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Sony DSC-S50

Sony makes a compact 2.1 megapixel digicam with full movie/sound capability!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 4/12/2000

Executive Overview
The Sony DSC-S50 offers many of the same features of Sony's earlier digicams but in a much more compact and portable form factor. It's small enough to fit into a large coat pocket or purse but still hefty enough to provide a nice firm hand grip on the right side. The most interesting design element on the camera is the rotating LCD panel that lifts up off of the back panel and upwards to 180 degrees. Once detached from the back panel, the LCD monitor can also swivel around on its neck about 270 degrees. This is very useful when composing a self-portrait and the ability to lift up the LCD panel also helps in various other shooting situations. When not in use, the screen can be turned to face into the camera body and latched in place, protecting it from scratches when the camera is slipped into a pocket or purse. Another design feature we liked was the combination of the battery compartment and MemoryStick slot on the hand grip side of the camera. This makes battery changes while mounted to a tripod a snap. We always pay attention to the placement of these two compartments, given the large amount of studio work we do.
Sony left off the optical viewfinder on this model, meaning you must rely on the LCD panel at all times. This does consume more battery power but framing is a little more accurate as a result. The LCD monitor is unusually usable under bright shooting situations, as its backlight can be adjusted to normal or very bright illumination. Anyone who's ever struggled with the sun when trying to look at the LCD will appreciate this option. An information display on the LCD reports battery power, MemoryStick capacity and certain exposure information, but is easily canceled if you want an unobstructed view of your subject.
The S50 is equipped with a 3x, 6.1 to 18.3mm lens (equivalent to a 39 to 117mm lens on a 35mm camera). Apertures can be manually adjusted from F/2.8 to F/11 and focus can be controlled automatically or manually. We really appreciated the distance readout that accompanies manual focus, which helps in dark shooting situations, where you wouldn't otherwise be able to tell whether the subject was in focus. (There's also an autofocus-assist light, allowing the autofocus function to work at very low light levels as well. A 2x digital telephoto function can be turned on and off through the Record menu and increases the S50's zoom capabilities to 6x (although with the usual degradation in quality that accompanies digital zoom use). The S50 captures macro subjects as close as 1.18 inches (3cm) from the lens, which is very close indeed. There are also two exposure modes that fix focus for quicker shooting. Landscape mode fixes focus at infinity for far away subjects and Panfocus mode rapidly switches focus from infinity to closer subjects, good for moving objects.
When it comes to exposure, the S50 gives you a goodly amount of control. Although there's no full manual mode, you have a choice of Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Twilight, Twilight Plus, the two fixed focus modes and a Spot Metering mode. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes are pretty self-explanatory, with Shutter Priority offering speeds from eight to 1/725 seconds for still images and from 1/8 to 1/725 seconds for movie images. The Twilight modes give you a little more leeway with night scenes and dark settings and the Spot Metering mode switches the exposure metering system to take readings from the very center of the image (a target crosshair appears in the center of the LCD monitor). White balance can be set to Auto, Indoor, Outdoor or Hold (the manual setting) and exposure compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 in 1/3 EV increments. The built-in flash offers Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced and Suppressed modes with a variable intensity setting. For a little more creativity, the Picture Effects menu captures images in Solarized, Sepia, Black & White and Negative Art tones and a sharpness setting lets you control the edge sharpness of the image.
A Movie capture mode allows you to create up to 60 second movies with sound, with all of the above exposure controls available to you. (With the obvious exception of flash modes.) In the Voice recording mode, you can record up to 40 second sound bytes to accompany captured still images. The Text record mode captures images in a black and white GIF file, perfect for snapping pictures of white boards, meeting notes, etc. There's also an E-mail record mode that captures a smaller, 320 x 240 image size that's easier on e-mail transmission (this mode actually records two images: one in the 320 x 240 format and another at whatever normal image size you've selected).
Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF, JPEGs, MPEGs or GIFs depending on the record mode and are stored on a 4MB MemoryStick (higher capacity cards are available). An NTSC video cable is included with the camera (European models come with PAL), as is a USB cable for high speed connection to a PC or Mac. The MGI PhotoSuite SE software also accompanies the camera, providing organized image downloading, correction capabilities and a variety of creative templates for making greeting cards, calendars, etc.
The S50 utilizes an NP-FM50 InfoLithium battery pack (M series) and comes 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 in the current operating mode. This is really an exceptionally useful feature, with the promise of eliminating shots lost because you didn't realize the batteries were near the end of their charge. Because the S50 is so dependent on its LCD display (with the attendant higher power consumption), we recommend keeping a second battery pack charged and ready to go, especially when the AC adapter isn't close at hand.
Overall, we enjoyed shooting with the S50 as it provides good exposure control for the average consumer and a nice sprinkling of in-camera creativity with the Picture Effects menu. The manual focus and white balance options provide a little more flexibility as do the special exposure modes and the movie with sound capability. Plus, it's compact enough to tag along on many outings, an important factor in having a digital camera that's actually used, rather than sitting in a drawer.

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