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Quick Review

Sony DSC-P9 Digital Camera

 
Camera QuickLook
Review Updated 08/07/02
Review Date 03/12/2002
User Level Novice - Amateur
Product Uses Home / Travel
Digicam Design Point and Shoot
Picture Quality High, 4.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes Email to sharp 8x10-inch
Availability Early Summer 2002
Suggested Retail Price $599



Introduction
Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Test Images
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, they've developed a unique line of cameras with a thin, elongated profile. This shape lets them slide easily into even small pockets, yet gives US-sized 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 early March, 2002), they've built upon the P5's strengths, upgrading it with a four megapixel CCD, and adding several enhancements such as 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 microphone and speaker, to permit both recording and playback of movies with sound. The P9's largely automatic exposure system is perfect for novice photographers who are looking for an easy-to-use point-and-shoot camera, while the 4.0-megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom will deliver high image quality for users wanting topnotch prints. The P9 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. In my testing, the P9 produced excellent image quality - Not quite up to the level of sharpness and detail characteristic of full-size four megapixel models like Sony's DSC-S85, but better than I've come to expect from compact digicams. Overall, an impressive camera in a tiny package.


Camera Overview
Sony's new DSC-P9 is a hybrid of last year's DSC-P5 and recent models such as the DSC-P51 and -71. Sony took the subcompact DSC-P5, upgraded its CCD chip to a full 4 megapixels for tack-sharp enlargements, and added several new features to enhance movie recording and focus performance. The resulting camera has enough flexibility to satisfy even serious amateur photographers looking for a second "take anywhere" camera, while keeping camera operation simple and uncomplicated enough for even the greenest novice. Its best feature though, is that its so small and lightweight, there's really no excuse not to bring it along (just in case you come across one of those unexpected photo ops, when you *used to* wish you had a camera). It more than passes the "shirt pocket" test, and would even fit in a rather small handbag. If that's not enough, the P9 should easily fit into the new, updated Marine Pack, an optional underwater housing that lets you take the P9 diving as deep as 100 feet (30 meters).

The P9's compact shape isn't all the camera has to offer though. As mentioned above, the P9 features a high-quality 4.0-megapixel CCD and an all-glass, 3x zoom lens that delivers sharp, clear pictures. Use it at wide-angle for outdoor scenes, architecture, or small group pictures, or switch to telephoto for close-up portraits, sports photography, or to zoom in on your prized blooms. Don't overlook the Macro (close-up) mode, which can focus on objects as close as four inches. Sony has also included their excellent 2x Precision Digital Zoom feature, which increases the overall magnification to 6x (enough to get a close-up view of timid wildlife) with less image degradation than I typically see in digital zooms. In my testing, the P9's lens didn't have quite the crispness of some of Sony's larger models, but was sharper than I'm accustomed to seeing in ultra-compact digicams.

Exposure control on the P9 is largely automatic, a Mode dial on top of the camera offering Scene, Automatic, and Movie exposure modes. Within Scene mode, you can choose between Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape modes, depending on the type of subject you're shooting. Although you can't choose the camera's aperture or shutter speed settings directly, you do have access to a few exposure options, including color balance, image sharpness, metering options, ISO, and light / dark adjustments. (While you don't get to control them directly, I really like the fact that the P9 optionally displays the shutter speed and aperture it's selected on the LCD display screen. Even if you don't get to adjust these parameters, knowing what they are can be help you predict the type of photo the camera will capture.) There's also a wide range of recording options. One handy feature is that you can set the camera to create two files from each exposure -- a normal one, and a second low-resolution one for e-mailing to friends. You can record movies with sound, pictures with sound (for adding "voice memos" to your still pictures), "clip-motion" animation (a sort of stop-frame animation), multi-burst shots which play 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), black-and-white or sepia-tone pictures, negative art, and solarized images. On top of that, the P9 comes with a software CD loaded with Pixela ImageMixer 1.0, for downloading images and performing minor touchup operations.

Images are stored on Sony's Memory Stick media (a 16MB stick is included, higher capacity cards are available), and they can be downloaded via a speedy USB connection to a PC or Macintosh computer. An AV cable is also provided for viewing images or slide shows on your TV. The P9 is powered by a Sony InfoLITHIUM battery pack (NP-FC10 model), and comes complete with an AC adapter and battery charger. I like the InfoLITHIUM batteries because they communicate with the camera to tell you how much running time is left on the battery pack, but I always (strongly) recommend buying a second battery, and keeping it charged and ready to go, especially when the AC adapter isn't close at hand. The P9 is pretty dependent on its LCD display (a large power drain), and you can't pick up extra batteries at the corner drug store. Most ultra-compact digicams suffer somewhat from short battery life, but the DSC-P9 doesn't do too badly in this regard, with a worst-case run time of 69 minutes per charge, or 120 minutes with the LCD off. In playback mode, the camera will run for 130 minutes continuously. (Still, I highly recommend a second battery.)

Basic Features

  • 4.0-megapixel CCD.
  • 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 39-117mm).
  • 2x digital zoom.
  • Optical viewfinder.
  • 1.5-inch LCD monitor.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Built-in flash with five modes and an intensity adjustment.
  • Sony Memory Stick storage (16MB card included).
  • USB computer connection .
  • InfoLITHIUM battery system (AC adapter included).
  • Software for Mac and PC.


Special Features

  • Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape preset shooting modes.
  • Movie (with sound) recording mode.
  • Clip Motion animation and Multi-Burst slow motion modes.
  • E-Mail and Voice Memo capture modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to two seconds (with automatic Noise Reduction from 1/2 to two seconds).
  • Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/8.0.
  • Creative Picture Effects menu.
  • Image sharpness adjustment.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • Spot Metering mode.
  • Auto ISO setting or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with five options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) printing compatibility.
  • Sony Marine Pack available as a separate accessory for underwater photography.


Suggested Options/Accessories

  • Spare battery.
  • Larger Memory Stick (at least 32MB recommended).


User Recommendation
Beginning through intermediate users will be right at home with the P9, advanced users may buy it for its excellent portability.

The DSC-P9 produced excellent images, much sharper than I've come to expect from compact digicam models, and with good color and tonality to boot. Although the P9 is technically a high-end point-and-shoot, it has a lot of creative options and enough image adjustments to handle a wide variety of shooting situations. So while it's designed for users who don't want to make a lot of complicated exposure decisions, I'd expect advanced amateurs and business users to appreciate it, if only for its quality, portability, and varied shooting options. The availability of the Marine Pack underwater housing also gives the camera amphibious appeal for casual underwater use. (While the Sony Marine Packs are well-constructed for consumer use, readers of this site who are professional and serious amateur divers have pointed out that they really can't compare with professional underwater housings. - Which of course cost many times the price of the Sony units.)


Design
The Sony DSC-P9 is compact, stylish, and ready to go anywhere. Its streamlined silvery metal body is only an inch longer than a typical business card, and nearly the same height, top to bottom. Measuring just 4.5 x 2.0 x 1.4 inches (114 x 51.5 x 35.8 millimeters) and weighing only 7.5 ounces (206 grams) with the battery and memory card installed, the P9 fits easily into even small pockets or purses. When not in use, the telescoping zoom lens retracts neatly inside the body, and a small metal leaf shutter automatically closes over the lens to protect it. Outfitted with the accompanying wrist strap, it's quick on the draw and easy to hold onto.


Despite its small size, the P9's elongated shape provides plenty of room to extend two average-size fingers comfortably across the front and top of the camera, without blocking the lens or any camera controls. By making the camera thinner but longer, Sony kept the P9 very compact, and avoided the lack of finger space that plagues many ultra-small digicams. The 3x, 8-24mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 39-117mm zoom on a 35mm camera), dominates the right side of the front of panel, with a small orange lamp just above and to the right of it, to help with focusing in low-light conditions. (This lamp also blinks when the self-timer is in use, to let you know when the camera is about to snap the picture.) A slightly larger window for the optical viewfinder comes next, followed by the built-in electronic flash. A large, raised vertical ridge on the right side serves as a finger grip on the front. (This is a slight design change from the P5, the ridge is moved toward the center of the camera, providing a more natural resting place for your finger as it wraps around the camera body.) At the bottom of the front panel, just to the left of the lens, is a small microphone for recording sound.


The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) houses the battery and Memory Stick compartment, protected by an easy to open, hinged plastic door. Above it is the rotating silver metal eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.



The left side has no controls, only a smooth, rounded surface to accommodate the lens barrel.



The camera's top panel includes a Mode dial with five settings (Setup, Movie, Playback, Record, and Scene modes) and a Shutter button in the middle, as well as a small, oblong Power button on the left of the Mode dial.





The camera's back panel holds the remaining camera controls and function buttons, along with a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor for previewing and playing back images, and the optical viewfinder window. The LCD display reports a variety of camera and exposure settings, including the aperture and shutter speed settings (a nice bonus for those interested in how the camera will expose the image). The optical viewfinder is located above the top right corner of the LCD monitor, and has three LED lamps along the right edge of the window, each of which reports the current status of various camera functions. The camera's Zoom control is in the upper right corner, conveniently located next to a series of small bumps for better thumb traction when holding the camera. In the center of the back panel is a Four Way Arrow pad, with four small arrows pointing in opposite directions (Up, Down, Left, and Right). Each serves a dual purpose to either navigate through onscreen menus and enlarged Playback images or to activate different camera functions (Flash, Self-Timer, Quick Review, and Macro). Below the Arrow pad are the LCD Display On / Off and Menu buttons. If all that wasn't enough, Sony also managed to fit three connection jacks (DC In, USB, and A/V Out) all covered by a single plastic door, tethered by a flexible retention stub.



Finally, the P9's flat bottom holds the threaded (plastic) tripod screw mount and a speaker for audio playback.


Camera Operation
Operating the P9 is very straightforward, as the camera is under automatic exposure control at all times. The Mode dial on top of the camera controls the main operating modes, with options for Scene, Record, Playback, Movie, and Setup. In all image capture modes, the P9 provides an onscreen LCD menu (activated by the Menu button), with a variety of options for adjusting image quality or adding special effects. The four points of the Four-Way Arrow pad are used to scroll through menu options, while the center of the pad is used as the OK button to confirm selections.

The four arrow buttons also serve as external controls when the camera's menus are turned off, or they can be used to scroll through captured images in Playback mode. Starting with the Up arrow and going clockwise, the functions they control include Flash, Macro, Self-Timer, and Quick Review modes. The Zoom control in the top right corner of the back panel adjusts both optical and digital zoom (when activated through the Setup menu). Overall, I was impressed by Sony's judicious use of space, especially with the large number of external controls provided, and the relatively short learning curve the P9's user interface entails. Along with Sony's other recent cameras, the P9 has one of the cleanest user interfaces I've seen, and will present few challenges to even the most novice user.


External Controls


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


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


Mode Dial: Encircling the Shutter button, this ribbed dial controls the camera's operating mode, offering Scene, Record, Playback, Movie, and Setup modes. (See menus and descriptions below.)


Zoom Control: Positioned in the top right corner of the rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls the optical and digital zoom (The latter only when it's enabled via the setup menu).

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


Four-Way Arrow Pad: Located just to the right of center on the rear panel, this rocker control features four arrows, each pointing in a different direction (up, down, left, and right). In all settings menus, these arrow keys navigate through menu options. Pressing the center of the button confirms selections.

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

In Playback mode, the Right and Left arrows scroll through captured images. When Playback zoom is enabled, all four arrows scroll around within the enlarged view, while pressing the center of the button returns to the normal, 1x display.


Menu Button: Diagonally to the right, beneath the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button activates the settings menu in any camera mode (except Setup, which automatically displays the menu). The Menu button also turns off the menu display.


Display / LCD On/OFF Button: To the left of the Menu button, this button controls the LCD display, cycling through the image with limited information display, the image with expanded information display, and no image display at all (in all Record modes). In Playback mode, it cycles between the image with or without an information display.


Mode Menu Options

Scene Mode: Noted on the Mode dial as "SCN," this mode sets up the camera for capturing exposures in specific situations. Three "scenes" are available through the Record menu, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape. Both Twilight modes capture images in low light, though the Twilight Portrait mode automatically enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash mode, combining it with a slower shutter speed. Because the camera employs a slower shutter speed in both Twilight modes, a tripod is highly recommended to prevent any blurring from camera movement. Landscape mode sets the focus at infinity and uses a smaller lens aperture to capture sharp details both near and far away.

Record Mode: The main still image recording mode, this mode is marked on the Mode dial with a green camera icon. In this mode, the camera selects shutter speed and aperture, while the user controls all other exposure variables.

Movie Mode: A filmstrip icon marks this mode on the Mode dial. In Movie mode, you can record moving images and sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has space. (This ability to record up to the limits of the memory card's capacity is a new feature for Sony, and quite unusual among all cameras I've tested. Sony refers to it as MPEG Movie HQX.) Resolution and quality choices are 320 (HQ), 320 x 240-, or 160 x 112-pixels. While recording, a timer appears in the LCD monitor to let you know how many minutes and / or seconds are remaining on the Memory Stick, and how long you've been recording, so you'll have some idea of how much time you have left to go.

Through the Setup menu, you can also program the Movie mode to record "Clip Motion" animation sequences or Multi-Burst files. Clip Motion records as many as 10 frames of still images to be played back in rapid succession. Frames can be captured at any time interval, with successive presses of the Shutter button. Available image sizes are 160 x 120- and 80 x 72-pixels, and each set of images is recorded as a single GIF file, ready to be dropped into a web page or emailed to a friend. Although I don't commonly have a need for this particular function, I have to say that Clip Motion is a lot of fun. 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!)

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

  • Scene: (Scene mode only) Offers Twilight, Twilight Plus, and Landscape "scene" modes.
  • EV (Exposure Compensation): Lightens or darkens the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. (An "exposure value" unit is 2x or 1/2x in shutter speed or aperture - twice as much or half as much light.)
  • Focus: Sets focus control to Multi AF or Center AF, or one of five preset focus distances (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, and 7.0 meters, and Infinity) .- Multipoint autofocus is a new feature on the P9, over the earlier P5, giving more accurate focus in photos with off-center subjects.
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, to suit the light source. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Incandescent.
  • Spot Meter: Turns the Spot metering option on and off. Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the frame (identified by a cross hair target on the monitor). When switched off, the camera uses a Multi-Pattern metering mode, which reads the entire frame to determine exposure. Spot metering is handy for backlit subjects, or any time the subject and background have very different brightnesses.
  • ISO: (Not available in Scene mode.) Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity. Options are Auto, or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • Image Size: Sets the image resolution. Still image options are 2,272 x 1,704, 2,272 (3:2 ratio), 1,600 x 1,200, 1,280 x 960, and 640 x 480 pixels. Movie resolutions are 320 (HQ), 320 x 240-, and 160 x 112-pixels. Clip Motion sizes are 160 x 120- and 80 x 72-pixels.
  • Picture Quality: Sets the JPEG compression to Fine or Standard for still images.
  • Record Mode: Offers a selection of image-recording modes:
    • Voice: Records small sound clips to accompany captured images. You can record up to 40 seconds of sound for each image.
    • E-mail: Records an additional 320 x 240-pixel file that's small enough to e-mail, along with the normal size image.
    • Normal: Records an image at the size and quality settings selected via the other menu options.
  • Flash Level: Adjusts the intensity of the built-in flash, with options of High, Normal, and Low.
  • Picture Effects: Offers four creative shooting modes:
    • Solarize: Significantly increases the image contrast, making the image look more like an illustration.
    • Black and White: Records the image in black and white.
    • Sepia: Records an image in sepia tone.
    • Negative Art: Reverses the color and brightness of the image, making it appear more like a negative.
  • Sharpness: Controls the overall image sharpness and softness, in arbitrary units from -2 to +2 (five steps).



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

  • Delete: Erases the currently displayed image (with an option to cancel).
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image (or removes protection), preventing it from being deleted or manipulated in any way except with card formatting.
  • Print: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device. Also removes the print mark.
  • Slide: Plays back images in an automatic slide show. You can set the time interval and whether or not the sequence of images repeats.
  • Resize: Resizes the image to 2,272 x 1,704, 1,600 x 1,200, 1,280 x 960, or 640 x 480 pixels. (When an image is resized, the original image is left in place, and a new copy is made, having the selected size.)
  • Rotate: Rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Divide: Allows you to trim material from the beginning or end of a recorded movie, or to extract an interesting bit of action from the middle of a longer clip. (Very handy.)



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

  • Camera:
    • Moving Image: Sets Movie mode to record MPEG movies, Clip Motion animations, or Multi-Burst files.
    • Date / Time: Determines whether the date and / or time is overlaid on captured images.
    • Digital Zoom: Turns the 2x Precision Digital Zoom on or off. (When enabled, the digital zoom picks up as you hit the end of the optical zoom's range.)
    • Redeye Reduction: Enables or disables the Redeye Reduction flash mode, affecting both Auto and Forced flash modes.
    • AF Illuminator: Turns the AF Assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically illuminates in dark shooting conditions.
  • Setup 1:
    • Format: Formats the Memory Stick, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • File Number: Sets the file numbering to Series (which continues file numbering from one Memory Stick to another) or Reset (resets file numbering with each new card, or each time the current card is reformatted).
    • Language: Selects either Japanese or English for the menu language.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
  • Setup 2:
    • LCD Brightness: Controls the brightness of the LCD display. Options are Bright, Normal, and Dark.
    • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sounds, turning them on or off. A Shutter option enables only the shutter beep noise.
    • Video Out: Establishes the A/V Out signal as NTSC or PAL.
    • USB Connect: Sets the USB connection type to PTP or Normal. (PTP is a new connection option, supposedly requiring no host driver software. We're awaiting further info from Sony before we can review this.)



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

 

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy




Specifications
See the specifications sheet here.


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


Test Results
This section has now been updated based on results obtained from a full production-level camera. See the P9's sample pictures page for a full analysis.

  • Color: The DSC-P9 produced good, nearly accurate color in most cases, though the camera had a tendency toward a slightly warm color balance both indoors and out. The Auto white balance setting typically produced the best results, despite a slight reddish tint, even with shots that frequently fool the cameras I test. Like many digicams, the P9 had a little trouble under household incandescent lighting, producing rather warm color casts. That said, the P9's Auto white balance setting produced better results there than the majority of cameras I've tested. Color saturation and accuracy were quite good overall, with only slight problems on the difficult blues in my "standard" bouquet of artificial flowers.
  • Exposure: The DSC-P9's full automatic exposure system handled most shots quite well. It slightly underexposed the high-key Outdoor Portrait test, a very typical response 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 P9'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-P9 has excellent tonality, holding both highlight and shadow detail easily in difficult lighting conditions.
  • Resolution/Sharpness: The P9's 4.0-megapixel CCD delivered pretty high resolution, though I started seeing artifacts in the target lines as low as 600 lines per picture height (vertically and horizontally). I noticed strong detail as far as 1,250 lines per picture height, with extinction of detail occurring around 1,450 lines. While not quite up to the high standard set by Sony's own full-size DSC-S85 model, the P9's images were sharper and more detailed than I'm accustomed to seeing from compact cameras. There's plenty of detail here for very sharp 8x10 prints, even with some cropping of the image before printing.
  • Closeups: In the macro category, the DSC-P9 captured an average-sized minimum area of 3.82 x 2.87 inches (97.11 x 72.83 millimeters). Resolution was high, with great detail on the coins, brooch, and dollar bill. Color and exposure were also good, though color balance was slightly warm. The flash had trouble at such close range, and overexposed the shot. The P9's macro performance is probably good enough for average "consumer" use, but not enough if you plan on lots of shots of tiny objects for eBay, etc.
  • Night Shots: The DSC-P9'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 the level of standard city street lighting at night. Noise was moderate, and color was good. The P9 should do find in well-lit outdoor night scenes, but you'll need to use the flash for anything darker.
  • Viewfinder Accuracy: The P9's optical viewfinder proved to be rather tight, showing only 77 percent of the final image area at wide-angle, and about 81 percent at telephoto. This is quite a bit less image area than I like to see displayed in an optical viewfinder. You'll need to learn to compensate for how much of the final image area isn't shown in the optical viewfinder. The LCD monitor fared quite a bit better, though it managed to be slightly loose at the telephoto setting. At wide-angle, the LCD monitor showed approximately 97 percent of the final image area. At telephoto, the bottom measurement line I use was cut off too much for me to measure the actual frame accuracy, but overall accuracy appeared to be close to 97 percent. (You'll need to add some extra space at the bottom of the frame when lining up telephoto shots.)
  • Optical Distortion: The P9's lens showed fairly high distortion, especially at the wide-angle setting, where I measured approximately 0.91 percent barrel distortion (This is unfortunately fairly common with subcompact digicams - The tight quarters apparently lead to some necessary compromises in lens distortion.) Some barrel distortion was also present at the telephoto lens setting, though I only measured about two pixels' worth. Chromatic aberration was fairly low, just a couple of pixels of fairly faint coloration around details in the corners of the resolution test target.
  • Battery Life: The DSC-P9 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 69 minutes in record mode with the LCD turned on (fairly typical for subcompact digicams), but a very generous two hours 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
Included with the Sony DSC-P9 digital camera are the following items:

  • Wrist strap..
  • 16MB Memory Stick..
  • NP-FC10 InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery pack..
  • AC adapter / in-camera battery charger.
  • USB cable.
  • AV cable.
  • Software CD containing Pixela ImageMixer v1.0 and USB drivers.


Recommended Accessories

  • Extra NP-FC10 InfoLITHIUM battery pack
  • Larger capacity Memory Stick (at least 16MB or 32MB)
  • Carrying 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
The Sony DSC-P9 is an excellent ultracompact point & shoot digicam. Like the DSC-P5 model before it, the P9's body is slightly longer than the average ultracompact, and thus a better fit for American-sized hands. At the same time though, its very thin profile suits just about any pocket, and even very small handbags. Image quality is surprisingly good for a subcompact camera, better than most I've seen, with excellent color and resolution. Overall, the DSC-P9 looks like an ideal "take anywhere" camera for people not willing to sacrifice quality for camera size.

 

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9, or add comments of your own!


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