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Sony DSC-S85

Sony extends its S-series Cybershot line with the S85, sporting a 4-megapixel CCD, Exposure Bracketing, and Burst 3 sequential capture.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 6/7/2001

Executive Overview
The DSC-S85 offers the highest pixel resolution to date for the popular line of Sony Cyber-shot consumer digital cameras (June 2001). Its 4.1-megapixel CCD delivers images in five file sizes, from 640 x 480 to 2,272 x 1,704-pixels, with a choice of Fine or Standard Quality compression modes. Advanced features include 14-bit analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion, fully manual control options, high-quality Carl Zeiss 3x zoom lens, and a variety of creative recording options such as Sony's High Quality (HQ) and Extended (EX) MPEG movie formats, Voice recording, Clip Motion, and Burst 3 modes.

Packed with all these great features, the compact black body measures only about 4.6 x 2.5 x 3 inches (11.7 x 6.4 x 7.6 cm) with the lens retracted, so it should fit neatly into a large coat pocket, purse, or small camera bag. The camera's functional design incorporates an improved LCD menu system (introduced with the earlier 2001 Cyber-shot models) and more external camera controls, including a Mode dial and Jog Dial navigator for adjusting manual focus, shutter speeds, and apertures.

The S85 offers two options for image composition: a real-image optical viewfinder and 1.8-inch color LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder accommodates eyeglass wearers reasonably well, with a diopter adjustment dial to compensate for variations in vision. The eye point is just a hair low (about average for cameras we've tested), so you will end up pressing your glasses against the viewfinder eyepiece. The optical viewfinder and small status display panel on the camera's back panel will help conserve battery power by not relying completely on the LCD monitor to adjust settings (although you'll still need to activate the LCD screen to change menu options). When the LCD monitor is active, an information display reports the remaining battery power, Memory Stick capacity, flash status, and the number of images remaining, plus various exposure settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, image size, and quality.

The S85 is equipped with a 3x, 7- 21mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens (equivalent to a 34-102mm lens on a 35mm camera). Zeiss optics are noted for their sharpness, and the lens is a significant feature of the camera. Our assessment is that it performs better than the lenses on most digicams we've tested. Apertures, shutter speeds and focus can be manually or automatically controlled, with a distance readout display provided on the LCD monitor in Manual focus mode. A 2x Digital Zoom function is activated through the Setup menu, increasing the S85's zoom capabilities to 6x (although with the usual decrease in resolution and quality that results from digital magnification). Macro performance is good, with macro focusing distances ranging from 1.62 inches (4 cm) to 8.0 inches (20 cm).

In addition to its fully Manual exposure mode, the S85 provides Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program AE, and Scene exposure modes. Aperture Priority allows you to select the working aperture -- from f/2.1 to f/8.0 -- while the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. Shutter Priority allows you to select the shutter speed -- from 1/1,000 to eight seconds -- while the camera selects the appropriate aperture. Program AE places the camera in control of both aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure parameters. The Scene exposure mode provides three preset shooting modes: Twilight, Landscape, and Portrait, which are designed to obtain the best exposure for specific shooting situations.

A Spot Metering option switches the exposure metering system to take readings from the very center of the image (a crosshair target appears in the center of the LCD monitor). White Balance options include Auto, Indoor, Outdoor, or One Push (the manual setting). Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The camera's ISO setting offers Auto, 100, 200, or 400 equivalents, increasing performance in low-light shooting situations. The built-in flash features Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Suppressed operating modes, with a variable flash intensity setting. As an added bonus, the S85 offers an external flash socket and mounting shoe, which allow you to connect a more powerful flash to the camera. A Picture Effects menu captures images in Solarized, Sepia, Black & White, and Negative Art tones and a Sharpness setting allows you to control the sharpness and softness of the image.

The S85 features Sony's new "MPEG EX" movie format, which provides for continuous MPEG movie recording directly to the memory card. This eliminates arbitrary movie length limitations imposed by internal buffer memory, so you can record as long a movie as you have memory card space available. The MPEG Movie mode includes sound capabilities, plus all of the above exposure controls except flash and ISO. A Clip Motion option, available through the Setup menu, works like an animation sequence, allowing you to capture a series of up to 10 still images to be played back sequentially. Menu options for the Clip Menu mode include White Balance, Image Size, Flash Level, Picture Effects, and Sharpness adjustment. As noted, a significant improvement in the standard MPEG movie mode is the ability to record 320 x 240- and 160 x 112-pixel resolution movies for as long as the memory card will allow, without having to hold down the shutter button (you simply press the shutter button a second time to end the movie). The Movie mode's highest quality option, 320 HQ, is still limited to a maximum recording time of 15 seconds, but provides a higher-quality image, as well as a higher audio sampling rate.

The Record menu offers a list of Record mode options, including a TIFF mode for saving uncompressed images; a Text mode that captures images as black-and-white GIF files, perfect for snapping pictures of white boards and meeting notes; and a Voice recording mode, in which you can record sound clips up to 40-seconds long to accompany captured images (great for "labeling" or annotating shots you've taken). There's also an E-mail record mode that captures a smaller, 320 x 240-pixel image size that's easier for e-mail transmission, in addition to the primary image size you've selected through the Record menu. An Exposure Bracketing option takes the same image at three different exposures: one normal, one overexposed, and one underexposed by +/- 1.0, 0.7, or 0.3 EV (selected through the Setup menu). A Burst 3 mode captures three images in rapid succession with one press of the shutter button (actual frame rates vary with the pixel resolution size and the amount of image information to be recorded), plus a Normal setting.

Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF, JPEGs, MPEGs, or GIFs depending on the Record mode, and are stored on the 8MB Memory Stick included with the camera (higher capacity cards up to 128MB are available). An NTSC video cable is also provided with the camera for connecting to a television set. (European models come equipped for PAL, but the camera itself can switch between the two standards via a Setup menu option). A USB cable provides high-speed connection to PC or Macintosh computers. Software supplied with the DSC-S85 includes MGI's PhotoSuite SE (Mac and Windows) and VideoWave SE (Windows only) for image downloading, image-correction capabilities, and a variety of creative templates for making greeting cards and calendars, as well as basic video editing utilities.

The S85 uses an NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery pack (M series), and comes with an AC adapter that doubles as a battery charger. We really like the InfoLITHIUM batteries because they communicate with the camera -- showing exactly how much battery power has been consumed, and reporting remaining battery capacity via a small readout on the LCD screen. This is really valuable in avoiding lost shots when your batteries die unexpectedly. Battery life is also excellent, among the best we've found. Despite the excellent battery life, our standard recommendation of keeping a second battery pack charged and ready to go still stands, especially when the AC adapter isn't convenient.

Like the earlier Cyber-shot models, the S85 is an enjoyable camera to use, and its user interface and function set have something for everyone: The full-featured exposure control options will satisfy the most advanced user, while its auto-everything "Program" exposure mode will meet the needs of the least-experienced novice. We particularly applaud Sony's new user interface design, and the inclusion of a full-manual exposure mode. All in all, the S85 is a nice compact package, representing one of the best values on the digicam market today. (Spring, 2001)

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