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Quick Review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U50 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
09/26/03
User Level
Novice
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Good, 2.0-megapixel Super HAD CCD
Print Sizes
4x6 to 5x7
Availability
October, 2003
Suggested Retail Price
$249.95

 

NOTE: This is a "First Look" Review
This is a "First Look" review, based on a prototype model of the Sony U50. As such, there aren't any sample photos yet, nor my usual detailed analysis of image quality. The review does cover of the camera's functionality in full detail, and the Picky Details page contains a full set of timing data. If you're looking for an ultra-compact camera with a sleek design and decent range of capabilities, check it out. - And stay tuned for an update as soon as I can lay hands on a production model to test.

 

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot "U" series of cameras offer ultimate ease of use and surprisingly good image quality in amazingly tiny packages. The Cyber-shot U50 is the latest model, following close on the heels of the Sony U60 waterproof model introduced a few months before it. The new Sony U50 offers 2.0 megapixel resolution and swiveling lens (with flash) in a package not much larger than a Pez(tm) dispenser. If you're looking for a fun camera that'll leave you with no excuse for leaving it home, the Sony Cyber-shot U50 deserves a close look. Read on for all the details!

Camera Overview
Sony's "U" series of Cyber-shot digicams are easily among the smallest models currently on the market. With what's becoming a full line of tiny models with fun designs, Sony has positioned the U series as an affordable, easy-to-use, take-anywhere, point-and-shoot digicam option. New to the line is the DSC-U50, the first swivel-lens design in the series. Ultra-compact and rivaling the smallest cell phones in size, the U50 has a sleek, streamlined design that's very pocket friendly. This tiny camera will even fit into the hip pocket of an average pair of jeans (depending, of course, on just how snugly the jeans fit). It comes with a long neck strap as well, and style-conscious consumers can choose between black, silver, or a metallic orange body finish. The camera's lens swivels a full 180 degrees, making it easy to accurately frame self-portraits with friends, while watching yourself in the LCD monitor. The U50 was designed with simplicity in mind, given the single focal length lens and fully automatic exposure control. The 2.0-megapixel CCD produces good resolution images, with high enough image quality for making sharp prints as large as 5x7 inches, or slightly softer ones up to 8x10.

Equipped with a 5.0mm lens (equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera), the U50's maximum aperture is a fairly standard f/2.8. The camera's autofocus system operates from 3.9 inches (0.1 meters) to infinity. A range of fixed focus settings are available through the Record menu, with settings from 0.2 meters to infinity. Because of the U50's tiny size, it features one of the smallest LCD displays I've seen to date, with a mere 1.0-inch color screen for composing images and viewing images you've already shot. A limited information display reports the current image capacity, resolution, battery life, and any scene or flash mode selections.

As you might expect, exposure control is totally automatic on the U50, supporting the camera's point-and-shoot design aesthetic. Five preset Scene modes are available, however, including Soft Snap, Illumination Snap, Twilight, Active Outdoor, and Vivid Nature modes. Soft Snap mode is best for capturing portraits, as it enhances skin tones and softens focus slightly, adding just a touch of glamour. Illumination Snap mode optimizes the camera for night portraits, combining the flash with a slower shutter speed to accurately expose the subject in front of a night scene. This mode also activates an effects filter, which enhances any background lights with cross-shaped rays. In contrast, Twilight mode disables the flash and fixes focus at infinity, for dimly-lit subjects and scenery (such as night city shots). Active Outdoor mode employs a faster shutter speed, in an attempt to "freeze" fast-paced action. Finally, Vivid Nature mode intensifies blues and greens to produce more vibrant landscape shots. Focus is set to infinity in this mode, and the flash is disabled.

In a welcome change relative to the earlier U60 model, the U50 drops the "Picture Effects" menu option, substituting in its place a White Balance menu. White balance options include an Auto setting, as well as Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Incandescent settings. Sony doesn't specify the U50's metering system or its ISO equivalent, but the camera should perform well under average shooting conditions, but may be a little limited after dark. (The inclusion of a Twilight mode without flash suggests that the camera automatically raises or lowers the ISO setting depending on available light.) Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 1/8-second, but remain under automatic control and are not reported on the LCD monitor. The built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, or Suppressed modes, and Sony rates it as effective from 1.6 to 6.0 feet (0.5 to 1.8 meters).

A Movie mode captures either 320 x 240-pixel MPEG EX or 160 x 112-pixel standard MPEG movies (without sound). Both settings capture movies at approximately eight frames per second, and the amount of recording time remaining appears on the LCD monitor. The camera's Burst mode records a maximum of 10 images at the VGA resolution, and two images at the 2.0-megapixel setting. If the Memory Stick is nearly full though, the number of images recorded in a burst may be limited by the amount of storage space remaining.. The U50 also offers a Self-Timer mode, which provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the time that the camera actually takes the picture.

The U50 stores images on Sony Memory Stick DUO PRO cards, which are about half the size of standard Memory Sticks. In addition to an 8MB starter card, an adapter comes with the camera so the smaller Memory Stick DUO format will fit into standard Memory Stick card readers. I highly recommend picking up a larger capacity Memory Stick DUO card fairly quickly, as the 8MB capacity of the supplied card will fill up very quickly. The camera utilizes two AAA-type batteries for power, and comes with a set of high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries and a charger. As the U50 does not feature a DC In jack for connecting an AC adapter, I'd also highly recommend picking up a couple of extra sets of rechargeable batteries, and keeping a freshly-charged set on-hand. The U50's USB jack enables quick image downloading to a computer, and the accompanying software CD is loaded with Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers (for Windows and Mac), which facilitates image downloading and organization.

Basic Features

  • 2.0-megapixel Super HAD CCD delivering image resolutions as high as 1,632 x 1,224 pixels.
  • 1.0-inch color LCD monitor.
  • 5.0mm lens (equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.8.
  • Automatically-controlled shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 1/8-second.
  • Built-in flash with four modes.
  • Memory Stick DUO card storage, 8MB card and adapter included.
  • Power supplied by two AAA-type batteries (batteries and charger included).
  • Pixela Image Mixer software and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode without sound and Burst photography modes.
  • Scene mode with Soft Snap, Illumination Snap, Twilight, Active Outdoors, and Vivid Nature presets.
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Five fixed focus settings.
  • Adjustable white balance with five settings.
  • PictBridge compatibility for direct image printing with compatible printers.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).

Recommendation

Small enough to tag along just about anywhere, the DSC-U50 reinforces the adage that good things really do come in small packages. While it offers only limited exposure control, that's in keeping with its point-and-shoot aesthetic. - This is clearly a camera meant for casual, take-anywhere use, not as an artistic tool for the advanced photographer. The 2.0-megapixel CCD delivers good enough quality image for making sharp prints as large as 5x7 inches, with a lower resolution setting suitable for email attachments. Hassle-free camera operation and automatic exposure control offer point-and-shoot appeal, though a handful of creative options expand the camera's capabilities enough to cover many typical shooting conditions. A strong entry in the "digicam as fashion accessory" market, the U50 is bound to find many a home among the Gen-Y and jet-set crowds.

 

Design
A sleek body design and tiny size distinguish the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U50 from the rest of the digicam crowd. Following in the footsteps of previous "U" series Cyber-shots, the U50 is small and easy to use, yet surprisingly capable. The camera's swivel lens design lets you aim the camera at a variety of angles, making it easy to capture well-framed self-portraits, and capture shots from what would otherwise be difficult angles. (No more holding the camera straight out in front of you and guessing about the alignment.) Though tiny, the U50 sports a modest array of features and a 2.0-megapixel CCD in its trim body, offering just enough exposure options to meet the needs of most common shooting situations. Measuring a mere 4.0 x 1.6 x 1.0 inches (100 x 41 x 25 millimeters), the U50 fits well into small pockets and handbags, perfect for travel. The accompanying neck strap has a sliding bead that lets you cinch it up around your wrist as well, giving you an extra sense of security when leaning over boat rails or snapping pictures from a ski lift. As you might expect, the U50 is very light weight as well, at just 4.2 ounces (120 grams), with batteries and Memory Stick Duo card installed.

The front of the U50 (with the lens rotated 90 degrees to face forward) is nearly flat. A series of raised bumps provides a little grip for your fingers, but I'd personally want to make sure that the wrist or neck strap was attached at all times. The lens unit also houses the camera's flash, as well as a small LED that lights when the Self-Timer is in use. Having the flash head integrated with the lens assembly means it will always aimed at the subject, regardless of how the lens is rotated. The downside though, is that having the flash so close to the lens will make the camera more susceptible to the red-eye effect. Also visible from the front is the side of the battery and Memory Stick DUO compartment door. With the lens rotated to its "stowed" position, this side of the camera is sleek and flat.

The right side of the camera is taken up entirely by the battery and Memory Stick DUO compartment. A sliding door features a small button that unlocks the pressure plate so the door can be slid open. Inside the compartment, the battery and memory card slots line up side-by-side. A small red LED at the top of the compartment door lights whenever the camera is accessing the memory card.

The camera's left side (as viewed from the rear) holds only the eyelet for attaching the neck strap.

The U50's top panel is just slightly curved, and features the Menu, Flash, Scene, Execute, Power, and Shutter buttons all in a line. A small LED just behind the Flash button indicates whether the flash is charging or ready to go.

Aside from the LCD monitor and USB connector jack, the U50's rear panel features only the Mode switch. The USB jack is protected by a flexible plastic flap, and angles down toward the bottom of the camera.

The U50's bottom panel is sleekly curved, with a small, flat space bearing a product label and recessed reset switch.


Camera Operation
Like the rest of the Cyber-shot "U" series, the U50's user interface is straightforward and uncomplicated, requiring very little downtime to get acquainted with it. The camera's fully automatic exposure control offers point-and-shoot simplicity, only requiring the user to frame the subject, set focus, and fire the shutter. Flash and Scene modes are activated externally, though you'll have to call up the settings menu to adjust the resolution or enable any creative effects. A Mode switch on the rear panel quickly sets the camera's operating mode to Play, Still, or Movie, and the LCD menu system is easy to navigate. With such a simple and logical user interface, I highly doubt you'll even need the instruction manual to get up and running.

Record-Mode Display
In Record mode, the U50's LCD monitor displays limited information. Battery status, image size, folder number, the number of available images, and a graphic of the Memory Stick DUO's available space are constantly displayed on the screen (unless disabled via a setting on the Display menu). Flash and Scene mode settings also appear when set. A half-press of the Shutter button displays a green circle to indicate focus status.





Playback-Mode Display
In Playback mode, you can press the Execute button to zoom in and back out of an image, with a maximum enlargement of 5x. (There's no way to scroll around the zoomed display though, so it will only be useful for checking focus, not for evaluating subject framing.) The information display includes battery level, resolution, folder number, image series number, file name, and the date and time of capture. Through the settings menu, you can enable a four-image index display of the images in the current folder.




 

External Controls


Power Button
: Placed on the camera's top panel, this button powers the camera on and off. An LED in the center of the button lights green when the camera is powered on.


Shutter Button
: Just to the left of the Power button, this elongated button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Execute/Enlarge Button
: First in a series of buttons extending from right to left on the top panel, this button confirms menu selections. In Playback mode, this button enlarges captured images as much as 5x.


Scene Button (Down Arrow Key)
: To the left of the Execute button, this cycles through the Scene modes (Soft Snap, Illumination Snap, Twilight, Active Outdoors, and Vivid Nature) when the Mode switch is set to the Still Record position. In any settings menu, this button serves as the down arrow key to navigate selections. In Play mode, this button scrolls backward through captured images.


Flash Mode Button (Up Arrow Key)
: Adjacent to the Scene button on the left, this button controls the flash mode, cycling through Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Suppressed flash modes. In any settings menu, this button also acts as the up arrow key. In Playback mode, this button scrolls forward through captured images.


Menu Button
: The final button in the series on top of the camera, this button displays or dismisses the settings menu in any camera mode.


Mode Switch
: This sliding switch sits in the upper right corner of the rear panel, and offers the following settings:

  • Play: Replays captured still images and movie files, with options for image management and printing.
  • Still: Records still images.
  • Movie: Records moving images without sound.


Open Button
: Tucked in a small indention on the battery/memory card compartment door, this button unlocks the door so that it can be slid down and opened.

Camera Modes and Menus
Still Mode: This mode captures still images. The five Scene modes are available here, as well as a handful of basic exposure options. Pressing the Menu button displays the following menus and options:

Camera

  • Return: Returns to the main menu screen.
  • Size/Burst: Sets the image resolution to 2M (1,632 x 1,224 pixels) or VGA (640 x 480 pixels), or activates the Burst photography mode for either resolution.
  • Focus: Sets focus control to Auto, or selects from a range of fixed focus settings (0.2, 0.5, or 1.0 meters, or Infinity).
  • Self-Timer: Turns the self-timer mode on or off.
  • White Balance: Sets the white balance to Auto, or to Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, or Incandescent presets.






Display

  • Return: Returns to the main menu screen.
  • LCD Light: Turns the LCD light on or off. If on, the LCD light brightens the display for shooting in dark locations.
  • Display: Turns the LCD information display on or off. If off, the LCD display will only report error messages and exposure warnings.





Setup

  • Return: Returns to the main menu screen.
  • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
  • Beep: Turns the camera's beep sounds on or off, or enables them only with the shutter release.
  • USB: Selects either Normal or PTP mode for the USB connection.
  • Language: Sets the menu language to English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, or Portuguese.





Card

  • Return: Returns to the main menu screen.
  • Format: Formats the Memory Stick DUO.
  • Create Folder: Lets you create a new folder for saving images.
  • Change Folder: Changes the folder that images are saved in, if multiple folders have been created.





Movie Mode:
Records short movie clips without sound. The LCD menu system offers the same options as in Still mode, except the resolution options are 320 x 240 or 116 x 112 pixels.



Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images on the memory card, erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, etc. When playing back movie files, you can opt for "frame-by-frame" playback, which plays back the movie file more slowly, several frames at a time. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

Play

  • Delete: Erases the current image displayed. There is an option to cancel the operation.
  • Delete In Folder: Erases all images in the currently selected folder.
  • Index: Displays a four-image index display of images on the Memory Stick DUO. (This option appears as "Single" when in index display mode.)
  • DPOF: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device.



Display

  • Return: Returns to the main menu screen.
  • LCD Light: Turns the LCD light on or off. If on, the LCD light brightens the display for shooting in dark locations.
  • Display: Turns the LCD information display on or off. If off, the LCD display will only report error messages an exposure warnings.




Setup

  • Return: Returns to the main menu screen.
  • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
  • Beep: Turns the camera's beep sounds on or off, or enables them only with the shutter release.
  • USB: Places the USB connection into PTP or Normal modes.
  • Language: Sets the menu language to English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, or Portuguese.



Card

  • Return: Returns to the main menu screen.
  • Format: Formats the Memory Stick DUO.
  • Print: If the camera has been connected to a compatible printer, this option allows direct printing of DPOF-marked images from the camera.
  • Change Folder: Changes the playback folder, if multiple folders have been created.


In the Box

The following items are included in the box:

  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U50 digital camera.
  • Neck strap.
  • 8MB Memory Stick DUO with Memory Stick adapter.
  • Two rechargeable AAA NiMH batteries.
  • Battery charger.
  • USB cable.
  • Software CD.
  • Instruction manual and registration card.

 

Recommended Accessories

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...

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

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

 

User Reviews

 

Test Images
This is a "First Look" review, based on a prototype camera, so there are no Test Images available yet.

 

Test Results
This is a "First Look" review, based on a prototype camera, so there are no Test Results to report on yet.

 

Conclusion
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Sony's Cyber-shot U series of digicams are consistently easy to use, with fun designs that appeal to the "trendy" crowd. Like the rest of the line, the U50 is ultra-compact, small enough to shove into a hip pocket and go. The U50 offers a few basic exposure options, including a manually adjustable white balance setting, and a 2.0-megapixel Super HAD CCD for good quality images. Though exposure remains under automatic control, the U50's selection of preset scene modes ought to handle most average shooting situations quite well, and the camera's tiny size means you won't miss those candid shots. Its swiveling lens is an added plus, facilitating self-portraits and images shot at what might otherwise be difficult angles. Since I've not seen a production model yet, I can't say anything about its image quality, but stay tuned for an update once production-level units become available. (Ansel Adams types shouldn't hold their breath, but I expect it will be fine for "snapshot" photos.)

 

Reader Comments!
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