focal length, you'll obtain the best indoor results when shooting portraits of individuals or small groups; the flash is simply not powerful enough to illuminate a large room. Portraits using flash were well exposed and produced natural skin tones; red eyes were effectively eliminated using the flash red eye reduction mode. The P93 is equipped with a focus-assist lamp which it uses automatically when needed; as a result its low light autofocus performance is exceptional. Closeup macro shots with the flash were excellent as the camera "throttles down" the flash for nearly perfect exposures every time; the P93 would be a good choice for shooting close-up images of small objects for inclusion in online auction listings.

With its small size, large images, point-n-shoot simplicity and useful features, the Sony DSC-P93 represents an attractive tool for families to record the events of their lives. Your children will get excellent results in Auto mode, yet its more advanced features will encourage the creativity of experienced users. Its excellent exposure system, accurate autofocus, realistic color balance, and 5-megapixel imager will produce photos you'll enjoy viewing on your computer or printing at 11x14 inches to hang on your wall. Families will also enjoy the P93's smooth 640x480 30fps movie clips. If you don't need 5-megapixels of resolution then check out the 4-megapixel DSC-P73 with all the same features for about $50 less.

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