DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 23, 2003
Last Updated: April 14, 2003

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The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72 ($330) is an updated version of the popular DSC-P71 from last year (see our review). You get a refined, smaller body, new MPEG Movie VX mode, support for Memory Stick Pro cards and USB 2.0, sound recording, and more.

The other new models in the Cyber-shot P series include the DSC-P32 ($230), a smaller, zoomless camera, the DSC-P52 ($280), a camera with a 2X optical zoom, and the DSC-P92 ($500), which is the same as the P72 except with a 5 Megapixel CCD.

The Cyber-shot DSC-P8 ($400) and DSC-P10 ($600) are even smaller, slightly more advanced cameras, with 3.2 and 5 Megapixel CCDs respectively. These two models also use Sony's InfoLithium battery, rather than AA batteries.

Ready to learn more about the Cyber-shot DSC-P72? Keep on reading!

What's in the Box?

The DSC-P72 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Cyber-shot DSC-P72 camera
  • 16MB Memory Stick
  • 2 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries
  • NiMH battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and USB drivers
  • 117 page manual (printed)

Sony has done a great thing with these lately P series cameras: they've increased the battery life substantially. How did they do it? By including 2100 mAh rechargeables in the box, of course!

Using just two of these batteries, you can get about 200 minutes of battery life with 50% LCD usage -- pretty darn good. Of course, to get that kind of life with replacement batteries, you'll need to make sure that they're 2100 mAh as well -- and they're not that easy to find. Being the kind folks that they are, Sony would be happy to sell you some, of course (hope you caught the sarcasm there).

When it's time to charge, just pop the batteries into the included charger. This isn't one of those "plug right into the wall" chargers -- you'll have to plug the AC cable into it. The charger included with the 2003 models is substantially improved over last year's model: it takes 6 hours to fully charge the batteries, instead of 13. If six hours is still too slow, there are faster chargers out there.

The Memory Stick news is good and bad. The good news is that the 2003 models now support the Memory Stick Pro format, with capacities as high as 1GB. The bad news is that the card included with the DSC-P72 is only 16MB. I highly recommend buying a 64MB card at the very minimum.

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

There are a surprising number of accessories available for the P72. That includes wide-angle and telephoto conversion lenses, filters, and even an external flash. This slave flash (HVL-FSL1A) attaches to the tripod mount -- I've never seen one myself, but it may be a good solution for those who want more flash power. Other accessories include boring stuff like camera cases and card readers.

The included Pixela ImageMixer software is alright, but is no substitute for Photoshop Elements. You can view and organize your photos as you can see above.

You can also do basic editing, like adjusting color, brightness and contrast, and redeye. The Windows version of ImageMixer can also be used to produce a Video CD (VCD).

The software is not Mac OS X native -- you have to run it in classic mode. Once there, you're kind of stuck in it until you quit, because Pixela chose not to follow Apple's interface guidelines (this seems fairly common with these kinds of products).

The camera itself does work in OS X with iPhoto and Image Capture. The camera and software work with modern versions of Windows, of course.

The manual included with the P72 is decent, but still has a lot of that "VCR manual" feel.

Look and Feel

The DSC-P72 has a new, smaller body than its predecessor, especially in the width dimension. It's still made of the same high grade plastic, and is just as easy to hold. The P72 isn't nearly as small as Canon's Digital ELPH line, but it still fits in most pockets with ease.


P71 on top, P72 on bottom

The dimensions of the P72 are 4.75 x 2.38 x 1.31 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs just 259 grams with batteries and Memory Stick installed. For the sake of comparison, the P71's numbers were 5.0 x 2.38 x 1.75 and 284 grams, respectively.

The DSC-P72 has an F2.8, 3X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 6 - 18 mm. That's equivalent to 39 - 117 mm. The lens is not threaded.

Directly to the left of the lens is the AF illuminator, which helps to light up the subject in low-light situations, to assist in focusing. The light on this new model is orange, as opposed to a bluish-white on the older models.

Above the AF illuminator is the microphone, a new addition on the P72.

At the top left, you'll find the flash, which has a working range of 0.5 - 3.8 m (wide-angle) and 0.5 - 2.5 m (telephoto). Those numbers are identical to the P71.

I already mentioned the optional external flash that you can buy.

Here's the back of the DSC-P72.

The 1.5" LCD is average-sized for a smaller camera. It's of very good quality for a lower-cost camera, with good brightness and resolution. One annoyance though is the fact that the image on the LCD becomes choppy at lower light levels, at least when you're at ISO 100.

Speaking of the optical viewfinder, it's right in the middle of the camera, and is average-sized. The placement of the viewfinder helps prevent nose smudges on the LCD display. There is no diopter correction to help focus the image for those of us with less than perfect vision.

To the lower-right of the viewfinder is the mode wheel, which has four choices:

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

Below the mode wheel are three buttons, plus the four-way switch. The three buttons are for:

  • Menu
  • Display - turns LCD on/off
  • Image size / Delete photo

The four-way switch is mainly used for menu navigation, and each direction also adjusts one camera setting:

  • Up - Flash (Auto, forced flash, slow synchro, flash off)
  • Right - Macro
  • Down - Self-timer
  • Quick Review - jumps to playback mode

At the top right, you can see the zoom controls. The zoom moves fairly smoothly,though it's a bit noisy. It takes two seconds to go from wide-angle to telephoto.

Below the zoom controls, under a plastic cover, you'll find the camera's I/O ports. Let's take a closer look:

The I/O ports include DC-in (for optional AC adapter), USB, and A/V out. The USB port supports the new USB 2.0 format, or the original USB 1.1 standard that most folks have.

There isn't too much to see on the top of the P72. The power button and shutter release can be found over to the right, and that's about it.

The only thing to see over here is the Memory Stick slot, which has a plastic cover. The P72, along with all the 2003 Sony models, supports both the original Memory Stick as well as the new Memory Stick Pro. The latter supports capacities as large as 1GB, though they are very expensive at this point.

On the other side, you'll find the battery compartment. As I mentioned, the P72 uses two just AA-sized batteries.

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the camera. The only thing to see down here is the metal tripod mount, which is neither in the center of the camera, nor inline with the lens.

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72

Record Mode

The P72 starts up very quickly -- taking just over two seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can begin taking pictures.

AF lag times (how long it takes to lock focus when you half-press the shutter release button) vary depending on the situation. In good lighting, focusing is almost instant. When it's darker or the subject is hard to focus on, it can take a second or so. The shutter lag (time between half and full press of shutter release button) also varies depending on the shutter speed used. It's barely there at faster speeds, and noticeable at slower speeds. Of course, at this speeds, you should be using a tripod anyway.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent -- just over a second elapses before you can take another shot. If the Slow Shutter NR (noise reduction) is used, it will be a little longer. By default, the P72 doesn't show the photo you just took on the LCD. To see it, you must keep holding down the shutter release button when you take the photo.

Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the P72. Sony no longer lists the image size in terms of horizontal x vertical resolution -- now it's just Megapixels. Have a look:

Image Size # photos on included 16MB Memory Stick
Fine Quality Standard Quality
3.1M (2048 x 1536) 10 18
2.8M/3:2 (2048 x 1365?) 10 18
2.0M (1632 x 1224) 16 30
1.2M (1280 x 960) 24 46
VGA (640 x 480) 97 243

There are also some other resolutions that I'll cover when I get to the menus in just a second.

The file numbering system used by Sony is quite simple. Files are named DSC0####.JPG, where #### = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained as you erase and swap Memory Sticks.

The DSC-P72 uses the familiar Sony "overlay-style" menu, but with a snazzy new font. The Sony menus are some of the easiest to use of any consumer digicam out there. Many of these options are locked unless you're in Program mode. I'll show the options only available in Program mode in bold.

  • Camera (Auto, program, twilight, twilight portrait, snow, beach) - see below
  • 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
  • Metering mode (Spot, multi)
  • White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo Quality (Fine, Standard)
  • Rec Mode (Voice, E-Mail, Burst 2, Normal) - more below
  • Flash Level (High, Normal, Low)
  • Photo Effects (Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)

That camera menu is totally new. In Auto mode, the P72 is totally point-and-shoot. If you want some more control over the settings, use Program mode. It's not a real manual mode -- just an "advanced point-and-shoot". The other choices are all scene modes, where the camera chooses the best settings for each situation.

I have always liked the fact that Sony gives you a kind of manual focus on their cameras. You can choose a set distance, which greatly reduces the time it takes to take a picture. The two auto focus modes are Multi AF and Center AF. The former will select the AF point from one of three areas in the frame. The latter always focuses on whatever is in the center, as the name implies.

The Rec Mode menu has been expanded on the 2003 models, but it's still missing the TIFF mode of old (I think most people don't mind though). Voice mode will let you record up to 40 seconds of audio with each picture. E-mail will save a 320 x 240 image, along with an image at the resolution you've chosen. Burst 2 mode will take two shots consecutively, with an interval between shots of 0.5 seconds.

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

  • Moving Image (MPEG Movie, Clip Motion, Multi Burst) - explained later
  • Smart Zoom (on/off)
  • Date/Time (Day & Time, Date, Off) - whether date/time is printed on your photos
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • AF illuminator (on/off)
  • File numbering (series, reset)
  • Create/Change Rec folder - for managing images on a Memory Stick
  • LCD brightness (Bright, normal, dark)
  • LCD backlight (Bright, normal, dark)
  • USB connect (PTP, normal) - you may need to change this depending on the operating system on your computer

This is kind of an awkward part of the review to discuss the P72's Smart Zoom feature, but here goes. In the old days, digital zoom on cameras just enlarged the center of the image, regardless of the resolution. Quality suffered as a result. Sony has changed things around with their Smart Zoom system. The amount of digital zoom that can be used depends on the chosen resolution.

Resolution Max Digital Zoom Max Total Zoom
2.0M 1.26X 3.8X
1.2M 1.6X 4.8X
VGA 3.2X 9.6X

Note that you cannot use the Smart Zoom at the higher resolutions. This system allows you to take pictures using digital zoom with much better results than with the old system.

Okay, enough about all that. Let's take a look at some photo samples now.

The DSC-P72 did a pretty good job with our night test photo (look, a new location!), though the's a bit of noise. The noise isn't in the sky, but rather in the shadows on the bridge tower. The only way to get the long exposure needed for this shot (2 sec) was to use the night scene mode. If you want to see an "ideal" version of this shot, click here to see the photo I took with my Canon D60 at the same time.

The macro test results were also positive, though the red is, for lack of a better word, too red. This seems to be fairly common with Sony cameras I've used. The rest of the colors are spot on, as is the image detail. The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 10 cm at wide-angle, and 50 cm at telephoto.

The camera's built-in redeye reduction didn't completely eliminate this annoying phenomenon, but it's not terrible either. Redeye can usually be removed by software on your PC. Note that this crop was enlarged slightly so you can see the detail.

The distortion/vignetting test shot is a new one here. It does a good job of showing the amount of barrel distortion created by the P72's lens. What it does not show is any vignetting (darkened corners), which is a good thing.

I really have no complaints about the P72's photo quality. Photos were colorful, well-exposed, and noise free. The camera performed very well in my purple fringing test (AKA the Stanford hallway shot) as well. But why take my word for it? Have a look at the photo gallery and decide for yourself.

Movie Mode

The 2003 Sony cameras have the brand spankin' new MPEG Movie VX system, which is one of the best movie modes anywhere.

You can record at VGA resolution (that's 640 x 480), with sound, until the Memory Stick fills up. Obviously it doesn't take a long time to fill up the included 16MB card, but with a larger card you can record for quite a while. Just to throw out some numbers, the max recording time is 42 seconds with a 16MB card, 5 min 54 sec with a 128MB card, and a whopping 44 mins 23 seconds with a 1GB Memory Stick Pro. Wow.

If that resolution is too high for you, there's always 160 x 120.

If this all sounds too good to be true, keep in mind that you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

Here's a sample movie for you to look at, recorded at the VGA resolution.


Click to play movie (6.4MB, MPEG format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

There are two other movie-like features on the P72. Multi Burst mode takes 16 frames in a row, at the interval of your choosing (1/30, 1/15, 1/7.5 sec). The frames are compiled into one 1.2M image. Clip Motion lets you take up to ten shots, and the camera combines them into an animated GIF file. I guess it's for those people interested in very short stop motion animation movies.

Playback Mode

Like other Sony cameras, the DSC-P72's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on most point-and-shoot cameras. Those basic features include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom & scroll".

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom up to 5X into your photo, and then scroll around in it. It's not the fastest implementation of this feature that I've seen, but it works well. When zoomed in, you can also use the trim feature I'll describe in a second.

Some of the more advanced playback features include:

  • Resize - change an image's size. You can upsize an image, but the quality will be degraded. The original image is not deleted.
  • Rotate
  • Divide - cut sections of movies
  • 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). Same rules that applied to resize function.

The basic photo information shown on the LCD is very limited. However, you can get more information about photos by zooming out twice. You'll get a scrollable list of information that you can see above.

One nice improvement over previous models: a delete button on the back of the camera. Before you had to do too much button pushing -- now it's much easier.

The P72 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 two seconds later.

How Does it Compare

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P71 was a camera I recommended last year, and I like this year's DSC-P72 even more. It offers just about everything you could want in a camera: great pictures, robust performance, easy-to-use menus, a superb movie mode, and more. It's not an "enthusiast" camera in any sense of the word -- it's strictly point-and-shoot. I would've liked manual white balance and shutter speed control, but you can't have everything. If a point-and-shoot camera is what you're looking for, the P72 is absolutely worth a look.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Small, well-designed, easy to pocket camera
  • Impressive battery life, especially with bundled batteries
  • First rate movie mode
  • AF illuminator
  • Robust operation
  • Support for high capacity Memory Stick Pro cards
  • Supports add-on lenses and flash

What I didn't care for:

  • No manual white balance or shutter speed controls
  • 6 hour battery charger still a little slow
  • Reds a little too saturated

Some other (lower cost) 3 Megapixel / 3X zoom cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S30, Fuji FinePix A303, Kodak DX4330, Nikon Coolpix 3100 and 3500, and the Olympus D-550Z and Stylus 300.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-P72 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?

None yet!

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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