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Quick Review

Sony DSC-P200 Digital Camera

 

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
 3/16/2005
User Level
Novice - Amateur
Product Uses
Home / Travel
Digital Camera Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Excellent, 7.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Sharp 11x17s
Availability
February, 2005
Suggested Retail Price
(As of March, 2005)
$399



NOTE: The Sony DSC-P200 is very similar in form and function to the DSC-P150, but there are a few key differences. If you've read the P150's review, you can skip most of this review of the Sony P200. Skip to the comparison table between the two models, and from there down to the Test Results section for our analysis and conclusions.

 

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Test Images
Conclusion
The Sony DSC-P200 is the most recent in Sony's highly popular line of subcompact "P-series" digital cameras, and is similar in many respects to the preceding P150 model. Offering a high-resolution 7.2 megapixel CCD, a 3x optical zoom lens, and an expanded range of nine preset Scene modes to choose from, the P200 is a capable, yet very compact, digital camera. New to the P200 is a larger, 2.0-inch LCD monitor, and a variety of other improvements, detailed below, all packed into a (very) slightly smaller body size. The Sony P200 is an excellent option for rank beginners and more experienced users alike, a nearly ideal "pocket" camera to pack along when there just isn't room or time to accommodate a larger or more complex model.

 

Camera Overview

As noted, the Sony DSC-P200 is similar in many ways to the DSC-P150 model it replaces. There are a number of differences between the two, reaching beyond just the smaller size and larger LCD display. Here's a summary of differences we found between the two models:

Feature Sony DSC-P200 Sony DSC-P150
Dimensions 4.1 x 2.1 x 1.1"
(105 x 52 x 28mm)
4.3 x 2.0 x 1.0"
(108 x 52 x 26mm)
Weight 6.3 oz
(180 g)
6.4 oz
(183 g)
LCD 2.0"
134,000 pixels
1.8"
134,000 pixels
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash, Manual ("One Push")
Manual mode works with flash exposures too.
Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash
Metering Modes Multi, center weighted, and spot Multi, spot
Autofocus Modes Multi, Center, and Spot AF Multi, Center
Control layout Setup mode accessed via LCD menu system Setup mode accessed via larger mode dial.
Flash range
(Measured)
~9 feet ~9 feet
Image tonality More contrasty Slightly less contrasty
Image Quality More aggressive anti-noise processing trades away more subtle detail. Relatively little loss of subtle detail to achieve low image noise.
Microphone
Position
Top of body Front of body
USB connection USB 2.0 High speed
(2,112 KB/sec download)
USB 2.0 "Full speed"
(976 KB/sec download)
Cycle time, Large/Fine images 1.44 sec 1.82 sec

The Sony DSC-P200's shape and compact size rank it among the smaller 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 P200's compact shape isn't all the camera has to offer though. A 7.2-megapixel CCD and an all-glass, 3x zoom lens deliver sharp, clear pictures, suitable for printing as large as 11x17 inches, even with some cropping. 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 Sony P200'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 a smaller central area of the frame, or Spot AF, which pays attention only to a small area in 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. The camera focuses quite well in dim lighting, even with the AF illuminator turned off though. This plus exposure times to 30 seconds gives the Sony DSC-P200 very impressive low-light capabilities. In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the P200 also features up to 4.6x 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 cropped 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 5M images is 3.6x, 3M is 4.5x, 1.M is 7.2x and VGA is 14x. (Note though, that as a result, "Smart Zoomed" images will always be restricted to sizes smaller than the camera's full resolution.) There's also a Precision Digital Zoom option, which digitally enlarges the image to a maximum of 6x (that is, a 2x digital magnification in addition to the 3x optical zoom) regardless of the camera's resolution setting, with slightly deteriorated quality due to the digital "stretching" of the image.

The Sony P200 has a real-image optical viewfinder and a large, 2.0-inch color LCD monitor for framing shots. In our testing, we found the LCD monitor to be very accurate, but the optical viewfinder was very "tight," showing only 80-84% of the final image area depending on the lens zoom setting. 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 Sony DSC-P200, 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, 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 digital camera, 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 P200 offers only two choices for lens aperture in Manual mode.) When in Manual mode, an exposure on the LCD screen tells you whether the camera thinks your exposure settings will result in under- or over-exposure. Scene mode offers a range of preset exposure modes, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, "Soft Snap", Landscape, High Speed Shutter, Beach, Snow, and Fireworks 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 a two-second maximum. Candle mode slows shutter speeds and biases exposure to keep candlelit scenes looking natural. (A tripod is strongly recommended for Fireworks and Candle modes)

By default, the Sony DSC-P200 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 P200 also offers a Spot metering mode through the Record menu. You can also opt for Center-Weighted metering, which bases the exposure on a slightly larger area in the center of the frame. 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 P200's adjustable White Balance setting offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash modes, handling a variety of common light sources, with a One-Push setting for manual adjustment. 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 Sony P200'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). Metering and autofocus options vary in the different Scene modes, based on what would be appropriate for the type of subjects each mode corresponds to.

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures either 640 x 480 in Fine (30fps) or Standard (16fps) modes, or 160 x 112-pixel resolution moving images with sound for as long as the memory card has available storage space. (Note that 640 Fine mode requires a Memory Stick Pro card, while the card shipped with the camera is a standard, non-Pro Memory Stick.) The Sony DSC-P200 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 P200 is Burst mode, which records five full resolution images in quick succession, while holding down the Shutter button. As many as 85 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 P200 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 still always recommend buying a second battery, and keeping it charged and ready to go, especially when the AC adapter isn't close at hand. (The Sony P200's battery life is so good though, at 190 minutes in record mode with the LCD turned on, and 379 minutes in playback mode, that many users will never need an extra battery.)

Basic Features

  • 7.2-megapixel CCD delivering image resolutions of 3,072 x 2,304 pixels.
  • 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • 2x digital "Precision" zoom; up to 14x "Smart" Zoom (at VGA resolution).
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 2.0-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Mostly automatic exposure control, but 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, Candle, "Soft Snap", Landscape, High Speed Shutter, Beach, Snow, and Fireworks modes
  • Movie (with sound) recording mode.
  • Multi-Burst slow motion mode and Burst high speed mode.
  • Email (VGA) resolution mode.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 30 seconds depending on the exposure mode (with automatic Noise Reduction below 1/6 second).
  • Aperture range of f/2.8 to f/5.6.
  • Creative Picture Effects menu.
  • Image Sharpness, Saturation, and Contrast adjustments.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • Spot, Multi, and Center-Weighted 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 Sony DSC-P200, and advanced users will enjoy its excellent portability and manual exposure control option. Although the P200 is technically a point-and-shoot digital camera, it has a lot of creative options and enough image adjustments to handle a wide variety of shooting situations. So, while it's designed to reduce the amount of complicated exposure decisions, advanced amateurs and business users will appreciate it for its quality, portability, and varied shooting options. It has a great feel, looks smart, works fast, and takes great pictures. The Sony DSC-P200 would make a great "family" camera, where users with a range of skill levels need to share the same camera. It would also make a great "pocket camera" for more experienced users.

 

Design

The Sony DSC-P200 is compact, stylish, and ready to go anywhere, with a body style similar to the preceding P150 model, though it's actually slightly smaller. Its silvery metal body is only slightly longer than a typical business card, and nearly the same height, top to bottom. Measuring just 4.13 x 2.13 x 1.13 inches (105 x 51.5 x 28 millimeters) and weighing only 6.3 ounces (180 grams) with the battery and memory card installed, the P200 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 P200 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 Sony DSC-P200'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 P200 very compact, yet avoided the lack of finger space that plagues many ultra-small digital cameras. 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. There is no finger grip on the front, however, 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, which is encircled by a green power LED. To the left of the Power button is the camera's tiny microphone. Also from the top view, you can see the ridged Mode dial.

The camera's rear panel holds the remaining camera controls and function buttons, along with a 2.0-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 two 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. A Mode dial rests between the Zoom control and viewfinder, and controls the main operating mode.

Finally, the P200's flat bottom holds the threaded (metal) tripod screw mount, a speaker for audio playback, and the shared USB/AV Out jack. While most users of the Sony P200 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 P200 in any of its automatic modes is 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, and Movie. In all image capture modes, the P200 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 P200's user interface entails. Along with Sony's other recent cameras, the P200 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 good 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 to the right of 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. A green LED surrounds the button, and lights whenever the camera is powered on.


Shutter Button
: Elongated and smooth, 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 is sets the camera's operating mode, offering Scene, Manual, Program, Automatic, Playback, and Movie modes. (See menus and descriptions below.)


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" and "Precision Zoom" options.

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 in the P200's manual simply 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 most record modes, the Up button controls the Flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, Slow-Sync, and Suppressed (Off) 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 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.


Menu Button
: Down and to the left of the Five-Way Arrow pad, this button activates the settings menu in any camera mode. The Menu button also dismisses 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 7.2M (3,072 x 2,304), 3:2 ratio (3,072 x 2,048), 5M (2,592 x 1,944), 3M (2,048 x 1,536), 1M (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, Candle, "Soft Snap", Landscape, High Speed Shutter, Beach, Snow, and Fireworks. 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 system toward higher shutter speeds to freeze action with fast-moving subjects. Fireworks mode sets focus at infinity and forces the camera to use an 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.


Manual Mode
: Indicated on the Mode dial with a "M," this mode provides complete control over the exposure. Pressing the Set button in the center of the Five-Way arrow pad switches the arrow keys to controlling shutter speed and aperture settings.


Program Mode
: This mode is marked on the Mode dial with 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 in Fine or Standard mode, or 160 x 112-pixels. Fine mode records at 30 frames per second while Standard mode records at 15fps. 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 Fine 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 P200 can likewise record to the limits of card capacity in its lower-quality movie modes on standard Memory Sticks.)

Record Menu: Available in the 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, Center, or Spot AF modes, or to one of five preset focus distances (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, and 7.0 meters, and Infinity).
  • Metering Mode: Chooses between Multi-Metering, Center-Weighted, 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. Center-Weighted bases the exposure on a larger area in the center of the frame, while 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, Flash, and One-Push (manual).
  • 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.
  • Setup: Displays the main Setup menu:
    • Camera 1:
      • AF Mode: Puts the autofocus system in Single or Monitor AF modes. In Monitor mode, the AF system is constantly working, until you press the shutter. This may help maintain focus on moving subjects.
      • Digital Zoom: Enables Smart Zoom or Precision Zoom settings, or disables all digital zoom.
      • Date / Time: Determines whether the date and time or just the date are superimposed over captured images. You can also turn this function off.
      • 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 the captured image onscreen for two seconds.

    • Camera 2:
      • Enlarged Icon: Turns on icon enlarge mode, where when first selected, an icon becomes larger onscreen for a few seconds so it is more easily seen by the user.

    • 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 sound.
      • 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.

Playback Menu:

  • Folder: Selects the folder for playing back images.
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image (or removes protection), preventing it from being deleted or manipulated in any way except with card formatting.
  • DPOF: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device. Also removes the print mark.
  • Print: Prints the current image.
  • Slide: Plays back images in an automatic slide show. You can set the time interval and whether or not the sequence of images repeats.
  • Resize: Resizes the image to 3,072 x 2,304; 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.)
  • Rotate: Rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • 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: Displays the same Setup menu as in Record mode.

In the Box

Included with the Sony DSC-P200 digital camera are the following items:

  • Wrist strap..
  • 32MB Memory Stick..
  • NP-FR1 InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery pack..
  • AC adapter / in-camera battery charger.
  • USB / AV cable.
  • Software CD containing the Cyber-Shot imaging software and USB drivers.

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Extra NP-FR1 InfoLITHIUM battery pack
  • Larger capacity Memory Stick Pro (at least 256MB, but 512 is warranted)
  • 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 Photos!
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 digital camera 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.

"Sunlit"
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 Sony P200, see the Sony DSC-P200 photo gallery of more pictorial shots captured with the P200.

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Sony DSC-P200's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony DSC-P200 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!

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the Sony P200's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Very good color, accurate hue, appropriate saturation. Manual white balance handles incandescent lighting very well. The Sony DSC-P200's overall color was good to very good throughout my testing, with only slight warm color casts from its white balance setting. Its color looks very similar to that of the P150 model that it replaces (no surprise), although its skin tones were slightly more orange-looking. It did handle the always-difficult blue flowers of my "Sunlit" Portrait test pretty well though. Indoors, its Incandescent white balance setting handled household incandescent lighting pretty well, but the Manual white balance option produced a really excellent shot. All in all, very good color.

  • Exposure: Very good exposure accuracy. The Sony P200's exposure system handled my test lighting quite well, accurately exposing most shots. It underexposed the very high-key "sunlit" portrait shot slightly at the default setting, but a relatively small amount of positive exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) brightened the midtones appropriately. Its default tone curve is rather contrasty (similar to those of most consumer digicams), but its contrast adjustment option helps quite a bit with this. (Even with the low contrast option selected though, the P200 didn't do quite as good a job as the P150 at holding onto highlight detail.) The P200 had no trouble distinguishing the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target of the Davebox, however, and shadow detail was generally good.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,550 lines of "strong detail." The Sony DSC-P200 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart for its 7.2-megapixel class. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,200 lines per picture height, in both directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,600 lines horizontally, 1,550 lines vertically. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until close to 2,000 lines.

  • Image Noise: Low image noise, but some loss of subtle detail to achieve the low noise levels. The Sony DSC-P200 generally shows low levels of image noise for its resolution class, but it does trade away some subtle subject detail in order to achieve the low noise levels. (While the loss of detail isn't severe, to my mind the P200 doesn't do as good a job in this respect as did the earlier P150.)

  • Closeups: Very good macro performance, good detail and resolution. The flash has a little trouble though. The P200 performed well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 2.39 x 1.80 inches (61 x 46 millimeters). Resolution was very high, and detail was strong in the dollar bill. Detail was also good in the coins and brooch, though both were soft due to the close shooting range. (The softness in the coins and the brooch was caused by the shallow depth of field when shooting this close. This is an optical fact of life, and not the camera's fault.) Details also softened toward the corners of the frame. (Most digital cameras produce images with soft corners when shooting in their Macro modes.) The P200's flash had trouble at such close range, and overexposed the top of the frame, with a reflection on the brooch. (Definitely plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots with the P200.)

  • Night Shots: Excellent low-light performance. Good color and exposure, with low image noise, at the darkest light levels of my test. Good low-light autofocus performance as well. The P200 did just a superb job on our low light test, producing clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at the 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings. Color balance turned pink in some shots, likely due to a shorter exposure time. Noise is low in most shots, and even at ISO 400, image noise is lower than I expected, with a nice tight, fine "grain pattern." (The shot at ISO 400 and 1/16 foot-candle really looks better than ISO 400 shots from some cameras in full daylight.) The camera also focused very well in the dark. With the AF illuminator turned off, it could focus down to a light level of roughly 1/8 foot-candle. With the AF assist light turned on, it could focus in total darkness, at least on nearby objects. Overall, one of the better low-light performances from a consumer digicam. Since city street-lighting at night generally corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, the P200 should do very well for after-dark photography in typical outdoor settings.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but accurate LCD monitor. The P200's optical viewfinder was rather tight, showing only 84 percent of the final image area at wide angle, and about 80 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor actually proved slightly loose, showing just a bit more than what made it into the final frame, though results were near 100 percent accuracy. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the P200's LCD monitor performed pretty well here, but I'd really like to see a more accurate optical viewfinder.

  • Optical Distortion: Good sharpness in the corners and low chromatic aberration. Geometric distortion on the P200 is about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared quite a bit better, as I measured only one pixel of barrel distortion (about 0.03 percent). Chromatic aberration is lower than average, as I found about six or seven pixels of fairly faint coloration. (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.) The P200's images are also quite sharp from corner to corner, although there's a bit more softening in the left hand corners of the frame than I saw in the earlier P150. (Probably just the result of unit-to-unit variations, the two cameras appear to use the same lens.)

  • Shutter lag and cycle time: Very good shutter lag and cycle time, particularly for a compact model. Like most of Sony's current digicam models, the DSC-P200 is very responsive to the shutter, with full-autofocus lag times that range from 0.30 to 0.55 seconds, and a blazing 0.013 (!) shutter lag in when prefocused by half-pressing and holding the shutter button before the shot itself. Cycle times are also excellent for a 7-megapixel camera, regardless of size, at 1.44 seconds/shot in single shot mode, with no apparent buffer limitation (when writing to a Lexar Memory Stick Pro card), and 1 frame/second for five-shot bursts. Its "multi-burst" mode captures 16 small images at a time, at rates as high as 30 frames/second. All in all, a great performer, all the more surprising given its diminutive size. (For those comparing the two models, the DSC-P200 is slightly faster starting up and shutting down than the previous P150, a bit faster from shot to shot, and much faster at downloading images. Shutter lag numbers are virtually identical between the two models.)

  • Battery Life: Really excellent battery life for a compact digicam. Thanks to Sony's InfoLithium battery technology, the P200 showed 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 402 minutes in playback mode. As always though, I still recommend purchasing a second battery along with the camera, but with the P200, this is much less of a consideration than it normally is.

  • Print Quality: Excellent print quality, excellent color, good-looking 13x19 prints. ISO 400 images look a little rough at 8x10, excellent at 5x7. Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.) In the case of the Sony P200, we found that it had plenty of resolution to make sharp-looking 13x19 prints, even with a little cropping. At the largest sizes, the loss of subtle detail caused by its anti-noise processing was visible in Marti's hair and features, but we suspect that most consumers would find the resulting prints acceptable nonetheless. Subjects with strongly contrasting detail (things like tree branches against the sky) showed no loss of resolution, producing very sharp images even at 13x19. Looking at the high-ISO shots, images from the P200 captured at ISO 400 looked a little rough when printed at 8x10, but we felt that they were acceptable when examined at normal viewing distances. (10-12 inches or so) The ISO 400 image noise was essentially invisible in prints 5x7 and smaller. Color-wise, the P200's images looked absolutely beautiful when printed on the i9900, lush and vibrant, yet very natural-looking.

 

Conclusion

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Taken as a package, the Sony DSC-P200 is hard to beat in the subcompact point-and-shoot digital camera market. It packs a 7.2-megapixel CCD, a sharp, high-quality 3x optical zoom lens, nine preset Scene modes and a host of other creative options in to a very small, well-built package. While the DSC-P200 is very similar to its predecessor, the P150, it does offer a few new features, including a larger 2.0-inch LCD monitor, and options for Center-Weighted metering, manual white balance, and spot autofocus. Like the P150, the DSC-P200 is a very responsive camera, with excellent shutter lag and shot to shot cycle time numbers, excellent battery life, and surprisingly good low-light capability. Its color is also bright and vibrant, but natural-looking. On the downside, it does trade away a bit more subtle subject detail than did the P150 to achieve its low noise levels. The detail loss is fairly apparent when viewed onscreen at 1:1 pixel size, but high-quality inkjet prints made from the cameras images don't show the softness nearly as much, and our evaluation is that the vast majority of consumers will have no complaints whatever with its image quality. All in all, if you're looking for a great "take anywhere" camera with excellent resolution, great versatility, and excellent color and tonality, the Sony DSC-P200 should be an easy choice. Definitely a Dave's Pick.


 

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