DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P50
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Thursday, July 5, 2001
Last Updated: Friday, October 26, 2001

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Sony has one of the broadest digital camera product lines out there. There are cameras for people who want their images stored on floppy or CD-ROM. There are cameras with lots of manual controls and high resolution, and there are simple point-and-shoot cameras.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P50 falls in the middle. While it doesn't have manual controls, the P50 has some nice features that make it stand out among other point-and-shoot cameras. Not bad, considering the P50 costs under $400. Read on to find out more about the DSC-P50!

What's in the Box?

The DSC-P50 has a decent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 2.1 Mpixel Cyber-shot DSC-P50 camera
  • 4MB Memory Stick
  • 2 AA alkaline batteries
  • Lens cap w/ strap
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring MGI PhotoSuite software and drivers
  • 8 page manual

The only real negative comments I have here is the skimpy 4MB Memory Stick, and the included 2 AA non-rechargeable batteries.


Here you can see the optional NP-FS11 battery, included Memory Stick, and the unique battery compartment.

Sony does redeem themselves with the batteries, however, with a feature that I believe is unique to their P-Series digital cameras. You can use AA batteries OR Sony's InfoLITHIUM rechargeables! As you can see in the shot above, the battery compartment looks like it holds AA batteries just fine. But the InfoLithium is more of a rectangular shape! No problem... when you insert the InfoLithium battery, those round guides move out of the way. I wish all cameras with proprietary batteries could pull this off!

With the included alkaline batteries, you'll get 30-60 minutes of usage before they end up in the trash. Sony's optional NP-FS11 battery ($60) is 1140 mAh, and will last for 90-120 minutes. One nice thing about the InfoLithium batteries is that they tell you how many minutes are left before the battery will die

Another option is to buy 1600 or 1700 mAh NiMH rechargeables. Those will last even longer, and for a lot less money.

Sony thoughtfully includes a lens cap and strap, which always gets points with me.

For a point-and-shoot camera, the P50 has an overwhelming amount of optional accessories available. That includes telephoto and wide-angle lenses (there's even a "high grade" version), polarizing and neutral density filters, and several battery chargers.

The P50 is compatible with both Mac and PC computers. For compatibility with Mac OS X, you'll need to go into the Set Up menu and change the USB Mode from "Normal" to "PTP".

Sony's manuals aren't great. They remind me of the one that comes with the VCR that most people can't figure out how to program.

Look and Feel

Unlike its more expensive sibling, the DSC-P1, the DSC-P50 is made entirely of plastic (the P1 is metal). It does feel solid, however, and not "cheap" like some other plastic cameras. The P50 is very light and easy to hold with one hand (or two). It's barely pocket sized, since it's pretty long.

The dimensions of the DSC-P50 are 5 x 2.5 x 2.1 inches, and it weighs 260 g. The P1, by comparison, is a bit smaller and lighter.

Here's the front of the P50. The F3.8 3X optical zoom lens has a focal range of 6.4 - 19.2mm, which is equivalent to 41 - 123mm. The lens is threaded for 37mm attachment, and a number of them are available, as I mentioned earlier. One nice thing (in my opinion) about the P50 is that the lens never comes out of the body -- it's self-contained.

The flash on the P50 has a working range of 0.3 - 2.0 meters.

Another nice feature on the P50 is the AF illuminator, which uses a bright light to assist with focusing in darkness.

Now moving onto the back of the camera. The 1.5" LCD is a bit smaller than those found on most cameras, but it's still very bright and fluid -- as is typical with Sony cameras. Nose smudges will be a problem for those who use their left eye with the optical viewfinder.

Speaking of which, the optical viewfinder is quite small, and it lacks diopter correction for those of us with glasses. Just to the right of the viewfinder, there are three lights: self-timer/recording, focus lock, and flash/battery charge.

Just right of those lights is a button for turning the LCD on and off. Keeping the LCD off will greatly increase battery life, especially on a camera that only uses two AA's. Just right of that is the well-placed zoom control.

To the left of the LCD, you'll find the four-way switch and menu button, which are used for menus and basic camera functions as well. These include:

  • Flash
  • Macro
  • Self-Timer
  • Quick Review (shows the last shot taken)

Now onto to the top of the camera. From left to right, you can see the speaker, power button, mode wheel, and shutter release button. It's kind of strange that the camera has a speaker, considering the fact that it has no microphone.

The mode wheel has the following options:

  • Set Up
  • Movie Mode
  • Playback
  • Record
  • Night Scene

I'll cover these in more detail later in the review.

Now, here's one side of the P50. Under the rubber cover, you'll find the USB and Video Out ports. There is no serial support for this or any Sony Cyber-shot cameras.

You already saw the innovative battery compartment open, so here's a shot of it closed. Just below that is the slot for the Memory Stick. The slot is spring-loaded, which makes the card easy to remove.

Finally, the bottom of the P50. I had to punch a hole through the sticker put on the camera (by Sony PR) to get to the tripod mount. Your camera will not look like this. The tripod mount is made of metal.

Using the Sony DSC-P50

Record Mode

The camera turns on and warms up in just 2 seconds - very quick. I'm sure the fact that the lens doesn't have to extend has something to do with that.

When you depress the shutter release button halfway, it can take up to a second to lock focus. When you press the button all the way down, the photo is taken with no delay. Shot-to-shot speed is impressive -- just 2-3 seconds before you can take another shot. Writing a TIFF file takes considerably longer. Unfortunately, you can't even fit a TIFF on the included 4MB Memory Stick, so I can't tell you just how long it takes!

The zoom control on the P50 was silent, and responsive.

The DSC-P50 has quite a few choices for image size and quality. Check out this table which describes them:

Image Size # photos on 4MB Memory Stick
Standard Quality Fine Quality
1600 x 1200 7 3
1600 (3:2) 7 3
1024 x 768 16 10
640 x 480 57 23

For the record, you can get one TIFF file on an 8MB Memory Stick. It's probably in your best interest to buy a much larger card than the one included with the camera.

The DSC-P50's menu system is pretty simple and easy to learn. Let's take a look at the various menu items and what they do:

  • Exposure Compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV)
  • Focus (Auto, 0.5m, 1.0m, 3.0m, 7.0m, infinity)
  • White Balance (Hold, Auto, Indoor, Outdoor)
  • Spot Metering (on/off)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Image Size (1600 x 1200, 1600 (3:2), 1024 x 768, 640 x 480)
  • Photo Quality (Fine, Standard)
  • Rec Mode (TIFF, Text, E-Mail, Normal) -- more on this below
  • Flash Level (High, Normal, Low)
  • Photo Effects (Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
  • Sharpness (-2 to +2)

There is no manual white balance on the P50, unlike some of the more expensive Cyber-shots. The "hold" white balance mode is for use with single-colored subjects or backgrounds.

Here's more details on those Rec Mode choices:

  • TIFF: uncompressed large image - cannot fit on 4MB stick (need at least 8MB)
  • Text: records a GIF in black & white
  • E-mail: Records a 320 x 240 image in addition to the recorded image

In Setup Mode, there are a number of other options available. Here are the interesting ones:

  • Moving Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion) - explained later
  • Digital Zoom (on/off)
  • Red-eye reduction (on/off)
  • AF illuminator (on/off)
  • File numbering (series, reset)
  • LCD brightness
  • USB connect (normal, PTP) - put it in PTP mode for Mac OS X only.

Okay, enough about all that boring stuff, let's take a look at our photo tests.

The P50 did a great job with the usual macro subject (I should be getting royalties from Disney for this, sheesh). No white balance problems at all -- Auto mode worked just fine for a change. You can get as close as 3 cm at full wide-angle, and 80 cm at full telephoto.

The camera did pretty well in our not-so-usual night shot test as well. The noise level is acceptable (to me) and there aren't any hot pixels, as you can see. This was shot in "Night Scene" mode.

The photo quality was impressive overall. In some shots taken on cloudy days, the images were on the underexposed side. But otherwise, color and sharpness looked good. Check out the photo gallery to judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

The movie mode isn't nearly as nice as that found on higher-end Sony cameras. There's no HQ mode, and even worse, no sound. Still, if you don't mind silent movies, the quality is decent, and you can fill up the Memory Card -- there are no limits on the length of your movie clips. Sony's marketing term for this feature is MPEGMovieEX.

Thankfully, you can use the optical zoom during filming.

There are two sizes available in movie mode.

Movie Size # of seconds on 4MB Memory Stick (approx.)
320 x 240 40
160 x 112 160

There is also a feature called ClipMotion which will take 10 images and put them into an animated GIF for you.

Below is an unexciting sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (448k, 5 sec, MPEG format)

Playback Mode

The DSC-P50's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on most point-and-shoot cameras. The basic features include slideshows, DPOF print marking, protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom & scroll".

The less common, "advanced" features include:

  • Resize - change an image's size
  • Rotate
  • Divide - splits movies in half
  • Trim - when zoomed into an image, you can crop the image down to the selected area. You choose the resolution of the new image (the old one is kept). The only thing to remember here is that if you take a small area of an image and then blow it up, you'll lose image quality.

You can get more information about photos by zooming out twice. You'll get a scrollable list of information that you can see above.

I would have liked a delete button on the camera itself, rather than having to invoke the menu every time I want to remove a photo, but that's a minor gripe.

The P50 moves between images quickly in playback mode, and it shows a low res version before a high res one replaces it. The low-res image shows up almost instantly, with the high res arriving about three seconds later.

How Does it Compare?

If you pardon the bad cliché, the Sony DSC-P50 is an oasis in a desert of point-and-shoot cameras. It has great pictures, fast processing speeds, excellent usability, and lots of extra features that most other cameras in its class skip over. The only things not to like are the lack of sound recording in movie mode, and its proprietary (and too small) Memory Stick format. If you're looking for a point-and-shoot digicam, take a close look at the P50!

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Excellent usability
  • Can use proprietary battery or AA's
  • Good playback mode
  • Can use zoom in movie mode
  • Lots of accessories available

What I didn't care for:

  • No sound in movie mode
  • Proprietary Memory Stick - 4MB way too small
  • No continuous shooting mode

Some other low cost, 2 Megapixel zoom cameras you'll want to consider include the Canon PowerShot A20, S110, and S300, Fuji FinePix 2400 Zoom, Nikon Coolpix 775, Olympus C-2040Z and D-510Z, and the Toshiba PDR-M61.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DSC-P50 and its competitors (if there are any when you're there) before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the DSC-P50. If that's still not enough, Imaging Resource has one too.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not ask for personal camera recommendations.
 

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