Sony DSC-N2 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good overall color, though a tendency toward a slight warm cast. Some oversaturation in the strong reds and blues, but generally good accuracy.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Sony DSC-N2 does oversaturate the strong red and blue tones a little, but results are still quite pleasing. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. Here, the Sony N2 did render skin tones a bit on the warm, orange side in most cases, but warmer skin tones are definitely more natural-looking than cooler or magenta tones.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Though the Sony N2 often produced a slightly warm color balance, and pushed reds toward orange slightly (and cyan toward blue, for that matter), overall results appeared accurate and natural.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm color balances with both white balance settings. However, much less positive exposure compensation required than average.

Auto White Balance +0.7 EV Incandescent WB +0.3 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was warm with both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, though the Incandescent option produced more of a yellow tint that was more pleasing overall. The Sony N2 required less positive exposure compensation than we're accustomed to seeing here, at +0.7 EV in Auto White balance, and only +0.3 EV under Incandescent. The warmer color balance results in darker colors in the flower bouquet, and the blue flowers are quite dark indeed. (Many digital cameras have trouble here, often producing a dark, purplish tint in the blue flowers, but this is far darker than normal.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Nearly accurate color overall, though a tendency toward a warm cast and high contrast under harsh lighting. About average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Sony DSC-N2 tended toward a warmer color balance, though overall color was generally pretty good (if slightly dark in the greens and blues). The Sony N2's exposure system performed about average, and sometimes a little better, usually requiring the same or slightly less positive exposure compensation than we're accustomed to seeing on consumer digital cameras. The Sony N2's default contrast is a little high, producing washed-out highlights and dark shadows under the deliberately harsh lighting of our "Sunlit" portrait test shown above right. The low contrast option does help with harsh lighting like this, but it also produces more striking tonal gradations in Caucasian skin tones, rendering some tones almost grey. Thus, the sample of the "Sunlit" portrait test shown above was shot with the default contrast setting.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,600 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns from the Sony N2, down to about 1,600 lines per picture height, with extinction not occurring until past 2,000. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what look like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines.

Strong detail to
1,600 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,600 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Reasonably sharp images overall, though slight edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Noise suppression limits detail in the shadows.

Good definition of high-contrast elements, though with visible edge enhancement. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Sony N2 captures fairly sharp images overall, though I noticed a small amount of visible edge enhancement artifacts on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop above right shows this, as well as some residual image noise, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing only limited detail.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though a big jump in noise with very bright pixels and strong blurring at the higher settings.

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
 
ISO 800 ISO 1,600  

Noise levels are low to moderate at the Sony N2's lower sensitivity settings, with higher noise at ISO 400 (as you'd expect). At ISOs 800 and 1,600, however, noise levels increase dramatically, with a stronger pattern and stronger blurring, so that the image at 1,600 is really unusable.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but high contrast and limited shadow detail. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and to the darkest conditions we test at.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Sony N2 produced high contrast with washed-out highlights and deep shadows under the harsh lighting of the test above. Noise suppression is visible in the shadows, as well as some residual image noise, resulting in the loss of fine detail. Though some areas look a little dark at +0.7 EV, I preferred it to the image at +1.0 EV, which had too many blown highlights for my preference. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
100

2.5 sec
f2.8

5 sec
f2.8

10 sec
f2.8

20 sec
f2.8

30 sec
f2.8
ISO
200

1.3 sec
f2.8

2.5 sec
f2.8

5 sec
f2.8

10 sec
f2.8

20 sec
f2.8
ISO
400

1/1 sec
f2.8

1.3 sec
f2.8

2.5 sec
f2.8

5 sec
f2.8

10 sec
f2.8
ISO
800

1/3 sec
f2.8

1/1 sec
f2.8

1.3 sec
f2.8

2.5 sec
f2.8

5 sec
f2.8
ISO
1600

1/6 sec
f2.8

1/3 sec
f2.8

1/1 sec
f2.8

1.3 sec
f2.8

2.5 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The Sony N2 captured bright images down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level (about 1/16 as bright as average city street lighting at night). Color balance looks good with the Auto white balance setting, without any strong color casts. The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, which almost accommodates its exposure system. Do keep in mind here, that the very long shutter times necessary here absolutely demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
Pretty good exposures at the default exposure setting, though slightly dim in the Normal flash mode. Slightly limited flash range.

38mm equivalent 114mm equivalent
Normal Flash, High Intensity Slow-Sync Flash, Normal Intensity

Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle, and still a hint uneven at the telephoto setting. Indoors, under incandescent background lighting, the Sony N2's flash underexposed our subject just a little at its default setting, requiring the High intensity setting to get bright results. (Some users may prefer the slightly dim image at the default setting, but I felt the overall exposure just a little too dim.) The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode performed very well at the normal intensity setting, with more even coverage. However, the longer exposure time resulted in a stronger orange color cast.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

1/40 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

1/50 sec
f5.4
ISO 100

The DSC-N2's flash remained fairly bright to about eight feet at the wide angle setting, becoming a bit dim at 14 feet. At telephoto, flash power was a little low at eight feet, and gradually decreased in intensity from there.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, good 11x14 inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8x10, ISO 1600 shots are marginal at 5x7, good at 4x6.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

With the Sony N2, we found that it had enough resolution to make good looking 13x19 inch prints. At high ISO, image noise levels are held in check up to ISO 400, but the jump to ISO 800 gets rougher, though still usable at 8x10. ISO 1600 shots under daylight-balanced lighting look okay at 5x7 inches, those shot under incandescent lighting are really only usable as 4x6 inch snapshots. (The very warm color balance of incandescent lighting forces the camera's already-noisy blue channel to work harder, producing higher noise.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N2 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N2 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!

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