Sony DSC-S600 Review

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S600

Steve's Conclusion

The Cyber-Shot DSC-S600 is Sony's entry-level digicam for 2006. It boasts a 6-megapixel imager coupled with a high-quality Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3x optical zoom lens. Beginner to intermediate users will have the ease of a fully "Auto"matic exposure mode plus 7 pre-programmed scene modes when they want to be more creative. Program AE mode allows more advanced users to change settings for exposure compensation, focus mode, ISO, sharpness, saturation, contrast etc. The S600 lacks Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and manual modes, features required by the advanced photographer.

The S600's body is functional, but while it is not unattractive, few would call it stylish. The controls are well-placed, leaving plenty of room for your right thumb and preventing accidental activation. My only complaint with the body is with its tripod mount; it's located at the extreme left side of the body, making it difficult to tighten with enough force to prevent camera movement. The menu system is logically organized and will be quite familiar to current and past Sony users.

The 2-inch LCD occupies the middle of the camera's back, leaving room on the left side for the optical viewfinder. The LCD is quite usable in most sunny outdoor conditions despite the absence of a brightness control. It's also usable in dim lighting, intensifying the viewfinder image to help you compose the shot. But LCD viewfinders do have their limitations, and while higher-end digicams are trending to ever larger LCDs at the expense of optical viewfinders, we're happy that Sony chose to include a well-placed optical viewfinder on the entry-level S600.

Sony equipped the S600 with a very nice Carl Zeiss 3x zoom lens. It offers a wider field of view than most of its competitors, with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 31mm. While it is not ultra-wide, the extra field of view will be appreciated when shooting indoors or taking outdoor scenics. The telephoto end of the zoom range is limited to only 93mm, good for individual portraits but not enough magnification to bring your distant subjects closer. On balance, the S600's wide angle zoom is a good compromise; you can zoom in with your feet for distant subjects, and rely on the wide end of the lens zoom range in cramped interiors. The lens produced sharp results from corner to corner throughout its zoom range, with noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle and pin cushioning at telephoto. Chromatic aberrations were well controlled, with very little purple fringing present in high contrast areas.

Shooting performance was quite good for an entry-level camera. Power up to first image captured measured just 2 seconds. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, was less than 1/10 second when pre-focused and 3/10 second including autofocus time; add 1/10 second to those times if using the LCD viewfinder. The shot to shot delay measured a fast 1.2 seconds without the flash and between 1.6 and 12 seconds using the flash, depending on subject distance. Shutter lag when using red eye reduction flash mode measured 8/10 second, during which the LCD viewfinder goes blank. The S600 offers two sequential shooting modes (Burst, Multi Burst.) In Burst mode, I was able to capture 7 frames at 7/10 second intervals, with buffer clearing to the Memory Stick PRO taking about 7 seconds; the LCD only briefly displays the last captured image between shots. Using Multi Burst with the interval set at 1/30, I captured 16 frames in 4/10 of a second; these frames are then saved as a single 1-megapixel animated image. Our tests were done using a SanDisk 256MB Memory Stick PRO Duo, Large/Fine quality, Program mode, flash off, preview off, and all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

I was pleased with the image quality of the 6M Fine mode. Outdoor images were well-exposed and sharp with true to life colors. Our indoor shots benefitted from both the powerful flash and the extra field of view afforded by the wide angle zoom lens. Portraits had realistic skin tones, and the red eye reduction flash mode proved effective in all but dimmest ambient lighting conditions. Autofocus worked quite well in dim lighting, helped by the focus-assist lamp. Flash power was well controlled at close range, making the S600 a good candidate for capturing images of small objects for online auction listings.

Despite being positioned as an entry-level camera, the S600 is equipped with a versatile sensitivity range of ISO 80-1000, enabling hand-held photography in lighting conditions that would otherwise require the use of a tripod or flash. Although noise is quite noticeable throughout at ISO 1000, the images are far more usable than those ruined by camera shake at lower ISO settings and shutter speeds. The noise level drops noticeably at ISO 800, being most evident in shadow areas. Image noise is not an issue at ISO settings of 400 and below.

The S600 also features a high-quality MPEG VX 640x480 sized movie mode. You can choose either standard (15fps) or fine (30fps) quality as well as a 160x112 mode that's efficient for posting on the web or sending movies via email. Our movie samples were nice and sharp with very little compression noise. The autofocus system does an good job of keeping up with fast moving objects. When using the 640x480 Fine mode, it consumes about 1.3 MB per second; be sure to get a 1GB Memory Stick PRO Duo if you intend to take a lot of moving images.

The S600 is powered by two AA batteries, and Sony only includes a pair of Alkaline batteries in the package. We always recommend the use of rechargeable NiMH batteries, both to save you money and for their extended life. We were able to capture about 150 images on a fully-charged pair of 2500mAh NiMH batteries during our testing, including full time use of the LCD viewfinder and field review of most images.

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 is a very good all-around performer. It shuns ultra compact styling and the trend of providing a 2 1/2-inch LCD without an optical viewfinder, instead providing a versatile set of features that are useful in every day shooting situations; I especially liked the S600's wide angle zoom range, very powerful flash and versatile range of sensitivity settings. With very good image quality, 6-megapixels of resolution, high-quality movies and an MSRP of under $200, the Sony DSC-S600 is a terrific value, especially if you shoot a lot of indoor family events.

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