DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P8
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 14, 2003
Last Updated: April 14, 2003

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The Cyber-shot 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.

Sony's 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:

  Compact P-Series Regular P-series
Body Smaller, metal Larger, plastic
Battery InfoLithium (proprietary) AA
Controls Sharpness, Saturation, Contrast N/A
Focus modes Single, tracking, continuous AF Single AF
Histogram Yes No

The DSC-P8 has a lot in common with the DSC-P72 (see our review), and throughout this review, I'll try to cover the differences, so you can choose which model is the one for you.

That said, let's begin our review of the P8!

What's in the Box?

The DSC-P8 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Cyber-shot DSC-P8 camera
  • 16MB Memory Stick
  • NP-FC11 InfoLithium battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and USB drivers
  • 117 page manual (printed)

As 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.

The 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.

Another 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.

One 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.

When 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 battery.

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.

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

There 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.

External flash Marine Pack

Another cool accessory is the MPK-PHA marine pack. This $250 case will let you take your camera up to 40 meters underwater.

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 P8 is decent, but still has that "VCR manual" feel.

Look and Feel

The 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.

When 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.

Here are the dimensions of the P8 and P72 for comparison:

  DSC-P8 DSC-P72
Dimensions
(W x H x D, inches)
4.4 x 2.2 x 1.4 4.8 x 2.4 x 1.3
Mass 200 g 259 g

As you can see, the P8 is smaller and lighter than the P72.

Okay, let's begin our tour of the camera now.

The DSC-P8 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, but you can buy a conversion lens adapter that allows you to use 30 mm attachments.

Above-left 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.

At 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 buy.

Here's the back of the camera.

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 also average-sized. There is no diopter correction to help focus the image for those of us with less than perfect vision. Nose smudges on the LCD may be a problem, unlike on the P72.

To the right of the LCD, you'll find the four-way switch, surrounded by thee other buttons.

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

I found myself bumping the macro button too easily, since there's not a lot of room for your thumb. Be careful.

The buttons surrounding the four-way switch include: display (turns LCD on/off), menu, and image size/delete photo.

At 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.

The 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.

On the top of the P8, you'll find the microphone, power button, mode wheel, and shutter release button.

The items on the mode wheel include:

  • Programmed mode
  • Auto mode - most settings locked up, totally point-and-shoot
  • Playback mode
  • Movie mode
  • Setup
  • Scene mode

The P8 has quite a few scene modes, which are very handy for beginners. The scenes include:

  • Fireworks
  • High-speed shutter - for action shots
  • Beach
  • Snow
  • Landscape
  • Twilight portrait
  • Twilight

The P8 has almost twice as many scenes as the P72.

There's 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...

On the other side, you'll find the battery compartment. Let's take a closer look.

And 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).

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, and the speaker.

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P8

Record Mode

The P8 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. Turning on the monitor or continuous AF feature (discussed later) will make the camera focus even faster.

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 slow shutter speeds, you should be using a tripod anyway.


Unlike the P72, the P8 displays a histogram in record mode

Shot-to-shot 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.

Now, here's 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:

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 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.

The 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.

  • 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, Flash) - the flash option is not found on the P72
  • 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)
  • Sharpness (High, Normal, Low) - the next three options are not found on the P72
  • Saturation (High, Normal, Low)
  • Contrast (High, Normal, Low)

The P8 doesn't have any real manual controls -- not even white balance. It's basically an advanced point-and-shoot camera.

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.

The 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:

  • Moving Image (MPEG Movie, Clip Motion, Multi Burst) - explained later
  • AF mode (Single, monitor, continuous) - see below
  • Smart Zoom (on/off) - see below
  • 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

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.

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 highest resolution (3.2M). 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-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 shot.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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!

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 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.

If the 640 x 480 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 (4.0MB, MPEG format, 640 x 480)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

There 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 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-P8'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 trimming 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 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 gets you the screen on the right.

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 P8 moves between images quickly in playback mode, and it shows a low resolution version instantly, before a high res one replaces it about two seconds later.

How Does it Compare

The 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.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Small, metal body
  • New monitoring, continuous AF modes a nice addition
  • First rate movie mode
  • AF illuminator
  • Robust operation
  • Histogram in record and playback modes
  • Supports add-on lenses, flash, underwater case

What I didn't care for:

  • No manual controls
  • Redeye a problem
  • Too easy to accidentally enter macro mode
  • Battery life pales in comparison to DSC-P72

Some 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 soon), Kyocera Finecam L3v (coming soon also), Minolta DiMAGE Xi, Nikon Coolpix 3100 and 3500, Olympus D-560Z and Stylus 300, Panasonic Lumix DMC-F1, Pentax Optio 330GS and S, and the Toshiba PDR-3320. And of course, the already mentioned Sony DSC-P72.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-P8 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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