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Digital Cameras - Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-P9 Test Images

(Original test posting: 08/05/02)

I've begun including links in our reviews to a Thumber-generated index page for our test shots. The Thumber data includes a host of information on the images, including shutter speed, ISO setting, compression setting, etc. Rather than clutter the page below with *all* that detail, I'm posting the Thumber index so only those interested in the information need wade through it!

 

Outdoor Portrait:

High resolution, good color although a slight warm cast, very good tonal range.

The extreme tonal range of this image makes it a tough shot for many digicams, which is precisely why I set it up this way. (And why I never use fill-flash on it to open up the shadows.) The object is to hold highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors, and the DSC-P9 performed very well.

The shot at right was taken with a +0.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment. Though just slightly dark overall, the midtones are reasonably bright with good detail, and camera did an excellent job of holding detail in the highlights. I chose the Auto white balance setting as the most accurate, though the Daylight setting produced similar, though slightly warmer, results. Skin tones look about right (although perhaps just slightly cool-toned), but the blue flowers in the bouquet are a little purplish (a common problem with this shot). Resolution is high, with strong detail in the flower bouquet as well as in Marti's features. Shadow detail is also good, though noise is higher than I'd like to see.

To view the entire exposure series from -0.3 to +1.3 EV, see files P9OUTAM1.HTM through P9OUTAP4.HTM on the thumbnail index page.

 

 

Closer Portrait:

Very high resolution, good tonality, slightly cool flesh tones.

Overall results are similar to the wider shot above, and the DSC-P9's 3x zoom lens helps prevent distortion in Marti's features. Once again, while the midtones are slightly dark, highlight detail is good, and overall exposure is on the money. The shot at right was taken at the default exposure setting, which produced reasonable midtone exposure without losing significant highlight detail. Resolution increases with this close-up shot, and the model's face and hair show a lot of fine detail. Details are again sharp and strong in the shadow areas, although again with moderate noise.

To view the entire exposure series from -0.3 to +1.0 EV, see files P9FACAM1.HTM through P9FACAP3.HTM on the thumbnail index page.

 

 

Indoor Portrait, Flash:
Normal Flash
Slow-Sync Flash

Slightly low intensity at the default setting, but good color, and "high" setting worked fine.

The DSC-P9's flash slightly underexposed this shot at the default brightness level. To get the best illumination, I shot with the flash at the High setting, which produced a good white value on Marti's shirt. The Low intensity setting produced a very dark image. The background incandescent lighting resulted in a slight orange-magenta cast, which decreased with the stronger flash setting. I also shot with the camera's Slow-Sync flash mode, again adjusting the overall brightness to High, Normal, and Low. Again, the High setting produced the best results, though the orange cast is much stronger in this series, due to the slower shutter speed.

 

 

Indoor Portrait, No Flash:
Auto White Balance
Incandescent White Balance

Slightly warm color balance, but good exposure with Twilight mode.

This shot is always a very tough test of a camera's white balance capability, given the strong, yellowish color cast of the household incandescent bulbs used for the lighting. The DSC-P9's white balance system had a little trouble with the difficult light source, but did better than most. It produced warm color casts in both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, although the Auto setting didn't do too badly. Sony digicams restrict the longest shutter speed to only 1/30 second in normal exposure mode, to prevent blurring due to camera shake. To get acceptable results in dim lighting like this, you need to use the camera's Twilight Mode. Twilight mode also introduces a fairly strong negative exposure adjustment though (to keep from washing out bright details in night scenes), so you need to use quite a bit of positive exposure compensation to correct. The end result is pretty good-looking photos though, as seen in the Auto White Balance version at right. The main shot has a +1.7 EV exposure adjustment, which brightens the exposure considerably. Though warm, color is pretty good in this shot, with good skin tones. The blue flowers of the bouquet are very dark and purplish, a common problem with this shot, due to the warm-toned lighting.

To view the entire exposure series from +1.0 to +2.0 EV, see files P9INTWAP3.HTM through P9INTWAP6.HTM on the thumbnail index page.

ISO Series:
The P9's boosted ISO (light sensitivity) settings are only available in normal exposure mode, so the shots at ISOs lower than 400 here turned out quite dark. As is always the case, increasing ISO means increasing image noise, and the P9's noise at ISO 400 is average to a bit higher than average among the models it competes with.

 

 

House Shot:
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance

Slightly warm color, but detail is good.

Both the Auto and Daylight white balance settings produced similar results on this shot, both with slight warm casts. The Daylight setting produced the most accurate overall white value, so I chose it for the main shot. (The white trim in the Auto setting has a yellowish cast.) Resolution is pretty high for a compact camera, with a lot of detail in the tree limbs above the roof and in the shrubbery in front of the house. (While good resolution for a subcompact camera, the level of detail doesn't compare with that from full-sized four megapixel cameras.) Contrast is slightly high, however, which defines the fine foliage details more than the in-camera sharpening. Details are softer in the corners of the frame, particularly on the left side.

 
 

 

Far-Field Test

Good resolution and detail, but slight overexposure with default settings limits dynamic range.

This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.

This is my ultimate "resolution shot," given the infinite range of detail in a natural scene like this, and the DSC-P9 performed well, although again not as well as a full-sized four megapixel model. Resolution is high in the tree limbs above the roof, as well as in the fine foliage in front of the house. Though the leaf and branch details in the tree limbs above the roof are slightly soft, they are well-defined. Details are softer in the corners of the frame, though not to an extreme degree. The P9's default exposure setting here led to a slight overexposure, which lost detail in the strong highlights of the bay window, but boosted detail in the shadow areas. Color looks reasonably good, though the Auto white balance results in a bluish cast overall. The table below shows a our standard resolution and quality series, followed by ISO and Sharpness series.

Resolution Series:

Large / Fine
Large / Normal
Medium / Fine
Medium / Normal
Small / Fine
Small / Normal
Tiny / Fine
Tiny / Normal

 

ISO Series:

ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400

 

Sharpness Series:

-2
-1
Normal
+1 +2

 
 

 

Lens Zoom Range

Typical 3x zoom range.

I routinely shoot this series of images to show the field of view for each camera, with the lens at full wide angle, at maximum telephoto (3x, in this case), and at full telephoto with the digital zoom enabled. The DSC-P9's lens is equivalent to a 39-117mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Following are the results at each zoom setting.

Wide Angle
3x Telephoto
2x Digital Telephoto

 

 
  Musicians Poster
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance

Good color and detail.

This shot is typically a tough test for digicams, as the abundance of blue in the composition often tricks white balance systems into producing a warm color balance. The DSC-P9 did quite well here, and both the Auto and Daylight white balance settings produced nearly accurate results. The Daylight setting had a slightly warmer cast, so I chose it as the most accurate, preferring it to the slightly cool coloration of the Auto setting. The blue robe is about right, though a bit purplish in the darker areas (this is a difficult blue for many digicams to get right). Resolution is moderately high, judging by the embroidery details of the blue robe, but this test target is getting to be a little low-resolution for current high-megapixel digicams.

 

 

Macro Shot
Standard Macro Shot
Macro with Flash

About average macro performance, flash has some trouble.

The DSC-P9 turned in about an average performance in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 3.82 x 2.87 inches (97.11 x 72.83 millimeters). Resolution is high, with good detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Details are slightly soft throughout the frame, with increased softness in the corners. (Pretty typical for digicam lenses in macro mode.) Color looks good, and exposure is about right. The DSC-P9's flash had trouble throttling down for the macro area, badly overexposing the shot. - Plan on using external lighting for any macro shots you might take.

"Davebox" Test Target
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance

Slightly warm color balance, but good exposure and color.

Both the Auto and Daylight white balance settings produced slightly warm images, with the greatest cast from the Daylight setting. Despite the warm cast, the large color blocks look good, with correct saturation (although the bright green swatch of the MacBeth target is a little light). The DSC-P9 picks up the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target well, up to the "B" range. Detail is good in the shadow area of the charcoal briquettes, with moderate image noise.

 

 

Low-Light Tests

Just enough low-light capability for average city street lighting.

The DSC-P9 offers only automatic exposure control, which limits its low-light shooting capabilities. Additionally, the camera's Twilight mode accesses the slower shutter speeds, but eliminates the ISO adjustment. (A feature of many Sony digicams, that I'm less than enthusiastic about.) The camera captured bright, clear images at light levels only as low as one foot-candle (11 lux), though the target remains visible as low as 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux). Typical city street lighting equates to about one foot-candle, so darker shooting conditions will require the built-in flash. Color is good with the Auto white balance setting, and noise is low. The table below shows the best exposure we were able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all of our sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.

1fc
11lux
1/2fc
5.5lux
1/4fc
2.7lux
1/8fc
1.31lux
1/16fc
0.67lux
Click to see P9LL03.JPG

1 secs
F2.8

Click to see P9LL04.JPG

2 secs
F2.8

Click to see P9LL05.JPG

2 secs
F2.8

Click to see P9LL06.JPG

2 secs
F2.8

Click to see P9LL07.JPG

2 secs
F2.8

 

 

Flash Range Test

Good intensity to 10 feet, probably usable to 14 feet.

The DSC-P9's flash worked well to at least 10 feet from the subject, and worked reasonably well all the way to 14 feet. The flash was brightest at eight feet, and decreased incrementally from there. Below is our flash range series, showing the results at distances from eight to 14 feet from the target.

8ft. 9ft. 10ft. 11ft. 12ft. 13ft. 14ft.
Click to see P9FL08.JPG

1/ 50 secs
F5.6

Click to see P9FL09.JPG

1/ 50 secs
F5.6

Click to see P9FL10.JPG

1/ 50 secs
F5.6

Click to see P9FL11.JPG

1/ 50 secs
F5.6

Click to see P9FL12.JPG

1/ 50 secs
F5.6

Click to see P9FL13.JPG

1/ 50 secs
F5.6

Click to see P9FL14.JPG

1/ 50 secs
F5.6

 

 

ISO-12233 (WG-18) Resolution Test

Great performance, with strong detail to 1,200 lines/picture height.

The DSC-P9 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing (barely discernible) artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height, but I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,200 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred at about 1,450 lines.

Optical distortion on the DSC-P9 is rather high at the wide-angle end of the lens' range, as I measured a 0.98 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared a little better, where I measured a 0.3 percent barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration is low, showing about three pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

Resolution Series, Wide Angle

Large / Fine
Large / Normal
Medium / Fine
Medium / Normal
Small / Fine
Small / Normal
Tiny /
Fine
Tiny / Normal

 

Telephoto

Large / Fine

 

Sharpness

-2
-1
0
1
2

 

 

Viewfinder Accuracy/Flash Uniformity

Tight optical viewfinder, slightly loose LCD monitor.

The DSC-P9's optical viewfinder is tighter than I like to see, showing about 78.5 percent of the frame at wide angle, and approximately 80.5 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor actually proved a little loose, showing slightly more of the frame than what appeared in the final image, but coming awfully close to 100 percent frame coverage. Given that I like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the DSC-P9 does a good job here. Flash illumination at wide angle is a little low and slightly uneven (although better than average), with falloff at the corners and edges of the frame. At telephoto, flash distribution is more even, with slight falloff in the corners. 


Wide Angle, Optical
Telephoto, Optical
Wide Angle, LCD
Telephoto, LCD

 


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