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Quick Review

Sony DSC-P100 Digital Camera

 

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 06/02/2004
User Level Novice - Amateur
Product Uses Home / Travel
Digicam Design Point and Shoot
Picture Quality Very High, 5.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes Email to 8x10-inch
(including heavy cropping)
Availability Now
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$399



Introduction

Sony DSC-P100 Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Test Images
Conclusion

The Sony DSC-P100 is the latest in Sony's highly popular line of subcompact "P-series" digicams, this latest model sporting a full 5.0 megapixel CCD, a 3x optical zoom lens, and an expanded range of nine preset Scene modes to choose from. The Sony DSC-P100 offers a few more exposure options than its predecessor, including a manual exposure mode. The 3x zoom lens (with Macro mode) is great for recording a wide range of subjects, from close-up portraits to scenic vistas. Replacing the DSC-P10, which was a very functional camera with excellent image quality, the DSC-P100 has been improved with greater speed and a few more features, all packed into an even thinner and lighter package. Sony has included their new Real Imaging Processor to speedup everything from autofocus operation to the saving of images to the memory cards. Also new to the P-series line is a Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar lens, for better image sharpness and contrast from corner to corner. Finally, something we're just now beginning to see more of outside the Japanese market: the P-100 is available in three colors: Red, Blue, and Silver.


Camera Overview

 

Similar Cameras
If you're looking at the Sony DSC-P100, here are some similar models to consider:

Olympus Verve
Canon S500

Confused? Check our list of the
Best Digital Cameras!

The DSC-P100's shape and compact size rank it among the smaller Sony Cyber-shots on the market, perfect for travel and leisurely outings. The camera definitely passes the "shirt pocket" test, and would even fit into a rather small handbag. The P100's compact shape isn't all the camera has to offer though. A 5.0-megapixel CCD and an all-glass, 3x zoom lens deliver sharp, clear pictures, suitable for printing as large as 8x10 inches. There's also an email image size option that creates files with smaller pixel dimensions for sending over the Internet. Plus, the handful of preset Scene modes handle a wide range of common exposure situations, from beach scenes to night shots.

The P100's 3x optical zoom lens has a focal range from 7.9-23.7mm, the equivalent of a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera. Focus ranges from 19.7 inches (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal focus mode, with a macro setting that lets you get as close as 3.9 inches (10 centimeters). Although the camera does not have a manual focus option, it does offer a range of fixed focus settings, from 0.5 meters to infinity. The five-area Multi-Point AF system bases focus on one of five areas in the center of the frame. Through the camera's Record menu, however, you can opt for Center AF mode, which bases focus on the very center of the frame. Also available, through the Setup menu, are two AF operating modes: Single and Monitoring. In Single AF mode, focus is set whenever the Shutter button is halfway depressed. Monitoring mode constantly adjusts focus before the Shutter button is halfway depressed, which locks focus (this mode is likely to drain battery more quickly than the others because the focus motor and image processor is constantly at work). The camera's AF illuminator helps the camera focus in dark conditions (even in total darkness), and works well with the Twilight scene modes. This plus exposure times to 30 seconds gives the DSC-P100 very impressive low-light capabilities. In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the P100 also features up to 4x Smart Zoom, Sony's current implementation of "digital zoom." Unlike most other digital zoom functions, Sony's Smart Zoom does not resample the image, so no image deterioration occurs as a result: Pixels are simply excised from the central portion of the sensor's image, and packaged as a separate file. When the optical zoom reaches 3x, Smart Zoom takes over, if enabled in the Setup menu. The maximum total magnification available for 3.1M images is 3.8x, 1.M is 6.1x and VGA is 12x. (Note though, that as a result, "Smart Zoomed" images will always be restricted to sizes smaller than the camera's full resolution.)

The P100 has a real-image optical viewfinder and a larger 1.8-inch color LCD monitor for framing shots. As is often the case the P100's optical viewfinder shows only 83-84% of the final image area, but its LCD display is much more accurate, with essentially 100% frame accuracy. An information display on the LCD monitor reports a handful of camera settings (including aperture and shutter speed) and features an optional live histogram display as well. The histogram graphs the tonal distribution of the image, giving you a quick idea of any over or underexposure.

Exposure can be either automatically or manually controlled on the P100, great for both novices looking for simplicity as well as those wanting a little more control. An On/Off button on top of the camera powers the camera on, and a small Mode dial on the back selects between Playback, Automatic, Program, Manual, Scene, Setup, and Movie modes. The Automatic setting takes away all user control, with the exception of flash, macro, and resolution. Program mode also automatically sets aperture and shutter speed, but gives you control over a number of other exposure variables. Fairly unusual in a compact digicam, Manual mode lets you control the camera's shutter speed and lens aperture directly, useful for times when you need to achieve a particular effect that automatic exposure control might not permit. (Note though, that the P100 offers only two choices for lens aperture in Manual mode.) Scene mode offers a range of preset exposure modes, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft snap, Snow, Beach, High Speed Shutter, Fireworks, and Candle modes. Both Twilight modes optimize the camera for low-light shooting by allowing shutter times as long as two seconds, while Landscape mode sets the camera up for shooting distant subjects. Soft snap mode warms skin tones and sets focus to slightly soft. Snow mode enhances saturation and adjusts exposure, to prevent loss of color in bright white snowscapes, while Beach mode ensures that blue tones are recorded accurately in lakeside or seaside photos. High-speed shutter mode is for shooting action or bright subjects. Fireworks mode preserves color in shots of fireworks or other night light displays by fixing the lens aperture at f/5.6 and setting the exposure time to the 2-second maximum. Candle mode slows shutter speeds and biases exposure to keep candlelit scences looking natural; a tripod is recommended in this mode.

By default, the P100 employs a Multi-Metering mode to determine exposure, which reads the exposure from five sections across the frame. For higher-contrast subjects or more pin-pointed readings, the P100 also offers a Spot metering mode through the Record menu. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV), in one-third-step increments. You can also adjust the camera's sensitivity to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents, or use the Auto setting. The P100's adjustable White Balance setting offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash modes, handling a variety of common light sources. Under the Picture Effects setting, you can record images in sepia or black and white. The camera also offers Sharpness, Saturation, and Contrast adjustments. The DSC-P100's flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync modes, and an intensity adjustment controls flash output (in an increment of one unit, higher or lower than normal).

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures either 640 x 480-, or 160 x 112-pixel resolution moving images with sound for as long as the memory card has available storage space (640 mode requires a Memory Stick Pro card). The P100 also offers a Multi Burst mode, which captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a selectable rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second. Multi Burst shots are played back as a slow-motion animation on the camera, but appear as a single large file with 16 sub-images in it when viewed on a computer. (This would be a fun way to catch someone crossing a finish line during a race, or to analyze golf and tennis swings.) A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the time that the camera actually takes the picture, giving the photographer time to run around and get into the picture. Also available on the P100 is Burst mode, which records nine full resolution images in quick succession, while holding down the Shutter button. As many as 100 VGA images can be recorded before the buffer is full.

Images are stored on Sony's Memory Stick media (a 32MB stick is included, although higher capacity cards are available, up to 2GB), and they can be downloaded via a (very) speedy USB 2.0 connection to a PC or Macintosh computer. An AV cable is also provided for viewing images or slide shows on your TV. The P100 is powered by a Sony InfoLITHIUM battery pack (NP-FR1 model), and comes complete with an AC adapter and battery charger. I like the InfoLITHIUM batteries because they communicate with the camera to tell you how much running time is left on the battery pack, but I always (strongly) recommend buying a second battery, and keeping it charged and ready to go, especially when the AC adapter isn't close at hand. The P100 is pretty dependent on its LCD display (a large power drain), and you can't pick up extra batteries at the corner drug store. That said though, the P100's worst-case run time of over 3 hours with a freshly-charged battery is much better than you'll find in almost any other compact digicam.

Basic Features

  • 5.0-megapixel CCD.
  • 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • 3.2x [no data] digital Smart Zoom.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.8-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Mostly automatic exposure control, now includes Manual mode.
  • Built-in flash with five modes and an intensity adjustment.
  • Sony Memory Stick storage (32MB card included).
  • USB computer connection.
  • InfoLITHIUM battery system (AC adapter included).
  • Software for Mac and PC.


Special Features

  • Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft snap, Snow, Beach, High Speed Shutter, Fireworks, and Candle modes
  • Movie (with sound) recording mode.
  • Multi-Burst slow motion mode.
  • Email (VGA) modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 1/8 sec in auto mode; 1/1000 to 2 seconds in twilight mode; and 1/1000 to 30 seconds in manual mode (with automatic Noise Reduction below 1/6 second).
  • Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/5.6 (in Manual mode these two are the only choices, though Auto modes seem to use 4.5 as well).
  • Creative Picture Effects menu.
  • Image Sharpness, Saturation, and Contrast adjustments.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • Spot and Multi-Metering modes.
  • Adjustable AF area and three AF modes.
  • Auto ISO setting or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility.

 

User Recommendation
Beginning through intermediate users will be right at home with the P100, and advanced users will enjoy its excellent portability and new manual exposure control option. Although the P100 is technically a point-and-shoot digicam, it has a lot of creative options and enough image adjustments to handle a wide variety of shooting situations. So, while it's designed so you don't have make a lot of complicated exposure decisions, advanced amateurs and business users will appreciate it for its quality, portability, and varied shooting options. It appears well-built and its focusing mechanism is impressively fast. Overall, the DSC-P100 is clearly one of the better high-resolution compact digicams on the market.

 

Design

The Sony DSC-P100 is compact, stylish, and ready to go anywhere, with a body style similar to most of the other compact Cyber-shots, including the P8 and P9, though somewhat streamlined, since it's slimmer and lighter. Its silvery metal body is only slightly longer than a typical business card, and nearly the same height, top to bottom. Measuring just 4.37" x 2.12" x 1.44" (108 x 51.5 x 26.6mm) and weighing only 6.5 ounces (183 grams) with the battery and memory card installed, the P100 fits easily into small pockets or purses. When not in use, the telescoping zoom lens retracts neatly inside the body, and a small plastic leaf shutter automatically closes over the lens to protect it. Outfitted with the accompanying wrist strap, it's quick on the draw and easy to hold. The photo inset above right shows the P100 posed with a Memory Stick in front of it for scale, to give an idea of its actual size. (I always find it difficult to judge size from numeric measurements, finding it much easier to get a sense of scale from objects of known size, like the Memory Stick in the photo above.)

Despite its small size, the P100's elongated shape provides plenty of room to extend two average-size fingers comfortably across the front and top of the camera, without blocking the lens or any camera controls. By making the camera thin but long, Sony kept the P100 very compact, yet avoided the lack of finger space that plagues many ultra-small digicams. The 3x, 7.9-23.7mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm zoom on a 35mm camera), dominates the right side of the front of panel, with a small and very bright orange lamp just above and to the right of it, to help with focusing in low-light conditions. (This lamp also blinks when the self-timer is in use, to let you know when the camera is about to snap the picture.) A slightly larger window for the optical viewfinder comes next, followed by the built-in electronic flash. Below the optical viewfinder window are six holes for the microphone. There is no finger grip on the front, just the raised Cyber-Shot logo. This might sound a little precarious, but in practice, I found that the camera felt fairly secure in my hand, with my thumb on the back, my index finger on top, and my middle finger wrapped around the front of the body.

The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) houses the battery and Memory Stick compartment, protected by an easy to open, hinged plastic door. A small plastic door-within-a-door pops open to allow easy connection of the charger cable, since the camera comes with no external battery charger. Oddly, under the main door, right next to the Memory Stick slot, is a card access light where the owner is unlikely to see it; there is no other external card access light. (I guess it's still useful though, as you'd have to open the door to remove the memory card, and the access light would then warn you to wait before removing it.) Above the door is a small eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

The left side has no controls, only a smooth, rounded surface to following the contour of the lens barrel and a logo declaring the lens zoom capability.

The camera's top panel includes only the Shutter button and a small Power button; just left of that is a green power LED.

The camera's rear panel holds the remaining camera controls and function buttons, along with a 1.8-inch color LCD monitor for previewing and playing back images, and the optical viewfinder window. The LCD display reports a variety of camera and exposure settings, including the aperture and shutter speed settings (a nice bonus for those interested in how the camera will expose the image, even when it's working in program mode) and time remaining on the InfoLITHIUM battery. The optical viewfinder is located directly above and centered on the LCD monitor, and has three LED lamps along the right edge of the window, each of which reports the current status of various camera functions. The camera's Zoom control is in the upper right corner, conveniently located right above a small ridge for better thumb traction when holding the camera. In the center of the back panel is a Five-way Arrow pad, with small arrows pointing in four directions (Up, Down, Left, and Right) and a set button in the middle. Each serves multiple functions, navigating onscreen menus scrolling between captured images in playback mode, or activating different camera functions (Flash, Self-Timer, Quick Review, and Macro).

Upper left of the Arrow pad is the LCD Display On / Off button; lower left is the Menu button; and lower right is the Image Resolution / Erase button.

Finally, the P100's flat bottom holds the threaded (metal) tripod screw mount and a speaker for audio playback. While most users of the P100 probably won't care, I was pleased to see that I could change the battery and memory card without removing my tripod mounting plate from the camera's bottom.



Camera Operation

Operating the P100 in any of its automatic modes is very straightforward, with only two additional controls when you enter Manual mode. The Mode dial on the back of the camera controls the main operating modes, with options for Scene, Program, Automatic, Playback, Movie, and Setup. In all image capture modes, the P100 provides an onscreen LCD menu (activated by the Menu button), with a variety of options for adjusting image quality or adding special effects. The four arrows of the Five-way arrow pad are used to scroll through menu options, while the button in the center of the pad functions as the OK button to confirm selections. In Manual mode, pressing the Set (center) button on the Five-way arrow pad switches the arrows from adjusting flash, macro, and self-timer, and quick review modes to adjusting aperture (left and right) and shutter speeds (up and down). To the right of these values the camera tells you by how many EV it things you are off plus or minus 2EV.

The four arrow buttons also serve as external controls when the camera's menus are turned off, or they can be used to scroll through captured images in Playback mode. Starting with the Up arrow and going clockwise, the functions they control include Flash, Macro, Self-Timer, and Quick Review modes. An Image Resolution button calls up a list of the available resolution settings, removing this item from the main menu system for easier access. The Zoom control in the top right corner of the back panel adjusts both optical and digital zoom (when activated through the Setup menu). Overall, I was impressed by Sony's judicious use of space, especially with the large number of external controls provided, and the relatively short learning curve the P100's user interface entails. Along with Sony's other recent cameras, the P100 has one of the cleanest user interfaces I've seen, and will present few challenges to even the most novice user.

Record-Mode Display
In record mode, the LCD monitor displays the subject with a goodly amount of overlaid information, indicating battery remaining (graphically and in minutes), flash mode, focus mode (macro or normal), autofocus mode setting, any currently-selected exposure compensation setting, ISO setting, the current size/quality setting, and number of images that can be stored on the remaining Memory Stick space at the current size/quality. Half-pressing the shutter button causes the camera to display the shutter speed and aperture setting it has chosen for the current lighting conditions. (While you can't change these directly unless you're in Manual mode, it's very nice to know what settings the camera has selected.) Pressing the Display button beneath the LCD once adds a small "live" histogram display to the information, pressing it again removes the information overlay, and pressing it a third time turns the LCD off entirely. Pressing it a fourth time restores the default display.


Playback-Mode Display
In playback mode, the default image display shows the most recently captured image, with a modest information overlay present. Pressing the display button once adds the exposure information and a small histogram to the overlay, pressing it again removes the information overlay entirely, and pressing it a third time turns off the LCD altogether. Pressing the wide-angle side of the zoom lever takes you to a display showing images on the Memory Stick in groups of nine small thumbnails. (You can navigate a yellow outline cursor over these thumbnails by using the four arrow keys. Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever will bring the currently-selected image up full-screen.) Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever when viewing an image full-size on the LCD screen will zoom in on the image, in 17 variable-sized increments up to a maximum magnification of 5x. - This is a useful level of magnification, handy for checking focus and precise framing.



External Controls


Power Button
: Located just left of the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on and off.



Shutter Button
: Long and mounted at a slight angle, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Mode Dial
: Embedded into the back, this ribbed dial sets the camera's operating mode, offering Scene, Manual, Program, Automatic, Playback, Movie, and Setup modes. (See menus and descriptions below.) In field use, the dial can be moved just a little too easy, more than once changing modes in a pocket.


Zoom Control
: Positioned in the top right corner of the rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls optical zoom and, when enabled via the Setup menu, Sony's "Smart Zoom."

In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of a captured image, which can go as high as 5x. (Very handy for checking focus or the expressions on people's faces in group shots.) Also in Playback mode, the wide-angle end of the button activates the Index Display mode, which displays as many as nine thumbnail images on the screen at one time.


Five-Way Arrow Pad
: Located just to the right of center on the rear panel, this rocker control features four arrows, each pointing in a different direction (up, down, left, and right), and a Set or OK button in the middle (Sony describes it by its shape: a dot). In all settings menus, these arrow keys navigate through menu options. Pressing the center of the button confirms selections.

In any record mode, the Up button controls the Flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, Suppressed, and Slow-Sync modes. The Right arrow turns the Macro (close-up) mode on and off, and the Left arrow accesses the Quick Review mode, which displays the most recently captured image on the screen. The Down arrow accesses the Self-Timer mode.

In Manual record mode, pressing the center button switches the arrow keys back and forth between controlling their normal functions, and controlling shutter speed (up/down) and aperture (left/right).

In Playback mode, the Right and Left arrows scroll through captured images. When Playback zoom is enabled, all four arrows scroll around within the enlarged view, while pressing the center button returns to the normal, 1x display. In Manual mode, the four arrows can control aperture and shutter speed after the middle button is pressed.


Menu Button
: Down and to the left of the Five-Way Arrow pad, this button activates the settings menu in any camera mode (except Setup, which displays the menu automatically). The Menu button also turns off the menu display.


Image Resolution / Erase Button
: Diagonally to the right of the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button displays the available resolutions in any record mode. Choices are 5.0M (2,592 x 1,944), 4.5M (3:2 ratio: 2592 x 1728), 3.1M (2,048 x 1,536), 1.2M (1,280 x 960), and VGA (640 x 480). Movie resolutions are 640 x 480-, and 160 x 112-pixels.

In Playback mode, this button lets you erase the currently displayed image.


Display / LCD On/OFF Button
: Straight up from the Menu button, this button controls the LCD display, cycling through the image with information display, the image with information and live histogram display, the image with limited information display, and no image display at all (in all Record modes). In Playback mode, it cycles through the same series.



Camera Modes and Menus

Scene Mode: Marked on the Mode dial as "SCN," this mode sets up the camera to capture images in specific situations. Nine "scenes" are available through the Record menu, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft snap, Snow, Beach, High-speed shutter, Fireworks, and Candle. Both Twilight modes capture images in low light, although the Twilight Portrait mode automatically enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash mode, combining it with a slower shutter speed to let ambient lighting brighten the background as well. Because the camera employs a slower shutter speed in both Twilight modes, a tripod is highly recommended to prevent blurring from camera movement. Landscape mode sets the focus at infinity and uses a smaller lens aperture to capture sharp details both near and far away. Soft snap mode enhances skin colors while keeping a soft focus for a pleasing glow. Snow and Beach modes optimize the camera for bright situations and prevent color loss from overexposure. High speed shutter mode biases the exposure sytem toward higher shutter speeds to freeze action with fast-moving subjects. Fireworks mode forces the camera to use its longest exposure time of 2 seconds to capture fireworks streamers, along with its smallest aperture setting, to preserve color in the displays. Candle mode is just for candlelit scenes, great for birthdays or services. A tripod is once again recommended.

Program Mode: This mode is marked on the Mode dial with a black camera icon and a "P." In this mode, the camera selects shutter speed and aperture, while you control all other exposure variables.

Automatic Mode: Indicated on the Mode dial with a green camera icon, this mode puts the camera in control over the exposure and everything except Macro, Image Size and Quality, Zoom, Flash, and the Self-Timer.

Playback Mode: Playback mode is noted on the Mode dial with the traditional Playback symbol (a triangle enclosed within a black rectangle outline). In this mode, you can scroll through captured images, delete them, write-protect them, and set them up for printing on PictBridge-compatible printers. You can also copy, resize, and rotate images.

Movie Mode: A filmstrip icon marks this mode on the Mode dial. In Movie mode, you can record moving images and sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has space. Resolution and quality choices are 640 x 480-, or 160 x 112-pixels. While recording, a timer appears in the LCD monitor to let you know how many minutes and / or seconds are remaining on the Memory Stick, and how long you've been recording, so you'll have some idea of how much time you have left. Recording in 640 x 480 mode is only available with a Memory Stick Pro card, but the speed of the Pro cards permits continuous recording up to the capacity limit of the card itself, with no restrictions imposed due to buffer memory limitations.

The P100 also offers a Multi Burst mode that's separate from the movie mode and selected in the menu in Auto, Program, Manual, and Scene modes, which captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a selectable rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second. Multi Burst shots are played back as a slow-motion animation on the camera, but appear as a single large file with 16 sub-images in it when viewed on a computer. (This would be a fun way to catch someone crossing a finish line during a race, or to analyze golf and tennis swings.)

Record Menu: Available in all three Record modes by pressing the Menu button, the Record menu offers the following options (some options are not available in all modes):

  • Scene: (Scene mode only) Offers Twilight, Twilight portrait, Landscape, Soft snap, Snow, Beach, High speed shutter, Fireworks, and Candle "scene" modes.
  • EV (Exposure Compensation): Increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. 
  • Focus: Sets focus control to Multi AF or Center AF, or one of five preset focus distances (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, and 7.0 meters, and Infinity).
  • Metering Mode: Chooses between Multi-Metering and Spot modes. Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the frame (identified by a cross hair target on the monitor). Spot metering is handy for backlit subjects, or any time the subject and background exhibit very high contrast. Multi-Metering mode reads the entire frame to determine exposure.
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, to suit the light source. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash.
  • ISO: (Not available in Scene mode.) Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity. Options are Auto, or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • P.Quality: Sets compression between Standard and Fine.


  • Mode: Sets capture mode, Normal (single), Burst, and Multi-burst.
  • Interval: When in Multi-burst mode, sets the capture interval between 1/7.5, 1/15, and 1/30.
  • Flash level: Sets flash power to +1, Normal, or -1.
  • Picture Effects: Offers two creative shooting modes:
    • Black and White: Takes photos in monochrome.
    • Sepia: Records an image in monochrome sepia tone.
  • Saturation: Adjusts the overall color saturation with plus, normal and minus settings.
  • Contrast: Alters the level of contrast in images with plus, normal and minus settings.
  • Sharpness: Controls the overall image sharpness and softness with plus, normal and minus settings.

Playback Menu:

  • Folder: Selects the folder for playing back images. (secondary screen)
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image (or removes protection), preventing it from being deleted or manipulated in any way except with card formatting. (secondary screen)
  • DPOF: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device. Also removes the print mark. (secondary screen)
  • Print: Prints the current image. (secondary screen)
  • Slide: Plays back images in an automatic slide show. You can set the time interval and whether or not the sequence of images repeats. (secondary screen)
  • Resize: Resizes the image to 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,280 x 960; or 640 x 480 pixels. (When an image is resized, the original image is left in place, and a new copy is made at the selected size.) (secondary screen)
  • Rotate: Rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise. (secondary screen)
  • Divide: Allows you to trim material from the beginning or end of a recorded movie, or to extract an interesting bit of action from the middle of a longer clip. (Very handy.)


Setup Mode: This mode allows you to change a variety of camera settings. The Setup menu is automatically displayed upon entering the mode.

  • Camera:
    • AF Mode: Sets the focus mode to Single, or Monitor.
    • Digital Zoom: Switches between the 3.2x Smart Zoom and Precision zoom.
    • Date / Time: Determines whether the date and / or time is overlaid on captured images.
    • Red Eye Reduction: Enables or disables the Red Eye Reduction flash mode, affecting both Auto and Forced flash modes.
    • AF Illuminator: Turns the AF Assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically illuminates in dark shooting conditions.
    • Auto Review: Immediately plays captured image onscreen for two seconds.






  • Memory Stick Tool:
    • Format: Formats the Memory Stick, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Create REC Folder: Creates a new folder for recording images.
    • Change REC Folder: Changes the folder that images are recorded to.







  • Setup 1:
    • LCD Backlight: Controls the level of the LCD's backlight, with options of Bright, Normal, and Dark.
    • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sounds, turning them on or off. A Shutter option enables only the shutter beep noise.
    • Language: Selects among Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, or English for the menu language.






  • Setup 2:
    • File Number: Chooses between Series (continuing the shot number infinitely) or Reset, which resets the frame number by folder.
    • USB Connect: Sets the USB connection type to PictBridge, PTP, or Normal.
    • Video Out: Sets the timing of the video output signal to either NTSC or PAL.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.





In the Box
Included with the Sony DSC-P100 digital camera are the following items:

  • Wrist strap..
  • 32MB Memory Stick..
  • NP-FR1 InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery pack..
  • AC adapter / in-camera battery charger.
  • USB cable.
  • AV cable.
  • Software CD containing Pixela ImageMixer v1.0 and USB drivers.


Recommended Accessories

  • Extra NP-FR1 InfoLITHIUM battery pack
  • (at least 256MB)
  • Carrying case
  • Cyber-shot Station is a dock for charging and connecting the camera to a TV for slideshow playback and a PictBridge printer for printing. Works via included remote control.


Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...


Specifications

See the specifications sheet here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Test Images

See my test images and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Outdoor
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 



"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the P100, we've put together a "photo gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the P100.

 

Test Results

This section has now been updated based on results obtained from a full production-level camera. See the P100's sample pictures page for a full analysis.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the P100 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Good color, accurate hue, appropriate saturation. Some white balance difficulty indoors though. Overall, the P100 produced good color, with only slight color casts with each white balance setting. Outdoors, it did particularly well, with natural-looking skin tones, and a flawless handling of the always-difficult blue flowers in the Outdoor Portrait test. Indoors though, it had a little trouble with household incandescent lighting, leaving more of the warmth of the lighting in its final images than I personally prefer.

  • Exposure: Very good exposure accuracy. Exposure was very good on the P100, as it required less exposure compensation adjustment under difficult lighting conditions than do most cameras I test. Like most consumer digicams, its default tone curve is somewhat contrasty, causing it to lose detail in strong highlights under harsh lighting, but I found its low-contrast adjustment to be much more effective than that on most cameras, doing a very good job of taming the extreme contrast of the Outdoor Portrait shot. Overall, a much better than average performance in the exposure/tonality department.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,250-1,300 lines of "strong detail," but some loss of subtle detail due to anti-noise processing. The P100 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height vertically, and around 800~900 lines horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to about 1,250 lines vertically and 1,300 lines horizontally. (Some reviewers might rate the resolution as high as 1,400 lines, but I tend to be more conservative in my resolution ratings.) "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until 1,600-1,700 lines. This is all very good, but I found that the P100 lost subject detail in areas of subtle contrast, due to somewhat over-aggressive anti-noise processing.

  • Image Noise: Very low noise, but somewhat heavy-handed noise-suppression. Overall, I was surprised and impressed by how "clean" the P100's images were, as its noise levels were lower than I'd generally expect from a five-megapixel camera, let alone a compact model. BUT, the low noise came at the cost of flattended subject detail in areas of subtle contrast. (Very visible in Marti's hair and features, on the Outdoor Portrait test.) There was also some odd behavior in areas where a bright, highly-saturated color abutted a dark area, almost a "glow" fuzzing out from the colored region. (And no, it wasn't lens flare, nor was it a focusing issue.) I give the P100 high marks for low noise levels, but wince at how much subject detail is swallowed up by its noise-suppression processing.

  • Closeups: A nice, small macro area with strong detail. Flash is positioned too far to the right for good coverage, however. The P100 performed fairly well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 2.42 x 1.81 inches (61 x 46 millimeters). Resolution was high, and detail was strong in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch (though the coins and brooch were soft due to the close shooting range and possibly a limited depth of field). As with most digicams operating in macro mode, curvature of field in the lens resulted in soft corners in the image, the softness in this case extending a fair ways into the frame. The P100's flash almost throttled down enough for the macro shot, but is too far over on the left side of the camera to be effective when shooting this close. (Plan on using external lighting for the closest macro shots.)

  • Night Shots: Excellent low-light performance with great color, exposure, and focusing in the darkest light levels. The P100 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all three ISO settings. (There is a slight warm cast in a few shots, but overall color is pretty good.) The P100 again handles image noise quite well in these shots, and even at ISO 400, the noise is only moderate. A very nice job overall. The bright autofocus-assist lamp lets the camera focus on nearby objects even in complete darkness, and even without the AF assist, the P100 can focus (albeit slowly) at light levels as dark as about 1/8 foot-candle. Very impressive. (For reference, a light level of one foot-candle corresponds to typical city street lighting at night.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but accurate LCD monitor. The P100's optical viewfinder is a little tight, showing about 84 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto. (While I strongly prefer a more accurate optical viewfinder, this figure is fairly typical for digicam optical viewfinders.) The LCD monitor actually proved to be just slightly loose, showing more than the final frame. Still, the LCD's frame accuracy was very close to 100 percent. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the P100's LCD monitor did quite well in this regard. I'd like to see a more accurate optical viewfinder, but the P100 is pretty close to average in this parameter.

  • Optical Distortion: A bit of barrel distortion, but excellent sharpness and low chromatic aberration. Optical distortion on the P100 is about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, with only 0.04 percent pincushion distortion (about one pixel). The Zeiss lens quality shows in the P100's images, which are sharper from corner to corner than those of most cameras. There's also relatively little chromatic aberration, as the color fringes around the res target elements, while a little broad, are pretty faint. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) Overall, an excellent performance from such a compact digicam lens.

  • Battery Life: Really excellent battery life for a compact digicam. Thanks to Sony's InfoLithium battery technology, the P100 shows really excellent battery life compared to other compact digicams (actually, it's very good compared to any size digicam), with 202 minutes projected runtime in capture mode with the LCD on, and 379 minutes in playback mode. As always though, I still recommend purchasing a second battery along with the camera, but with the P100, this is much less of a consideration than it normally is.



Conclusion

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With its small size and well-rounded feature set, the Sony P100 is a good and unusually capable subcompact point-and-shoot digicam. Housed in a very small package is a 5.0-megapixel CCD, a sharp, high-quality 3x optical zoom lens, nine preset Scene modes and a host of other creative options. Its pictures show excellent color and sharpness (although I'd like to see better handling of household incandescent lighting), and surprisingly low noise levels for its combination of a five-megapixel sensor and compact camera design. On the down side though, the low noise is achieved at the expense of subtle subject detail, caused by overly-aggressive anti-noise processing. The P100's tone curve is as contrasty as many of its consumer-grade competitors, but a very effective contrast adjustment control tames the high contrast for times when you have to deal with harsh lighting. It has a very good macro mode, and is unusually capable when it comes to low light shooting. Add to this really excellent battery life and a surprisingly fast shutter response, and you've got a real winner of a compact digicam, one with amazingly few tradeoffs associated with its diminutive body size. (Other than the aforementioned mushiness caused by its anti-noise system.) If you're looking for a great "take anywhere" camera with great versatility and excellent color and tonality, the Sony DSC-P100 should be an easy choice. A "Dave's Pick," although I'd be a lot happier with it if its noise-suppression processing were a bit less aggressive.

 

Related Links

More Information on this camera from...

Megapixel.net:
Sony DSC-P100, Sony Digital Cameras, Digital Cameras

DCViews:
Sony DSC-P100 review


 

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