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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!

Review First Posted: 5/5/2000





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MSRP $999 US

 

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3.3 megapixel CCD, up to 2048x1536 images
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Very sharp3x optical zoom lens , 2x digital zoom
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Records movies with sound
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JPEG, GIF, TIFF, and MPEG file formats
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High-speed USB computer connection


Manufacturer Overview
More than any other single company, Sony has dominated the digital camera market the last few years, thanks in large part to the easy computer interfacing offered by their Mavica(tm) line of floppy-disk based cameras. They've also been active at the high end of the market, with products like the DSC-D770 and DSC-F505, which caught the eye of many pros and advanced amateurs for their excellent optics and exposure control.

> This spring (February, 2000), Sony stunned the digicam world by announcing no fewer thansixnew models. At the lower end, they extended their Mavica line, cleverly using special versions of the "FlashPath" floppy disk memory card adapter in conjunction with their Memory Stick technology to deliver "floppy disk" cameras with potential storage capacities as high as 64 megabytes. In their CyberShot still camera line, they brought out several new models, providing a range of resolutions and feature sets. This review covers their new high-end CyberShot model, the DSC-S70, which sports a 3.3 megapixel sensor, very sharp Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens, and features like advanced exposure modes (aperture and shutter priority) and MPEG movie recording with full sound and video.


Highlights

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.)

Design
Compact and light, Sony's DSC-S70 is a stylish little camera offering many of the same features as the S50, but with a few differences (the most obvious being the larger CCD, upgraded lens and static LCD display). The all plastic body keeps the S70 at a very manageable weight of 15 ounces (423 g), excluding the battery pack. Measuring approximately 4.6 x 2.87 x 2.6 inches (117 x 71 x 64mm), the S70 should easily fit into most coat pockets and purses. An accompanying neck strap should make transportation even more convenient.

The relatively sleek front of the S70 features a slightly protruding lens barrel, holding a retracting lens protected by a removable lens cap. Luckily, the lens cap attaches to a small strap to help you keep up with it. The rest of the camera front is very cleanly designed, with a large, rubber finger grip on the side, the built-in flash, optical viewfinder window, self-timer LED and flash sensor.

The entire left side of the camera (when looking at it from the front) holds the battery compartment/Memory Stick slot. The same design appeared on the S50 and we heartily approve of this sensible usage of space. The compartment's location makes work in the studio a breeze, as you can easily access the battery and Memory Stick while mounted to a tripod (many digicams put these compartments on the bottom of the camera).

The opposite side of the camera features mainly the external flash socket, Video In and USB jacks, lined up beneath a small rubber flap that fits snugly into place. The camera's speaker and a dioptric adjustment dial for the optical viewfinder are also on this side of the camera.

The shutter release button, mode dial and microphone are all located on the top panel of the camera. There's also a small LCD information display that reports battery status, the number of recorded images, file size, etc. This was left out on the S50 and we're glad to see it on the S70 as these small displays help out when you're conserving battery power by shooting without the LCD monitor.

The remaining camera controls all live on the camera's back panel with the LCD monitor. Flash, focus, zoom, volume and exposure mode can all be controlled from here. There's also the power switch and DC in slot for connecting the AC adapter. An interesting design feature here is that two buttons control the LCD panel. One turns the monitor on and off, and the other turns the information display on and off. (We're used to seeing one button control both functions). We like the continuance of the small rocker toggle button, which accesses the menu and navigates through its options. Also, under the zoom control is a plastic thumb grip, which helps give you an even more secure hold on the camera. Although the controls are slightly spread out, one handed operation of the camera is possible (if you leave it in autofocus).

As with the S50, the S70's bottom is very flat and featureless with the exception of the metal tripod mount, set pretty close to the lens and just a little off center.

Viewfinder
The S70's real image optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens (except in digital telephoto) and features a central autofocus crosshair to assist in composition and with AE/AF lock. A dioptric adjustment dial on the side of the viewfinder adjusts the view to accomodate eyeglass wearers. Two small LEDs on the right side of the viewfinder let you know when the focus is set and the flash is ready.

Additionally, the S70 features a 560 x 220 TFT color LCD monitor for composing images. An information display, controlled by the Display button, reports various camera settings, battery power and the number of images taken. An ever present menu lives at the bottom of the LCD monitor and is quickly called up by pressing the up arrow on the rocker toggle button (the down arrow dismisses it). In Playback mode, the LCD offers a six image index display for viewing several images at once. You can also zoom into captured images up to 5x with the zoom control and scroll around the enlarged image with the arrow keys (you can actually record a small 640 x 480 "cropped" image in this manner). As in Record mode, an information overlay controlled by the Display button reports information about the battery power, filename, etc.

We found the S70's optical viewfinder to be a little "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 approximately 84 percent of the final image area at wide angleand about 83 percent at telephoto.The LCD monitor proved only slightly more accurate, showing about 90 percent frame coverage at wide angleand about 92 percent accuracy at the telephoto setting. (We generally like to see the LCD monitor as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible). We also shot at the 2x digital telephoto setting, which provided about 88 percent frame accuracy and a somewhat softer image (a typical symptom of using digital zoom).

 

 

Optics
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). This is the second time we've seen Carl Zeiss optics on a Sony digicam (the first was the DSC-F505), and the result here is the same: The lens is noticeably sharper than that on many digicams, producing exceptionally crisp results from corner to corner. (This is a direction we expect to see pursued by more manufacturers in the future: Lens quality may well become a key differentiator between digicams with otherwise similar functional specs. Certainly, the use of Zeiss optics on the S70 will help Sony's cause in marketing the unit.) The lens is protected by a removable lens cap which comes with a small strap to keep it from getting lost. The aperture is manually adjustable in Aperture Priority mode from f/2.0 to f/8.0 in nine steps. Focus can be controlled either automatically or manually with a range from 9.87 inches (25cm) to infinity. Pressing the Focus button cycles through a variety of manual and auto focus options: Auto Macro, 1.75 feet (0.5m), 3.25 feet (1.0m), 9.75 feet (3.0m), 23 feet (7.0m), infinity and then back to regular autofocus. This distance gauge is particularly helpful in very dark situations where it can be hard to focus. The Auto Macro setting allows you to capture subjects from 1.62 inches (4cm) to 8 inches (20cm) away, with the lens set at the furthest wide angle setting. The S70 does a nice job at macro shooting, capturing a minimum area of just 0.94 x 0.70 inches (23.77 x 17.83 mm). Additionally, the Panfocus exposure mode sets up the camera so that the focus changes quickly between far away and close-up subjects and Landscape exposure mode sets the focus at infinity, for recording distant subjects.

The lens features filter threads to accommodate a variety of Sony conversion kits. Our test model of the S70 came packaged with a very large wide angle conversion lens (almost as big as a bread plate!). When working with a conversion kit, you must activate it through the record menu so that the camera can actually focus the lens.

The 2x digital zoom function is controlled through the Record menu and effectively takes the S70's zoom capabilities up to 6x. As always, digital telephoto noticeably deteriorates image quality, causing it to be noisier and sometimes softer, so keep that in mind when digitally zooming.

In our resolution tests, we found the S70's Carl Zeiss lens to be every bit as sharp as the Zeiss name would imply: The S70 actually showed the highest resolution of any digicam we've tested to date! It's beginning to seem like every camera that comes along these days is suddenly "the best" for about a week or two. In this case, the previous resolution champ was the Canon Powershot S20. It's interesting to compare the results of the Canon and Sony cameras though: One significant difference is that the Sony DSC-S70 is clearly applying more in-camera sharpening than does the Canon S20. This adds "crispness" to an image, without necessarily increasing the resolution. In the case of the S70 though, there does appear to be at least a bit of extra resolution as well. We "called" the S70's resolution as 900-950 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and 850-900 in the vertical, with detail visible vertically well beyond 900 lines, and horizontally to well beyond 1000. As with the Canon S20, the Sony DSC-S70 seems to show resolution beyond what should be theoretically possible, according to the Nyquist theorem and the CCD's pixel count. We attributed this to the camera's excellent suppression of artifacts, both in chrominance (color) and luminance (brightness) domains. There is in fact some aliasing visible beginning around 750 lines vertically (where theory says the limit should be), but it's so well controlled as to be almost invisible. Overall, a really remarkable performance, another triumph for Zeiss optics.

While the S70's lens shows excellent resolution and sharpness, it still has a fair bit of barrel distortion at the wide angle end, which we measured at 0.8 percent. The telephoto end showed much less, with only 0.15 percent pincushion distortion, an amount that's barely noticeable in most shots. Chromatic aberration is present but very low, we caught about 2-3 pixels of coloration on each side of the corner elements in our resolution target, shot at wide angle. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target). At the telephoto end of the lens' range, the chromatic aberration is much less apparent. In other respects, the S70's Zeiss lens performed superbly: The chromatic aberration is the main fault that would prevent us from giving it an altogether stellar rating...

Accessory Lenses
The S70 has body threads to accept an accessory lens adapter ring, the VAD-S70. We don't know the details of how this unit will be sold: In our case, it came along with the (gigantic!) accessory wide-angle lens, the VCL-MHG07, shown at right. The VAD-S70 gives you a set of 52mm filter threads out ahead of where the lens telescopes to when it's deployed, letting you attach filters, close-up lenses, or the MHG-07 wide angle. The wide-angle accessory lens was a realy eye-opener (sorry, we couldn't resist), applying an 0.7x multiplier to the S70's normal focal length range. At the wide angle end of the zoom, this resulted in one of the widest-angle lens combinations we've yet tested in a digicam, a focal length equivalent to roughly 24 mm on a 35mm camera. The MHG-07 also seems to be a fairly high-quality unit, although (as you'd expect), not quite matching the quality of the camera's Zeiss lens itself.

 

 

Exposure
The S70 offers capable, straightforward exposure control, although most of the exposure settings rely on the LCD based menu system, a design that tends to increase power consumption. The camera defaults to Automatic exposure mode when it's powered on, but the also offers several other options (similar to the S50) through the Program AE button. Aperture Priority mode allows you to set the lens aperture anywhere from f/2.0 to f/8.0 while the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed. Alternatively, Shutter Priority mode lets you set the shutter speed from eight to 1/1000 seconds for still images and from 1/8 to 1/1000 seconds for movies while the camera controls the aperture. In both of these modes, if the camera disagrees with the chosen settings, the shutter and aperture values will flash in the LCD panel when the shutter button is pressed halfway. This gives you an opportunity to adjust the exposure without wasting a shot. Twilight mode allows you to capture a bright subject in dark surroundings (neon lights would be a good example), without washing out the color. Twilight Plus does the same but also allows the exposure system to select longer exposure times. As noted earlier, Landscape sets focus at infinity while Panfocus allows for swift focus changes from infinity to shorter distances. Finally, the Spot Metering mode tells the camera to take the exposure reading from the very center of the subject and a provides a target crosshair on the LCD to show where the exposure reading is being taken from.

Exposure compensation can be manually adjusted in any mode from -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 EV increments. (For those of us old-timers out there, an "EV unit" corresponds to a doubling or halving of exposure, equivalent to an f-stop in more familiar parlance.) White balance can also be controlled in all modes with settings for Auto, Indoors, Outdoors and Hold (the manual setting). As do a number of other Sony cameras, the S70 sports an Effects menu, providing a little in-camera creativity. Settings like Solarize, Black & White, Sepia and Negative Art can add a little interest to your images, although we personally turn to our computer for such things, rather than the camera itself.

The S70 also offers a menu selection for adjusting the in-camera image sharpening through a range of values ranging from -2 to +2 arbitrary units. The default value of zero is fine for most uses, but you might want to boost the sharpness a bit if your shots will be printed on a lower-quality inkjet printer. Alternatively, the lowest sharpness setting may be useful for images you plan to manipulate in Photoshop(tm) or other image editor, applying sharpening there, at the end of the process. Finally, a 10 second self-timer can be activated through the Record menu and a small LED on the front of the camera counts down the seconds once the shutter button has been fully pressed.

We did encounter one odd glitch with the self-timer function of our demo unit: There's an alert light that blinks to let you know the self-timer is counting down, and then illuminates continuously just as the picture is about to be taken. The problem was that the LED stayed on while the shutter was open! Since we frequently use the self-timer to shoot our low-light tests (to avoid camera shake), most of those images show a red glare from the alert LED! We let Sony know about this, but as we "went to press", we hadn't heard back as to whether this had been fixed in the production models. (It should be a fairly simple firmware change though, we'd imagine.)

(Reader Jeff Hong wrote to point out that this little "ready" light illuminates on *every* shot, whether the self-timer is used or not. The reflections we saw in our low-light shots will thus be a problem with any reflective object. Jeff said he just put a piece of black tape over the light on his camera to avoid the problem. - Thanks, Jeff!)

Flash
The built-in flash on the S70 has four settings: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced and Suppressed. Auto puts the camera in charge of whether or not the flash fires by reading the existing light levels. Red-Eye Reduction fires a small pre-flash to reduce the occurrence of the Red-Eye Effect in portraits. Forced means that the flash always fires, regardless of light level, and Suppressed simply means that the flash never fires. All modes are controlled by pressing the Flash button sequentially. Flash power in the normal setting extends from 11.62 inches to 8.25 feet (0.3 to 2.5 m). This rating agrees well with our own tests, which showed the flash quite effective all the way out to 14 feet (the furthest we can go in our studio), but with noticeable falloff beginning at about 9 feet. You can adjust the flash intensity through the Record menu to High, Normal or Low, which makes the flash more accommodating to varying light levels or different subjects. We liked the fact that we could adjust exposure for the flash and ambient lighting separately with the S70, a feature that makes it easier to achieve balanced-looking exposures. (For our main "indoor portrait" test shot, we ended up using the flash on its "low" setting, and boosting the ambient exposure by +1.0 EV). The flash itself appears to be color-balanced for daylight, which can result in slightly bluish highlights when used in conjunction with strong incandescent ambient lighting. (The cure for this is to tape a piece of orange-colored gel over the flash tube, and then use the incandescent white balance setting. - An old pro's trick.)


Optional external flash unit
An external flash sync socket is located on the side of the camera, next to the digital and video jacks. Our test unit came with the optional Sony HVL-F1000 external flash, mounted on a bracket that attaches to the camera via the tripod mount. With a pivoting head and a retractable diffuser, the external flash adds even more flexibility to the S70. Something interesting we noticed is that the power switch on the external flash is ineffective unless the flash is actually connected to the camera (which must be powered on). This could save you the pain of dead batteries in the flash, caused by leaving it turned on when not in use. (We've done that more than once, ourselves!) On a side note, the external flash and the built-in flash cannot be used together, so the benefit of the external connection is simply to gain a more powerful flash that can also be bounced off the ceiling or walls. With the diffuser screen in place over the flash head, the HVL-F1000 does a pretty good job of covering the full view of the camera with the optional ultra-wide angle lens attached. (We did find best results in ultra-wide angle mode by bouncing the flash off the ceiling though.)

Movie and Sound Recording

The S70 has both Still and Movie recording modes. In Still mode, you can record small sound bytes to accompany images through the Record menu (by selecting the Voice record mode). You can record up to 40 seconds of sound for each image by holding down the shutter button. Pressing and releasing the shutter button quickly lets you record for just five seconds.

Under the Movie mode, you can record up to 60 seconds of moving images with sound (only 15 seconds at the 320HQ image size setting). A timer appears in the LCD monitor to let you know how long you have been recording. We noticed that while recording movies, you can adjust the focus without interrupting recording. All of the other exposure settings are available here as well with the exception of the flash. As with the voice recording capability, pressing the shutter button momentarily records for five seconds, but this time can be set to 10 or 15 seconds through the settings menu.

Special Record Modes

Like the S50, the S70 gives you a couple of recording format options for still images. Through the Record menu, you can select TIFF for uncompressed mode, Voice (mentioned above), E-mail and Text modes. E-mail record mode simply records a smaller (320 x 240) image size that's more e-mail friendly in addition to the same image at the size selected through the Record menu.

Text record mode actually records a black and white GIF file and is perfect for taking pictures of white boards, flip charts or meeting notes. As noted below, quite a bit of processing is required to turn a maximum-resolution full-color file to a 1-bit compressed GIF, taking the camera almost 40 seconds per image. (Dropping to only 7 seconds for 640x480 images.) The results are quite impressive though: Consider that a 2048x1536 image can cover an area of roughly 7.5 x 10 inches at a resolution of 200 pixels per inch. That's good enough for the resulting image to be used for OCR (optical character recognition) purposes! (Over the last couple of years, we've received a lot of email from readers wanting to use their digicams as scanners, for just this purpose. With the DSC-S70, there's finally a digicam ideally suited for it!)

 

 

Shutter Lag / Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it.

The DSC-S70 was a bit slower than average for shots taken with full autofocus enabled, with a shutter lag of 1.53 seconds. This dropped to 1.15 seconds for shots taken in manual focus mode, and to only 0.22 seconds for shots in which the lens was prefocused by half-pressing the shutter button prior to the exposure itself. The auto- and manual-focus times are on the high side of average, but the prefocused delay is quite a bit faster than most digicams we've tested.

Shot to shot, the S70 shows a fairly fast cycle time for a 3 megapixel camera, able to take successive pictures as quickly as once every 3.7 seconds in maximum-resolution mode, and every 3.6 seconds at minimum resolution. As noted in the main text of the review, the cycle time for images shot in Text mode is quite long, due to the processing required to convert the full-color camera image into the 1-bit GIF format. We measured the cycle time for Text mode at 39 seconds for a full-resolution image, and about 7 seconds at minimum resolution.The Text-mode files are so compact though, that the wait could easily be worth it if you need to capture large amounts of textual information.

With its telescoping lens design, the S70 is a bit slower from startup to first picture, with a delay of 6.7 seconds (still far from the slowest we've seen). Likewise, shutdown takes 5.1 seconds before you can affix the lens cover and stow the camera in a pocket. Switching from Record to Play mode is very fast, at 0.8 seconds, while the time from Play to Record is rather variable. If you switch back to Record fairly quickly after entering Play mode, you can get back there in 2.6 seconds. Most of the time though, the lens will retract after you enter Play mode (Note to Sony - why?), which means it will then take 6.7 seconds to get back to picture taking when you return to Record mode.

 

 

User Interface
We found the user interface on the S70 very straightforward and navigable, with most exposure settings adjusted through the LCD menu system. Although you can't operate the camera 100 percent one handed, you can get by most of the time as the zoom control and shutter button are both on the right side of the camera. Even the Program AE button could conceivably be accessible to people with large hands. The LCD menu system, nearly identical to that of the S50 and some of Sony's other digicams, is very simple to get acquainted with and operate. Overall, the controls are very well laid out and the small status display panel on top of the camera provides a nice summary of the camera's settings when you're not using the LCD monitor.


Control Enumeration


Shutter Release Button
: Located on the top right of the camera, this button triggers the autofocus and exposure with a half press and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Mode Switch
: Also located on the top right of the camera, this rotating switch selects between the Play, Still and Movie camera modes.


Zoom Control
: Located on the top right of the camera's rear panel, this rocker button controls the optical zoom from wide angle to telephoto (and the digital telephoto when enabled). In Playback mode, this button controls the image enlargement up to 5x.


Rocker Toggle Button
: Located to the right of the LCD monitor, this button features four arrows, each pointing in a different direction (up, down, left, right). In both Record and Playback modes, this control calls up the settings menu (by pressing the up arrow) and navigates through various menu options. In Playback mode, the arrows scroll through captured images and around an enlarged image. In Record mode with the menu bar dismissed, pressing the left arrow displays the last picture you shot, without forcing you to switch to Play mode. You can then decide whether to delete the picture, or just return to normal Record mode.


Power Switch
: Located beneath the rocker toggle button, this switch turns the camera on and off. A small green button in the middle of the switch provides a positive-acting interlock, to prevent the camera from accidentally being turned on in your pocket if the power switch is jostled: The power switch will only actuate if the green button is fully depressed first.


Display Button
: Located to the left of the zoom control, this button turns the LCD information display on and off in both Record and Playback modes.


Volume Control
: Located to the left of the Display button, this rocker button controls the camera's speaker volume in Playback mode. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the plus and minus buttons adjust the aperture or shutter speed settings respectively.


Program AE
: Located next to the Volume control, this button cycles through the following exposure modes: Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Twilight, Twilight Plus, Landscape, Panfocus and Spot Metering.


LCD On/Off Button
: Located next to the Program AE button, this button turns the LCD display screen on and off.


Flash Button
: Located to the left of the LCD button, this button cycles through the four flash modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced and Suppressed.


Focus Button
: Located just beneath the optical viewfinder, this button cycles between auto focus, macro and a range of manual focus distance settings.


Dioptric Adjustment Dial
: Located on the left side of the optical viewfinder, this dial adjusts the viewfinder for eyeglass wearers.

Camera Modes and Menus

Playback: This mode is accessed via the mode dial on top of the camera. Playback mode lets the user review images and movies, as well as delete and protect files. Following is the Playback menu which is accessible by pressing the up arrow on the rocker toggle button:



Still Capture Mode: Accessed by turning the mode dial to the Still position, this mode lets the user capture still images with the following exposure mode options, all accessed through the Program AE button:


Movie Capture Mode
: Accessed by turning the mode dial to the Movie position, this mode allows the user to record up to 60 second movies with sound. All the same exposure options are available as with Still capture mode, except for flash modes.

Record Settings Menu: This menu is accessible in all record modes and is accessed by pressing the up arrow of the rocker toggle button if not already at the bottom of the screen. Following are the five submenus:

Image Storage and Interface
The S70 utilizes the Sony Memory Stick for image storage. An 8MB card comes with the camera and additional Memory Sticks are available in 16MB, 32MB and 64MB sizes. Individual images can be write protected from accidental erasure (except through card re-formatting) via the Protect option under the Playback settings menu. The entire Memory Stick can be write protected by sliding the lock switch on the card into the locked position. This prevents the entire stick from being formatted.

The S70's LCD monitor reports the current number of images captured and shows a small graphic to let you know approximately how much space is left on the Memory Stick. This is a great feature for keeping track of your exposures, although we personally prefer to know more precisely (in numbers) how many images are left at the current resolution. Through the Playback settings menu, you can designate whether the camera sequentially numbers each image (regardless of changing the Memory Stick) or restarts file numbering with each new Memory Stick.

Below are the average still image capacities and compression ratios for an 8MB card:

Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity
Highest Resolution
2048 x 1536
High Resolution
1600 x 1200
Standard Resolution
1280 x 960
Low Resolution
640 x 480
Images
Approx.Compression
Images
Approx.Compression
Images
Approx.Compression
Images
Approx.Compression
Uncompressed TIFF
1
1:1
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Normal Quality
5
5:1
8
5:1
12
6:1
118
13:1

Video Out
US and Japanese models of the S70 come with an NTSC video cable for connection to a television set (because there is a PAL setting on the camera, we assume that European models come with a PAL cable). Once connected to the TV, you can review images and movies or record them to video tape.

Power

The S70 is powered by an NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery pack (M series) and comes with an AC adapter and battery charger. The InfoLITHIUM battery packs actually exchange information with the camera, reporting approximately how many minutes of battery life are left, an exceptionally handy feature(!) This information is displayed on the LCD monitor and the smaller information display window with a small battery graphic. Because so many of the S70's features, menus, and settings require using the large LCD monitor, we highly recommend keeping a second battery pack freshly charged for times when the AC adapter isn't convenient. Because of the way the battery pack and camera exchange information, we couldn't perform our usual power measurements, so insteand will just report here the indicated battery life in the camera's two main modes (capture and playback) with a freshly-charged battery.

Operating Mode
Battery Life
Capture Mode, w/LCD
128 minutes
Image Playback
162 minutes

The AC adapter for the DSC-S70 just plugs into a small socket on the camera's back: It can run the camera without a battery inserted, or charge the battery when the camera isn't in use. The photo at right shows the power socket, located at bottom right of the camera's back panel.

 

Included Software
The S70 comes with a USB cable for quick connection to a PC or Mac. Also included is a software CD loaded with MGI PhotoSuite SE (with English, Italian, Japanese, French, Spanish and German versions). The application is compatible with Windows 3.1x, 95, 98 and NT as well as Mac OS 7.5 and higher. MGI PhotoSuite SE retrieves images from the camera in a very organized manner, allowing you to view them through a slide show or an album and then set them up for printing. In addition to the traditional editing and manipulation tools, PhotoSuite offers a variety of templates to help you turn your images into mock magazine covers, sports cards, greeting cards and calendars. Combined with the camera's own internal picture effects menu, MGI PhotoSuite SE allows quite a bit of creativity with your images.


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-S70'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-S70 produced really excellent pictures: Color was quite good, with appropriate saturation of strong primaries, but good handling of pastels as well. Overall color accuracy was very high, with only a slightly reduced color saturation in the subtractive primaries (cyan, yellow, and magenta). Tonal range was excellent as well, particularly in the area of shadow detail.

This is the second Sony camera we've tested that uses a Carl Zeiss lens, the first being the unusually-shaped DSC-F505 (now updated to the F505V, with 2.6 megapixels, up from the initial 1.92.) At the time, we were very impressed with the quality of the Zeiss optics, and the exceptionally sharp images produced. We're happy to report that the lens in the DSC-S70 shows similar performance: In shot after shot, we were consistently impressed with how sharp the Zeiss lens was, contributing to our rating of the S70 as the highest-resolution digicam we've yet tested (late April, 2000). We did find some geometric distortion though (very common among zoom-equipped digicams we've tested): We measured barrel distortion of 0.8% in wide-angle mode, and pincushion distortion of 0.15% (almost imperceptible) in telephoto mode. These distortion figures are actually a bit better than average, particularly at the telephoto end of the lens' range. Chromatic aberration is present but very low, we caught about 2-3 pixels of coloration on each side of the corner elements in our resolution target, shot at wide angle. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target). At the telephoto end of the lens' range, the chromatic aberration is much less apparent. In other respects, the S70's Zeiss lens performed superbly: The chromatic aberration is the main fault that would prevent us from giving it an altogether stellar rating.

The DSC-S70 follows the current standard in its provision of both optical and LCD viewfinders.We found the S70's optical viewfinder to be a little "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 approximately 84 percent of the final image area at wide angleand about 83 percent at telephoto.The LCD monitor proved only slightly more accurate, showing about 90 percent frame coverage at wide angleand about 92 percent accuracy at the telephoto setting. (We generally like to see the LCD monitor as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible). We also shot at the 2x digital telephoto setting, which provided about 88 percent frame accuracy and a somewhat softer image (a typical symptom of using digital zoom).

The S70 does a nice job in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 0.94 x 0.70 inches (23.77 x 17.83 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, if you purchase the optional accessory lens adapter ring, the VAD-S70.

Probably the only area where we felt the S70 came up a bit short was that of white balance for indoor photography. 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 S70 performed pretty well under low-light conditions, producing very usable images down to light levels of 1/2 foot-candles (~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 S70 should do fine for outdoor night scenes in the city.

Overall, we were very impressed with the DSC-S70: It takes exceptionally sharp pictures with excellent color, gives good exposure control, and has the added benefit of capturing full-motion movies with sound. Really an excellent little camera!

 

Conclusion
The S70's lightweight portability and full set of features make for a very user friendly camera we think most consumers will enjoy. Aperture- and shutter-priority exposure modes provide good exposure control, and give you as much decision making power as most users will want or need. At the same time, the full-auto mode gives true "point & shoot" operation for the novice, or for those times you'd prefer to let the camera do the thinking. We'd like to have seen a standard flash sync connector, but the optional Sony auxiliary flash does provide a solid external-flash option. The camera's Carl Zeiss lens is of unusually high quality, rendering exceptionally sharp, highly-detailed images, with the highest resolution we've yet found in a digicam. The optional (huge!) wide-angle lens produces very wide coverage, which could make the combination a great choice for people needing to photograph building interiors or other very wide-angle subjects. Overall, an excellent 3 megapixel digicam - Highly recommended!

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