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Quick Review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P32 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 7/23/2003
User Level
Novice
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Good, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Up to sharp 8x10s
Availability
Now 
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$229


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

Sony has clearly been one of the dominant players in the digicam market for a number of years now. 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 mid-sized "P-series" line, they've now added a new entry-level three-megapixel model, the DSC-P32. It has nearly identical features to the P72 model, although with a fixed focal length lens in place of the higher-end model's 3x zoom. With a compact design, the P32 is comfortably pocket-sized, offering three-megapixel resolution in a package that's both portable and comfortable in the hand. A range of creative options lets you shoot in a wide variety of conditions, including two new preset modes for Beach and Snow scenes. Plus, its auto-connect USB connection (on Windows Me, 2000, XP, and Mac OS 8.6 or higher), makes downloading images easy, requiring no driver software. Read the review below for the details, and to see how the P32 did in my performance tests.


Camera Overview
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P32 is similar in dimension and design to the rest of the Cyber-shot mid-sized "P" series, making it portable and compact while still offering plenty of room for your fingers. It's small enough to fit most shirt pockets, and a wrist strap keeps it securely attached to your wrist when shooting. The compact design includes a shutterlike, built-in lens cover which conveniently slides open whenever the camera is powered on. The DSC-P32's fixed focal length lens features automatic focus control, with several fixed focus settings available and an adjustable focus area. The 3.2-megapixel CCD produces high resolution, print quality images, as well as lower resolution images suitable for e-mail or other electronic use. Combine this with the ease of automatic exposure control, a handful of preset "scene" modes (including two new settings for snow and beach scenes), and the creative Picture Effects menu, and the DSC-P32 is an excellent choice for novice consumers who want to take great pictures without hassling with exposure decisions.

The DSC-P32 is equipped with a 5.0mm lens, equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera (a moderate wide angle), with a maximum aperture of f/2.8. Focus ranges from approximately four inches (10 centimeters) to infinity. In addition to automatic focus control, the DSC-P32 offers a total of five fixed focus settings through the Record menu, as well as Center AF and Multi AF focus area options. An AF illuminator lamp on the front of the camera helps focus at low light levels, a very handy feature I wish more digicam manufacturers would add to their cameras. The DSC-P32 employs a new technology that Sony calls "Smart Zoom," which offers a maximum of 3.2x digital zoom. According to Sony, Smart Zoom lets you digitally enlarge the image without any significant loss of image quality. In actuality, "Smart Zoom" simply means that the camera doesn't interpolate the pixels it crops from the center of the CCD array when zooming digitally. This limits the digital zoom range based on the currently-selected image size, with maximum digital zoom only available at the smallest image size. This is the most reasonable approach to "digital zoom," and one that I wish more manufacturers would adopt. (For the record, Fuji's digicams have operated this way for some time now.) For composing images, the DSC-P32 offers a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.6-inch, color LCD monitor. In my tests, the optical viewfinder was more accurate than most, at 92% coverage, while the LCD monitor showed almost exactly 100% of the final image area.

Exposure is automatically controlled at all times on the DSC-P32, great for novices and casual users looking for simplicity. (Although exposure accuracy seemed to be the Achilles' heel of the P32. - See my comments on it in the Test Results section below.) You can override the exposure with an exposure compensation adjustment though, a necessary feature for shooting subjects that are uniformly light or dark overall, or for correcting any bobbles the camera might make in determining the correct exposure. An On/Off button on top of the camera turns the camera on and off, and a Mode dial on the back panel selects between Playback, Record, and Movie exposure modes. Within Record mode, you can select Automatic, Program, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Snow, or Beach modes. (The latter two modes being introduced for the first time to the Cyber-shot line with the P72 and P32 models.) The Automatic setting removes all user control, with the exception of flash, macro, and resolution. Program mode keeps exposure determination automatic, but you now have control over all other exposure variables. 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 broad vistas. Snow mode enhances saturation to prevent loss of color in bright white snowscapes, while Beach mode ensures that blue tones are recorded accurately in lakeside or seaside photos.

Although the camera controls aperture and shutter speed, it does report the settings it has chosen on the LCD information display, so you have an idea of what the exposure will be. (Another feature I wish more manufacturers would emulate, even on lower-end cameras. Knowing the actual shutter speed can be very helpful in judging whether or not you'll be able to successfully hand hold an exposure in dim lighting.) A Spot metering option is available via an external control, but the default metering mode is Multi-Pattern. The Record menu offers additional exposure options of White Balance, Exposure Compensation, ISO, Record Mode, Flash Level, Picture Effects, Focus, and image quality settings. Under the Picture Effects setting, you can record images in black and white or sepia monochrome, or select the Solarize or Negative Art options. The DSC-P32's flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync (Twilight Portrait only) modes. Interestingly enough, Sony removed the image size setting from the Record menu, and gave it an external control. This is useful when trying to quickly change resolution settings, as you don't have to fish through menu options. (Though you'll still need to call up the menu system to adjust the image quality setting.)

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. Unrestricted (other than by card capacity) recording at 640 x 480 pixels is relatively uncommon in digicams, and is the key feature that distinguishes Sony's MPEGmovieVX mode. The DSC-P32 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've enjoyed on previous Cyber-shot digicams.) Multi Burst mode captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of low-resolution 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 is a great tool for analyzing golf and tennis swings, or conducting other sports-related time-motion studies.) 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 DSC-P32 are Burst 2 and Voice record modes. Burst 2 records two images in rapid succession, with one press of the Shutter button. Voice mode records a short sound clip to accompany an image, useful for attaching voice captions.

The DSC-P32 stores images on Sony Memory Sticks, available separately in capacities as large as one gigabyte. (The DSC-P32 is compatible with Sony's new Memory Stick PRO format, breaking the previous 128MB barrier for Memory Stick storage.) A 16MB Memory Stick comes with the camera, but I'd recommend also purchasing a larger capacity card so you don't miss any shots. As with last year's mid-sized P-series models, the P32 once again departs from Sony's usual practice of using their proprietary "InfoLITHIUM" batteries, using instead two AA batteries for power, either alkaline, NiMH, or lithium. A set of two high-capacity (1850 mAh) rechargeable NiMH AAs and a battery charger are included in the box with each camera. Battery life is quite good for a two-AA cell camera (roughly two and a half hours in its worst-case power-drain mode, using the provided batteries), but I still strongly advise picking up a couple of extra sets of rechargeable AA batteries and packing them along on any extended outing. (See my Battery Shootout Page for actual capacity test data of the top AA cells on the market.) The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, but having a couple of sets of rechargeable batteries really eliminates the need for it apart from extended studio use. The DSC-P32 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 to 9.2, no separate USB driver software is needed. The camera shows up on the desktop automatically when it is plugged in.)

Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.6-inch color LCD monitor with backlight.
  • 5.0mm lens, equivalent to 33mm on a 35mm camera.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.8.
  • As much as 3.2x digital "Smart Zoom."
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to two seconds.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • Memory Stick storage, 16MB card included.
  • USB computer interface and supplied cable.
  • 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 VX Movie, Clip Motion, and Multi Burst options.
  • Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Snow, and Beach 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.
  • E-mail (320 x 240-pixel), Burst 2, and Voice record modes.
  • Multi-Pattern and Spot metering modes.
  • 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.
  • Video cable for connection to a television set.


Recommendation
Like the rest of the mid-sized "P" series of Sony Cyber-shot cameras, the DSC-P32 is a good quality, compact digicam. It offers the convenience of point-and-shoot simplicity, but with enough advanced features to make it possible to take photos in otherwise challenging situations (low light, fast action, etc.). The 3.2-megapixel CCD delivers high quality images, appropriate for any use from printing to distributing via e-mail, and its compact design makes it a good candidate for travel. (While not as tiny as cameras like Sony's own P8 and P9, or the Canon Digital ELPH series, the P32 fits quite nicely into pant or coat pockets.) Unfortunately, given the exposure variation and inaccuracy I found with it, I don't feel I can really recommend it. Since I strongly recommend people purchase cameras equipped with zoom lenses anyway, I'd suggest looking at Sony's P72 model instead, as it has an optical zoom lens and (seemingly) none of the exposure bobbles that I found in the P32.

Design
With its small body size and compact design, the DSC-P32 is similar in size to the rest of Sony's midsized "P" series Cyber-shot models. Its case is free from any significant protrusions, making it well-suited to life in a pocket. The DSC-P32's dimensions of 4.0 x 2.38 x 1.31 inches (101 x 58 x 33 millimeters) makes it just small enough to fit into a shirt pocket or small purse. The all-plastic body keeps the DSC-P32 light weight as well, at just 7.7 ounces (217 grams) with batteries and memory card.

The front of the DSC-P32 is rounded on the right side, echoing the shape of the lens barrel and supporting the smooth design aesthetic. A shutterlike, retractable lens cover protects the lens whenever the camera is powered off, flipping quickly out of the way when the camera is turned on again. Also on the front panel are the flash, optical viewfinder window, AF illuminator lamp, and small microphone. A small, sculpted ridge serves as a finger rest when holding the camera, improving your grip to a surprising degree. Still, this ridge is small enough that you'll probably want to keep the wrist strap securely in place while shooting.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the back) is the battery compartment. A sliding plastic door protects the compartment, and features a latch that prevents it from accidentally popping open while shooting. Just below the compartment is the wrist strap attachment eyelet.

The opposite side of the camera features only the Memory Stick compartment, at the very bottom. A hinged, plastic door opens downward to reveal the card slot. I heartily approve of providing side access for both the Memory Stick and battery compartments, as this greatly helps when shooting with a tripod. Given the large amount of studio work I do, I always appreciate being able to quickly change out batteries or memory cards without dismounting the camera from the tripod.

The DSC-P32's top panel is fairly smooth and flat, featuring only the Shutter and Power buttons, both of which barely protrude from the camera's surface.

The few remaining 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. The Mode dial and Zoom rocker button dominate the top right corner of the back panel, while the Menu, Display, Image Size / Erase, and Four Way Arrow pad line up below them. A small speaker grille is on the left side of the LCD monitor. On the right side, beneath the Zoom rocker button, a tethered plastic flap covers the DC In, Video Out, and USB connector jacks. Two ridges on the outside of the plastic flap serve as a thumb grip while holding the camera.

The DSC-P32 has a flat bottom panel, which holds the metal tripod socket and bottom side of the Memory Stick slot. (Kudos for the rugged metal tripod socket, many cameras use plastic here.)


Camera Operation
The DSC-P32's user interface is very straightforward, with only a few external controls and a very concise LCD menu system. Menu setup is similar to previous Cyber-shot designs, though the DSC-P32 does have a couple of changes relative to prior units. For starters, all of the camera's scene and exposure modes are now accessible through the Record menu, and the mode selection dictates the available menu options. (Earlier models employed a separate mode dial position for Scene mode access.) Sony also moved the resolution setting to an external control, for quicker access. For standard point-and-shoot operation, the most basic features (flash, zoom, spot metering, and self-timer modes) have external controls, while settings like White Balance, Exposure Compensation, etc. are adjusted through the menu system. The Mode dial lets you quickly set the camera's main operating mode, with just a turn. When you do need to enter the LCD menu system, you'll find it simple to navigate, with each setting appearing as a separate tab at the bottom of the screen. The arrow keys of the Four Way Arrow pad scroll through the selections, and the OK button in the center of the pad confirms any changes. 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.

Record Mode Display
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.) The screen shot at upper right shows the record-mode displays.


Playback Mode Display
In Playback mode, the LCD display can show the captured images with or without an information overlay, or a thumbnail index showing multiple images at once, or detailed information regarding the exposure parameters for a given image. The index and detailed information displays are accessed by pressing the "W" side of the zoom control on the camera's rear panel. Pressing the "T" side of the same control lets you zoom in on an image, up to 5x. Once zoomed, the arrow keys let you scroll around the enlarged image. The screen shot above right shows the various playback-mode displays, minus the zoomed playback view.

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.


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

  • Playback: Replays captured still images and movie files, with options for image management and printing.
  • Record: Puts the camera in Record mode, with seven exposure modes available.
  • Movie: Records moving images with sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has space. Also accesses Clip Motion and Multi Burst modes when activated through the Set-Up menu.
  • Set-Up: Displays the Set-Up menu, for changing camera settings.


Zoom Rocker 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
: Beneath the Mode dial, this button displays or dismisses the settings menu in any Record mode or in Playback mode.


Display/LCD Button
: Directly below 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.


Image Size / Erase Button
: Just below the Display / LCD Button, this button activates the Image Size setting in any Record mode. In any still image mode, resolution options of 2,048 x 1,536; 2,048 (3:2); 1,632 x 1,224; 1,280 x 960; and 640 x 480 pixels are available. Movie mode options include 640 x 480 and 160 x 120 pixels.

In Playback mode, this button calls up the single erase menu, letting you delete the currently displayed image.


Four Way Arrow Pad
: Below the Mode dial and adjacent to the Menu and Display buttons, this five button control pad features four arrow keys and a center "OK" button. The arrow keys navigate through any settings menu, and the OK button confirms menu selections.

In Automatic Record mode, the up arrow controls flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, and Suppressed modes (it only activates Slow-Sync in Twilight Portrait mode, and no flash modes are available in Twilight, Landscape, or Movie modes). The down arrow activates the Self-Timer option, 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 move around within the enlarged view.


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 the Record settings menu, with options varying depending on the exposure mode selected:

  • Camera: This menu takes the place of several mode-dial options on previous Sony models. Offers Automatic, Program, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Snow, and Beach exposure modes. The mode selected dictates which of the following options are available. (Program mode offers all of the following, Auto offers only the Mode submenu.)
  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases 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: Sets the color balance to Auto, or adjusts for Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • ISO: Sets the camera's light 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, or in low-light conditions where you may need the extra sensitivity to get an image at all. (Note though, that higher ISOs produce "noisier" images.)
  • Image Quality: Sets the JPEG compression level to Fine or Standard.
  • Mode: Changes the recording mode to Normal, Voice, Burst 2, or E-Mail (records a 320 x 240-pixel image in addition to one at the selected image size). Voice records a short sound clip in addition to the JPEG image. Burst 2 mode records two images in rapid succession (0.44 seconds between shots), with one press of the Shutter button.
  • Flash Level: Adjusts the flash intensity to Normal, Low, or High.
  • Picture Effects: Applies creative effects like Solarize, Black and White, Sepia, or Negative Art, or turns Picture Effects off.


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 "frame-by-frame" playback, which plays back the movie file slowly, several frames at a time. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

  • Folder: Selects the folder of images to be played back.
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image, or removes protection.
  • DPOF: Marks the current image for subsequent printing on a DPOF-compatible (Digital Print Order Format) 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. (This makes a copy of the image at the new size, your original image is left undisturbed.)
  • 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 with sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has available space. If set through the Set-Up menu, this mode can also record Clip Motion or Multi Burst images. The LCD menu system offers the following options:

  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases 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 for Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • Interval: (In Multi-Burst mode only, not shown above.) Sets the Multi-Burst frame rate to 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second.
  • Image Quality: (In Multi-Burst mode only, not shown above.) Sets the image quality to Fine or Standard.
  • 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 Set-Up menu automatically displays when entering this mode:

  • Camera:
    • Moving Image: Sets the Movie recording type to MPEG Movie, Clip Motion, or Multi Burst. (Multi-burst records 16 small images in very rapid succession in a single frame of memory. The images play back as a slow-motion movie. Capture rates can be set via the Movie Mode menu to 7.5 ,15, or 30 frames/second.)
    • 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: Sets the AF Illuminator to Auto mode, or simply turns it off.


  • Memory Stick Tool
    • 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.
    • Create Rec. Folder: Creates a new folder for recording images.
    • Change Rec. Folder: Changes the folder that images are recorded to.


  • Setup 1
    • Power Save: Enables or disables the camera's Power Save feature, which shuts the camera off after a length of inactivity.
    • 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.
    • Language: Changes the camera's menu language to English or Japanese.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock.


  • Setup 2
    • USB Connect: Places the USB connection into PTP or Normal modes.
    • Video Out: Specifies the camera's Video Out signal as NTSC or PAL.


In the Box
The DSC-P32 ships with the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • 16MB Memory Stick.
  • USB cable.
  • Video cable.
  • Two AA NiMH batteries with charger.
  • Software CD.
  • Instruction manual and registration card.


Recommended Accessories

  • Larger capacity Memory Stick.
  • Additional AA rechargeable batteries.
  • AC adapter.
  • Small camera case.

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...


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 high capacity set of AA NiMH cells with the DSC-P32, 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. See my Battery Shootout page for the latest info on which NiMH batteries have the highest capacities.


Specifications
See the specifications sheet here.

 

Picky Details
Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.


User Reviews

 

Sample Pictures
See my 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 Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

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 DSC-P32's "pictures" page.

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 DSC-P32's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Color was generally very good with the DSC-P32, with good levels of saturation and accurate hue in most instances. (Although the difficult blue flowers of the Outdoor Portrait were rather purplish, a common problem among the cameras I've tested.) The P32's biggest difficulty in the color arena was with the very warm-toned household incandescent lighting in my Indoor Portrait shot. Incandescent lighting like this is frequently a problem for digicams, and the P32 had a hard time with it, with both its Auto and Incandescent white balance settings. Outdoors, color was just a little magenta overall, which resulted in slightly pink skin tones. (Well within acceptable bounds though.) The large color blocks of the "Davebox" test were just about right, though saturation was slightly low from the very bright exposure. Still, a pretty good job in terms of color.

  • Exposure: The DSC-P32 was pretty inconsistent exposure-wise, in some cases overexposing studio shots and in other cases significantly underexposing them. The amount of exposure variation was well outside what I'd consider normal, contributing to my poor rating of the camera overall. Outdoors, however, the amount of exposure compensation required was about average. In harsh lighting, the camera's dynamic range is a bit limited, with a tendency to lose highlight and shadow detail, although not as badly as some cameras. On my "Davebox" test, the DSC-P32 required an extensive amount of negative exposure compensation, and still produced an overly bright exposure. The subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target were just barely distinguishable at the lighter end, and shadow detail was moderate. The Indoor Portrait (without flash) required about average positive exposure compensation, but still produced very hot highlights. With the flash, however, even a +1.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment didn't make much difference in the lighting. Overall, rather poor exposure accuracy...

  • Resolution/Sharpness: The DSC-P32 turned in about an average performance for a 3-megapixel camera on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height horizontally, although you could argue for about 700 lines vertically. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,000 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,250 lines. (There was some pretty severe softening in the corners though - see my comments below under "distortion.")

  • Closeups: The DSC-P32 was an average performer in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 3.82 x 2.86 inches (97 x 73 millimeters). Resolution was high, with fairly strong detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. There was a lot of corner softness in this shot, extending down the entire left and right sides of the frame. (It's not uncommon for digicams to produce soft corners on macro shots, due to the optical phenomena called "curvature of field," but the P32 shows the problem more than most.) The DSC-P32's flash had trouble throttling down for the macro area, and overexposed the shot quite badly. (Plan on using an alternative light source for macro shots.)

  • Night Shots: The DSC-P32 features fully automatic exposure control, and a maximum exposure time of two seconds. Thus, low-light shooting capabilities are slightly limited, albeit perfectly adequate for shooting outdoor night scenes under typical city street lighting. Even at ISO 200 and 400, the camera captured bright images only as low as one-half foot-candle (5.5 lux), about half as bright as average city street lighting at night. At ISO 100, images were bright only as low as one foot-candle (11 lux). Noise was quite low at the ISO 100 setting, and increased only moderately at ISO 400, thanks to the camera's built-in Noise Reduction system. Color was pretty good overall, using the Auto white balance setting.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: The DSC-P32's optical viewfinder was more accurate than most, showing 92 percent frame accuracy. The LCD monitor proved even more accurate, showing about 100 percent of the frame. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the DSC-P32's LCD monitor is essentially perfect in that regard, and the optical viewfinder performs well too.

  • Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the DSC-P32 is about average, as I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration is moderate, showing only fairly weak color on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The strongest distortion I noticed was in the form of corner softness, which was quite severe along the left side of the frame, albeit less so on the right-hand side.

  • Battery Life: The P32 lacks an external power jack, so I couldn't conduct my normal power-drain measurements on it. Battery life seemed pretty good for a camera powered by two AA cells, but I don't have any way to directly compare it's power drain to other models that I've tested explicitly.

 


Conclusion

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I've consistently been a fan of Sony's Cyber-shot line of digicams, and the P32's combination of price, features, and generally good color would make it a good choice for many users, were it not for the very inconsistent exposure I experienced when working with it. While I could always manage to compensate for the exposure manually, using the exposure-compensation adjustment, any digicam should do better than this, and especially an entry-level model aimed at novice users. Given that I always strongly counsel people to spring for the extra money for a zoom lens anyway, I'd recommend passing on the P32, and stepping up to Sony's P72 (or earlier P52 for that matter) instead.

 

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