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Sony DSC-P5 Digital Camera

Sony updates the popular DSC-P1 with better color, new user interface, and shrinks it to boot! (Review first posted 8/21/2001)


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Camera QuickLook
User Level
Novice - Amateur
Product Uses
Home / Travel
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
High, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6-, 5x7, and 8x10-inch
September 2001
Suggested Retail Price

Review Links
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures

Sony Electronics Inc. is well known for its consumer camcorders, notebook computers, and other multimedia products, blazing a long trail of innovations, including the first electronic still camera -- the Sony Mavica -- released in 1981. The company's current crop of digital cameras, which includes both Mavica and Cyber-shot models, continues to bring new technologies to the digital imaging scene, especially in its high-grade consumer digicams. The DSC-P5 is a high quality, super-compact Cyber-shot camera, designed for ease-of-use and portability. Its automatic exposure system is perfect for novice photographers who are looking for a point-and-shoot model, while the 3.2-megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom will appeal to more advanced amateurs and business users who appreciate the high quality and compact design. The P5 offers a limited number of exposure adjustments, but more than enough to adapt it to almost any common shooting situation, and the 3x zoom lens (with Macro mode) is great for recording a wide range of subjects, from close-up portraits to scenic vistas. It even has an optional underwater casing for the diving / snorkeling enthusiast. We wholeheartedly recommend this camera to consumers who are looking for an easy to use, and quality, introduction to the digital age.

Camera Overview
The Sony DSC-P5 is an ultra-compact, high-resolution, point-and-shoot camera with a lot of fun features but enough flexibility to satisfy even serious amateur photographers looking for a second "take anywhere" camera. It's so small and lightweight, there's really no excuse not to bring it along (just in case you come across one of those unexpected photo ops, when you *used to* wish you had a camera). It more than passes the "shirt pocket" test, and would even fit in a rather small handbag. If that's not enough, our test model arrived with a design sample of a new-model Marine Pack, an optional underwater housing that lets you take the P5 diving as deep as 100 feet (30 meters). (Perhaps we should say "take anywhere.")

Compact isn't everything though: The P5 features a high-quality 3.2-megapixel CCD and an all-glass, 3x zoom lens that delivers nice sharp, clear pictures. Use it at wide-angle for outdoor scenics, architecture, or small group pictures; switch to telephoto for close-up portraits, sports photography, or to zoom in on your prized blooms; and don't overlook the Macro (close-up) mode, which focuses in on objects as close as 4 inches. Sony has also provided a 2x Precision Digital Zoom that increases the lens magnification to 6x -- enough to get a close-up view of timid wildlife -- and with less image degradation than we typically see in digital zooms. In our testing, the P5's lens didn't have quite the crispness of some of Sony's larger models, but was sharper than we're accustomed to seeing in ultra-compact digicams.

Exposure control on the P5 is mainly automatic, with a Twilight setting for low-light shooting and a built-in flash for night and indoor photography. Although you can't choose the camera's aperture or shutter speed settings directly, you do have access to a few exposure options, including color balance, image sharpness, metering options, and light / dark adjustments. There's also a wide range of recording options. You can set the camera to create two files from one exposure -- one normal and one low-resolution for e-mailing pictures to friends. You can record movies with sound, pictures with sound, clip-motion animation (sort of a stop-frame animation), text documents, black-and-white or sepia-tone pictures, negative art, and solarized images. On top of that, the P5 comes with a software CD loaded with MGI PhotoSuite SE and VideoWave software, so you can do image editing and choose from a variety of creative templates for making greeting cards, sports cards, and calendars, or adding special effects.

Images are stored on Sony's Memory Stick media (an 8 MB stick is included, higher capacity cards are available), and they can be downloaded via high-speed USB connection to a PC or Macintosh computer. An AV cable is provided for viewing images or slide shows on TV. The P5 is powered by a Sony InfoLITHIUM battery pack, and comes complete with an AC adapter and 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, but we always recommend buying a second battery, and keeping it charged and ready to go, especially when the AC adapter isn't close at hand. The P5 is pretty dependent on its LCD display (a large power drain), and you can't pick up extra batteries at the corner drug store. Most ultra-compact digicams suffer somewhat from short battery life, but the DSC-P5 doesn't do too badly, with a worst-case run time of 58 minutes per charge, or 83 minutes with the LCD off. In playback mode, the camera will run for 87 minutes continuously. (Still, we highly recommend a second battery.)

Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel CCD.
  • 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 39 to 117mm).
  • 2x digital zoom.
  • Optical viewfinder.
  • 1.5-inch LCD monitor.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Built-in flash.
  • Sony Memory Stick storage (8MB card included).
  • USB computer connection .
  • InfoLITHIUM battery system (AC adapter included).
  • MGI Software for Mac and PC

Special Features

  • Twilight preset shooting mode.
  • Movie with sound recording mode.
  • Clip Motion animation mode.
  • E-Mail, Voice Memo, and Text capture modes.
  • "Burst 2" Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Creative Picture Effects menu.
  • Image sharpness adjustment.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with four modes.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) printing compatibility.
  • Sony Marine Pack available as a separate accessory for underwater photography.

Suggested Options/Accessories

  • Spare battery.
  • Larger Memory Stick (at least 16MB, 32MB recommended).

User Recommendation
Beginners through intermediate users will be right at home with the P5, advanced users may buy it for its excellent portability.

The DSC-P5 produces excellent-quality images with good color and saturation. Although the P5 is technically a high-end point-and-shoot, it has a lot of creative options and enough image adjustments to handle just about any shooting situation. So while it's designed for users who don't want to make a lot of complicated exposure decisions, we'd expect advanced amateurs and business users to appreciate it, if only for its quality, portability, and varied shooting options. (The availability of the Marine Pack underwater housing also gives the camera amphibious appeal.)

The Sony DSC-P5 is compact, stylish, and ready to go anywhere. Its streamlined silvery metal body is only an inch longer than a business card, and nearly the same width, top to bottom. Measuring just 4.5 x 2.13 x 1.44 inches (113 x 54 x 36 mm) and weighing only 7.8 ounces (214 grams) with the battery and memory installed, the P5 fits easily into just about any small pocket or purse. When not in use, the telescoping zoom lens stores neatly into the body, and a small metal leaf shutter automatically closes over the lens when the camera is shut off. Outfitted with the accompanying wrist strap, it's quick on the draw and easy to hold onto!

Despite its small size, the P5's elongated shape provides plenty of room to extend two average-size fingers comfortably across the front and top of the camera, without blocking the lens or any camera controls. By making the camera thinner but longer, Sony kept the P5 very compact, but avoided the lack of finger space that plagues some ultra-small digicams. The 3x, 8-24mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 39 to 117mm on a 35mm camera), dominates the left side of the front of panel, with a small orange lamp on the right side that assists with autofocus in low-light scenes, and blinks when the self-timer is in use. A slightly larger window for the optical viewfinder comes next, followed by a tiny photocell window (for flash metering), and the built-in electronic flash. A series of small raised bumps, located on the far right side, serves as a finger grip on the front, with a slightly larger bump above the grip area to prevent your index finger from wandering too high up and blocking the flash.

The right side of the camera houses the battery and Memory Stick compartment, protected by an easy to open, hinged plastic door. Above it is rotating silver metal eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

The left side has no controls, only a smooth, rounded surface to accommodate the left side of the lens barrel.

The camera's top panel includes a microphone for recording sound, a Mode dial with five settings -- Setup, Movie, Playback, Record, and Twilight modes -- and a Shutter button in the middle; plus a small oblong Power button on the far right side.

The camera's back panel holds the majority of camera controls and function buttons, including a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor for previewing and playing back images, and a small black-and-white information display directly above it. Both the LCD and information display report a variety of camera and exposure settings, though the monitor's larger size accommodates more information than the black-and-white display. The optical viewfinder is located above the top right corner of the LCD monitor, and has three LED lamps along the right edge of the window, each of which reports the current status of various camera functions. The camera's Zoom control is in the upper right corner, conveniently located above a recessed, molded plastic thumb grip, that sports another series of small bumps for better traction. In the center of the back panel is a Four Way Arrow pad, with four small arrows pointing in opposite directions (Up, Down, Left, and Right). Each serves a dual purpose: To navigate through on-screen menus and enlarged Playback images, and to activate different camera functions (Flash, Self-Timer, Quick Review, and Macro). Below the Arrow pad are the LCD Display On / Off and Menu buttons. If all that wasn't enough, Sony also managed to fit three connection jacks -- DC In, USB, and A/V Out -- all covered by a single rubber flap.

Finally, the P5's flat bottom holds the threaded (plastic) tripod screw mount and a speaker for audio playback.

Camera Operation
Operating the P5 is very straightforward, as the camera is under automatic exposure control at all times. The Mode dial on top of the camera controls the main operating modes, with options for Twilight, Record, Playback, Movie, and Setup. In all image capture modes, the P5 provides an on-screen LCD menu (activated by the Menu button), with a variety of options for adjusting image quality or adding special effects. The four points of the Four-Way Arrow pad are used to scroll through menu options, while the center of the pad is used as the OK button to confirm selections.

The four arrow buttons also serve as external controls when the camera's menus are turned off, or they can be used to scroll through captured images in Playback mode. Starting with the Up arrow and going clockwise, the camera functions they control include: Macro, Self-Timer, Flash, and Quick Review modes. The Zoom control in the top right corner of the back panel adjusts both optical and digital zoom (when activated through the Setup menu). Overall, we're impressed with Sony's judicious use of space, especially with the large number of external controls provided, and the relatively short learning curve. The P5 has one of the cleanest user interfaces we've seen, and will present few challenges to even the most novice user.

External Controls

Power Button: Located on the top right side of the camera, this button turns the camera on and off.

Shutter Button: Sitting in the center of the Mode dial, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Mode Dial: Encircling the Shutter button, this notched dial controls the camera's operating mode, offering Twilight, Record, Playback, Movie, and Setup modes. (See menus and descriptions below.)

Zoom Control: Positioned in the top right corner of the rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls the optical and digital zoom (when enabled).

In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of a captured image, as high as 5x. Also in Playback mode, the wide-angle end of the button activates the Index Display mode, which displays as many as nine thumbnail images on the screen at one time.

Four-Way Arrow Pad: Located just off-center on the rear panel, this rocker button features four arrows, each pointing in a different direction (up, down, left, and right). In any settings menu, these arrow keys navigate through menu options. Pressing the center of the button confirms selections.

In any Record mode, the Up button controls the Flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, and Suppressed modes. The Right arrow turns the Macro (close-up) mode on and off, and the Left arrow accesses the Quick Review mode, which displays the most recently captured image on the screen. The Down arrow accesses the Self-Timer mode.

In Playback mode, the Right and Left arrows scroll through captured images. When Playback zoom is enabled, all four arrows scroll around within the enlarged view, while pressing the center of the button returns to the normal, 1x display.

Menu Button: Diagonally to the right, beneath the Four-Way Arrow pad, this button activates the settings menu in any camera mode (except Setup, which automatically displays the menu). The Menu button also turns off the menu display.

Display / LCD On/OFF Button: To the left of the Menu button, this button controls the LCD display, cycling through the image with limited information display, the image with expanded information display, and no image display at all (in all Record modes). In Playback mode, it cycles between the image with or without an information display.

Mode Menu Options

Twilight Mode: Noted on the Mode dial with a crescent moon symbol, this mode sets up the camera for capturing exposures in low light. The camera employs slower shutter speeds, so a tripod is recommended to prevent any blurring from camera movement. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are automatically selected, but the user maintains control over other exposure controls.

Record Mode: As the main still image recording mode, this mode is marked on the Mode dial with a green camera icon. In this mode, the camera selects shutter speed and aperture, while the user controls all other exposure variables.

Movie Mode: A filmstrip icon marks this mode on the Mode dial. In Movie mode, you can record moving images and sound, for as long as the Memory Stick has space. Resolution and quality choices are 320 (HQ), 320 x 240-, or 160 x 112-pixels. While recording, a timer appears in the LCD monitor to let you know how many minutes and / or seconds are remaining on the Memory Stick, and how long you've been recording, so you'll have some idea of how much time you have left to go.

Through the Setup menu, you can program the Movie mode to record Clip Motion animation sequences. Clip Motion records as many as 10 frames of still images to be played back in rapid succession. Frames can be captured at any time interval, with successive presses of the Shutter button. Available image sizes are 160 x 120- and 80 x 72-pixels, and each set of images is recorded as a single GIF file.

Record Menu: Available in all three Record modes by pressing the Menu button, the Record menu offers the following options (some options are not available in all modes):

  • EV (Exposure Compensation): Lightens or darkens the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. (An "exposure value" unit is 2x or 1/2x in shutter speed or aperture - twice as much or half as much light.)
  • Focus: Sets focus control to Auto, or one of five preset focus distances (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, and 7.0 meters, and Infinity).
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, based on the light source. Options are Auto, Indoor, Outdoor, and Hold (manual adjustment). The Hold option simply maintains the same color balance as was used in the prior shot.
  • Spot Meter: Turns the Spot metering option on and off. Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the frame (identified by a cross hair target on the monitor). When switched off, the camera uses a Center-Weighted metering mode, which reads the entire frame to determine exposure, but places the strongest emphasis on the center. Spot metering is handy for backlit subjects, or anytime the subject and background have very different brightnesses.
  • ISO: Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity. Options are Auto, or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • Image Size: Sets the image resolution. Still image options are 2,048 x 1,536-, 2,048 (3:2 ratio), 1,600 x 1,200-, 1,280 x 960-, and 640 x 480-pixels. Movie resolutions are 320 (HQ), 320 x 240-, and 160 x 112-pixels. Clip Motion sizes are 160 x 120- and 80 x 72-pixels.
  • Picture Quality: Sets the JPEG compression to Fine or Standard for still images.
  • Record Mode: Offers a selection of shooting modes:
    • TIFF: Records one 2,048 x 1,536 uncompressed TIFF image, along with a second image at whatever size and quality you've selected through the menu.
    • Text: Records a black-and-white GIF file, perfect for taking pictures of white boards, flip charts or meeting notes, or for quickly copying a text document. Text mode takes longer to save the images, but the files are very small, even though they're high-resolution.
    • Voice: Records small sound clips to accompany captured images. You can record up to 40 seconds of sound for each image.
    • E-Mail: Records an additional 320 x 240-pixel file that's small enough to e-mail, along with the normal size image.
    • Burst 2: Records two images in rapid succession with one press of the Shutter button.
    • Normal: Records an image at the size and quality settings selected.
  • Flash Level: Adjusts the intensity of the built-in flash, with options of High, Normal, and Low.
  • Picture Effects: Offers four creative shooting modes:
    • Solarize: Significantly increases the image contrast, making the image look more like an illustration.
    • Black and White: Records the image in black and white.
    • Sepia: Records an image in sepia tone.
    • Negative Art: Reverses the color and brightness of the image, making it appear more like a negative.
  • Sharpness: Controls the overall image sharpness and softness, in arbitrary units from -2 to +2 (five steps).

Playback Mode: Playback mode is noted on the Mode dial with the traditional Playback symbol (a triangle enclosed within a black rectangle outline). In this mode, you can scroll through captured images, delete them, write-protect them, and set them up for printing on DPOF-compatible printers. You can also copy, resize, and rotate images. The Playback menu offers the following selections:

  • Delete: Erases the currently displayed image (with an option to cancel).
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image (or removes protection), preventing it from being deleted or manipulated in any way except with card formatting.
  • Print: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device. Also removes the print mark.
  • Slide: Plays back images in an automatic slide show. You can set the time interval and whether or not images repeat.
  • Copy: Makes a copy of the current image which can be saved on a second Memory Stick.
  • Resize: Resizes the image to 2,048 x 1,536-, 1,600 x 1,200-, 1,280 x 960-, or 640 x 480-pixels.
  • Rotate: Rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Divide: Allows you to trim off material from the beginning or end of a recorded movie, or to extract an interesting bit of action from the middle of a much longer clip.

Setup Mode: This mode allows the user to change a variety of camera settings. The Setup menu is automatically displayed upon entering the mode.

  • Camera:
    • Moving Image: Sets Movie mode to record MPEG movies or Clip Motion animations.
    • Date / Time: Determines whether the date and / or time is overlaid on the image.
    • Digital Zoom: Turns the 2x Precision Digital Zoom on or off.
    • Red-Eye Reduction: Activates (or disables) the Red-Eye Reduction flash mode, which fires with both Auto and Forced flash modes.
    • AF Illuminator: Turns the AF Assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically illuminates in dark shooting conditions.
  • Setup 1:
    • Format: Formats the Memory Stick, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • File Number: Sets the file numbering to Series (which continues file numbering from one Memory Stick to another) or Reset (resets file numbering with each new card).
    • Language: Establishes the menu language as Japanese or English.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
  • Setup 2:
    • LCD Brightness: Controls the brightness of the LCD display. Options are Bright, Normal, and Dark.
    • LCD Backlight: Adjusts the LCD monitor for bright shooting conditions. Choices are Bright and Normal.
    • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sounds, turning them on or off. A Shutter option enables only the shutter beep noise.
    • Video Out: Establishes the A/V Out signal as NTSC or PAL.
    • USB Connect: Sets the USB connection type to PTP or Normal. (PTP is a new connection option, supposedly requiring no host driver software. We're awaiting further info from Sony before we can review this.)
    • Power Save: Turns the Power Save feature on or off. Power Save automatically shuts down the camera after a prolonged period of inactivity.

Sample Pictures
See our sample pictures and detailed test analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images - Click on a thumbnail to see the full-sized photo.

Indoor Flash








Viewfinder Accuracy

See the specifications sheet here.

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

Test Results
Our tests indicate that the DSC-P5 provides very good picture quality for the point-and-shoot class of digital cameras.

  • Color: Overall color was excellent. The automatic color balance system performed very well indoors and out, even handling the very difficult incandescent lighting of our Indoor Portrait test with aplomb. The color balance tended very slightly toward the green, but colors were very accurate and well saturated.
  • Exposure: The majority of images were well exposed, particularly the average, well-lit scenes that one would encounter outdoors. We found that we needed to use the P5's exposure compensation adjustment quite a bit in two situations: First, outdoor shots with high contrast and bright elements (the white paint on our "Far Field" test, the model's shirt in the "Outdoor Portrait" shot) tended to trick the meter into underexposing. Second, our Indoor Portrait test also needed a bit of manual help. We'd like to see the P5's exposure system a bit more accurate, given it's point & shoot market focus.
  • Sharpness: The resolution was right on target for cameras in the 3 megapixel range, which typically make very sharp 8x10 prints. We felt that the P5 was somewhat sharper than other ultra-compact digicams we've tested.
  • Close-ups: Macro performance was about average, with a 3.79 x 2.84 inch (96 x 72 mm) minimum shooting area. Color, detail, and resolution were all good, but the flash has trouble throttling down when working up close. (A common problem with digicams.) We also saw more "barrel" distortion than we'd like. The camera will do a very good job photographing small objects for uses such as online auctions, etc, but be aware that there's a fair bit of distortion, particularly at the edges of the frame.
  • Night Shots: The low-light performance was average to slightly better than average for point & shoot cameras, but not nearly as good as Sony's higher-end cameras. You should be able to comfortably shoot typical city night scenes, under average street lighting, but darker subjects will definitely require flash.

In the Box
Included with the Sony DSC-P5 digital camera are the following items:

  • Wrist strap
  • 8MB Memory Stick
  • NP-FC10 InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery pack
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • USB cable
  • AV cable
  • Software CD containing MGI PhotoSuite SE, MGI VideoWave III, and USB drivers

Recommended Accessories

  • Extra NP-FC10 InfoLITHIUM battery pack
  • Larger capacity Memory Stick (at least 16MB)
  • Carrying case

The Sony DSC-P5 is an excellent ultra-compact point & shoot digicam. By making it slightly longer than the average ultra-compact, Sony's produced a camera that is a much better fit for American-sized hands. At the same time though, its very thin profile still makes it an easy fit for most any pocket, and even very small handbags. Its image quality is very good to excellent, with a sharper lens than we're accustomed to seeing on an ultra-compact camera. Color rendition is very good, with accurate hues and good saturation. Overall, the DSC-P5 is an ideal "take anywhere" camera for people not willing to sacrifice quality for size.

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