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Sony DSC-S50

Sony makes a compact 2.1 megapixel digicam with full movie/sound capability!

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 4/12/2000

Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the DSC-S50's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed: Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the DSC-S70 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the DSC-S50 produced very good pictures: Color was quite good, with appropriate saturation of strong primaries, but good handling of pastels as well. Overall color accuracy was very good as well, with only a slight weakness in the saturation of the subtractive primary colors (cyan, magenta, and yellow), and the slightest hint of pink in strong highlights. The camera's color response was very consistent under any given lighting condition, making it easy to clean up the images with fairly standard tweaks. (Leading us to again recommend our favorite image-adjuster program PhotoGenetics to users of this camera.) Tonal range was excellent as well, particularly in the area of shadow detail.

We tested the 2 megapixel S50 in the midst of a string of 3 megapixel cameras we'd been reviewing. Our first reaction was thus that the S50 was a little lacking in the resolution/sharpness department, and we frankly formed a bit of a bias against it's optics as a result. In our close analysis of the images though, we compared it closely with other 2 megapixel cameras, including Sony's own DSC-F505, a 2 megapixel design renowned for its sharpness. To our surprise, the S50 really performed on a par with the 505 in terms of resolution and sharpness! This is quite an accomplishment, given the high regard the 505 is held in by many in the digicam world. In terms of numeric ratings, we called the visual resolution as 650-700 lines per picture height in the vertical direction, and 700 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction. This is very much on a par with the upper echelon of 2 megapixel digicams that we've tested to date. (April, 2000) Aliasing (colored artifacts in the fine-grained regions of the test target) is very low, and sharpness is quite good. Overall, an excellent performance!

Geometric distortion on the S50 was more than we like to see, but a level that's fairly typical among the digicams we test. We measured a 0.75 percent barrel distortion at the wide angle end and about a 0.52 percent pincushion distortion at the telephoto end. (Barrel distortion refers to the tendency for straight lines near the edges of the frame to bow outward, while pincushion distortion is the opposite effect, with the lines bowing inward.) Chromatic aberration is present but fairly low, as it seems to be most noticeable only at the extreme corners of the frame. We caught about two pixels of coloration on each side of the black lines at the edges of our resolution target. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target). We'd really like to see no chromatic aberration at all, but if not perfect, the S50 is probably a bit better than average in this respect.

The DSC-S50 provides only an LCD viewfinder, albeit a fairly bright one. We found it to be just slightly "tight" (we recently changed our terminology, we would have previously referred to this cropping as a "loose" viewfinder, but felt the "tight" term described what went on in the viewfinder itself a bit more accurately), showing 90 percent of the final image area at wide angle and about 93 percent at the telephoto setting. We'd prefer 100% accuracy on an LCD viewfinder, but few cameras reach that standard: The accuracy of the S50's LCD viewfinder is about typical of those on other digicams we've tested.

The S50 does a very nice job in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 0.73 x 0.55 inches (18.57 x 13.93 mm). Resolution, detail and color all look great. Closest focusing occurs in wide-angle mode, which also introduces a moderate amount of barrel distortion. (Not measured, but our impression is that there's more distortion than we saw in the viewfinder test, shot at greater distances.) The macro capability could also potentially be extended through the use of auxiliary lenses, using the 37mm filter threads on the front of the lens.

Probably the only area where we felt the S50 came up a bit short was that of white balance for indoor photography (behaving rather similarly to the S70 in this respect). None of its white-balance settings could fully compensate for the strong yellowish cast of the household incandescent lighting in our test setting. The positive note is that colors within the images are still well-balanced, meaning it's fairly easy to clean them up after the fact in Photoshop or PhotoGenetics, but we still would have liked to seen a stronger white-balance compensation to start with.

The S50 performed pretty well under low-light conditions, producing very usable images down to light levels of 1/2 foot-candle (~6 lux), and images that could perhaps be used, albeit after some work at levels of only 1/4 foot-candle (~3 lux). This is pretty good, as a typical city night scene under average street lighting is a lighting level of about 1 foot-candle. The S50 should do fine for outdoor night scenes in the city.

Overall, the DSC-S50 looks like a strong entry in the 2 megapixel field: It takes very sharp pictures with very good color, offers good exposure control, and has the added benefit of capturing full-motion movies with sound. A very versatile little camera!

The lightweight, compact and portable S50 is an excellent option for consumers who want a very user friendly digital camera that takes good pictures in just about any situation. It offers a good range of exposure control, stopping short of only full manual aperture/shutter speed selection. With it's easy operation, movie-with-sound capability, good picture quality, and compact size, we'd recommend it as a good all-around "family" camera, suitable for both casual picture-taking as well as more-advanced usage by the technologist/photographer in the family.


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