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Sony DSC-P93 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 07/09/03
User Level
Novice
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
High, 5.1-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Sharp 8x10s, even with heavy cropping
Availability
May, 2004
Suggested Retail Price
(At time of introduction)
$349



Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Test Images
Conclusion
Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-P93 is one of the latest in the long (and incredibly broad) line of digicams that reflect Sony's commanding position in the digicam marketplace. Sony's P-series digital cameras have been hugely popular in the compact and subcompact markets for some time now, and the P93 represents roughly the middle of this year's lineup, with a 5.1 megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom lens. Compared with last year's DSC-P92 model, this year's P93 offers a lot of enhanced features, even beyond the obvious increase in resolution. (The P93 was a 3.2 megapixel model.) In many ways, the DSC-P93 is a scaled-down version of Sony's excellent DSC-W1 compact rangefinder-style model, with the same expanded range of seven preset Scene modes to choose from, and a Manual mode for greater exposure control if desired. (Although, like the W1, no Shutter or Aperture priority mode is included.) The 3x zoom lens (with Macro mode) is great for recording a wide range of subjects, from close-up portraits to scenic vistas. Also like the W1 and most other new Cyber-shots, the W1 has greater speed than previous cameras thanks to the company's new Real Image Processor. All in all, the DSC-P93 offers a surprising degree of functionality, at an introductory price a fair bit lower than last year's P92. Quite a bargain, read on for all the details!

NOTE: The DSC-P93 is virtually identical to its lower-resolution sibling, the 4-megapixel DSC-P73. If you've read my review of the P73, you can save yourself some effort and just jump to the Test Results and Conclusions sections of this review, as all the intervening description is identical.

 

Camera Overview

Sony's P-series digital cameras have been perennial favorites with consumers, being quintessential examples of the "all around" digicam. They offer a very respectable assortment of features and sophisticated capabilities, with good image quality, good ease of use, all at affordable prices. The Cyber-shot DSC-P93 represents the middle of the current P-series lineup, sporting a 5.1-megapixel CCD and a 3x optical zoom lens, but with other features very similar to its siblings in the line.

Sony's P-series cameras share a compact, yet somewhat elongated form factor, a design that I've long felt makes great good sense. The relatively slender profile fits into even fairly modest shirt pockets, while the elongated body makes it easy to grip and provides ample room for rear-panel controls. In the case of the P93, the compact design includes a shutter-like, built-in lens cover which conveniently slides open whenever the camera is powered on, allowing the lens to telescope outward about 3/4-inch from the body. The DSC-P93's 3x zoom lens features automatic focus control, with several fixed focus settings available as well, and an adjustable focus area. The 5.1-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-P93 is an excellent choice for novice consumers who want to take great pictures without hassling with exposure decisions.

The DSC-P93 is equipped with a 3x, 7.9-23.7mm lens, equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera. This is a fairly typical range, slightly biased toward the telephoto end relative to the more common 35-105mm range found on many 3x zoom-equipped cameras. Normal focus ranges from approximately 19.75 inches (0.5 meters) to infinity at wide-angle, or 23.6 inches (0.6 meters) to infinity at telephoto. A Macro setting lets you get within four inches (10 centimeters) when the lens is zoomed to its wide angle position, but is still limited to 23.6 inches (60 centimeters) at the telephoto setting. (The net result is about average performance in closeup shooting.) In addition to automatic focus control, the DSC-P93 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-P93 carries forward Sony's "Smart Zoom" feature, which offers a maximum of 12x 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 the 12x maximum zoom only available at the smallest image size, and digital zoom limited to 3.8x at the 3M image size, or 6.1x at the 1M 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-P93 offers a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch, color LCD monitor. In my testing, the optical viewfinder was somewhat inaccurate, showing only 82% of the final frame area, while the LCD display showed almost exactly 100%. (In one of its noticeable advantages relative to the P73 model, the P93 sports an LCD with 134,400 pixels (560x240 dots). The P73's LCD has half that resolution.)

Exposure is for the most part automatically controlled on the DSC-P93, great for novices and casual users looking for simplicity. You can override the exposure with an exposure compensation adjustment though, a necessary feature for shooting subjects that are uniformly light or dark overall. While automatic exposure control is nice for novices, more experienced users will appreciate the newly-added Manual exposure mode, which lets you set both shutter speed and aperture manually. An On/Off button on top of the camera powers the camera on, and a Mode dial surrounding the shutter button lets you select from among normal capture modes including Automatic, Program, and Manual; "Scene" capture modes including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, and Soft Snap; and Movie capture, and Playback mode. The Automatic setting removes all user control, with the exception of flash, macro, and resolution. Program mode keeps exposure determination automatic, but allows user control over all other exposure variables. Both Twilight modes and the Candle mode 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. Beach mode ensures that blue tones are recorded accurately in lakeside or seaside photos. Soft Snap uses a larger lens aperture, to reduce depth of field, helping to isolate your subject against a softer, slightly out of focus background, and also enhances the rendition of skin tones.

Although the camera generally controls both 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.) The Record menu offers additional exposure options of White Balance, Exposure Compensation, Focus, Metering Mode (Multi-metering or Spot), White Balance, ISO, Picture Quality (image compression), Normal/Burst/Multi-Burst modes, Interval (for Multi-Burst capture), Flash Level, Picture Effects, and Saturation, Contrast, and Sharpness adjustments. Under the Picture Effects setting, you can record images in black and white or sepia monochrome, or select the Solarize or Negative Art options, while the White Balance menu gives you options of Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash. The DSC-P93's flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync (Twilight Portrait only) modes. As in last year's P92 model, 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 quite unusual in digicams, and is the key feature that distinguishes Sony's MPEGmovieVX mode. This year, the P93 also offers MPEG4 format for its movie files, at the 640 x 480 pixel resolution setting. The DSC-P93 also offers a Multi Burst mode that 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.

The DSC-P93 stores images on Sony Memory Sticks, available separately in capacities as large as one gigabyte. (The DSC-P93 is compatible with Sony's Memory Stick PRO format, breaking the original 128 MB barrier for Memory Stick storage.) A 32MB 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 P93 once again departs from Sony's typical practice of using their proprietary "InfoLITHIUM" batteries, using instead two AA batteries for power, either alkaline, NiMH, or lithium. A set of two rechargeable NiMH AAs and a battery charger are included in the box with each camera. Battery life is very good for a two-AA cell camera, 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-P93 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.)

All in all, the DSC-P93 is quite a handful for its list price of $349, and an even better bargain at the "street" prices it will typically sell at. Sony's not the market leader for nothing, and their smart interface and quality construction have won them many return customers. Read on for all the details!

Basic Features

  • 5.1-megapixel CCD.
  • 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • Up to 12x digital Smart Zoom.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.5-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Mostly automatic exposure control, now includes Manual mode.
  • Built-in flash with five modes and an intensity adjustment.
  • Sony Memory Stick storage (16MB card included), compatible with original Memory Stick as well as the Memory Stick Pro format.
  • USB 2.0 computer connection.
  • 2 AA NiMH batteries included, with charger.
  • Software for Mac and PC.


Special Features

  • Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, and Soft snap modes.
  • Movie recording mode (with sound).
  • Multi-Burst slow motion mode.
  • Email (VGA) modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 1/8 sec in auto mode; 1/1000 to 2 seconds in twilight mode; and 1/1000 to 30 seconds in manual mode (with automatic Noise Reduction below 1/6 second).
  • Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/5.6 at wide-angle, from f/5.2 to f/10 at telephoto.
  • Creative Picture Effects menu (black and white and sepia).
  • Image Sharpness, Saturation, and Contrast adjustments.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • Spot and Multi-Metering modes.
  • Adjustable AF area and three AF modes.
  • Auto ISO setting or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility.


Recommendation
Like the rest of the mid-sized "P" series of Sony Cyber-shot cameras, the DSC-P93 is a good quality, compact digicam, competing strongly in the "affordable, full-featured" segment of the market. 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.), and enough optional exposure controls to keep advanced users interested. The 5.1-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 P100, or the Canon Digital ELPH series, the P93 fits quite nicely into pant or coat pockets.) Overall, the P93 is a good choice for anyone wanting a capable, portable camera that takes good photos in a variety of circumstances. The DSC-P93 is easy to use for rank beginners, but has enough flexibility to handle a surprisingly wide range of conditions.

 

Design
With its small body size and compact design, the DSC-P93 maintains dimensions similar to the rest of Sony's mid sized "P" series Cyber-shot models. Its sleek, smooth styling is free from any significant protrusions except for the lens, which telescopes outward when powered on. The DSC-P93's dimensions of 4.75 x 2.38 x 1.31 inches (117 x 54 x 36 millimeters) makes it just small enough to fit into a shirt pocket or small purse. The all-plastic body keeps the DSC-P93 light weight as well, at just 8.6 ounces (236 grams) with batteries and memory card. The shot above right shows the camera posed with a Memory Stick Pro memory card, to give a better idea of its size.

The front of the DSC-P93 is rounded on the right side (viewed from the front), following the shape of the lens barrel and adding to the sleek design aesthetic. A shutter-like, 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. The lens telescopes out from the camera body about 3/4-inch into its operating position. Also on the front panel are the flash, optical viewfinder window, AF illuminator lamp, and small microphone grille. A small depression and associated sculpted ridge serve 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.

The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) holds 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. (Barely visible in this shot, the eyelet is really more on the bottom of the camera than on the side.)

The left side of the camera is really devoid of detail...

The camera's top panel includes the Shutter button surrounded by the Mode dial. To the left is the small Power button; between the two is a green power LED.

The relatively few remaining controls are on the camera's rear panel, along with the LCD display screen and the eyepiece for the optical viewfinder. I don't think that the P93's LCD is one of the newer "transflective" designs like we saw on the T1 and W1, but it's still surprisingly viewable under bright lighting. 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) and a three-stage battery gauge. The optical viewfinder is located above and to the right of the LCD monitor, and has three LED lamps along the left edge of the window, each of which reports the current status of various camera functions. The optical viewfinder has no dioptric adjustment, but eyeglass wearers will be pleased with the high "eyepoint," allowing plenty of room for an eyeglass lens between the camera body and your eye. The camera's Zoom control is in the upper right corner, conveniently located right above a raised lip that provides better thumb traction when holding the camera. To the right of the LCD is a Five-way Arrow pad, with small arrows pointing in four directions (Up, Down, Left, and Right) and a Set button in the middle. Each serves multiple functions, navigating onscreen menus scrolling between captured images in playback mode, or activating different camera functions (Flash, Self-Timer, Quick Review, and Macro).

Upper left of the Arrow pad is the LCD Display On / Off button; beneath that is the Menu button; while the Image Resolution / Erase button below and to the right.

Finally, the P93's flat bottom holds the threaded (metal) tripod screw mount, a tiny speaker for audio playback, and the eyelet for the wrist strap. While most users of the P93 probably won't care, I like its side-mounted battery compartment, which makes it easy to change the batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod.

 

Camera Operation

Operating the P93 in any of its automatic modes is very straightforward, with only two additional controls when you enter Manual mode. The Mode dial on top of the camera controls the main operating modes, with options for Auto, Program, Manual, Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, Soft snap, Setup, Movie, and Playback modes. In all image capture modes, the P93 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 arrows of the Five-way arrow pad are used to scroll through menu options, while the button in the center of the pad functions as the OK button to confirm selections. In Manual mode, pressing the OK (center) button on the Five-way arrow pad switches the arrows from adjusting flash, macro, self-timer and quick review modes to adjusting aperture (left and right) and shutter speeds (up and down). When in Manual mode, information on the LCD to the right of these values tells you by how many EV units it thinks your exposure is off, up to plus or minus 2EV.

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. A separate Image Resolution button calls up a menu of the available resolution settings, removing this item from the main menu system and thereby making it much quicker to access when needed. The Zoom control in the top right corner of the back panel adjusts both optical and digital zoom (when the latter is 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 P93's user interface entails. Along with Sony's other recent cameras, the P93 has one of the cleanest user interfaces I've seen, and will present few challenges to even the most novice user.

Record-Mode Display

In record mode, the LCD monitor displays the subject with a moderate amount of overlaid information, indicating approximate battery life remaining (graphically), flash mode, focus mode (macro or normal), autofocus mode setting, any currently-selected exposure compensation setting, ISO setting, the current size/quality setting, and number of images that can be stored on the remaining Memory Stick space at the current size/quality. Half-pressing the shutter button causes the camera to display the shutter speed and aperture setting it has chosen for the current lighting conditions. (While you can't change these directly, it's very nice to know what settings the camera has selected.) Pressing the Display button beneath the LCD once adds a small "live" histogram display to the information, pressing it again removes the information overlay, and pressing it a third time turns the LCD off entirely. Pressing it a fourth time restores the default display.


Playback-Mode Display

In playback mode, the default image display shows the most recently captured image, with a modest information overlay present. Pressing the display button once adds the exposure information and a small histogram to the overlay, pressing it again removes the information overlay entirely, and pressing it a third time turns the LCD off altogether. Pressing the wide-angle side of the zoom lever takes you to a display showing images on the Memory Stick in groups of nine small thumbnails. (You can navigate a yellow outline cursor over these thumbnails by using the four arrow keys. Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever will bring the currently-selected image up full-screen.) Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever when viewing an image full-size on the LCD screen will zoom in on the image, in 17 variable-sized increments up to a maximum magnification of 5x. - This is a useful level of magnification, handy for checking focus and precise framing.

External Controls


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


Shutter Button
: Surrounded by the Mode dial, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Mode Dial: Surrounding the Shutter button, this ribbed dial sets the camera's operating mode, offering Auto, Program, Manual, Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, Soft snap, Setup, Movie, and Playback modes. (See menus and descriptions below.)


Zoom Control
: Positioned in the top right corner of the rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls optical zoom and, when enabled via the Setup menu, Sony's "Smart Zoom."

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.


Five-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), and a Set or OK button in the middle (Sony describes it by its shape: a dot). 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, Suppressed, and Slow-Sync modes. (the red-eye reduction option is enabled separately via the camera's Setup menu.) 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 Manual record mode, pressing the center button switches the arrow keys back and forth between controlling their normal functions, and controlling shutter speed (up/down) and aperture (left/right).

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 button returns to the normal, 1x display.


Menu Button
: Below and to the left of the Five-Way Arrow pad, this button activates the settings menu in any camera mode (except Setup, which displays the menu automatically). The Menu button also turns off the menu display.


Image Resolution / Erase Button
: Below and to the right of the Five-way Arrow pad, this button displays the available resolutions in any record mode. Choices are 5M (2,592 x 1,944), 3:2 ratio (2,592 x 1,728), 3M (2,048 x 1,536), 1M (1,280 x 960), and VGA (640 x 480). Movie resolutions are 640 x 480 (Fine or Standard compression), and 160 x 112-pixels.

In Playback mode, this button lets you erase the currently displayed image.


Display / LCD On/OFF Button
: Off the upper right corner of the LCD, this button controls the LCD display, cycling through the image with information display, the image with information and live histogram display, the image with limited information display, and no image display at all (in all Record modes). In Playback mode, it cycles through the same series.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Scene Modes: Marked on the Mode dial with a black line these modes are for capturing images in specific situations. Six "scenes" are available, including Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Landscape, Beach, and Soft snap. Both Twilight modes capture images in low light, although the Twilight Portrait mode automatically enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash mode, combining it with a slower shutter speed to let ambient lighting brighten the background as well. Because the camera employs a slower shutter speed in both Twilight modes, a tripod is highly recommended to prevent blurring from camera movement. Candle mode is just for candlelit scenes, great for birthdays or services. A tripod is once again recommended. Landscape mode sets the focus at infinity and uses a smaller lens aperture to capture sharp details both near and far away. Beach mode optimizes the camera for bright situations and prevents color loss from overexposure. Soft snap mode enhances skin colors while keeping a soft focus for a pleasing glow.

Manual Mode: This mode provides total control over the exposure, as you're able to select both aperture and shutter speed independently of each other. Although aperture control is confined to only two available apertures of 2.8 and 5.6, the camera is capable of speeds from 30 seconds to 1/1000.


Program Mode: This mode is marked on the Mode dial with a black camera icon and a "P." In this mode, the camera selects shutter speed and aperture, while you control all other exposure variables. Shutter speeds in this mode range from 1-1/2,000 second.

Automatic Mode: Indicated on the Mode dial with a green camera icon, this mode puts the camera in control over the exposure and everything except Macro, Image Size and Quality, Zoom, Flash, and the Self-Timer. Shutter speeds in this mode range from 1/8-1/2,000 second.

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 PictBridge-compatible printers. You can also copy, resize, and rotate images.

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. Resolution and quality choices are 640 x 480 pixels, with either Fine or Standard image compression/quality, or 160 x 112 pixels with no options for different quality settings. 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. NOTE that recording in 640 x 480 mode is only available with a Memory Stick Pro card.

The P93 also offers a Multi Burst mode separate from the movie mode and selected in the menu in Auto, Program, Manual, and Scene modes, which captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of 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 would be a fun way to catch someone crossing a finish line during a race, or to analyze golf and tennis 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):

  • EV (Exposure Compensation): Increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. 
  • 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).
  • Metering Mode: Chooses between Multi-Metering and Spot modes. Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the frame (identified by a cross hair target on the monitor). Spot metering is handy for backlit subjects, or any time the subject and background exhibit very high contrast. Multi-Metering mode reads the entire frame to determine exposure.
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, to suit the light source. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash.
  • ISO: (Not available in Scene mode.) Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity. Options are Auto, or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • P.Quality: Sets compression between Standard and Fine.
  • Mode: Sets capture mode, Normal (single), Burst, and Multi-burst.
  • Interval: When in Multi-burst mode, sets the capture interval between 1/7.5, 1/15, and 1/30.
  • Flash level: Sets flash power to +1, Normal, or -1.
  • Picture Effects: Offers two creative shooting modes:
    • Black and White: Takes photos in monochrome.
    • Sepia: Records an image in monochrome sepia tone.
  • Saturation: Adjusts the overall color saturation with plus, normal and minus settings.
  • Contrast: Alters the level of contrast in images with plus, normal and minus settings.
  • Sharpness: Controls the overall image sharpness and softness with plus, normal and minus settings.

Playback Menu:

  • Folder: Selects the folder for playing back images. (secondary screen)
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image (or removes protection), preventing it from being deleted or manipulated in any way except with card formatting. (secondary screen)
  • DPOF: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device. Also removes the print mark. (secondary screen)
  • Print: Prints the current image. (secondary screen)
  • Slide: Plays back images in an automatic slide show. You can set the time interval and whether or not the sequence of images repeats. (secondary screen)
  • Resize: Resizes the image to 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 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 at the selected size.) (secondary screen)
  • Rotate: Rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise. (secondary screen)
  • 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 you to change a variety of camera settings. The Setup menu is automatically displayed upon entering the mode.

  • Camera:
    • AF Mode: Sets the focus mode to Single, or Monitor.
    • Digital Zoom: Switches between the 3.2x Smart Zoom and Precision zoom.
    • Date / Time: Determines whether the date and / or time is overlaid on captured images.
    • Red Eye Reduction: Enables or disables the Red Eye 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.
    • Auto Review: Immediately plays captured image onscreen for two seconds.

  • Memory Stick Tool:
    • Format: Formats the Memory Stick, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Create REC Folder: Creates a new folder for recording images.
    • Change REC Folder: Changes the folder that images are recorded.

  • Setup 1:
    • LCD Backlight: Controls the level of the LCD's backlight, with options of 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.
    • Language: Selects among Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, or English for the menu language.

  • Setup 2:
    • File Number: Chooses between Series (continuing the shot number infinitely) or Reset, which resets the frame number by folder.
    • USB Connect: Sets the USB connection type to PictBridge, PTP, or Normal.
    • Video Out: Sets the timing of the video output signal to either NTSC or PAL.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.


In the Box
Included with the Sony DSC-P93 digital camera are the following items:

  • Wrist strap..
  • 32MB Memory Stick..
  • 2 NiMH AA batteries and charger..
  • USB cable.
  • AV cable.
  • Software CD containing Pixela ImageMixer v1.0 and USB drivers.

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Extra NiMH batteries.
  • Carrying case
  • Cyber-shot Station is a dock for charging and connecting the camera to a TV for slideshow playback and a PictBridge printer for printing. Works via included remote control.


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
Over the years, I've gotten so many emails about power issues for digicams, that I now insert a standard notice in my reviews of AA-powered cameras: 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. Spend the $35-40 or so it takes to get a set (or two) of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and a good charger! The few dollars up front will save you literally hundreds of dollars in the long run, not to mention the hassle of wimpy batteries running out in the middle of the action. Buy two sets of batteries too, so one can always be in the charger, ready to go, and so have two sets available for longer excursions. Check out my Battery Shootout page for the latest in actual, measured performance of various AA batteries. - Read my review of the Maha C-204F charger, to learn why it's my longtime favorite. (Although you really don't need another charger, the one that ships with the P93 is adequate.)

 

Specifications

See the specifications sheet here.

 

Picky Details

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

 

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 Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 



"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the P93, we've assembled a "gallery" of more pictorial images shot with the P93.

 

Test Results

Following are my usual condensed notes about the P93's performance: See the P93's sample pictures page for a full analysis.

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 P93's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

NOTE: For readers who've already read my review of the DSC-P73, you'll find the remarks here very similar to those for that model, as the two cameras are virtually identical, apart from the sensor. The primary differences between the two are that the P93's lens seems to be of slightly higher quality than that of the P73, the P93 has slightly higher image noise, but it tends to look slightly better to the eye, and the P93's images tend to have a slight reddish cast that led me to prefer the P73's color a bit more. Also, the P93 obviously has slightly higher resolution than the P73, given its larger CCD. Note the emphasis on the word "slight" in all the above, though: The two cameras really did perform very similarly on the various tests.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the DSC-P93 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Good color, accurate hue, appropriate saturation. Some white balance difficulty indoors though. Overall, the P93 produced good color, with only slight color casts with each white balance setting. Outdoors, it did very well, with natural-looking skin tones, although it had a bit more trouble with the always-difficult blue flowers in the Outdoor Portrait test than did it's lower-cost sibling, the P73. Indoors, it had a little trouble with household incandescent lighting, leaving more of the warmth of the lighting in its final images than I personally prefer.

  • Exposure: Very good exposure accuracy. As with several Sony models I've reviewed recently, the DSC-P93 seemed to require less exposure compensation adjustment under difficult lighting conditions than I've generally found to be the case. Like most consumer digicams, its default tone curve is somewhat contrasty, causing it to lose detail in strong highlights under harsh lighting, but its low-contrast adjustment was at least a little help when dealing with contrasty lighting. Overall, a good performance in the exposure/tonality department.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,300 - 1,350 lines of "strong detail," but some loss of subtle detail due to anti-noise processing. The DSC-P93 performed pretty well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000~1,100 lines per picture height in both the vertical and horizontal directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines vertically, though to about 1,350 lines horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,650 lines. When it came to "natural" subjects though, I felt that the P93 lost some of the more subtle detail to its strong anti-noise processing. (This can be seen in shots like my Outdoor Portrait test, where subtle detail in Marti's hair was flattened out because the camera thought it was image noise.)

  • Image Noise: Better than average noise levels, but somewhat heavy-handed noise-suppression. Like most of the current crop of 4-and 5-megapixel consumer-level cameras, the DSC-P93 shows some image noise even at its minimum ISO of 100. As the ISO is increased though, the noise doesn't seem to increase as rapidly as in some competing models. That said, the cost of this is somewhat heavy-handed noise-suppression processing, which tends to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. So, good marks to the P93 for low image noise, but some points deducted for the subject detail lost in the process. (Interestingly, while numerical measurements show the P93's image noise to be higher than that of its lower-resolution sibling the P73, the P93's noise seems less obtrusive, apparently due in part to its finer "grain structure.")

  • Closeups: About average macro performance, but good detail. The position of the flash results in uneven lighting. The DSC-P93 turned in about an average performance in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 3.69 x 2.77 inches (94 x 70 millimeters). Resolution was very high, with strong detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Details were sharp in the center of the frame, though all four corners of the frame were fairly soft. (A common failing in digicams' macro shooting.) The DSC-P93's flash is too far to the side of the camera to provide even coverage for the closest macro shots. - Plan on using external lighting when shooting up close.

  • Night Shots: Surprisingly good low-light performance, with good color and fairly low image noise. Very good low-light focusing as well. The DSC-P93 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all three ISO settings. (At ISO 100, the shot at the lowest light level is slightly dim, but the image was still usable.) Color looks about right, though takes on a reddish cast at the lower light levels. Image noise is very low with the 100 ISO setting, and is only moderately high at ISO 400. (The contrast between the P93 and the P73's image noise levels was most apparent to me when comparing the low-light test shots.) Nice, too, is that the P93 can focus in complete darkness (on nearby subjects, at least), thanks to its autofocus illuminator. Even without the AF assist light, it can routinely focus down to 1/8 foot-candle, a very low light level.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A rather tight optical viewfinder, but an accurate LCD monitor. The DSC-P93's optical viewfinder is pretty tight, showing only about 82 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor fared much better. (It was actually very slightly loose, as the measurement lines wound up outside the final frame.) Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the DSC-P93's LCD monitor just very well, just remember to allow a little extra space when precise framing is key. Its optical viewfinder could use a little help though...

  • Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion at wide angle, and a moderate amount at telephoto. Low to moderate chromatic aberration. Optical distortion on the DSC-P93 is higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.0 percent barrel distortion. (Average is 0.8 percent, still quite a bit too high, IMHO.) The telephoto end fared a little better, as I measured approximately 0.3 percent barrel distortion there. low to moderate, showing about four or five very faint pixels of fairly faint 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.)

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Very(!) fast shutter response, good cycle times also. Overall, the DSC-P93 is a very fast little camera. Startup and shutdown are quick enough, if not exactly spectacular, but its shutter response places it among the fastest consumer-level digicams on the market, regardless of price. Cycle time is quite good as well, and (at least with a Memory Stick Pro card) there appears to be no need for buffer memory. Finally, although it produces low-resolution images, the 30 frame/second Multi-Burst mode should be great for analyzing golf swings, etc, providing slow-motion playback of action captured as fast as 30 frames/second.

  • Battery Life: Couldn't measure the power drain, but battery life should be quite good, based on Sony's own battery-life numbers. Because it uses a non-standard power connector, I wasn't able to conduct my usual power tests on the DSC-P93. Sony's own figures in the manual show a power consumption of only 1.2 watts when in capture mode with the LCD display turned on. That's a very low number and should translate into worst-case run times of three hours or more with good-quality NiMH AA cells. (And the cells that Sony ships with the camera are indeed of good quality.) I still strongly recommend that you purchase a couple of sets of spare cells though, so you'll always have a pair ready to go. Read my Battery Shootout page for information on how well various brands of NiMH batteries perform under actual test conditions.

Conclusion

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The 5-megapixel, 3x-zoom DSC-P93 is a minor upgrade to last year's P92 model, bringing the feature set up to date with the more significant enhancements that appear in the P73, all for a lower introductory price than the P92 carried. The DSC-P93 continues to compete very well in the hot "midrange" digicam market, offering good image quality, an excellent range of capability, an attractive, compact case style, and very good ease of use, all at an affordable price. It provides more manual exposure control than do many midrange camera models, yet is easy to use in full-auto mode, and its six preprogrammed scene modes help with tricky subjects. Its photos show good color and resolution, although it shares with other recent Sony models some white-balance weakness under household incandescent lighting, and likewise achieves its relatively low image noise levels at the expense of image detail in areas of subtle contrast. (It seems to have a fairly aggressive anti-noise system, which does indeed deliver low noise in flat-tinted areas, but which also tends to flatten-out fine subject detail in areas with low contrast, such as hair, grass, etc.) Finally, while I couldn't test its power consumption directly, Sony's specs and my own anecdotal experience both speak of very good battery life. Add in a surprisingly (amazingly?) fast shutter response, fast shot to shot cycle times, and surprisingly good low-light capability, and you've got the makings of a real winner for the midrange market. If you're looking for a good "all around" camera for an affordable price, the Sony DSC-P93 deserves consideration. A "Dave's Pick," although I have to say that I'd be happier with it if its noise-suppression processing was a little less aggressive...


 

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