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Sony DSC-P1

Sony packs a 3 megapixel CCD and a full 3x optical zoom lens into an exceptionally compact digicam!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 9/12/2000

Executive Overview
Following in the trend of some of Sony's smaller digicams (such as the S70 and S50), the DSC-P1 is smooth and compact. Its very pocket-friendly size of 4.43 x 2.12 x 1.75 inches (113 x 53.9 x 43.8 mm), and its light weight (8.8 ounces or 250 grams with battery and media) make this camera a very portable option for photographers on the go. In fact, our test model arrived with the MPK-P1 Marine Pack, an underwater housing for the camera that lets you take it as deep as 100 feet (30 m). The DSC-P1's CCD features 3.34 megapixels of what Sony calls their highest performance CCD ever. Officially named the Super HAD CCD, the DSC-P1 claims to produce more professional-looking results by reducing the noise in the imager and thereby improve the signal-to-signal noise ratio. To our knowledge, this is the same CCD used in their flagship DSC-S70 model, and the test results we obtained from the DSC-P1 seem to support that conclusion: This is a very high-performance camera in a very small package!

The DSC-P1 features one of the sharpest LCD viewscreens we've yet seen, measuring only 1.5 inches, but packing 123,000 pixels, a pixel count that would be impressive even in a much larger screen. Besides the sharpness, the brightness and contrast of the P1's LCD were also impressive: This is probably the best LCD we've yet seen for use outdoors: We could always see what was on the screen, even in direct sunlight. There's also a real-image optical viewfinder for composing shots without having to rely on the rear-panel LCD (thereby saving power). The LCD provides a fairly comprehensive information display, reporting the battery power, Memory Stick information and some exposure information. The camera's menu system (essentially identical to that on most other Sony digicams) appears at the bottom of the screen, in the form of subject tabs, and is easily dismissed as well.

A 3x, 8 to 24 mm lens (equivalent to a 39 to 117 mm lens on a 35 mm camera) telescopes in and out of the camera body, when the camera is powered on and off, and has a nice automatic protective shutter that closes when the lens is retracted. Aperture is automatically controlled, ranging from f/2.8 to f/5.3 at wide angle lens settings, and from f/5.6 to f/9.6 in telephoto mode. The DSC-P1 uses a High-Speed Scan TTL autofocus system, with a focal range from 19.75 inches (50 cm) to infinity in normal shooting mode. The macro focal distance ranges from 4.0 to 19.75 inches (10 to 50 cm). In our tests, autofocus seemed to work well down to about 0.5 foot-candles (5.5 lux). Two Program AE modes control focus: Landscape and Panfocus. Landscape mode sets focus to infinity, for distant subjects, and Panfocus allows the camera to quickly change focus from close-up to far away. The DSC-P1 features what Sony calls a 6x Precision Digital Zoom, which attempts to produce better quality images from digital enlargement. The digital zoom utilizes interpolation technology to improve the image quality when using digital zoom, which should result in a better looking final image, although frankly, we still have a hard time with the term "digital zoom", because the results are so much softer than those from a true optical zoom lens.

Exposure control on the DSC-P1 is reasonably good, although the camera mainly operates under automatic control. Still, even though you don't get to select the aperture or shutter speed, you do have access to a few exposure options and a handful of preset Program AE modes. The Twilight and Twilight Plus modes utilize a slower shutter speed to capture more ambient light in dark shooting situations, with the Twilight Plus mode also increasing the effective light sensitivity of the CCD sensor. Landscape and Panfocus modes we mentioned earlier, both altering the camera's focus for infinity or quick focus shooting. The final Program AE mode is Spot Metering, which changes the camera's averaging metering system to one basing the exposure on only the center of the image. While shooting in Still photography mode, you have control over exposure compensation (from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV increments), white balance (Auto, Outdoor, Indoor and Hold), flash mode (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced and Off) and image sharpness. The Picture Effects menu offers several creative image effects, including Solarize, Black and White, Sepia and Negative Art options.

A Movie capture mode allows you to create up to 60 second movies with sound, with all of the above exposure controls available to you. (With the obvious exception of the flash modes.) In the Voice recording mode, you can record up to 40 second sound clips to accompany captured still images. The Text record mode captures images in a black and white GIF file, perfect for snapping pictures of white boards, meeting notes, etc. There's also an E-mail record mode that captures a smaller, 320 x 240 image size, which is easier on e-mail transmission (this mode actually records two images: one in the 320 x 240 format and another at whatever normal image size you've selected). The unusual and innovative Clip Motion mode lets you record a series of still images at varying intervals, to be played back as a frame-by-frame animation. (A very slick feature for us 'web types.)

Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF, JPEGs, MPEGs or GIFs depending on the record mode and are stored on the included eight megabyte MemoryStick (higher capacity cards are available). An NTSC video cable is included with the camera (European models come equipped for PAL), as is a USB cable for high speed connection to a PC or Mac. MGI's PhotoSuite SE software is also included, providing organized image downloading, correction capabilities and a variety of creative templates for making greeting cards, calendars, etc. MGI's Video Wave software is also included for playing back movie files.

The DSC-P1 utilizes an NP-FS11 InfoLithium battery pack, and comes with an AC adapter and battery charger. We like the InfoLithium batteries because they communicate with the camera to tell you how much running time is left on the battery pack in the current operating mode. Because the DSC-P1 is pretty dependent on its LCD display (with the attendant higher power consumption), we recommend keeping a second battery pack charged and ready to go, especially when the AC adapter isn't close at hand. The NP-FS11 battery pack does provide pretty decent run times though, roughly 77 minutes in record mode with the LCD enabled, and 104 minutes in playback mode.

Overall, the DSC-P1 provides excellent image quality and a reasonable amount of exposure control in an exceptionally compact body with a full 3 megapixel CCD and full 3x optical zoom lens. We think the combination will be a compelling one for people wanting the maximum in portability without compromising their images. (And if you're a scuba or skin diver, this is literally the best solution we've yet seen.)

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