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Quick Review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P31 Digital Camera

 
Camera QuickLook
Review Date 02/20/2002
User Level Novice
Product Uses Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design Point and Shoot
Picture Quality Good, 2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes email to 8 x 10
Availability April, 2002
Suggested Retail Price $220


Introduction
Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion

Sony has clearly been one of the most dominant players in the entire digicam market. - And for good reason: Their cameras offer excellent features and performance, good build quality and great picture quality. They currently offer no fewer than five distinct lines of cameras, spanning an incredible range of features, price, and performance. In their "Compact" line, they've now added a new entry-level two megapixel model, the DSC-P31. In the interests of simplicity and low cost, the P31 employs a fixed focal length lens, equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm film camera. (A moderate wide angle.) The compact design of the P31 makes for a camera that is both very portable and easy to handle. (I find the slightly elongated case design easier to hold than some ultra-compact digicams yet it's thin profile means it's still easy to slip in a pocket.) For an entry level camera, the DSC-P31 sports a surprising range of features and capabilities, yet is very easy to use thanks to a simple and uncluttered menu layout. The creative options let you shoot in a wide variety of conditions, while its auto-connect USB connection (on Windows Me, 2000, XP, and Mac OS 8.6 or higher), makes downloading images easy. Read the review below for the details, but if you're looking for an inexpensive, simple to use camera two megapixel camera that takes good pictures and is super-portable to boot, the DSC-P31 could be what you've been looking for.


Camera Overview
Even smaller in size than the DSC-P71 and DSC-P51 models introduced at the same time, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P31 is a portable, compact digicam perfectly suited to be a "take anywhere" camera. The DSC-P31's small size makes it at home in most shirt pockets, and a wrist strap keeps it securely attached to your wrist when shooting (nice, given the rather small handgrip). The compact design includes a shutter-like, built-in lens cover which conveniently slides open whenever the camera is powered on. The DSC-P31's 5.0mm lens (equivalent to a 33 mm lens on a 35mm camera, a moderate wide angle) features automatic focus control, with several fixed focus settings available as well as an adjustable focus area. The 2-megapixel CCD produces enough resolution for images printable up to roughly 8x10 inches in size, as well as lower resolution ones suitable for emailing. Combine this with the ease of automatic shooting and useful range of features and creative options, and the DSC-P31 is an excellent choice for novice consumers looking for great pictures without the fuss.

The DSC-P31 can focus from approximately four inches (0.1 meters) to infinity. (No separate Macro mode is available, but the normal focusing range covers what would normally be considered the macro range as well.) In addition to automatic focus control, the DSC-P31 offers a total of five fixed focus settings through the Record menu, as well as Center AF and Multi AF focus area options. An autofocus illuminator lamp on the front of the camera helps it focus at low light levels, a very handy feature I wish more digicam manufactures would add to their cameras. The P31's lens is a fixed focal length design, so the only zoom capability is provided by a 3x digital zoom, controlled by the zoom toggle lever on the camera's rear panel. I'm generally no fan of digital zooms, as they directly trade off resolution for magnification, progressively blurring the image as magnification is increased. (This is because they're just enlarging the center pixels of the CCD's image, not actually magnifying the image optically.) Sony's Precision digital zoom feature seems to do a bit better than most at minimizing the loss of detail, but I have to say that 3x of digital zoom is really pushing it a bit too far (The exception to this is if you're shooting low-resolution images for emailing or the web. In that case, you're aiming for a smaller image anyway, so cropping into the center of the sensor's image electronically carries no penalty.) For composing images, the DSC-P31 offers a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.6-inch, color LCD monitor.

Exposure is automatically controlled on the DSC-P31, greatly simplifying camera operation. An On/Off button on the top panel turns the camera on and off, and a Mode dial on the back panel lets you select between Scene, Automatic, and Movie exposure modes. Within Scene mode, you can select Twilight, Twilight Portrait, or Landscape "scenes." Both Twilight modes optimize the camera for low-light shooting by extending the maximum shutter time to two seconds (from the 1/30 second limit in normal exposure mode), and Landscape mode sets the camera up for capturing broad vistas. Though the camera controls aperture and shutter speed, the Record menu offers White Balance, Exposure Compensation, ISO, Record Mode (Normal or E-mail), Sharpness, Flash Level, Picture Effects, Focus, and image quality and size settings. Even though the camera always controls both shutter and aperture settings, I appreciated the onscreen display that shows the settings its chosen whenever you half-press the shutter button - I think such displays do a great deal to help people understand the effects of shutter speed and aperture, demystifying the camera's operation. Under the Picture Effects setting, you can record images in black and white or sepia monotones, or select the Solarize or Negative Art options. The DSC-P31's flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync modes. A Spot Metering mode is also available, for more accurate exposures of high-contrast or off-center subjects. (Spot metering can be very handy for backlit subjects, but is rarely found in inexpensive digicams.)

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures either 320 x 240-, or 160 x 112-pixel resolution moving images (without sound) for as long as the memory card has available storage space, with an available HQX quality setting for higher image quality at the cost of larger file sizes. The DSC-P31 also offers Clip Motion and Multi Burst modes. Clip Motion records a series of up to 10 images that are automatically saved in a single animated GIF file, and that can be played back as an animation sequence. (A feature I enjoyed on previous Cyber-shot digicams.) Multi Burst mode captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a selectable rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames/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. (Great for tennis and golf swings!) A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the camera actually takes the picture, giving the photographer time to run around and get in the picture him/herself.

The DSC-P31 stores images on Sony Memory Sticks, available separately in capacities as large as 128MB. In a real departure from Sony's past practice of using their proprietary "InfoLITHIUM" batteries, the P71 uses two AA batteries for power, either alkaline, NiMH, or lithium. A set of two rechargeable NiMH AAs and a battery charger are included in the box with each camera, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Sony AAs have a very high capacity, on a par with the very best third-party NiMH AA cells I've tested. The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images. The DSC-P71 features a Video Out jack, for connecting to a television set, and a USB jack for downloading images to a computer. A software CD is loaded with Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers, for downloading and organizing images. (On Windows Me, 2000, or XP computers, or Macs running OS 8.6 or higher, no separate USB driver software is needed: The camera shows up on the desktop automatically when it is plugged in.)

Basic Features

  • 2-megapixel CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.6-inch color LCD monitor with backlight.
  • Glass, 5.0mm lens, equivalent to 33mm lens on 35mm camera (wide angle).
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.8.
  • 3x Digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1000 to 2 seconds.
  • Built-in flash.
  • Memory Stick card storage.
  • Power supplied by two AA batteries or optional AC adapter.
  • Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with MPEG Movie, Clip Motion, and Multi Burst options.
  • Continuous movie recording in all modes, even MPEG EX. (No buffer limits.)
  • Scene mode with Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape preset modes.
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Picture Effects menu with Black-and-White, Sepia, Negative Art, and Solarize effects.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with five modes.
  • Sharpness adjustment.
  • E-mail (320 x 240-pixel) record mode.
  • Spot metering option.
  • Sensitivity setting with three ISO equivalents (100, 200, 400) and an Auto setting.
  • Five (optional) fixed focus settings.
  • Adjustable autofocus area.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
  • NTSC video cable for connection to a television set.
  • High-capacity NiMH batteries and charger included(!)

Recommendation

The DSC-P31 further defines a category Sony has directed a lot of attention to: The "full featured" point & shoot digital camera. While it does provide completely "point & shoot" simplicity for routine use, it also incorporates a number of more advanced features such as variable ISO sensitivity, spot metering, movie capture, and a variety of creative effects. The result is a competitively priced compact camera that doesn't skimp on features or build quality. Its compact design make it ideal for a "take anywhere" camera that you can just drop in a pocket and always have with you whenever one of those "life moments" happens that you never (used to) have a camera handy for. It's easy enough to use that a complete novice needn't be afraid of it, but has enough features to take good pictures under a wide range of conditions. Great for novices or anyone else who wants a camera that'll take great pictures with a minimum of fuss, but who also don't want to be limited by the constraints of a too-basic unit.

 

Design

Small and tightly packed, the DSC-P31 is clearly meant to go places. Its sleek, smooth design is free from any significant protrusions apart from the very slight handgrip. With dimensions of 4.25 x 2.28 x 1.55 inches (106 x 58 x 39.5 centimeters), and weighing in at just 8 ounces (213g) with batteries and card inserted, the DSC-P31 is just small enough to fit into a shirt pocket or small purse. With an automatic lens cover, you can just turn it off and drop it in a pocket with impunity.

 

 

The body of the DSC-P31 is slightly rounded on the lens side, following the shape of the lens barrel and expressing a design style midway between "smooth" and "boxy". A shutter-like, retractable lens cover automatically protects the lens whenever the camera is powered off, sliding quickly out of the way when the camera is turned on. Being a fixed focal length lens, it does not telescope out from the body, speeding startup and shutdown. Also on the front panel are the flash, optical viewfinder window, and AF Illuminator lamp. A small handgrip provides a secure finger rest when holding the camera, but is small enough that you'll probably want to keep the wrist strap securely in place while shooting.

 

 

The battery compartment is on the right side of the camera (as viewed from the back). A sliding plastic door protects the compartment, and features an inset latch that unlocks the door when you need to change the batteries. Just above the battery compartment is the wrist strap attachment eyelet. You can also see the Memory Stick compartment door from this view, which opens from the bottom of the camera. The left side of the camera is featureless, displaying only a small Memory Stick logo as decoration.

 

 

The DSC-P31's top panel is relatively smooth and flat, featuring only the Shutter and Power buttons, both of which barely protrude from the camera's surface.

 

 

The remaining few camera controls are on the back panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece, LCD monitor, speaker, and connector jacks. Three LED lamps next to the optical viewfinder report camera status, indicating when focus is set or the flash is charging. Next to the optical viewfinder eyepiece is the Power Save on/off switch. (When Power Save is enabled, autofocus is performed only when the shutter button is pressed rather than continuously, and the rear-panel LCD monitor is dimmed slightly.) The Mode dial and Zoom rocker button dominate the top right corner of the back panel, while the Menu, Display, and Four Way Arrow pad flank the left side of the LCD monitor. A small speaker (for camera sounds only, no audio recording or playback is available) is tucked away on the left side of the viewfinder eyepiece. In the lower left corner, beneath a tethered plastic door, are the Video Out and USB connector jacks. The DC In jack is on the opposite side, beneath a flexible plastic flap. Also on the right side is a set of raised bumps, which provide a thumb grip when holding the camera in shooting position.

In record mode, the LCD monitor optionally displays just the subject, the subject plus an information overlay, or nothing at all. (That is, the LCD may be turned off.)


In playback mode, the LCD display can show the captured images with or without an information overlay, a thumbnail index showing multiple images at once, or detailed information regarding the exposure parameters for a given image. You can also zoom in on the recorded images in playback mode, helpful for checking framing or focus.

 


 

The DSC-P31 has a flat bottom panel, which holds the metal tripod mount and Memory Stick slot. (Kudos for the rugged metal tripod socket.) The Memory Stick compartment door slides open to reveal the card, which pops outward when pushed slightly. I was glad to see enough space between the tripod mount and Memory Stick slot to let you change the card even when mounted to a tripod. (The side-access battery compartment is a plus as well). That said, I did notice that the off-center tripod mount left the camera slightly tilted on my tripod head, making more difficult to level the camera body exactly. Given the very portable nature of the DSC-P31, I don't think this will be much of an issue for most of its users though.

Camera Operation

The DSC-P31's user interface is very straightforward, with only a few external controls and a very concise and understandable LCD menu system. For standard point-and-shoot operation, the most basic features (flash, spot metering, and zoom) have external controls, while settings like White Balance, Exposure Compensation, etc. are adjusted through the LCD menu. The Mode dial allows you to quickly set the camera's operating mode, with a quick turn to one of five settings. When it is necessary to enter the LCD menu system, you'll find it easy to navigate, as each setting appears as a subject tab at the bottom of the screen. - There are no multi-screen menu options, making the controls easier to access and understand. The arrow keys of the Four Way Arrow pad scroll through the menu options, and make selections within them, while the OK button in the center of the pad confirms any changes. (In most cases, on the Record menu, you don't even need to confirm your choice: Just hit the Menu button again to return to shooting.)The menu system is so simple and intuitive I think even novice users will be able to become completely familiar with it in an hour or less.

 

External Controls


Power Button
: Placed unobtrusively on the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on and off.


Shutter Button
: Located on the far right of the top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Power Save Switch
: Adjacent to the right side of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this sliding switch turns the Power Save function on or off. (Power Save appears to do several things. It sets the camera to shut off more quickly after a period of inactivity, turns off the continuous autofocus action, so the lens only autofocuses when the shutter button is half-pressed, and dims the backlight on the LCD display slightly.)


Mode Dial
: This ridged dial is on the camera's back panel, and offers the following settings:

Scene: Lets the user select one of three Scene modes (Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape).

  • Automatic Record: Places the camera in Record mode, with the user able to adjust all exposure features except for shutter speed and aperture.
  • Playback: Replays captured still images and movie files, with options for image management and printing.
  • Movie: Records silent, moving images, for as long as the Memory Stick has space. Also accesses Clip Motion and Multi Burst modes when either of those options is activated through the Set-Up menu.
  • Set-Up: Displays the Set-Up menu, for changing camera settings.


Zoom Toggle Button
: Located in the top right corner of the back panel, this rocker switch controls the digital zoom in any Record mode.

In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of captured images and accesses the index display mode as well as a detailed information display. (The "T" side zooms in, the "W" side zooms out. Zooming out from the normal-sized single image view brings up an index display of tiny "thumbnail" images.)


Menu Button
: Situated to the right of the USB connector compartment, this button displays or dismisses the settings menu in any Record mode or in Playback mode.


Display/LCD Button
: Just adjacent to the Menu button, this button controls the LCD monitor's display mode. In both Record and Playback modes, the button cycles through the image and information displays, and turns the LCD monitor on and off.


Four Way Arrow Pad
: Below the Menu and Display buttons, this rocker control features four arrow keys and navigates through any settings menu. The center of the pad acts as the "OK" to confirm menu selections.

In Automatic Record mode, the up arrow controls flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, and Suppressed modes (only activates Slow-Sync in Twilight Portrait mode, and no flash modes are available in Twilight or Movie modes). The down arrow activates the Self-Timer mode, while the right arrow controls the Spot Metering mode. The left arrow calls up a quick review of the most recently-captured image.

In Playback mode, the left and right keys scroll through captured images on the memory card. When an image has been enlarged, all four arrow keys scroll the view within the enlarged image.


Battery Compartment Latch
: Tucked in the center of the battery compartment door, this button unlocks the door, allowing it to slide outward.

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: In this mode, the camera captures standard still images, controlling aperture and shutter speed. Pressing the Menu button displays a similar menu as above, with an additional ISO option:

  • Exposure Compensation: Lightens or darkens the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments.
  • Focus: Changes the focus area to Multi AF or Center AF, or selects from a range of fixed focus settings (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, or 7.0 meters, or Infinity).
  • White Balance: Adjusts the color balance to Auto, or for Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • ISO: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, or to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents. - Use ISO 200 or 400 for action shots, where you need a faster shutter speed to freeze the action. Higher ISOs produce "noisier" images though.
  • Image Size: Sets the image size to 1,600 x 1,200; 1,600 (3:2 aspect); 1,280 x 960; or 640 x 480 pixels.
  • Quality: Sets the JPEG compression level to Fine or Standard.
  • Mode: Changes the recording mode to Normal or E-Mail. (Email records a 320 x 240-pixel image in addition to one at the selected image size.)
  • Flash Level: Adjusts the flash intensity level to Normal, Low, or High.
  • Picture Effects: Applies creative effects like Solarize, Black and White, Sepia, or Negative Art, or turns Picture Effects off.
  • Sharpness: Sets the overall image sharpness in arbitrary units from -2 to +2.

Scene Mode:This record mode offers three preset "scene" modes, for shooting in specific situations. Flash, zoom, Macro, and Self-Timer modes are all available, though flash mode is limited in some cases, and Macro isn't available when in Landscape scene mode. Menu options are virtually identical to those in normal Record mode, except the ISO option isn't present. Pressing the Menu button in Scene mode displays the following options:

  • Scene: Selects between Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape "scenes." Twilight allows much longer exposure times than does the normal shooting mode, but disables the flash. Twilight Portrait combines longer exposures with the flash. ISO options aren't available, but the Twilight modes apparently boost ISO to 200 automatically. Landscape apparently just sets the camera's focus to infinity. (I confess to not being sure why you'd need this, the autofocus lens could just focus on distant objects normally.)
  • Exposure Compensation: Lightens or darkens the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. Needed to get correct exposures for scenes that are light or dark overall. (E.g., beach/snow scenes, etc.)
  • Focus: Changes the focus area to Multi AF or Center AF, or selects from a range of fixed focus settings (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, or 7.0 meters, or Infinity).
  • White Balance: Adjusts the color balance to Auto, or for Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • Image Size: Sets the resolution size to 1,600 x 1,200; 1,600 (3:2 aspect); 1,280 x 960; or 640 x 480 pixels.
  • Quality: Sets the JPEG compression level to Fine or Standard.
  • Mode: Changes the recording mode to Normal or E-Mail (Email records a 320 x 240-pixel image in addition to one at the selected image size).
  • Flash Level: Adjusts the flash intensity to Normal, Low, or High. (Flash is only available in Twilight Portrait scene mode though, not Twilight or Landscape.)
  • Picture Effects: Applies creative effects like Solarize, Black and White, Sepia, or Negative Art, or turns Picture Effects off.
  • Sharpness: Sets the overall image sharpness in arbitrary units from -2 to +2.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images on the memory card, erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, etc. When playing back movie files, you can also opt for "queue" playback, which plays back the movie file more rapidly, several frames at a time, to help you find a particular portion you're interested in. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

  • Delete: Erases the current image. There is an option to cancel the operation.
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image, or removes protection.
  • Print: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device, or removes the print mark.
  • Slide: Enables a slide show of all images captured on the Memory Stick. You can control the interval between each image as well as whether or not the slide show repeats.
  • Resize: Resizes the current image to one of the available resolution sizes.
  • Rotate: Rotates the current image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Divide: Divides movie files into segments, providing a very basic editing tool you can use to "trim" your movies to just the portion you want to keep.

Movie Mode: Records short movie clips without sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has available space. (This ability to record indefinitely, up to the limits of the memory card size (even in HQX mode) is a new feature on this latest generation of Cyber-shot cameras.) If set through the Set-Up menu, this mode can also record Clip Motion or Multi Burst frames. Clip motion is a unique feature that assembles up to 10 successive images into a multi-frame animated GIF file. MultiBurst mode captures 16 small images very rapidly, saving them as a single 1280x1024 image. MultiBurst images play back sequentially on the camera, but appear as a single image when viewed on your computer. The LCD menu system offers the following options:

  • Exposure Compensation: Lightens or darkens the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments.
  • Focus: Changes the focus area to Multi AF or Center AF, or selects from a range of fixed focus settings (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, or 7.0 meters, or Infinity).
  • White Balance: Adjusts the color balance to Auto, or for Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • Image Size: Sets the movie resolution size to 320 x 240 (HQX); 320 x 240; or 160 x 112 pixels in MPEG Movie mode. In Clip Motion mode, offers Normal (160 x 120 pixels) or Mobile (80 x 72 pixels) sizes. In Multi Burst mode, offers frame intervals of 1/7.5, 1/15, or 1/30-second.
  • Picture Effects: Applies creative effects like Solarize, Black and White, Sepia, or Negative Art, or turns Picture Effects off.

Set-Up Mode: The following three page menu displays upon entering Setup mode:

  • Camera:
    • Moving Image: Sets the Movie recording type to MPEG Movie, Clip Motion, or Multi Burst.
    • Date/Time: Controls the date and time display, options are Day & Time, Date, or Off.
    • Red-Eye Reduction: Enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash (which will fire with all flash modes), or turns it off.
    • AF Illuminator: Puts the AF Illuminator into Auto mode, or simply turns it off.
  • Set-Up 1
    • Format: Formats the Memory Stick, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • File Number: Specifies whether file numbering resets with each new Memory Stick or continues in a series.
    • Language: Changes the camera's menu language to English or Japanese.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock.
  • Set-Up 2
    • LCD Brightness: Adjusts the LCD display brightness level to Normal, Bright, or Dark.
    • LCD Backlight: Controls the LCD backlight feature, setting it to Normal or Bright.
    • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sound, setting it to Shutter, On, or Off.
    • Video Out: Specifies the camera's Video Out signal as NTSC or PAL.
    • USB Connect: Places the USB connection into PTP or Normal modes.

Sample Pictures

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

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

Picky Details

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

Test Results (Preliminary only, based on preproduction camera)

  • Color: Because of our evaluation model's prototype status, I'd normally go pretty easy on it for color quality, but as it turns out, the color was actually quite good. Colors were generally accurate and appropriately saturated, skin tones were nice, and even the difficult blues of the flowers in the Outdoor Portrait test were rendered very well. Color was close to accurate on the Davebox target, though red and blue tones appeared a bit oversaturated. (The P31 does seem to like blues quite a bit, rendering them with more saturation than it does reds and oranges.)
  • Exposure: The DSC-P31 seems to have an exposure sensor that takes in a very wide area when making its determination. This would explain why it overexposed the Davebox target somewhat, since that target's against a jet-black background. Indoors at night (under artificial illumination), you'll need to use either the flash or the camera's "Twilight Mode." The 1/30 second maximum exposure time in normal mode isn't enough to get bright images, even under pretty bright interior lighting. Twilight Mode lets you get down to exposure times as long as 2 seconds, while also boosting the cameras ISO to 200. This combination works pretty well for indoor photography under typical room lighting. At the other end of the spectrum, outdoors in bright sun, the camera's somewhat contrasty images tended to lose detail in strong, sunlit highlights. Overall though, the camera produced pretty good exposures under a wide variety of conditions.
  • Sharpness: The P31 captures good detail, but its images looked a little soft in most of our test shots. It competes well with ultra-compact two megapixel digicams, but not so well with higher-end full-sized ones.
  • Closeups: The DSC-P31 is an average to slightly below-average performer in the macro arena, capturing a minimum area of 4.44 x 3.33 inches (113 x 85 millimeters). Good detail and resolution, with just a hint of corner softness from the lens.
  • Night Shots: The DSC-P31 was limited in its low-light shooting capabilities by its maximum two-second shutter speed. The camera captured usable images at light levels only as low as one foot-candle (11 lux), and nearly usable (though dim) photos at 1/2-foot-candle (5.5 lux). (Average city street lighting at night is about one foot-candle, or 11 lux.) The camera should be able to handle most city night scenes, though will require the flash for shots under darker conditions.

In the Box

Because our evaluation model of the DSC-P31 was an early prototype unit, I don't know the final word on which items will ship with the camera. I'll update this list as soon as I receive updated information. Here are the base items that I believe will ship with the camera, though items may be added or eliminated:

  • Wrist strap.
  • 8MB Memory Stick.
  • USB cable.
  • NTSC video cable.
  • Two high-capacity NiMH AA batteries.
  • NiMH battery charger.
  • Software CD.
  • Instruction manual and registration card.

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity Memory Stick.
  • Additional AA rechargeable batteries and charger.
  • AC adapter.
  • Small camera case.


About Batteries
Time for my standard battery tirade: I've gotten so many emails about power issues for digicams, that I'm now inserting this standard notice in the reviews of all AA-powered cameras on our site: Don't even *think* about using alkaline AA batteries in a digicam! Despite their being packed in the box with many cameras, they simply don't have the juice to handle typical digicam demands. Big kudos to Sony for including a very high capacity set of AA NiMH cells with the P31, as well as a nice little charger. Do yourself a favor though, and get a couple of extra sets of high-capacity NiMH AA cells, and always keep one set charged and ready to go while the other is in the camera. The Sony batteries appear to be of very good quality, so you could just get another set or two of them, or try a couple of sets of the new (as of this writing, in early 2002) Maha 1800 mAh PowerEx brand cells from Thomas Distributing. (In my battery testing, these new Maha 1800s are currently running at the top of the chart for useful capacity.) There's nothing more frustrating than running out of battery power in the middle of an outing. Spend the money on good-quality batteries and you'll be glad you did.

Conclusion

Since this review was based on a prototype camera, I don't really have a conclusion yet. What I saw was encouraging though, with pleasing color and generally good images, albeit a bit softer than those I've seen from higher end two megapixel models. The camera's full-automatic exposure control and lack of zoom lens suit it to the consumer who wants to take basic snapshots with minimum fuss. It's the variable exposure options and Scene shooting modes make it flexible enough to handle a fairly wide range of shooting conditions though.

 

Reader Comments!
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