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Sony DSC-V3

By: Shawn Barnett and Dave Etchells

A no-excuses "enthusiast" camera from Sony: 7 megapixels, 4x zoom, 2.5 inch LCD, better grip, and features galore.

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 09/09/2004, Updated: 11/30/2004

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Cyber-shot DSC-V3's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony DSC-V3 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the DSC-V3's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Very good to excellent color. A tendency toward slight warm casts, but good handling of household incandescent lighting. The Sony DSC-V3's color was good to excellent throughout my testing, and its white balance system performed pretty well under most lighting. The Manual white balance setting was consistently the most accurate, the Auto and Daylight options often leaving very slight warm casts in the images. (Probably within the acceptable range for most users though.) Skin tones were natural and healthy-looking, although their saturation was just slightly high in some shots. Indoors, the Auto white balance option struggled with the very warm hue of household incandescent lighting, but the Incandescent and Manual options both did a very good job. Like most consumer/prosumer digital cameras I test, the DSC-V3 tended to oversaturate bright colors somewhat (particularly reds and greens), and also tended to render bright colors a fair bit brighter than they were in real life. With "real world" subjects though, this bias toward brighter color produced very appealing-looking images. Overall, I'd give the Sony V3 a "very good" rating in the color department.

  • Exposure: Average exposure accuracy, a somewhat contrasty default tone curve. (A reasonably effective contrast adjustment though.) The Sony DSC-V3's exposure system performed well, requiring about an average amount of exposure compensation on shots that normally require it, and producing accurate exposures on shots with a mix of light and dark subject matter. Its default tone curve is rather contrasty though, part of how/why it produces such bright colors. Its contrast adjustment option did help somewhat with the deliberately harsh lighting of my "Sunlit" Portrait test, but I generally would have liked to see a contrast control with another step or two in the low-contrast direction, and a less contrasty tone curve by default. A more serious complaint is the camera's tendency to drop all the way down to f/8 when the lighting is at all bright. While this wouldn't normally be an issue, the V3's lens is much "softer" at its smallest aperture, so you'll lose some fine detail if you don't monitor the aperture setting closely.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,550 lines of "strong detail." The Sony DSC-V3 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It didn't start showing artifacts in the test patterns until resolutions as low as 1,200 lines per picture height horizontally, but around 800-1,000 lines vertically. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,550 lines, though you could also argue for 1,600 lines in both directions. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,900 lines. Imatest showed an average uncorrected resolution of 1440 line widths/picture height, which dropped to 1,321 lines when corrected to a standardized 1-pixel sharpening. With "natural" (eg, non-laboratory) subjects, the V3 delivers very sharp images, as long as you shoot at apertures larger than the f/8 minimum.

  • Image Noise: Some noise visible even at ISO 100, but noise levels rise relatively gradually with increasing ISO, and even ISO 800 could be considered usable. The Sony DSC-V3 showed visible but low image noise at ISOs 100 and 200 (just barely perceptible at ISO 100, more so at 200). At ISO 400, the noise was definitely visible, but was well within what I'd personally consider to be an acceptable range. At ISO 800, the noise was quite pronounced, but still wasn't nearly as bad as that from many competing digicams at that ISO level.

  • Closeups: An average macro area, albeit with very high resolution and detail. Flash throttles down a bit too much, however, underexposing slightly. The Sony DSC-V3 captured a roughly average minimum area of 3.44 x 2.58 inches (87 x 66 millimeters) in the macro test. Resolution was very high, however, showing a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Details softened toward the corners of the frame, but were fairly sharp in the center. (Most digicams produce images with soft corners when shooting in their Macro modes.) The DSC-V3's flash throttled down almost too well for the macro area, as the resulting exposure was a little darker than it ideally would have be. (The "high" flash setting would likely have corrected this though, as the flash exposure adjustment does work in macro mode.) Overall, very good macro performance.

  • Night Shots: Excellent low-light performance, with good color and exposure, and low image noise, at the darkest light levels of this test. Good AF performance even without the AF-assist, excellent with Sony's Hologram AF-assist option. The DSC-V3 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all four ISO settings. (I did notice minor color shifts toward a warm or a pink color balance at the lower light levels, but the shift was relatively slight.) Noise is quite low at the 100 and 200 ISO settings, and even at ISO 400 was quite a bit lower than I'd normally expect. At ISO 800, noise is higher, but still less than one would expect at such a high sensitivity, and color remains quite good in the face of it. Since city street-lighting at night generally corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, the DSC-V3 should do very well for after-dark photography in typical outdoor settings. Its autofocus system responded very well also, focusing down to light levels a bit under 1/4 foot-candle with the AF illuminator turned off. Sony's Hologram AF-assist light works better than most, and to greater distances, letting the camera easily focus in total darkness.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but nearly accurate LCD monitor. The Sony DSC-V3's optical viewfinder was very tight, and also rather variable, showing only 79 percent of the final image area at wide angle, but about 88 percent at telephoto. (A tight viewfinder is bad enough, but one that varies in its coverage as the zoom setting changes is very bad indeed, as it makes it very difficult to judge how much of the image the viewfinder is cropping.) Happily, the LCD monitor offered essentially 100% coverage, within the limits of my test. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the DSC-V3's LCD monitor performed pretty well here, but its optical viewfinder could definitely use some help.

  • Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion at wide angle, and moderately high pincushion at telephoto. Low to moderate chromatic aberration. Very good sharpness in the corners of the frame. Geometric distortion on the DSC-V3 was about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared a little better, as I measured approximately 0.4 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was low to moderate, as I measured about four of five pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines, the degree of color ranging from slight to moderate. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) One of the stronger points of the V3's lens is how sharp it keeps the corners of the frames: There's relatively little of the softness in the corners that I've come to more or less expect in consumer/prosumer digicam lenses.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Really excellent shutter lag and shot to shot cycle times. By almost every measure, the Sony DSC-V3 is a very fast camera. Full-autofocus shutter lag ranges from 0.28-0.66 seconds, much faster than average, and shutter lag when prefocused (by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot itself) is an amazing 0.011 second. (That's right, just over 1/100 second.) Shot to shot cycle times are excellent as well, at 1.1 second for large/fine images, more or less to the limits of the capacity of a Memory Stick Pro or high-speed CompactFlash memory card. In "Speed Burst" mode, the camera can capture up to eight large/fine images at a rate of 2.4 frames/second. Bottom line, this is one of the faster cameras on the market today.

  • Battery Life: Really excellent battery life. With a worst-case run time of nearly three hours (177 minutes) on a fully-charged battery, the Sony DSC-V3 is among the top-performing digicams on the market, in terms of battery life. I almost always recommend that people purchase a second battery right along with their digital cameras, but in the case of the V3, most users will likely find the single included pack sufficient for their needs.

 

Conclusion

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Having now worked and lived with a production sample for a couple of weeks, I can say that the Sony DSC-V3 digital camera is a very compelling/appealing entrant in the high-end digicam derby. It's exceptionally responsive, in terms of both shutter lag and shot to shot cycle times. Image quality is very good, with good color (if a little bright on highly-saturated colors), and its images are sharp from corner to corner. It does have a tendency to use a too-small aperture when shooting in bright conditions (eg, outdoors in full daylight), with the result that using it in Program or Auto mode can result in lost detail relative to the camera's true capabilities. While the need to watch the lens aperture does introduce a minor additional hassle-factor in your shooting, the V3 offers some pretty compelling advantages of its own. Two of those "compelling advantages" have to do with after-dark shooting: The Sony V3's unique Night Shot and Night Framing modes work together with its (also unique) Hologram AF-Assist feature to provide truly unparalleled capability for low- and no-light photography. Battery life is also really excellent, with a worst-case run time of just under three hours. Wrap all this capability up in an attractive all-black body with plenty of metal panels and very high build quality, slap a beautiful 2.5" LCD screen on the back, and you've got a really compelling entrant at the high end of the prosumer digicam market. Highly recommended, and an easy Dave's Pick as one of the best digital cameras on the market.

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