Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P8
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 14, 2003
April 14, 2003
DSC-P8 ($399) is the entry-level camera in Sony's
2003 "Compact P-series" lineup. The P8 has a 3.2 Megapixel
CCD, while the P10 ($499) has a 5 Megapixel CCD.
camera lines are confusing, to say the least. In addition to
these two models, there are four very similar models in the "regular
P series": the DSC-P32, -52, -72, and -92. The differences between
the Compact P series and Regular P series are:
||Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast
||Single, tracking, continuous AF
DSC-P8 has a lot in common with the DSC-P72 (see
and throughout this review, I'll try to cover the differences,
you can choose
which model is the one for you.
said, let's begin our review of the P8!
in the Box?
DSC-P8 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
3.2 (effective) Mpixel Cyber-shot DSC-P8 camera
featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and USB drivers
page manual (printed)
I mentioned in the introduction, the P8 uses a proprietary lithium-ion
battery, compared to the two AAs found on the P72. The InfoLithium
battery is used to keep the size of the camera down. However,
it also keeps the battery life down as well. The included FC11
battery has 2.8 Wh of power, considerably less than the two
NiMH batteries included with the P72.
proof of that is in the numbers: Sony estimates that the P8 will
last for about 112 minutes with 50% LCD usage. The P72 can last
for 200 minutes.
difference is cost. The P72 uses two AAs, which cost $9 from
Sony (they can be found for less elsewhere), while the P8's
proprietary battery costs $60. And when the P72's batteries are
dead, you can throw alkaline batteries in, to get you through the
day. That's not the case with the P8.
nice thing about the InfoLithium battery on the P8 is that it
can estimate exactly how many minutes you
have left before running out of juice.
you want to charge the P8's battery, just plug the AC adapter
into the camera. It takes about 2.5 hours to fully charge 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-P8 is only 16MB. I highly recommend buying a 64MB card at
the very minimum.
camera has a built-in lens cover, so no lens cap is needed.
are a surprising number of accessories available for the DSC-P8.
That includes wide-angle and telephoto conversion lenses, filters,
and even an external flash. The external flash, known as the
HVL-FSL1A ($99), attaches via the tripod mount. It syncs with
the P8's on-board flash, so no cables are needed. To use the
lens adapters and filters, you'll need to buy the VAD-PHA
Lens Adaptor ($30) first.
Another cool accessory is the MPK-PHA marine pack. This $250 case
will let you take your camera up to 40 meters underwater.
accessories include boring stuff like camera cases and card readers.
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.
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).
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).
camera itself does work in OS X with iPhoto and Image
Capture. The camera and software work with modern versions of
Windows, of course.
manual included with the P8 is decent, but still has
that "VCR manual" feel.
DSC-P8 is a small camera with a metal body. It's not as small
as a Digital ELPH (it's wider), but I'd still consider it a pocket
camera. The controls are generally well-placed (except for one
in particular), and the P8 can be operated with one hand.
compared to the P72, there are several differences. For one,
the P8 is metal, versus the high-grade plastic on the P72. The
P8 is a little smaller as well. Some of the controls have been
moved around, but they still function in the same way.
are the dimensions of the P8 and P72 for comparison:
(W x H x D, inches)
|4.4 x 2.2 x 1.4
x 2.4 x 1.3
you can see, the P8 is smaller and lighter than the P72.
let's begin our tour of the camera now.
DSC-P8 has an F2.8, 3X optical zoom lens, with a focal range
6 - 18 mm. That's equivalent to 39 - 117 mm. The lens is not threaded,
but you can buy a conversion lens adapter that allows you to
use 30 mm attachments.
from 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 older Sony models.
the far left, you'll find the built-in flash, which has a working
range of 0.5 - 3.5 m (wide-angle) and 0.5 - 2.5 m (telephoto).
The P72 has a slightly better wide-angle range. I've
already mentioned the optional external flash that you can
the back of the camera.
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.
of the optical viewfinder, it's right in the middle of the camera,
and is also average-sized. There is no diopter
correction to help focus the image for those of
vision. Nose smudges on the LCD may be a problem, unlike on the
the right of the LCD, you'll find the four-way switch, surrounded
by thee other buttons.
four-way switch is mainly used for menu navigation, and each
direction also adjusts one camera setting:
- Flash (Auto, forced flash, slow synchro, flash off)
Review - jumps to playback mode
I found myself bumping the macro button too easily, since there's
not a lot of room for your thumb. Be careful.
buttons surrounding the four-way switch include: display (turns
LCD on/off), menu, and image size/delete photo.
the bottom of the camera, under a plastic cover, you'll find
the P8's I/O ports. These include DC-in (for included AC adapter),
A/V, and USB. Like all the 2003 Sony models, the P8 supports
the USB 2.0 standard.
last item on the back of the camera, found at the top-right,
is the zoom controller. It takes
under two seconds to go from wide-angle
to telephoto. The lens is smooth and very quiet.
the top of the P8, you'll find the microphone, power button,
mode wheel, and shutter release button.
items on the mode wheel include:
mode - most settings locked up, totally point-and-shoot
- Playback mode
- Movie mode
- Scene mode
P8 has quite a few scene modes, which are very handy for beginners.
The scenes include:
shutter - for action shots
P8 has almost twice as many scenes as the P72.
nothing to see here, but I wanted to note one thing. Sony is
finally starting to label their cameras more accurately, in my
opinion. On the DSC-P9 (a predecessor of this camera), the label
in the above photo read "6X precision digital zoom".
For one, this label wasn't really correct, as the camera had
a 2X digital
zoom. Secondly, it confused shoppers who thought that it had
a bigger lens than it really did. Kudos to Sony for addressing
this. Now if CompUSA would stop printing things like "24X total
zoom" in their ads...
the other side, you'll find the battery compartment. Let's take
a closer look.
here they are... slots for the FC10/11 battery and a Memory Stick.
The P8 can use the new Memory Stick Pro format, which currently
come as large as 1GB (for nearly $700).
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, and the
the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P8
P8 starts up very quickly -- taking just over two seconds to
extend the lens and "warm up" before you can begin
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
hard to focus on, it can take a second or so. Turning on the
monitor or continuous AF feature (discussed later) will make
the camera focus even faster.
shutter lag (time between half and full press of shutter release
also varies depending on the shutter speed used. It's barely
there at faster speeds, and noticeable at slower speeds. Of
course, at slow shutter speeds, you should be using a tripod
Unlike the P72, the P8 displays a histogram in record mode
speed is excellent -- about one 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 camera 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.
a look at the image size/quality choices on the P8. Sony no longer
lists the image size in terms of horizontal x vertical resolution
-- now it's just Megapixels. Have a look:
photos on included 16MB Memory Stick
(2048 x 1536)
(2048 x 1365?)
(1632 x 1224)
(1280 x 960)
(640 x 480)
is no TIFF or RAW image format on the P8.
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.
DSC-P8 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. With the exception
of the Rec Mode options, the rest of the items below are only
available in Programmed mode.
Compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
(Multi AF, Center AF, 0.5m, 1.0m, 3.0m, 7.0m, infinity) - more
mode (Spot, multi)
Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash)
- the flash option is not found on the P72
(Auto, 100, 200, 400)
Quality (Fine, Standard)
Mode (Voice, E-Mail, Burst 2, Normal) - more below
Level (High, Normal, Low)
Effects (Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art,
(High, Normal, Low) - the next three options are not found
on the P72
(High, Normal, Low)
(High, Normal, Low)
P8 doesn't have any real manual controls -- not even white balance.
It's basically an advanced point-and-shoot camera.
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
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.
setup menu (accessed via the mode wheel) hides some of the P8's
most unique features. Here are the most interesting features
in the setup menu:
Image (MPEG Movie, Clip Motion, Multi Burst) - explained later
mode (Single, monitor, continuous) - see below
Zoom (on/off) - see below
(Day & Time, Date, Off) - whether date/time is printed on
numbering (series, reset)
Rec folder - for managing images on a Memory Stick
brightness (Bright, normal, dark)
backlight (Bright, normal, dark)
connect (PTP, normal) - you may need to change this depending
on the operating system on your computer
The AF mode choices are new to Sony digital cameras. Single AF
is just like you're used to: press the shutter release halfway
and the camera locks focus. Monitor AF (called continuous on other
cameras) lets the camera focus constantly, even without the shutter
release pressed. This helps reduce the time required to take
a picture. Continuous AF (I'd call this one tracking AF) will focus
before the shot and will continue to focus, even with the shutter
release halfway pressed. Confusing names aside, these features
are handy. Continuous AF is especially good for action shots,
where the subject is moving.
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.
||Max Digital Zoom
||Max Total Zoom
that you cannot use the Smart Zoom at the highest resolution
(3.2M). This system allows you to take pictures using digital
much better results than with the old system.
enough about all that. Let's
take a look at some photo samples now.
DSC-P8 took a nice, low noise night shot. The slowest shutter
speed available on the P8 (use twilight scene mode to get it)
is 2 seconds, which is barely enough for this shot. If you do
longer exposures, this is not your camera. Sony's Slow Shutter
NR (noise reduction) system definitely helps produce a clear
P8 turned in a fine performance in our macro test. The subject
is sharp, and the colors are saturated. The focal range is
10 - 50 cm on the P8.
P8 did not fare as well as the P72 in the redeye department.
In fact, even with redeye reduction turned on, the results were
pretty bad. Picking up that external flash might help, but in
the meantime, you'll want a software package which can get rid
of this annoying phenomenon.
distortion test does a
good job of showing the small amount of barrel distortion created
by the P8's lens.
I don't see any vignetting (darkened corners) here either.
DSC-P8 produces sharp, slightly noisy images, with good color.
The camera may have over-exposed a shot or two, but it still
gets the thumbs up from me. It did an especially nice job during
a recent trip to Yosemite. I saw a bit of purple fringing, but
nothing to be concerned about. Hey, but don't take my word for
it, please visit our gallery and
decide for yourself about the photo quality!
2003 Sony cameras have the brand spankin' new MPEG Movie VX system,
which is one of the best movie modes anywhere.
can record at VGA resolution (that's 640 x 480), with sound,
until the Memory Stick fills up. Obviously that doesn't take
a long time with 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.
the 640 x 480 resolution is too high for you, there's always
160 x 120.
this all sounds too good to be true, keep in mind that you cannot
use the zoom lens during filming.
a sample movie for you to look at, recorded at the VGA resolution.
Click to play movie (4.0MB, MPEG format, 640 x
view it? Download QuickTime.
are two other movie-like features on the P8. 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 1.2 Megapixel
image. Clip Motion lets you take up to ten shots, and the camera
them into an animated GIF file. I guess it's for those people
interested in very short stop-motion animation movies.
other Sony cameras, the
DSC-P8's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on
most point-and-shoot cameras. Those basic features include
DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom &
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 trimming feature I'll describe
in a second.
of the more advanced playback features include:
- change an image's size. You can upsize an image, but the
quality will be degraded. The original image is not deleted.
- cut sections of movies
- when zoomed into an image, you can crop the image down to
selected area. You choose the resolution of the new image (the
old one is kept). Same rules that applied to resize function.
P8 gives you more information about your photo than the P72,
including a histogram (see above-left). If you want a
little more data, use the zoom controller to "zoom out". That
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.
P8 moves between images quickly in playback mode, and it shows
a low resolution version instantly, before a high res one replaces
two seconds later.
Does it Compare
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P8 is a nice point-and-shoot camera, and
is worth your consideration. It offers a small, metal body, good
photo quality, robust performance, and it's easy to use. The
two new autofocus modes are a nice addition, and the movie mode
is top-notch. Downsides include redeye, the poorly placed macro
button, and the proprietary battery. If you're choosing between
the P72 and P8, you have to decide whether you want a smaller,
metal body with a few more features, or a larger, plastic body
with better battery life. And as I often say, that decision is
yours, not mine.
good photo quality
- New monitoring, continuous AF modes a nice addition
rate movie mode
in record and playback modes
add-on lenses, flash, underwater case
I didn't care for:
easy to accidentally enter macro mode
life pales in comparison to DSC-P72
other 3 Megapixel / 3X zoom cameras to consider
include the Canon PowerShot A70 and S230, Casio Exilim
EX-Z3 and QV-R3, Kodak EasyShare DX4330 and LS663 (coming
Finecam L3v (coming soon also), Minolta
DiMAGE Xi, Nikon Coolpix 3100 and 3500,
Olympus D-560Z and Stylus
Lumix DMC-F1, Pentax
Optio 330GS and
and the Toshiba PDR-3320. And of course, the already mentioned Sony
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try
the DSC-P8 and it's competitors before you buy!
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos
in our photo gallery!
a second opinion?
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking
for a personal recommendation.