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Sony DSC-S50

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

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DSC-S50 Sample Images

Review First Posted: 4/12/2000

We'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, we're posting the Thumber index so only those interested in the information need wade through it! ;)

 

 

Outdoor portrait: (896k) This is a tough shot for many digicams, due to the extreme tonal range (which is why we set it up this way!). The trick is to hold highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors and the S50 did a nice job. We chose the automatic (896k) white balance for this image, because it produced the best color balance overall. Overall color is ever so slightly shifted toward magenta, but is generally quite accurate, and the blues of the flowers and the model's pants look pretty good (many digicams have a tendency to reproduce these with a purplish hue). Resolution and detail seem nice and crisp, particularly as revealed in the small green leaves next to the model's shirt and the outer strands of her hair. Likewise, the shadow areas show a good amount of detail. There's just a slight amount of noise throughout the image, more so in the shadow area, but not at all bad overall. We required only one notch of exposure compensation adjustment for our main image (896k) (+0.3EV), which managed to get the best exposure on the model's face while losing detail in only the very strongest highlights in the shirt and the white flowers. The table below shows the results of a range of exposure settings from zero to +1.7 EV in the automatic white balance setting.

Exposure Variations Settings:
0 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F5.6
(890k)
+0.3 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F4.8
(896k)
+0.7 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F3.4
(877k)
+1.0 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F4
(892k)
+1.3 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F3.4
(881k)
+1.7 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F3.4
(868k)


 
Closer portrait: (806k) The S50 does a great job with this "portrait" shot, thanks in part to the camera's 3x zoom lens. (Shorter focal length lenses tend to distort facial features in close-up shots like this and the availability of longer focal lengths is a key feature if you're going to be shooting close-up people shots). Our main shot (806k) required just +0.3EV of exposure compensation to brighten the shadow areas around the face while keeping the highlight areas on the white shirt from getting too hot. Sharpness and detail look great in both the highlight and shadow areas. The table below shows the results of a range of exposure settings from zero to +1.7 EV. As with the Outdoor Portrait shot, we chose the automatic white balance setting because it produced the most accurate color balance, although we did feel that the skin tones here were a bit ruddy (overly reddish). Excellent picture overall, but we'd like a bit less red in the skin tones...

Exposure Variations:
0 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F5.6
(843k)
+0.3 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F4.8
(806k)
+0.7 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F4
(852k)
+1.0 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F3.4
(819k)
+1.3 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F3.4
(828k)
+1.7 EV
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F3.4
(816k)


 
Indoor portrait, flash: (890k) The S50 does a reasonably good job in this category, thanks in part to its variable flash intensity settings, and it's "Twilight Plus" exposure mode. We took our first series of shots in the normal flash exposure mode and tried each of the flash intensity levels. The low intensity (786k) setting was very dark, with a prominent bluish cast. The image brightened somewhat with normal intensity, (806k) but probably looked best on the high intensity (811k) setting (both still slightly blue). We shot the same series again, this time with the Twilight exposure mode, which utilizes a slower shutter speed to let in more ambient light. We achieved better results, although still slightly dark in the low intensity (895k) setting. The normal (798k) and high (888k) intensity settings were significantly brighter with better color balance. Finally, we shot the same series with the Twilight Plus mode, which allows even more ambient light into the picture and which gave us the best overall exposures. The low, (895k) normal (874k) and high (880k) intensity settings again ranged from darker to brighter, and we felt that the high intensity flash setting resulted in the best overall exposure. We chose this as our main image, (890k) as the model is correctly lit without too much harsh shadow or overblown highlights. Overall, the S50's Twilight Plus setting gives pretty color balance and the higher intensity flash mode provides enough extra light to give overall good exposure. (The large white wall behind the model generally confuses exposure meters into underexposing this shot, hence the need for an exposure boost...)

 
Indoor portrait, no flash: (847k) This shot is 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. For our main image, we chose the incandescent (847k) white balance setting, as it produced the best color balance overall (although we found it rather warm). The automatic (876k) white balance setting produced pinkish results (shot at +0.9 EV), but we included a set of image samples shot using it as well. One thing we often check for in this test is how well a simple "auto levels" adjustment in Photoshop(tm) can clean up the images. As this shot (319k) shows, the S50's incandescent-balanced shot cleaned up very nicely, resulting in accurate color, and pleasing tone overall. The table below shows our standard series, a range of exposure compensation settings from zero to +1.7 EV shot with both the automatic and incandescent white balance settings.

Exposure Series, Automatic:
0 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(895k)
+0.3 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(889k)
+0.7 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(874k)
+1.0 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(876k)
+1.3 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(838k)
+1.7 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(851k)


Exposure Series, Incandecent:
0 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(911k)
+0.3 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(917k)
+0.7 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(905k)
+1.0 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(847k)
+1.3 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(860k)
+1.7 EV
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(831k)


 
House shot: (879k) NOTE that this is the "new" house shot, a much higher-resolution poster than we first used in our tests. To compare the S50 with previously tested cameras, here's a shot of the original house poster at the automatic (345k) and daylight (351k) white balance settings.

For this test, we shot with the automatic (60k) and daylight (352k) white balance settings. Since the daylight produced slightly warm results, we chose the automatic setting for our main shot. (879k) Resolution and detail look very good in this image, especially in the tree limbs, bricks and roof shingles. Just a tiny bit of noise is visible in the telltale shingle area and a very small halo around the dark and light edges gives away the in-camera sharpening. Overall, though, the S50 does an excellent job, with very good detail and color balance overall. The table below shows our standard resolution and quality series.

Resolution/Quality series:
Large/Uncompressed
(5627k)
Note: TIFF format - download and view in imaging program
Large/Normal
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F4
(879k)
 
Medium/Nomal
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F4
(350k)
 
Small/Nomal
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F4
(60k)


The S50 includes a total of 5 options for varying the amount of image sharpening the camera applies to captured images. We also shot with the camera's variable sharpness setting, which does a nice job of not going too far in either direction. As usual, you'd probably want to use the "Very Soft" setting on images you were going to manipulate heavily, sharpening in your imaging application once you were done. The Sharp or Very Sharp settings would be well-suited for use on images that were going to be printed on a lower-quality inkjet printer.

Sharpness Variations:
Very Soft
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F4
(873k)
Soft
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F4
(882k)
Normal
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F4
(882k)
Sharp
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F4
(891k)
Very Sharp
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F4
(894k)


 
 
Far-Field shot: (887k) 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.

We chose the automatic (887k) white balance setting for this image, as it was the again most accurate. This test is the strongest test of detail of any we do, and the bright white of the central bay window also often tricks digicams into losing detail in that area. The S50 didn't fall into this trap though, as it picked up all of the details here. Color balance and saturation look great with just a tiny amount of noise in the roof shingles. Resolution and detail also look good throughout. The table below shows our standard resolution and quality series.

Resolution/Quality series:
Large/Uncompressed
(5627k)
Note: TIFF format - download and view in imaging program
Large/Normal
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F4.8
(887k)
 
Medium/Nomal
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F4.8
(343k)
 
Small/Nomal
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F4.8
(59k)


 
Lens Zoom Range: We've received a number of requests from readers to take shots showing the lens focal length range of those cameras with zoom lenses. Thus, we're happy to present you here with the following series of shots, showing the field of view at full wide angle, 3x telephoto and 2x digital telephoto. (Do note though, that these images were shot at the S50's lowest resolution, which makes the Digital Telephoto option look like it's performing the same as an true optical zoom lens would. At larger image sizes the Digital Telephoto image would be much softer than the others...)

Wide
(60k)
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: 4.8
3x Telephoto
(61k)
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F4
2x Digital Telephoto
(61k)
Shutter: 1/475
Aperture: F4.8


"Musicians" poster: (874k) For this test, we shot both the automatic (61k) and daylight (62k) white balance settings. Automatic turned out a bit cool-looking, so we chose the daylight setting for our main shot, (874k) as the skin tones looked the most accurate here. The image still has an overall reddish cast, but color is otherwise good, and saturation looks great, as the model's blue robe looks about right. Once again applying an "auto levels" adjustment in Photoshop, we obtained this result, (470k) which is absolutely stunning! - Accordingly, we'd highly recommend our favorite photo-tweaker, PhotoGenetics for purchasers of the S50: The basic images are good, but can become truly great with some fairly standard tweaks applied. Resolution and detail look pretty good on this shot, judging by the subtle detail of the bird's wings and the tiny silver threads on the Oriental model's robe. There's still a bit of noise in the image, some of which could be from the actual poster. Overall, however, a job well done. Below is our normal resolution and quality series.For this test, we shot both the automatic (61k) and daylight (62k) white balance settings. Automatic turned out a bit cool-looking, so we chose the daylight setting for our main shot, (874k) as the skin tones looked the most accurate here. The image still has an overall reddish cast, but color is otherwise good, and saturation looks great, as the model's blue robe looks about right. Once again applying an "auto levels" adjustment in Photoshop, we obtained this result, (470k) which is absolutely stunning! - Accordingly, we'd highly recommend our favorite photo-tweaker, PhotoGenetics for purchasers of the S50: The basic images are good, but can become truly great with some fairly standard tweaks applied. Resolution and detail look pretty good on this shot, judging by the subtle detail of the bird's wings and the tiny silver threads on the Oriental model's robe. There's still a bit of noise in the image, some of which could be from the actual poster. Overall, however, a job well done. Below is our normal resolution and quality series.

Resolution/Quality series:
Large/Uncompressed
(5627k)
Note: TIFF format - download and view in imaging program
Large/Normal
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.8
(874k)
 
Medium/Nomal
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.8
(346k)
 
Small/Nomal
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.8
(61k)


We again shot with the camera's variable sharpness settings, with the results below.

Sharpness Variations:
Very Soft
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.8
(913k)
Soft
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.8
(868k)
Normal
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.8
(856k)
Sharp
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.8
(879k)
Very Sharp
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.8
(862k)


 
Macro shot: (873k) The S50 does a great job in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 0.73 x 0.55 inches (18.57 x 13.93 mm). Great detail and color, although we picked up a some fairly noticeable barrel distortion from the wide angle lens setting. Unfortunately, the flash (817k) doesn't throttle down very well, it washes out the image up this close. (No great surprise, given how close the camera can get. Overall, a very good macro performance.

 
"Davebox" test target: (821k) The S50 did a really excellent job on this test. We shot with the daylight (59k) and automatic (58k) white balance settings, choosing automatic as the most accurate based on the white color block and small resolution target (daylight produced very warm results). The left color blocks look very accurate, with only the slightest weakness in the cyan, magenta and yellow blocks. The S50 also did a great job separating the red and magenta color blocks on the middle, horizontal color chart (many digicams have trouble here and try to blend the colors into one). Likewise, the subtle tonal variations in the Q60 chart are also distinguishable, with the tonal differences of the "B" range in the pastels visible. Detail looks excellent in the shadow area of the briquettes, showing fairly low noise relative to what we're accustomed to seeing from the bulk of cameras we test. Below is our standard resolution and quality series.

Resolution/Quality series:
Large/Uncompressed
(5627k)
Note: TIFF format - download and view in imaging program
Medium/Nomal
Shutter: 1/70
Aperture: F3.4
(356k)
 
Small/Nomal
Shutter: 1/70
Aperture: F3.4
(58k)


We again shot with the camera's variable sharpness settings, with the results below.

Sharpness Variations:
Very Soft
Shutter: 1/75
Aperture: F3.4
(843k)
Soft
Shutter: 1/75
Aperture: F3.4
(855k)
Normal
Shutter: 1/75
Aperture: F3.4
(799k)
Sharp
Shutter: 1/75
Aperture: F3.4
(869k)
Very Sharp
Shutter: 1/75
Aperture: F3.4
(909k)


 
 
Low-Light Tests 
The S50 really does remarkably well capturing images at low light levels, but you need to pick the right exposure mode to get the best results. Normal auto exposure mode loses steam pretty quickly, restricting you to light levels of 8 foot-candles (88 lux) or above for reasonable results. This is pretty bright, probably about the level of a dimly- to moderately lit residential interior. Somewhat contrary to intuition, "Twilight" mode actually reduces low-light performance, as it's main intent is to keep bright lights against darker backgrounds from being washed out. (Probably good for shooting neon signs on a twilit street.) The winner was "Twilight Plus" mode, which oddly decreases the CCD's light sensitivity (!) and increases exposure times, but in the process also dramatically reduces image noise in dark shooting conditions. Shutter-priority mode lets you get to rather long shutter times, while keeping the light sensitivity (ISO) rating upwards of 240, but in the process introduces much more image noise than Twilight Plus mode. The lower limit for reasonable picture quality appears to be about 1/4 foot-candles, or about 2.7 lux: You can go a bit lower than this, but noise really becomes excessive. At 1/4 foot-candle, the resulting image (795k) in Twilight Plus mode is rather dark, but cleans up amazingly well with a little tweaking in Photoshop's "Levels" control, as seen here (?k). At the same brightness level, the shutter-priority image was captured with a shorter exposure time (1 second vs 2) and is brighter to boot, but shows much more image noise. The table below contains links to test shots taken in four different camera modes, at light levels ranging from 8 foot-candles down to 1/8 foot-candle.

Auto Mode
8fc
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(898k)
4fc
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(877k)
2fc
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(825k)
       
Twilight Mode
8fc
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(868k)
4fc
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(833k)
2fc
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F2.4
(843k)
       
Twilight Plus Mode
8fc
Shutter: 1/8
Aperture: F2.4
(835k)
4fc
Shutter: 1/2
Aperture: F2.4
(860k)
2fc
Shutter: 2
Aperture: F2.4
(829k)
2fc
Shutter: 2
Aperture: F2.4
(891k)
1/2 fc
Shutter: 2
Aperture: F2.4
(853k)
1/4 fc
Shutter: 2
Aperture: F2.4
(795k)
1/8 fc
Shutter: 2
Aperture: F2.4
(878k)
Shutter Priority  
4fc
Shutter: 1/8
Aperture: F2.4
(876k)
2fc
Shutter: 1/4
Aperture: F2.4
(894k)
1fc
Shutter: 1/2
Aperture: F2.4
(929k)
1/2 fc
Shutter: 1
Aperture: F2.4
(914k)
1/4 fc
Shutter: 1
Aperture: F2.4
(914k)
1/8 fc
Shutter: 2
Aperture: F2.4
(924k)


 
Flash Range Test
(This test was added in August 1999, so cameras tested before that time won't have comparison pictures available. As we go forward though, all the new model will have similar tests available). Sony rates the S50's flash out to a maximum of 8.25 feet (2.5 m) under its normal intensity setting. We shot this test using both the High and Normal flash intensity settings and found that under the Normal setting, the flash was effective out to 14 feet albeit with a noticeable decrease in brightness beginning around 10 feet. Under the High setting, we found very similar results, although the flash is visibly brighter. Below are the range of distances for each intensity setting from eight to 14 feet. (Overall, we felt Sony's 8.25 foot range rating was fairly conservative.)

Flash Range/Distance, High Intensity: 
8 ft
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.4
(353k)
9 ft
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.4
(337k)
10 ft
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.4
(352k)
11 ft
Shutter: 1/55
Aperture: F2.4
(359k)
12 ft
Shutter: 1/50
Aperture: F2.4
(347k)
13 ft
Shutter: 1/50
Aperture: F2.4
(326k)
14 ft
Shutter: 1/45
Aperture: F2.4
(361k)
 


Flash Range/Distance, Normal Intensity: 
8 ft
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.4
(358k)
9 ft
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.4
(357k)
10 ft
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F2.4
(359k)
11 ft
Shutter: 1/55
Aperture: F2.4
(353k)
12 ft
Shutter: 1/55
Aperture: F2.4
(341k)
13 ft
Shutter: 1/55
Aperture: F2.4
(316k)
14 ft
Shutter: 1/45
Aperture: F2.4
(353k)
 


ISO 12233 ("WG-18") resolution target: The S50 delivered a good performance on our resolution test, showing a visual resolution of 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! The tables below contain links to images shot at the full range of image sizes the S50 produces, at both wide-angle and telephoto lens focal lengths.

Wide-Angle Resolution/Quality series:
Large/Uncompressed
(5627k)
Note: TIFF format - download and view in imaging program
Large/Normal
Shutter: 1/60
Aperture: F4
(839k)
 
Medium/Nomal
Shutter: 1/95
Aperture: F3.4
(347k)
 
Small/Nomal
Shutter: 1/95
Aperture: F3.4
(59k)


Telephoto Resolution/Quality series:
Large/Uncompressed
(5627k)
Note: TIFF format - download and view in imaging program
Large/Normal
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F5.6
(853k)
 
Medium/Nomal
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F5.6
(336k)
 
Small/Nomal
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: F5.6
(59k)


The S50 is also very interesting in that it offers a "Text" capture mode, designed to capture high resolution purely black/white images very compactly. You pay for the small file size with considerably extended processing times, but the result could be worth it if you had large amounts of text to capture and not much memory space. Here's an example of our resolution target captured in Text mode, resulting in only a 54K GIF file, for a 1600x1200 pixel image.

 
Viewfinder accuracy/flash uniformity target: We found the S50's LCD monitor to be just a little tight (note that this is a change in our terminology, we previously would have called this "loose"), showing about 90 percent of the final image area at wide angle (336k) and about 93 percent at the telephoto (339k) setting. To give you an idea of what we're looking for here, we really like to see the LCD monitor as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible. Geometric distortion on the S50 was more than we like to see, but a level that's unfortunately 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. Flash uniformity looks very good, with just a small amount of light falloff in the corners at the wide angle setting.
 

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<<Reference: Datasheet | Print-Friendly Review Version>>

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