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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 7:Shutter Lag & Cycle Time Tests

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

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a digital camera, there's usually a lag or delay before the shutter actually fires. This represents the time required for the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms to do their work and can amount to a significant delay in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported by manufacturers or reviewers, and can significantly affect the picture-taking experience, I routinely measure these times with a proprietary electronic test system I designed and built for the purpose. (Timing is crystal-controlled, and accurate to 1/1000 of a second.) Here are the times I measured for the DSC-V1:

NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras, rather than my purely qualitative comments.

Sony DSC-V1 Timings
Time (secs)
Power On -> First shot 3.15 
Time from power-up to first shot. About average for a camera with a telescoping lens.
Shutdown 3.04 
Time to finish writing average large/fine file to the Memory Stick. About average.
Play to Record, first shot  0.75
Time until first shot is captured. Very fast.
Record to play 1.18/0.83
First time is for immediate switch after pressing shutter, second is time to display image from quiescent state in capture mode. Very fast.
Shutter lag, full autofocus  0.423/0.781 Shorter time is for wide angle, longer time is for telephoto. Much faster than average (!), particularly the wide angle number.
Shutter lag, manual focus 0.293  Faster than average. (Average is about 0.5 seconds.)
Shutter lag, prefocus 0.123  Faster than average. (Average is closer to 0.3 seconds, although recent digicam models are generally getting faster.)
Cycle time, max/min resolution 1.39/1.71
Very fast. In large/fine mode, the V1 can capture up to 12 frames before having to pause for ~16 seconds to wait for the buffer memory to dump to the Memory Stick. In small/basic mode, the camera appears to write to the card continuously as the shots are taken, with no apparent limit due to buffer constraints.
Cycle time, TIFF mode 43-49 seconds Rather slow, but not unusually so for 5-megapixel TIFF files. (Roughly 15 megabytes of data have to be written to the card.) Relatively little benefit to supposedly faster Memory Stick "Pro" cards. - 49 seconds with standard MS cards, 43 seconds with Pro versions.
Cycle time, continuous mode
("Burst 3" mode)
(2.0 fps)
Pretty fast, but limited to three frames at a time. Speed is the same, regardless of image size/quality setting. After burst of 3 frames, you have to wait 9.4 seconds in large/fine mode or 4.3 seconds in small/basic mode before shooting the next burst of 3 shots.
Frame rate, MultiBurst mode 7.5, 15, 30 frames/second Multi-burst frame rates match the stated values pretty exactly.

Overall, the DSC-V1 is a surprisingly speedy camera. In particular, its autofocus speed/shutter lag is much better than average, especially with the lens set to its wide-angle position. (This is one of the biggest source of user complaints with digital cameras, so big kudos to Sony for addressing it so effectively in the design of the V1. - I'd still like to see telephoto AF speed match that of wide-angle AF on the V1, but this is clearly one of the fastest-focusing digicams on the market, particularly in the "enthusiast" space.) Cycle times are very good, particularly given the very large buffer memory, which can hold up to ~12 shots at maximum resolution and JPEG quality. Continuous-mode speed is good, at 2 frames/second, but the 3-frame buffer in "Burst 3" mode is rather limiting. (As an aside, why did Sony limit the continuous-mode shooting to only 3 frames, when the camera has a 12-frame buffer? They crippled an otherwise exceptionally capable camera, apparently simply so they could have a feature named consistently across their product line. Shortsighted in the extreme, if I may say so...) MultiBurst mode offers incredibly fast frame rates for motion capture and analysis, albeit at greatly reduced resolution and a fixed run length of 16 frames.

As one of the first Sony digicams to support the new "Memory Stick PRO" format, I was interested to see what difference there might be between "standard" Memory Sticks and the new "PRO" units. I was expecting the Pro models to be a good bit faster, since they're based on a parallel data path, rather than the serial one of the standard units. As it turns out though, the V1 (along with the F717 before it) don't yet have the internal architecture necessary to take full advantage of the increased speed of the Memory Stick PRO format. In my tests with a 512 MB Memory Stick PRO and a 64 MB conventional unit, I found that the V1 could write to the PRO card slightly faster than the conventional one, but the difference was fairly slight: 43 vs 49 seconds to write a TIFF file. I'm told that future cameras with different internal electronics will indeed be a good bit faster writing to Memory Stick PRO cards, but for now the primary advantage is that the PRO format breaks the 128MB barrier. (Quite emphatically too, as Memory Stick PRO cards are currently available in sizes as large as 1 GB.)

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