DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P7
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Friday, July 19, 2002
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 23, 2002

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I've lost count at the number of new cameras Sony has introduced this year. They cycle through models faster than any other digital camera manufacturer. With all the models out there, things can be confusing when you're shopping.

For example, Sony has a Cyber-shot DSC-P7 ($499) and a Cyber-shot DSC-P71 ($399). The DSC-P7, reviewed here, is smaller than the P71 (see our review), with a few more features, plus the ability to record sound. So despite having a higher model number, the P71 is actually "inferior" to the P7. Hopefully this paragraph cleared up some of the confusion that I know must be out there.

Anyhow, the DSC-P7 is a very small, 3.2 Megapixel camera with a 3X optical zoom. It's a point-and-shoot camera, so don't expect a lot in the way of manual controls. Read on to get the full scoop on this camera!

Since this camera is so similar to other Sony cameras, I've reused a lot of text. Why reinvent the wheel?

What's in the Box?

The DSC-P7 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P7 camera
  • 16MB Memory Stick
  • NP-FC10 InfoLithium rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and drivers
  • 104 page manual (printed)

While some other recent Sony cameras have switched to AA batteries, the P7 uses the tried-and-true InfoLithium battery. The included NP-FC10 battery (2.4 Wh) is about the size of three Memory Sticks put together. Sony estimates that you'll be able to get about 80 minutes of photo-taking per charge. The included AC adapter plugs right into the camera to recharge the battery in about 150 minutes.

I will repeat my usual speech about proprietary stuff (keep in mind that you're welcome to disagree -- it's just my opinion). First, proprietary batteries. While the InfoLithium batteries are some of the best proprietary batteries out there (they even display the remaining minutes before they need a recharge), they're still expensive, and you can't buy regular batteries to get you out of a bind, like you can do with AA-based cameras. The other proprietary feature on the Sony cameras is, of course, the Memory Stick. While prices have really come down, it's still a shame that Sony insists on their own memory format instead of using an industry standard format.

One last Memory Stick comment -- the included 16MB card is a bit too small for a camera with this resolution, so you'll definitely want to buy a larger one at some point.


This should give you an idea of the P7's size

Since the camera has a built-in lens cover, there are no lens cap worries. You can see just how small the P7 is in the photo above.


HPK-FSL1 accessory flash

The P7 has a decent amount of accessories available. The two most interesting ones are an external flash (really!) and an underwater case. The HPK-FSL1 accessory flash ($100) attaches via the tripod mount, and provides extra flash power, without any hot shoe or cables needed (it uses a slave sensor).The MPK-P9 Marine Pack ($250) lets you take the P7 up to 40 meters underwater. There are also underwater filters, lights, and an "arm" available. The one thing the P7 is missing is support for traditional conversion lenses.

The DSC-P7 works fine with Mac OS X and iPhoto, plus Windows XP. I have not tried the bundled Pixela ImageMixer software.

The P7's manual is an improvement from those included with older Sony cameras. I still think they have a ways to go, but things are getting better.

Look and Feel

The DSC-P7 (along with the P2 and P9) is Sony's smallest digicam, or darn close to it. It's a lot wider than most "micro cameras", but it is thin. Here's how they stack up in terms of size:

Camera Dimensions Weight
Sony DSC-P7 4.5 x 2.0 x 1.4 206 g
Sony DSC-P71 5.0 x 2.4 x 1.8 284 g
Olympus D-40Z 3.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 190 g
Pentax Optio 330/430 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.2 205 g
Kyocera Finecam S3 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.2 165 g
Canon PowerShot S110 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 190 g
Canon PowerShot S300 3.7 x 2.5 x 1.2 240 g

Since Sony quotes the weight of the camera with battery installed, you'll need to take off a few grams to compare it with the other cameras, which are measured with nothing installed. This chart should also give you an idea about the size difference between the P7 and P71 models.

The P7 has a very sleek, all metal body that is easy to hold with one hand or two. The camera feels well-constructed and should take whatever you throw at it. One thing to watch out for on all metal cameras is that they are easily scratched.

Let's do our usual 360 degree tour of the P7, starting with the front.

The DSC-P7 has an F2.8, 3X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 8 - 24 mm. That's equivalent to 39 - 117 mm. The lens is not threaded.

The small circle just above-left from the lens is the AF illuminator, which helps to light up the subject in low-light situations, to ease focusing.

Over to the left is the flash, which has a working range of 0.5 - 3.8 m at wide-angle, and 0.6 - 2.4 m at telephoto. Like the more expensive Sony DSC-F707, the P7 uses a pre-flash TTL metering system. In layman's terms, this means that that flash fires twice -- the first time to figure out the correct exposure, and the second time to actually record the image. I already mentioned the add-on flash available for the P7.

Finally, to the lower-left of the lens is the DSC-P7's microphone.

Here's the back of the DSC-P7. The 1.5" LCD is smaller than those found on most cameras, but it's par for the course on "micro-cameras". The LCD is bright and fluid, and usable except in bright sunlight (which is the case for all LCDs). I found it easy to smudge the LCD with your fingers and nose.

The optical viewfinder is right in the middle of the camera, and is on the good-sized compared to other micro-cameras. There is no diopter correction to help focus the image for those of us with less than perfect vision.

On the right side of the LCD are a few buttons and the four-way switch. The Display/LCD and Menu buttons are self explanatory. In addition to controlling the menu system, the four-way switch also does the following:

  • Flash (Auto, forced, flash off)
  • Macro
  • Self-Timer
  • Quick Review (shows the last shot taken)

Below those buttons, under a plastic cover, you'll find the I/O ports. The ports for for DC in, USB, and A/V out. You plug the included AC adapter into the DC in port, which charges the batteries or powers the camera (but not both at the same time).

Finally, towards the top right is the zoom control. The zoom moves smoothly and precisely.

Here now is the top of the DSC-P7. The lack of an LCD info display means that you'll have to use the main LCD when you want to check settings and shots remaining.

What you will find here is the power button and the mode wheel, which has the shutter release button inside it. The choices on the mode wheel are:

  • Setup
  • Movie mode
  • Playback mode
  • Record mode
  • Scene Mode

Scene mode lets you pick one of three scenes (night scene, night portrait, landscape), and the camera chooses the best settings for that situation.

There's not much to see on this side of the camera. Since some people have asked in the past, I will try to clear up that 6X label you can see above. The camera has a 3X optical zoom lens. When coupled with a 2X "digital zoom" feature, you get the 6X number seen above. Unfortunately, when you use the digital zoom, the image quality decreases, so I just turn it off. I wish they wouldn't label it as 6X though.

On the other side, you'll find the battery compartment, as well as the Memory Stick slot. Let's open those up.

Here you can see the included battery and Memory Stick!

Last, but not least, here's the bottom of the P7. Down here you'll find the metal tripod mount and speaker.

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P7

Record Mode

The DSC-P7 turns on, extends its lens, and is ready to go in just over three seconds. Auto-focus generally takes under a second, though it can take slightly longer if the AF illuminator is used. Shutter lag is not an issue on the P7. Shot-to-shot speed is excellent -- just over a second elapses before you can take another shot.


LCD in record mode

Sony's recent cameras have three noise reduction systems to make your pictures better. There's one for chrominance (Clear Color NR), another for luminance, and finally, one for noise (Slow Shutter NR). When shutter speeds drop below 1/2 sec, the "Slow Shutter NR" noise reduction mode kicks in. This results in a longer wait for the image to be recorded, but you'll be rewarded with a less noisy image.

Here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the P7:

Image Size # photos on included 16MB Memory Stick
Fine Quality Standard Quality
2048 x 1536 10 18
2048 (3:2) 10 18
1600 x 1200 16 30
1280 x 960 24 45
640 x 480 96 240

On these latest P-series cameras, the uncompressed TIFF mode have gone the way of the dinosaur. I'm not sure why (maybe since few people actually use it?), but it's gone now. Some of the other Record Modes seem to have disappeared as well.

The DSC-P7 uses the familiar Sony "overlay-style" menu, which is quick and easy to operate. Here's what you'll find in the menus:

  • Exposure Compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Focus (Multi AF, Center AF, 0.5m, 1.0m, 3.0m, 7.0m, infinity) - more below
  • White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent)
  • Spot Metering (on/off)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Image Size (2048 x 1536, 2048 (3:2), 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
  • Photo Quality (Fine, Standard)
  • Rec Mode (E-Mail, Voice, Normal) - E-mail is a 320 x 240 photo saved with a regular full size image; Voice mode lets you attach a sound clip to photos.
  • Flash Level (High, Normal, Low)
  • Photo Effects (Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
  • Sharpness (-2 to +2)

The white balance mode has been expanded on the recent P-series cameras. No more indoor, outdoor, or hold choices. There are new auto-focus (AF) modes as well: multi-area and center. The multi-area is 3 points, though the camera will pick what point it focuses on. Center-weighted focusing, well, focuses on whatever is in the center of the frame.

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

  • Moving Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion, Multi-Burst) - explained below
  • Date/Time (Day & Time, Date, Off) - whether date/time is printed on your photos
  • Digital Zoom (on/off)
  • Redeye reduction (Auto/off)
  • AF illuminator (on/off)
  • File numbering (series, reset)
  • LCD brightness

The Moving Image feature has a new addition: Multi-Burst mode. This is similar to a feature found on the Nikon Coolpix cameras. It will take 16 shots in a row and put it into one 1280 x 960. I guess it's good for analyzing your golf swing. You get to choose from several between-frame intervals -- 1/7.5 sec, 1/15 sec, and 1/30 sec. There is also a movie-like feature called ClipMotion which will take 10 images and put them into an animated GIF for you.

The P7 does not have a "traditional" burst/continuous shooting mode.

While our macro test shot came out a bit softer than I would like, it still looks pretty good. The color of our famous 3" tall subject is right on. The minimum distance to the subject is 50 cm at wide-angle and 60 cm at telephoto.

The night shot test is just average. Since there isn't any controls over shutter speed, you're stuck whatever the camera chooses. This shot was taken in night scene mode with an exposure time of 2 seconds, which is as slow as the P7 will shoot. It needed another second or two to let in more light. That said, there really isn't any noise to speak of here, which shows that Sony's Slow Shutter NR really works!

The P7 did a fine job with our new redeye test. The eyes have a bit of a glow to them but it's certainly not bad compared to other cameras I've tested. Note that this image was enlarged to show detail.

I was very pleased with the DSC-P7's photo quality. Images were well-exposed and colorful, and purple fringing was not a problem. Take a look at the photo gallery and see if you agree!

Movie Mode

Like the other recent P-series cameras, the P7 supports the new MPEGMovie HQX mode. What does this mean? It means that you can film until the Memory Stick fills up, even in the "high quality" mode. Sound is recorded, as well.

Movies are recorded in MPEG format at 320 x 240 (high or standard quality), or 160 x 120. This chart shows you how long each movie can be on the included 16MB Memory Stick:

Quality Setting Max movie length on 16MB stick
HQX (320 x 240, high quality) 40
320 x 240 160
160 x 112 640

Again, those times are for the included 16MB Stick. If you buy a longer one, you can take longer movies. The zoom lens cannot be used during filming.

Here is a sample movie for you to check out. It was taken in HQX mode and is quite large (4.8MB):


Click to play movie (4.8MB, MPEG format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DSC-P7's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on most point-and-shoot cameras. The basic features include slide shows, DPOF print marking, protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom & scroll".

The zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom in as much as 5X, and then "scroll" around in the photo. It's handy for making sure that your image is in focus.

Some of those "bonus 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. You can, however, delete a group of photos. Put the camera into thumbnail mode (zoom out once), invoke the menu, and choose Delete, then Select and you'll see what I mean.

The DSC-P7 moves between images fairly 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?

With their DSC-P7, Sony has again created a digital camera that's easy to use, fairly loaded with features, and capable of taking great pictures. The P7 is a very small camera that has a decent amount of controls -- though none of them what I'd call manual -- that are easy to work with. Their movie mode is top-notch, thanks to the ability to record until the memory card is full. And to my surprise, the P7 even supports an external flash. Some other similarly priced cameras (e.g. Toshiba PDR-3300) offer a lot more manual controls, but not in body this size. The P7 is definitely a camera you'll want to check out.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Robust operation
  • Small, easy to pocket camera; well built.
  • Movie mode lets you record until Memory Stick is full
  • AF illuminator for low light focusing
  • Support for external flash (sort of)
  • Cool Marine Pack for underwater photography

What I didn't care for:

  • No optical zoom in movie mode
  • Not a fan of Memory Stick format and proprietary batteries (personal bias)
  • 16MB Memory Stick too small for 3.2MP camera
  • No true continuous shooting mode

Here are some other lower cost 3 Megapixel cameras to check out: Canon PowerShot S30, Kyocera Finecam S3, Nikon Coolpix 885, Olympus C-3020Z and D-550Z, Pentax Optio 330RS, Sony DSC-P71, and the Toshiba PDR-3300 and PDR-3310.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-P7 and it's competitors 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?

Hey, we're the only review out there right now!

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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