DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P71
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Last Updated: Sunday, June 16, 2002

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The review of this camera is now complete. Photos have been re-shot where needed, and all sample photos were taken with a production-level camera.

Sony's P-series line of digital cameras can be a bit confusing. They are actually split into two groups: the single digit models (DSC-P2, DSC-P7, DSC-P9), and the double digit models (DSC-P31, DSC-P51, DSC-P71). Despite the higher model numbers, the double digit models are actually inferior to the single digit models. You're probably more confused now than before you started reading this.

The Cyber-shot DSC-P71 ($400) reviewed here is a 3.2 Megapixel camera with a 3X optical zoom. The body style is reminiscent of the single digit P-series cameras, though the P71 is a little larger.

The P71's siblings, the P31 and P51, are both two Megapixel cameras, with the P31 having a fixed focal length lens, and the P51 having a 2X optical zoom lens. I've covered the P31 in a separate review.

What's in the Box?

The DSC-P71 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Cyber-shot DSC-P71 camera
  • 16MB Memory Stick
  • 2 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries
  • NiMH battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and drivers
  • 109 page manual

So what's the big news with the three new P-series cameras? Sony has ditched the proprietary battery! While the old P-series cameras gave you the option of using AA or proprietary, the new cameras use two AA batteries. Sony includes two high capacity 1750 mAh batteries, plus a charger with the camera. They've managed to squeeze out over 90 minutes of battery life per charge.


Yippee!

I see this is a big win for the consumer. While proprietary batteries do last a long time, they are expensive, and you can't just buy another one at Disneyland when your first one dies.

Sony estimates that you'll have 100 - 120 minutes of shooting time, with mixed LCD use. One feature that disappeared when the InfoLithium batteries went away was the handy timer showing how much battery life you had left, down to the minute. Now it's just a little battery symbol, and when it gets empty, it's time to recharge.

One thing I do recommend is that you buy another set or two of NiMH batteries to complement the ones included with the camera. Another suggestion -- you may want a better battery charger, as the one Sony includes only holds two batteries, and takes a whopping 13 hours to charge them.

Sony has started giving out larger Memory Sticks with their cameras, and the P71 includes a 16MB stick. Even so, you'll probably want to buy a 32MB or larger stick -- prices have really come down in the last few months.

The camera has a built-in lens cover, so no lens cap is needed.

The DSC-P50 that this camera replaces had a number of optional lenses and filters available, though I couldn't find any for the P71.

The camera is compatible with Mac OS X, iPhoto, and WindowsXP. I did not try the Pixela ImageMixer software, so I can't comment on that.

Here's more great news: the new P-series cameras have an improved manual! It's a much more user friendly manual compared to other Sony cameras I've tested in that past, and I'm very happy to see it. Perhaps my complaining had something to do with this improvement, in some small way?

Look and Feel

The DSC-P71 has lost some weight since the old P50 model. It's closer now to the DSC-P9, minus the cool metal body. While there is some metal on the P71, most of it is "high grade plastic." The camera is very easy to hold, with one hand or two.

The dimensions of the P71 are 5.0 x 2.38 x 1.75 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs just 284 grams with batteries and Memory Stick installed. The camera easily fits in your pockets, even though it's pretty wide.

The DSC-P71 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.

Just above and left from the lens is the AF illuminator, which helps to light up the subject in low-light situations, to ease focusing. Why can't all cameras have this?!

Over to the left is the flash, which has a working range of 0.5 - 3.8 m (wide-angle) and 0.5 - 2.5 m (telephoto). Not surprisingly, there's no support for an external flash on the P71.

Here's the back of the DSC-P71.

The 1.5" LCD is smaller than those found on most cameras, but it's still bright and easy to see, except outdoors (as is the case with all LCDs). Nose smudges will be a problem if you use the optical viewfinder with your left eye.

Speaking of the optical viewfinder, it's right in the middle of the camera, and is on the small side. In addition, there is no diopter correction to help focus the image for those of us with less than perfect vision.

To the right of the viewfinder is the mode wheel, which has five choices:

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

The Scene mode has three choices: landscape, night scene, and night scene/portrait (flash slow sync). I'll have more on the other modes later in the review.

Continuing to the right, you can see the zoom controls. The zoom moves fairly smoothly, if not a bit noisy.

On the left side of the LCD are more buttons. The Menu and Display/LCD buttons are self explanatory, as is the four-way switch below.

In addition to controlling the menu system, the four-way switch also does the following:

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

Under plastic covers, you'll find the I/O ports. On the lower left side, you'll see the Video Out and USB ports. The DC in port is on the right side.

Lastly, there's a speaker on the left side, in the photo above. The P71 does not have a microphone, however.

There isn't too much to see on the top of the P71. The power button and shutter release can be found over to the right, and that's about it. 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.

There's not much to see on this side of the camera...

... but 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 where the 2 AA batteries go, as well as the Memory Stick.

Last, but not least, here's the bottom of the P71. The only thing of note down here is the metal tripod mount. There's also a mysterious "reset" hole down here as well.

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P71

Record Mode

The P71 turns on and is ready to go in just over three seconds. Auto-focus usually takes under a second, though it can take a bit longer if the AF illuminator is used. Shutter lag is barely noticeable on the P71. Shot-to-shot speed is excellent -- just over a second elapses before you can take another shot.

Recently introduced Sony cameras (like the P71) 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 P71:

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 44
640 x 480 96 240

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

The DSC-P71 uses the familiar Sony "overlay-style" menu. It's easy enough to figure out. 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) - lots more options here than on old models
  • 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, Normal) - E-mail is a 320 x 240 photo saved with a regular full size image
  • 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 new P-series. No more indoor, outdoor, or hold choices. Too bad there's no manual white balance. 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.

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 (on/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.

Let's take a look at some photo samples now.

The DSC-P71 did a pretty nice job with our night shot. There isn't much noise, thanks for the Slow Shutter NR feature. It's slightly over-exposed and some purple fringing can be seen -- but overall, great stuff from a low-cost camera. (Do note that I rotated this image, as it was a bit crooked.)

The P71 also did a nice job with our usual macro subject. The subject (which is about 3 inches tall, by the way) is sharp, and the colors look good. You can get as close to the subject as 10 cm (wideangle) or 50 cm (telephoto).

The camera's built-in redeye reduction feature did a nice job, as you can see in the sample above. Do note that I blew up the sample to 200% so you can get a closer look.

I didn't get to take as many pictures as I would've liked with the P71, but the photo quality was impressive in most cases. I did have some trouble with the camera totally overexposing some shots that I took at the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, but that was the only instance. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) was not a problem. Take a look at the photo gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

I have good news and bad news about the movie mode on the new P-series. The good news is that you can use a new "HQX" mode (MPEGMovie HQ + MPEGMovie EX = HQX). This lets you record higher quality video (320 x 240, 16 fps) until the card is full! On a large 128MB Memory Stick, that's over 5 minutes of HQX video.

The bad news is that no sound is recorded on the new P-series cameras. If you want sound, you'll have to pony up another $100 for the DSC-P7.

More bad news: despite not recording any sound, the P71 won't let you use the zoom lens during filming.

Here's a sample movie for you to look at. Sorry it's so short... just a few seconds.


Click to play movie (1.6MB, MPEG format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DSC-P71'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".

Some of the "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.


(photo from DSC-F707)

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 P71 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?

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P71 is one of my favorite low-cost cameras. With a list price of $399, you get a great point-and-shoot camera that takes nice photos in most situations. There are a decent amount of controls compared to the competition, as well. One thing the P71 has that most of the competition does not have is an AF illuminator. Thank you, Sony, for that one. It also takes just two AA batteries, and can last for 2 hours per charge -- not bad at all. My only real complaints surround the movie mode: no sound is recorded, and the zoom lens cannot be used during filming. If you can live with that, the P71 is a great 3.2 Megapixel camera.

What I liked:

  • Very good photos in most situations
  • Small, easy to pocket camera; well built.
  • Uses just 2 AA batteries, and still lasts for 2 hours
  • Movie mode lets you record until Memory Stick is full
  • AF illuminator, a rarity on most lower cost cameras
  • Good amount of controls for low cost camera
  • Robust operation

What I didn't care for:

  • No sound or optical zoom in movie mode
  • Not a fan of Memory Stick format (personal bias)
  • Ultra slow battery charger; but at least they included one!

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 330, Sony DSC-P7, and the Toshiba PDR-3300 and PDR-3310.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-P71 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?

Check out a review of the DSC-P71 at the Imaging Resource Page.

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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