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Sony CyberShot DSC-P30

Sony develops an affordable, full-featured 1.3-megapixel compact digicam with great picture quality!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 4/9/2001

Executive Overview
The DSC-P30 is a compact, lightweight digicam that can easily be tucked into a shirt pocket or small purse. Its streamlined body, which measures only 4.87 x 2 x 2.25 inches and weighs just 9 ounces with the InfoLITHIUM battery pack installed, is similar in style to Sony's earlier Cyber-shot DSC-P1 model, with a brushed silver exterior and pale blue accents. The matching blue wrist strap makes it the perfect travel companion for family outings.

The Cyber-shot P30's 1.3-megapixel CCD sensor offers image resolutions as high as 1,280 x 960 pixels, and a simple user interface that makes camera operation a snap. The 1.5-inch color LCD monitor provides bright, clear playback of captured images, and a quick refresh rate when used for image composition. The comprehensive information display reports available battery power (in minutes when used with the InfoLITHIUM pack), remaining Memory Stick space, ISO setting, resolution setting, and shutter speed and aperture readings when the shutter button is halfway depressed.

When activated, the camera's menu system appears at the bottom of the LCD screen in the form of subject tabs, similar to past Sony digicams, but with more menu selections. This reduces the menus to one-level deep navigation and makes them much faster and easier to navigate. Most of the camera's exposure options are controlled through the LCD menu, as there are very few control buttons on the camera's exterior. While this minimizes the button clutter on the surface, it also increases reliance on the LCD monitor -- thereby raising battery power consumption. The four-way arrow rocker pad doubles as a five-function controller, with flash, macro, self-timer, and quick review functions assigned to the different arrows, plus an OK/select button in the center. Like its higher-end sibling, the DSC-S75, the LCD monitor display provides unusually high readability in direct sunlight, thanks to an LCD brightness function in the Setup menu (more contrast control than brightness) and a backlight brightness control. Overall, the P30 LCD isn't quite as readable as that of the S75, but it is still more usable than most in bright sunlight.

The 3x, 6.4-19.2mm zoom lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.8, and a set of 37mm filter threads around the inside lip of the lens barrel to accommodate Sony's accessory lens kits, which extend the camera's macro and wide angle capabilities. Since the lens doesn't need to telescope out, you can use any conventional 37mm lens accessories on the camera without an adapter. Focus is automatically controlled, though a handful of preset focus distances are available on the settings menu (five settings from 0.5m to infinity). A bright autofocus assist light on the front of the camera is designed to help it focus in low-light situations, and can be enabled or disabled via the Setup menu. The camera features Sony's 6x Precision Digital Zoom (actually a 2x digital enlargement at the maximum telephoto setting), which the company claims will produce better quality images than conventional digital enlargement. Sony's digital zoom technology works directly with raw CCD data, rather than the post-processed JPEG information. The result is somewhat cleaner than we've seen with other digital zooms, but the fact remains that it is still cropping away three-quarters of the CCD pixels, so the resolution will always decrease proportionately. (Bottom line: Sony's digital zoom does better than most, but can't overcome the inherent loss of resolution.)

Exposure on the P30 is limited to program-automatic control (that is, no options such as aperture or shutter priority), but you do have control over things like ISO, white balance, metering, etc. Through the capture menu, a Spot Metering option changes the camera's default, averaged metering system to one that bases the exposure on only the center of the image. Exposure compensation allows you to adjust metered exposures from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments, and a variable ISO option offers Auto, 100, 200, and 400 equivalent settings. White balance options on the P30 include Auto, Outdoor, Indoor, and Hold (a quasi-manual setting). The built-in flash features three main operating modes (Auto, Forced, and Off), with an available Red-Eye Reduction setting that works in both Auto and Forced modes. Flash power is also adjustable to Low, Normal, or High intensities. Also included in the record settings menu is an image sharpness adjustment and Sony's popular Picture Effects menu, which offers several creative image effects, including Solarize, Black and White, Sepia, and Negative Art. A Twilight exposure mode automatically uses a slower shutter speed to capture more ambient light in dark shooting situations.

In addition to the standard still photography mode, the P30 also offers a few special capture modes. Movie mode allows you to create unlimited length movies (w/o audio) in the MPEG EX format, with all of the above exposure controls available to you, except flash and sharpness. The motion-recording format can also be set to Clip Motion, which records a series of still images at varying intervals, to be played back as a frame-by-frame animation, saved as a GIF file. (This mode is a lot of fun. It was introduced on the DSC-P1, and appears to now be a standard Cyber-shot feature.) The Text recording mode captures images in a black-and-white GIF file, perfect for snapping pictures of white boards, meeting notes, etc. (Text mode recording takes a while though, as the camera has to convert the full-color image to a black-and-white GIF format. This takes a fair bit of processing power, but the results are worth it if you're trying to capture pages of textual information.) There's also an E-mail record mode that captures a smaller, 320 x 240-pixel image size, which is easier on e-mail transmission (this mode actually records two images: one in the 320 x 240-pixel format and another at whatever normal image size you've selected). Finally, an uncompressed TIFF option records one image in the 1,600 x 1,200-pixel TIFF format, in addition to another image at the menu-set resolution and JPEG compression levels. Uncompressed TIFF is an unusual option for inexpensive digicams, and may help interest more advanced photographers in these "value priced" cameras.

Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF, JPEG, MPEG (EX), or GIF formats, depending on the record mode, and are stored on the included 4MB Memory Stick (higher capacity cards are available). An NTSC video cable is included with the camera (European models come equipped for PAL, and a video out setting adjusts for either format), as is a USB cable for high-speed connection to a PC or Mac. MGI's PhotoSuite SE software is also included, providing organized image downloading, correction capabilities and a variety of creative templates for making greeting cards, calendars, etc. MGI's VideoWave software provides movie playback and minor editing capabilities.

The P30 ships with AA batteries, but may be used with an optional NP-FS11 InfoLITHIUM battery pack, which includes an AC adapter that doubles as a battery charger. We like the InfoLITHIUM batteries because they communicate with the camera to tell you how much running time is left on the battery pack in the current operating mode. Two AA batteries fit into the same slot as the NP-FS11 battery pack. This is the first time we've seen a Sony camera that can operate on either conventional AA cells or the special InfoLITHIUM rechargeable packs. While the AA cells will have much shorter life (!) than the Sony battery packs, they'll do in a pinch if your battery pack runs out of juice. For routine use, we suggest investing in the Sony battery pack and keeping a set of AA's available as emergency backup.

With its compact, portable size, the P30 is clearly meant for consumers on the go. The fully automatic exposure system is perfect for point-and-shoot users, but the options for exposure compensation, white balance, variable ISO, and spot metering combine to provide enough exposure flexibility to get good looking photos even in challenging conditions. Movie recording, Text mode capture, Clip Motion, and uncompressed TIFF options provide additional flexibility. Overall, the P30 looks like an excellent choice for consumers who want an easy-to-use camera at an affordable price, but who also aren't willing to sacrifice picture quality or give up important features like a zoom lens or high-capacity rechargeable batteries. Time will tell in the marketplace, but to our eye, Sony has come up with a winner here, that will appeal to a wide range of buyers.

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