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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1

A no-excuses "enthusiast" camera from Sony: 5 megapixels, 4x zoom, fast AF, and features galore

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 04/18/2003, Updated: 7/1/2003

Executive Overview
Sony's Cyber-shot line of digicams includes a wide range of sizes and body styles, from the "lens-centric" design of the DSC-F717 to the slim, trim dimensions of the "Compact P" series. The newest addition to the Cyber-shot line, the DSC-V1, presents yet another design style, this time based on a more traditional 35mm rangefinder aesthetic. While the earlier S75 and S85 models arguably fit this mold as well, the boxy shape of the new V1 is much more reminiscent of the film-based rangefinders of yesteryear. The V1's rectangular shape and compact size will be comfortable and familiar for many newcomers to digital, and add to the camera's portability as well. While a little chubby for a standard shirt pocket, the V1 fits larger coat pockets and purses well, and the built-in protective lens shutter makes it easy and safe to simply slip it into a pocket as you're heading out the door. Best of all, the V1 offers a truly exceptional array of features, from full manual exposure control to a selection of preset Scene modes to Sony's unique NightShot technology.

The DSC-V1 is somewhat unique at this point in the market, being the first camera to combine a 5-megapixel CCD with a 4x optical zoom lens. (There are five-megapixel cameras with 3x zooms, and four-megapixel models with 4x zooms, but the V1 will be the first 5MP/4x design that's hit the shelves.) As with other high-end Sony digicams, the V1 features a high-quality, Carl Zeiss lens for capturing sharp details. The 4x, 7-28mm lens offers a maximum aperture of f/2.8 - f/4.0, depending on the zoom position. In addition to optical zoom, the V1 offers Sony's new "Smart Zoom" digital zooming technology, designed to preserve image quality when digitally enlarging images. (Smart Zoom avoids loss of image quality by limiting the digital zoom range to only that which can be achieved without interpolation, based on the currently selected resolution setting.) While Sony has coined the term "Smart Zoom" for this feature, the V1 is hardly the first camera to employ this approach. (This is how digital zoom works on many of Fuji's consumer digicams.) Still, I heartily support this approach to digital zoom, as it seems a little less deceptive, and in any event will avoid interpolation artifacts.) With Smart Zoom enabled, the V1 can digitally enlarge images up to 4x, depending on the resolution. (The highest digital magnification is only available at the camera's lowest, VGA resolution setting. Larger image sizes result in proportionately lower digital zoom ratios.) The V1 offers manual focus in 14 distance presets and an autofocus whose target can be widened or narrowed and moved around to five different positions within the frame. Focus mode options include Single, Continuous (continuously adjusts focus), and Monitor. (This last mode appears to be something between normal on-demand autofocus and fully continuous AF, "monitoring" the focus status to permit slightly faster shutter response, perhaps with less battery drain than full continuous AF.) There's also a Macro mode for shooting close-up subjects. A unique, Sony-only feature the V1 shares with the F717 that went before it is Hologram AF, which uses a laser diode and a holographic diffraction grating to produce a crosshatched autofocus-assist pattern of bright red lines on the subject. This projected pattern stays more or less "in focus" almost irrespective of subject distance, so there's always a sharp pattern for the camera to focus on. Hologram AF isn't just for low light. You'll see the pattern projected in fairly normal lighting when there's not enough contrast in the subject for the contrast-detection AF system to focus effectively.

Sony again included their trademark NightShot and NightFraming modes, which are infinitely useful in composing photos under low- (or no-) lighting situations. NightShot mode physically removes the infrared (IR) filter from the front of the CCD and projects IR beams from two small LEDs on the front of the camera. The resulting image is monochromatic, similar to the view through night vision goggles, but the camera can literally "see in the dark." NightFraming mode uses the same technique, allowing you to frame dark subjects using the IR beams, but once focus is determined, the camera replaces the IR filter and makes the exposure with normal flash.

For composing images, the V1 features both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor on the back panel. A detailed information display on the LCD monitor reports battery power, Memory Stick capacity, flash status, focus mode, and the number of images taken, plus various exposure settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, image size, and quality. The LCD display also features an optional histogram, viewable in all record modes as well as in Playback mode.

The V1 offers a full range of exposure modes, and a nice complement of creative options besides. Aperture is adjustable from f/2.8 to f/8, and shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 30 seconds. The Mode dial on top of the camera offers Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program AE, Full Auto, and Scene exposure modes. Aperture Priority lets you select the lens aperture, while the camera chooses the best shutter speed. Alternatively, Shutter Priority lets you select the shutter speed, while the camera determines the appropriate aperture. Program AE places the camera in control of both aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure parameters, and Full Auto mode places the camera in charge of everything (except for resolution, flash, zoom, and Record mode). The Scene exposure mode provides six preset shooting modes -- Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Portrait, Beach, and Snow -- designed to obtain the best exposure for specific shooting situations. New to the V1 is a variable-program capability, which means that the camera will determine the exposure, but you can choose from among different, equivalent combinations of aperture and shutter speed. - This accomplishes much the same thing as Aperture or Shutter Priority modes, but gives the camera more latitude in determining the correct exposure. (Very handy.)

Multi-Pattern, Center-Weighted, and Spot Metering options are available in all shooting modes except Full Auto, selectable via the Record menu. (A crosshair target appears in the center of the LCD monitor in Spot metering mode). White Balance options include: One Push (manual setting, using a white card), Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, and Auto. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments, and the camera's ISO value can be set to Auto or to 100, 200, 400, or 800 equivalents, increasing performance in low-light shooting situations. The V1's built-in flash features Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Suppressed operating modes, with a variable flash intensity adjustment and true TTL metering . As an added bonus, the V1 offers an external flash connection and hot shoe mount, which let you connect more powerful flash units (like the recently-announced Sony HVL-F32X) to the camera.

The V1 also provides an MPEG Movie VX mode with sound recording, which permits movies to be recorded at VGA resolution. A Clip Motion option, available through the Setup menu, works like an animation camera, allowing you to capture a series of up to 10 still images, which the camera records as an animated GIF file for sequential frame playback. Multi-Burst mode captures 16 images in rapid sequence and saves them as a single image, which plays back as a slow-motion sequence. A Picture Effects menu captures images in Solarized, Sepia, and Negative Art tones, and Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation adjustments are also available.

The Record menu options include a TIFF mode for saving uncompressed images; a Voice mode for adding sound clips up to 40 seconds long to accompany captured images (great for "labeling" or annotating your shots); and an E-Mail mode that saves a 320 x 240-pixel image small enough to transmit by email in addition to your normal-sized image. An Exposure Bracketing mode captures three images at three different exposures, so you can choose the best overall exposure after the fact, while the Burst 3 mode captures three images in rapid succession with one press of the Shutter button (shot-to-shot frame rates vary with the pixel resolution and the amount of image information being recorded). Finally, there is a Normal setting for standard JPEG compressed images.

Images are stored as uncompressed TIFFs, JPEGs, MPEGs, or GIFs (depending on the Record mode) on Sony Memory Sticks, supporting the new Memory Stick Pro format. (Cards are currently available in capacities as large as 1GB.) The V1's expanded Memory Stick capabilities also let you create and manage individual image folders on one card. A video cable is also provided with the camera for connecting to a television set. (You can choose between NTSC or PAL video standards via the Setup menu.) For downloading images, a USB cable provides high-speed connection to PC or Macintosh computers. Software supplied with the V1 includes Pixela ImageMixer for Windows (98, 98SE, Me, 2000, XP) and Macintosh (OS 8.5-9.2) systems, as well as any necessary USB drivers for these operating systems.

The V1 uses an NP-FC11 InfoLITHIUM battery pack and comes with an AC adapter that doubles as a battery charger. I like the InfoLITHIUM batteries because they communicate with the camera, which in turn tells you how much operating time remains, via a small readout on the LCD screen. This is really valuable in avoiding lost shots because your batteries die unexpectedly. (I have to say though, that I'm less enthusiastic about the tiny InfoLITHIUM pack that the V1 uses: I'd have greatly preferred a larger pack, and a slightly larger camera as a result, in exchange for longer run times.)

Sony continues to impress me with their innovative camera designs and attention to the needs of the marketplace and feedback from current users. Thus far, they've had a hard time convincing the "enthusiast" crowd to take their cameras seriously, but the DSC-V1 could very well change that. It's a serious, no-excuses photographic instrument with more useful features than anything else currently on the market. Anyone looking for a full-capability "prosumer" digicam should definitely give the DSC-V1 serious consideration.

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