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Sony DSC-S70

Sony makes a compact 3.3 megapixel digicam with full movie/sound capability and a razor-sharp Zeiss lens!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 5/5/2000

Executive Overview
Like its "little brother" the S50, the Sony DSC-S70 offers a compact, portable size and a wide variety of features. It's small enough to fit into a large coat pocket or purse but still hefty enough to provide a good secure hand grip on the right side. A design element we appreciated was the combination of the battery compartment and Memory Stick slot on the hand grip side of the camera. This makes life in the studio a little easier, as the battery and Memory Stick are always accessible, even when mounted to a tripod. (We always pay attention to the placement of these two compartments, given the amount of studio work we do, although they may be of less concern to the "average" user.)

Featuring a real-image optical viewfinder as well as a color LCD monitor, the S70 gives you two options for image composition. The optical viewfinder is very accommodating to eyeglass wearers, thanks to its dioptric adjustment dial and fairly high eye point. The small status display panel on top of the camera and the optical viewfinder help you conserve battery power by not relying on the LCD monitor, but you'll still need to activate the LCD screen to change any picture-taking parameters other than flash mode. When the LCD monitor is active, an information display reports the remaining battery power, Memory Stick capacity and certain exposure information. You can enable or dismiss this information by pressing the Display button. As noted, the camera's menu system is completely reliant on the LCD, so you will have to use it to make various changes such as EV adjustment, file size, etc.

The S70 is equipped with a 3x, 7 to 21mm Carl Zeiss, Vario-Sonnar lens (equivalent to a 34 to 102mm lens on a 35mm camera). Zeiss optics are noted for their sharpness, and the lens is a significant feature of the camera: Our assessment is that it performs better than the lenses on most digicams we've tested. Apertures can be manually or automatically adjusted from f/2.0 to f/8.0. Focus can also be automatically or manually controlled, with a number of preset distances for you to choose from. A 2x digital telephoto function can be turned on and off through the Record menu and increases the S70's zoom capabilities to 6x (although with the usual decrease in resolution/quality that digital telephoto brings). The S70 performs well in macro mode as well, with distances ranging from 1.62 inches (4cm) to 8 inches (20cm). There are also two exposure modes that set the autofocus system for faster shooting. Landscape mode fixes focus at infinity for far away subjects and Panfocus can rapidly switch focus from infinity to closer subjects, good for moving objects. (The aforementioned manual focus option also improves shooting speed.)

Although the S70 doesn't feature a full manual exposure mode, you do get a reasonable degree of control over exposure parameters. You have a choice of Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Twilight, Twilight Plus, the two fixed focus modes and a Spot Metering mode. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes are pretty self-explanatory, with Shutter Priority offering speeds from eight to 1/1000 seconds for still images and from 1/8 to 1/1000 seconds for movie images. The Twilight modes give you better results with night scenes and dark settings and the Spot Metering mode switches the exposure metering system to take readings from the very center of the image (a target crosshair appears in the center of the LCD monitor). White balance can be set to Auto, Indoor, Outdoor or Hold (the manual setting) and exposure compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV increments. The built-in flash offers Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced and Suppressed modes with a variable intensity setting. A bonus here is the external flash socket, which allows you to connect a more powerful flash to the camera. The Picture Effects menu captures images in Solarized, Sepia, Black & White and Negative Art tones and a sharpness setting lets you control the softness of the image. Overall a nice mix of exposure control with some whimsical image manipulation tools thrown in.

The Movie capture mode allows you to create up to 60 second movies with sound, with all of the above exposure controls available to you (except for the flash mode). In the Voice recording mode, you can record up to 40 second sound bytes to accompany captured images, which is great for "labeling" or annotating shots you've taken. The Text record mode captures images as black and white GIF files, perfect for snapping pictures of white boards, meeting notes, etc. There's also an E-mail record mode that captures a smaller, 320 x 240 image size that's easier for e-mail transmission (this actually records two images: one in the 320 x 240 format and another at whatever image size is selected through the Record menu).

Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF, JPEGs, MPEG1s or GIFs depending on the record mode and are stored on an 8MB Memory Stick (higher capacity cards are available, of course). An NTSC video cable is included with the camera (European models come equipped for PAL, but the camera itself can switch between the two standards via a menu option), as is a USB cable for high speed connection to a PC or Mac. MGI's PhotoSuite SE software also accompanies the camera, providing organized image downloading, image-correction capabilities and a variety of creative templates for making greeting cards, calendars, etc.

The S70 utilizes an NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery pack (M series) and comes with an AC adapter and battery charger. We like the InfoLITHIUM batteries because they communicate with the camera about the actual amount of battery consumption and report remaining battery capacity to you via a small readout on the LCD. Because the S70 is so dependent on its LCD display, we recommend keeping a second battery pack charged and ready to go, especially when the AC adapter isn't convenient. (Overall power consumption does seem pretty good for a 3 megapixel camera though.)

Like the S50, the S70 is an enjoyable camera to use, and one that provides a nice amount of exposure control for the average consumer. The special exposure modes can handle most shooting situations, especially when combined with the external flash and manual focus options. Plus, the movie and sound capabilities give you the ability to catch even more of life's special moments. (We bet S70 owners will burn up a lot of megabytes of hard drive storage and email bandwidth with live-action shots of baby's first steps, funny pet behavior, etc.)

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