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Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-P7 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
08/12/02
User Level
Novice
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Very Good, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
$499.95

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Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion
Sony Electronics Inc. is well known for its consumer camcorders, notebook computers, and other multimedia products, blazing a long trail of innovations, including the first electronic still camera -- the Sony Mavica -- released in 1981. Over the last couple of years, they've developed a dominant position in the digital still camera market, with one of the broadest product lines in the industry.

In the "subcompact" camera market, Sony has developed a unique line of cameras with a thin, elongated profile. This shape lets the cameras slide easily into even small pockets, yet gives even relatively large fingers plenty to grab hold of. With rugged metal cases, appealing design aesthetics, and strong feature sets, Sony's subcompacts have enjoyed wide popularity.

Sony's top-of-the-line subcompact digicam last year was the three megapixel DSC-P5, a slim, trim three megapixel model with a 3x zoom lens. This year (this article is being written in July, 2002), they've built upon the P5's strengths, broadening the line to higher and lower resolution models and adding several enhancements. Year-2000 improvements include Sony's "MPEG HQX" movie mode for movie recording limited only by the size of the memory card, a sophisticated multipoint autofocus system, and both a microphone and speaker, to permit recording and playback of movies with sound.

The top of the new subcompact lineup is the DSC-P9, which I reviewed earlier this year. The subject of this review is the DSC-P7, a three megapixel model that's the most direct upgrade to last year's DSC-P5. A 3.2-megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom deliver high image quality for users wanting topnotch prints. The P7 offers a limited number of exposure adjustments, but more than enough to adapt it to most common shooting situations, and the 3x zoom lens (with Macro mode) is great for recording a wide range of subjects, from close-up portraits to scenic vistas. It even has an optional underwater casing for the diving / snorkeling enthusiast. Like the DSC-P9 I reviewed earlier, the DSC-P7 looks like a real winner in the subcompact arena.


Camera Overview

Tiny dimensions and compact design characterize the "P" series of Sony's Cyber-Shot line. The DSC-P7 is no exception, with a design, shape, and style nearly identical to that of the DSC-P9 model. The DSC-P7 is small enough for a shirt pocket or small evening bag, and fits into Sony's Marine Pack accessory underwater housing. (You really can take this camera just about anywhere.) Because the camera's small size doesn't allow for much of a handgrip, a thin wrist strap accompanies the camera and provides a little extra security. Despite the ruggedness of the all-metal body, I recommend picking up the accessory soft case to protect the camera when traveling. The compact body design includes a shutter-like, built-in lens cover which conveniently slides open whenever the camera is powered on, and closes again when the cameras shuts down and the telescoping lens retracts. (I really like built-in lens covers like this, they entirely avoid the problem of lost lens caps.) The DSC-P7's 3x, 8-24mm zoom lens features automatic focus control, with several fixed focus settings available and an option for either center- or multi-area autofocus operation. The 3.2-megapixel Super HAD CCD produces high resolution images suitable for printing as large as 8x10 inches, with great color and detail. Point-and-shoot operation keeps things simple, while a handful of exposure options provide enough flexibility to handle a surprising range of shooting conditions.

Equipped with a 3x, 8-24mm lens (39-117mm 35mm equivalent), the DSC-P7 has a minimum focus distance of 3.9 inches (10 centimeters) in Macro mode, giving it a roughly average minimum macro shooting area of 3.81 x 2.86 inches (96.8 x 72.6 millimeters).. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/5.6, depending on the lens zoom position. In addition to automatic focus control, the DSC-P7 offers a range of fixed focus settings through the Record menu, as well as Center AF and Multi AF focus area options. When enabled by the appropriate setup menu option, an AF illuminator lamp on the front of the camera throws extra light on the subject in dim shooting conditions, helping the camera focus in low light. (The AF assist light can be disabled through the Setup menu for less conspicuous shooting.) A 2x Precision digital zoom option increases the DSC-P7's zoom capabilities to 6x. As always though, bear in mind that digital zoom decreases image quality in direct proportion to the magnification achieved, because it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. That said, Sony's Precision Digital Zoom typically results in fairly sharp images, with good detail, considering the digital enlargement. Both a real-image optical viewfinder and a more accurate 1.5-inch color LCD monitor are available for composing images. (The optical viewfinder is rather "tight," showing only about 80% of the final image area, whereas the LCD finder shows almost exactly 100%.) An information display on the LCD reports detailed camera information, including the shutter speed and aperture settings. Even though the camera always controls the shutter and aperture settings, having them displayed on the LCD is helpful in gauging depth of field, etc.

The DSC-P7 controls the exposure automatically, but a few manual controls are available to make minor adjustments or to handle special situations. Camera operation is straightforward and quick to learn. A Power button on top of the P7 powers the camera on, and a Mode dial on the back panel lets you select between Scene, Automatic, and Movie exposure modes. Within Scene mode, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape "scenes" set up the camera for specific shooting situations. Both Twilight modes optimize the camera for low-light shooting (with an automatic noise reduction feature whenever slower shutter speeds are called for), and Landscape mode sets focus to capture broad vistas of scenery. Though the camera controls aperture and shutter speed, the Record menu offers White Balance, Metering, Exposure Compensation, ISO, Record Mode (Normal or E-mail), Sharpness, Flash Level, Picture Effects, Focus, and image quality and size settings. 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-P7 uses a Multi-Pattern metering mode by default, which examines several areas throughout the frame to determine optimum focus, but a Spot option is available for precisely determining exposure based on specific areas of the frame. The White Balance option offers five settings, and light sensitivity options include 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents. You can also adjust the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The DSC-P7's flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync modes, and you can adjust the overall flash intensity through a setting in the Record menu.

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures either 320 x 240-, or 160 x 112-pixel resolution moving images (with sound) for as long as the memory card has available storage space, with an available HQX quality setting for higher-quality movies of shorter duration. (The ability to record to the limits of available memory card space is fairly unusual: Most digicams are limited to maximum clip lengths of 30 seconds or less.) The DSC-P7 also offers Clip Motion and Multi Burst modes. Clip Motion records a series of 10 160 x 112-pixel or two 120 x 108-pixel images that the camera combines into a single animated sequence, saved as a GIF file. This is a fun feature I've enjoyed a lot on previous Cyber-shot models. Multi Burst mode captures an extremely rapid burst of 16 small images that are stored in a single still-image fame, but played back as a movie (giving a slow-motion effect upon playback), and offers three frame interval rates. A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the camera actually takes the picture, great for self-portraits or group shots that the photographer wants to be part of. There's also a Voice recording mode, which records sound clips as long as 40 seconds to accompany captured images.

The DSC-P7 stores images on Sony Memory Sticks, available separately in capacities as large as 128MB (a 16MB card is included). The camera uses an NP-FC10 InfoLITHIUM battery for power, with a worst-case run time of about 60 minutes in capture mode with the LCD turned on. Sony's InfoLITHIUM batteries are unique in that they tell the camera how much charge they have remaining. The camera in turn displays the remaining minutes of operation on the LCD screen, very handy for avoiding the scenario in which the batteries go dead at the worst possible moment. A battery and in-camera battery charger come with the camera, and the charger also serves as the AC adapter. The DSC-P7 features a Video Out jack, for connecting to a television set (great for "slide shows"), and a USB jack and cable for downloading images to a computer. A software CD is loaded with Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers, which facilitates image downloading and organization.

Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel Super HAD CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.5-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Glass, 3x 8-24mm lens (equivalent to a 39-117mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • 2x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.8-f/5.6.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to two seconds.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • Memory Stick card storage, 16MB card included.
  • Power supplied by lithium-ion battery pack or AC adapter (battery, charger, and AC adapter included).
  • Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with MPEG Movie (with sound), Clip Motion, and Multi Burst options.
  • MPEG EX for movie lengths limited only by available memory card capacity.
  • 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.
  • Voice caption recording.
  • Spot metering option.
  • Sensitivity setting with three ISO equivalents and an Auto setting.
  • Five 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.

Recommendation

Tiny and compact, the DSC-P7 is a great travel companion, especially considering the host of optional accessories, including Sony's Marine Pack for underwater shooting. The 3.2-megapixel Super HAD CCD delivers good image quality and color, with enough resolution to print sharp images as large as 8x10 inches with good detail. Like many of Sony's digicam designs, this is an excellent "mid range" camera. It's easy enough to use that novices can become comfortable with it fairly quickly, but it provides good image quality and enough exposure options that it can adapt to a surprising range of shooting conditions. Overall, a great choice for anyone wanting a compact, stylish design without having to sacrifice anything in image quality. - Comfortable enough for a novice, but with enough control options to satisfy more advanced users looking for a highly portable "go anywhere" camera.

Design

Small and compact, the DSC-P7 is practically identical to the DSC-P9 model in size and shape. (I reviewed the P9 model previously.) The DSC-P7 has the smooth, rounded design that characterizes the "P" series of the Cyber-Shot line, free from any significant protrusions except for the telescoping lens, which projects three-quarters of an inch from the camera body when fully extended. The DSC-P7 should fit into most shirt pockets, with its small dimensions of 4.5 x 2.0 x 1.4 inches (114.0 x 51.5 x 35.8 millimeters). The DSC-P7 is very light weight as well, at just seven ounces (206 grams).

The front of the DSC-P7 curves along the lens side, following the shape of the lens barrel and emphasizing the camera's smooth, streamlined design. A shutter-like, retractable lens cover protects the lens whenever the camera is powered off, sliding quickly out of the way when the camera is turned on and the lens telescopes forward. Also on the front panel are the flash, optical viewfinder window, AF Illuminator lamp, and microphone. A thin raised ridge serves as a finger grip, on the right side of the front panel.

The camera's right side (as viewed from the rear) holds the dual-slot battery and Memory Stick compartment. A sliding plastic door protects the compartment, with sculpted ridges for your fingers to grip when sliding the door open. Inside the compartment, the battery and Memory Stick slots line up side-by-side. I'm always pleased to see side access to battery and memory card compartments, as it facilitates quick changes when mounted to a tripod, although this admittedly won't be a consideration for most users of this camera. (Many digicams have these compartments on the bottom panel, too close to the tripod mount.) Just above the compartment is an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

The opposite side of the camera is featureless, and curves to follow the contour of the lens.

The DSC-P7's top panel is fairly smooth and flat, though the Mode dial protrudes just slightly. Also on the top panel are the Power and Shutter buttons. (The latter in the center of the Mode dial.)

The few remaining camera controls are on the back panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece, LCD monitor and connector jacks. Three LED lamps next to the optical viewfinder report camera status, such as whether focus is set or the flash is charging. A Zoom rocker button in the top right corner of the back panel controls optical and digital zoom, as well as Playback viewing options. In the center of the back panel is a Four Way Arrow Rocker pad, which serves multiple functions (a great quality in a compact digicam, where control space is limited). Beneath it are the Display and Menu buttons. Next to the lower right corner of the LCD monitor is the connector compartment, which houses the DC In, USB, and A/V Out jacks. A plastic cover protects the jacks, and remains tethered to the camera.

The DSC-P7's bottom panel is mostly flat, with a thin plastic plate covering most of the area and providing a flat surface around the tripod mount. (A nice touch: The tripod socket is metal, not the plastic used on so many digicams.) A grill of holes marks the location of the speaker used to play back sounds from movies and voice recordings. (The large white area is a label that was present on our evaluation sample, not a part of the camera itself.)

 

External Controls


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


Mode Dial
: This ridged dial is located on the righthand side of the camera's top panel, and offers the following settings:

  • Scene: Lets the user select one of three Scene modes for specific shooting conditions (Twilight, Twilight Portrait, or 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 moving images with sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has space. When set through the Set-Up menu, this mode also accesses either Clip Motion or Multi Burst modes.
  • Set-Up: Displays the Set-Up menu, for changing camera settings.

Shutter Button: Located in the center of the Mode dial, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Zoom Toggle Button
: Located in the top right corner of the back panel, this button controls the optical and 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.


Four Way Arrow Pad
: In the center of the back panel, this rocker button has four arrow keys embossed on it, which navigate 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 (this arrow 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 left arrow enables a quick review of the most recently captured image. The right arrow activates Macro mode.

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.


Menu Button
: Just below the Four Way Arrow pad, this button displays or dismisses the settings menu in any Record mode or in Playback mode.


Display/LCD Button
: Adjacent to the Menu button on the left, 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.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Scene Mode: This record mode offers three specific "scene" modes, for shooting in certain situations. Flash, zoom, Macro, and Self-Timer modes are all available, though flash mode is limited in some cases. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

  • Scene: Selects between Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape "scenes." Twilight and Twilight Portrait modes enable much slower shutter speeds to let the camera capture bright images in dim surroundings. Normal Twilight mode offers slow shutter times, with the flash disabled. Twilight Portrait mode enables the flash, to illuminate foreground subjects. Landscape mode sets the camera up for capturing distant landscapes.
  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the exposure (brightens or darkens the image) 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: Places color balance under Auto control, or sets it for Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • Spot Meter: Turns spot metering on or off.
  • Image Size: Sets the resolution size to 2,048 x 1,536; 2,048 (3:2); 1,600 x 1,200; 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 Voice, Normal, or E-Mail (records a 320 x 240-pixel image in addition to one at the set resolution size). Voice mode records a short sound clip to accompany images (maximum recording time of 40 seconds).
  • 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.

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 option for ISO (light sensitivity), and without the Scene options:

  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the exposure (brightens or darkens the image) 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: Places color balance under Auto control, or sets it for Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • Spot Meter: Turns spot metering on or off.
  • ISO: Sets the camera's light sensitivity to Auto, or to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
  • Image Size: Sets the resolution size to 2,048 x 1,536; 2,048 (3:2); 1,600 x 1,200; 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 Voice, Normal, or E-Mail (records a 320 x 240-pixel image in addition to one at the set resolution size). Voice mode records a short sound clip to accompany images.
  • 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.

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

  • Delete: Erases the currently displayed image. (Don't worry, there is an option to cancel the operation if you select this option by mistake.) Includes an option to delete all frames when in index display mode.
  • Protect: Write-protects the currently displayed image, or removes protection. During index display, this option also lets you select several images at once for protection.
  • Print: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible printer, or removes the print mark. During index display, you can also mark several images for printing.
  • 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 currently-displayed image to one of the available resolution sizes. (Handy for reducing the size of images for emailing.)
  • Rotate: Rotates the currently-displayed image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Divide: Divides movie files into segments, providing a very basic editing tool. (You can trim away unwanted material from the beginning or end of a clip.)

Movie Mode: Records short movie clips without sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has available space. If set through the Set-Up menu, also accesses either Clip Motion or Multi Burst modes. The LCD menu system offers the following options:

  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the exposure (brightens or darkens the image) 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: Places color balance under Auto control, or sets it for Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent light sources.
  • Spot Meter: Turns spot metering on or off.
  • 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 (120 x 108 pixels) sizes. In Multi Burst mode, offers frame intervals of 1/7.5, 1/15, or 1/30-second.
  • Flash Level: Adjusts the flash intensity level to Normal, Low, or High. (Clip Motion mode only.)
  • 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. (Clip Motion mode only.)

Set-Up Mode: The following three-page Set-Up menu automatically displays when you set the mode dial to the Set Up position:

  • Camera
    • Moving Image: Sets the Movie Mode 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.
    • Digital Zoom: Turns the 2x digital zoom on or off.
    • Red-Eye Reduction: Enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash (which fires in all flash modes), or turns it off.
    • AF Illuminator: Enables or disables the AutoFocus Illuminator. When enabled, the bright orange LED will light up whenever the camera needs more light to focus. When disabled, the LED never illuminates, regardless of how dark it is.
  • 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.
    • 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: Sets the USB connection to PTP or Normal modes. (PTP mode is supported by Mac OS X.)
    • Power Save: Turns the power save option on or off, which automatically shuts off the camera after a period of inactivity.

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

 

Outdoor
Indoor
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
I found it interesting, the extent to which the P7 mirrored the performance of its big brother the P9. At least within their compact line, Sony seems to have developed a very consistent color and tonal response. (Fortunately for them, the color/tone standard that they've settled on is quite good overall.)

  • Color: The DSC-P7 produced excellent color in most cases, although it had a tendency to produce slightly warm color casts both indoors and out. The Auto white balance setting typically produced the best results, despite a slight reddish bias. That said, the Daylight option did better than the Auto setting with the often-difficult Musicians shot, producing the most natural skin tones and the most neutral color. Like many digicams, the P7 had a little difficulty under household incandescent lighting, producing rather warm color casts. That said, the P7's Auto white balance setting produced better results there than the majority of cameras I've tested. Color saturation and accuracy were very good overall, but the P7 had a little trouble on the difficult blues in my "standard" bouquet of artificial flowers, rendering them with a bit more of a purple hue than I'd prefer. (For some reason, many digicams have trouble with these blues, tending to push them toward purple.)

  • Exposure: The DSC-P7's fully automatic exposure system did a pretty good job with most of my standard test shots. It slightly underexposed the high-key Outdoor Portrait test (a very typical response among digicams I've tested to that harshly-lit subject), but normal exposure was quite good otherwise. Indoors or in any moderate-to-low light setting, you'll need to use the Twilight exposure mode to access shutter speeds longer than the P7's normal 1/30 second limit. Twilight mode seems to introduce a strong negative exposure bias (probably to prevent washing out bright lights in night scenes), so you'll need to dial in quite a bit of positive exposure compensation when working in that mode. In common with most other recent Sony digicams I've tested, the DSC-P7 has excellent tonality, holding both highlight and shadow detail easily in difficult lighting conditions.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Details were reasonably sharp throughout the testing, and there was very little softness in the corners of the P7's images. Resolution tested out at about 1,100 lines per picture height on the laboratory resolution test target, a good level for a three megapixel camera.

  • Closeups: The DSC-P7 turned in about an average performance in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 3.81 x 2.86 inches (96.8 x 72.6 millimeters). Resolution was high, with good detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch, although the corners of the image were a little soft (a common digicam macro failing), and there was a fair bit of barrel distortion present. The flash had trouble at such close range, badly overexposing the shot. (Plan on using external light sources for macro shots with the P7.)

  • Night Shots: The DSC-P7's automatic exposure control and lack of ISO adjustment in Twilight mode limited its low-light shooting performance. The camera captured bright, clear images at light levels only as low as one foot-candle (11 lux), about as bright as standard city street lighting at night. Noise was moderate, and color was good though.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: The DSC-P7's optical viewfinder is rather tight, showing about 79 percent of the final frame at both wide angle and telephoto lens settings. The LCD monitor was much more accurate, showing approximately 98.5 percent of the frame at wide angle. At telephoto, frame accuracy was nearly 100 percent, though the measurement lines were just outside the frame (but probably within the margin of error of the test). Given that I generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the DSC-P7 does an excellent job in that regard, although I'd like to see a more accurate optical finder.

  • Optical Distortion: The P7's optical distortion was higher than average at the lens' wide angle setting, showing 1.1 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto setting proved a little better, with only 0.34 percent barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration was low, showing only two pixels of faint coloration on either side of the target lines.

  • Battery Life: The DSC-P7 uses a custom LiIon battery, using Sony's excellent "InfoLITHIUM" technology to keep you constantly apprised of how much charge is remaining. Worst case battery life is a fairly short 62 minutes in record mode with the LCD turned on (fairly typical for subcompact digicams), but a fairly generous hour and 45 minutes with the LCD off. (As always, I strongly recommend purchasing a second battery when buying a digicam, and bringing along a fully-charged spare on any photo outings.)


In the Box

The following items are included in the box:

  • Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-P7 digital camera.
  • Wrist strap.
  • 16MB Memory Stick.
  • NP-FC10 InfoLITHIUM battery pack.
  • AC adapter/battery charger.
  • USB cable.
  • NTSC video cable.
  • Software CD.
  • Instruction manual and registration card.

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity Memory Stick.
  • Additional battery pack.
  • 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...

 

Conclusion

Sony's camera designers have done a great job with their subcompact digicam line, combining excellent features and good image quality in very small, stylish, and easy-to-hold packages. Despite it's small, pocket-fitting size, the elongated body shape makes it a better fit for American-sized hands than many subcompact models. The DSC-P7's 3.2 megapixel CCD and sharp lens snap great-looking images with enough resolution to make crisp prints as large as 8x10 inches. - Resolution isn't too far off from that of the best full-sized three megapixel models, and its color and tonal rendition are excellent. It's an easy to use point & shoot camera, but offers enough exposure control to help you bring home good photos from what would otherwise be difficult shooting conditions. If you don't need the four megapixel resolution of its "big" brother the P9, the Sony DSC-P7 would make a nearly ideal "take anywhere" camera for people not wanting to sacrifice image quality to get a compact digicam.

 

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