DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Last Updated: Monday, July 29, 2002

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

If I'm not mistaken, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9 ($599) is the sixth new Sony camera announced this year. The others include the DSC-P31, P51, and P71, plus three new Mavicas: FD200, CD250, and CD400.

Since I wrote that paragraph back in March, two more cameras joined the pack -- the DSC-P2 and DSC-P7. They are very similar to the P9 except for their CCD. The P2 has a 2.0 MPixel CCD and the P7 has a 3.2MP CCD. The DSC-P9 is the top of the line camera in the P-series, featuring a 4 Megapixel CCD.

Is this little camera the best choice for you? Find out in our review!

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-P9 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 (effective) Mpixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9 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
  • 102 page manual (printed)

While some of the P-series cameras (P31/51/71) have switched to AA batteries, the P9 uses the tried-and-true InfoLithium battery. The included NP-FC10 battery is about the size of three Memory Sticks put together. Since it's so small, the battery doesn't hold a lot of juice -- just 2.4 Watt/hours. For the sake of comparison, the NP-FM50 has a whopping 7.4 Wh of power -- but of course it won't fit in a camera this small. Sony estimates that you'll get about 80 minutes of power per charge. When it's time to recharge the battery, you just plug the AC adapter (included) right into the camera, and the FC10 will be back in action in 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 too small for a camera with this resolution, so you'll probably want a larger one right away. 128MB cards are now available and hold quite a few 4 Megapixel photos.


You can see just how small this camera is

Since the camera has a built-in lens cover, there are no lens cap worries.


HPK-FSL1 accessory flash

The DSC-P9 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 P9 up to 40 meters underwater. There are also underwater filters, lights, and an "arm" available. The one thing the P9 is missing is support for traditional conversion lenses.

The DSC-P9 works fine with Mac OS X and iPhoto, plus Windows XP. I have not tried the bundled Pixela ImageMixer software.

The P9'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-P9 is Sony's smallest digicam, or darn close to it (the DSC-P31 is very small as well). The P9 is in competition with cameras like the Canon S40, Olympus D-40Z, and Pentax Optio 430. Here's how they stack up in terms of size:

Camera Dimensions Weight
Sony DSC-P9 4.5 x 2.0 x 1.4 206 g
Canon PowerShot S40 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.7 260 g
Konica KD-400Z 3.8 x 2.3 x 1.2 198 g
Kyocera Finecam S4 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.2 175 g
Olympus D-40Z 3.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 190 g
Pentax Optio 430 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.2 205 g

As you can see, the Sony is considerably "wider" than the others, but is still small. 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.

The P9 has a very sleek, all metal body. The camera feels well-constructed and should take whatever you throw at it (just don't throw it!). You can hold the camera easily with one hand or two.

Let's do our usual 360 degree tour of the P9, starting with the front.

The DSC-P9 has an F2.8 - F5.6, 3X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 8 - 24 mm. That's equivalent to 39 - 117 mm. The lens, found on many other P-series cameras, 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. Now if we could only get this feature on all digicams, I'd have one less thing to complain about!

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 P9 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 P9.

Finally, to the lower-left of the lens is the DSC-P9's microphone.

Here's the back of the DSC-P9. 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 when 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
  • 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 accurately, though it's a bit on the noisy side. It takes 2 seconds to go through the full zoom range.

Here now is the top of the DSC-P9. 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.

Up here you'll find 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.

... 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 the included battery and Memory Stick!

Last, but not least, here's the bottom of the P9. Down here you'll find the metal tripod mount and speaker.

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9

Record Mode

The DSC-P9 turns on, extends its lens, and is ready to go in just three seconds. Auto-focus generally takes under a second, though it can take a bit longer if the AF illuminator is used. Shutter lag is not noticeable on the P9. Shot-to-shot speed is excellent -- just over a second elapses before you can take another shot.


The LCD in record mode

Sony's recent P-series 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 P9:

Image Size # photos on included 16MB Memory Stick
Fine Quality Standard Quality
2272 x 1704 8 14
2272 (3:2) 8 14
1600 x 1200 16 30
1280 x 960 24 44
640 x 480 96 240

On the recent 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-P9 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 (2272 x 1704, 2272 (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 new 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.

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.

I actually have a sample of the new Multi-Burst mode! Here's the official cat of the DCRP rolling around on the floor. This image was downsized.


Multi-Burst mode, 1/7.5 sec interval

The P9 does not have a "traditional" burst/continuous shooting mode. Alright, let's take a look at our test photos now!

The macro test came out nicely. The colors on this 3" subject are very saturated, and the image is sharp. 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 control of the 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 P9 did a fair job with our new redeye test. The eyes have a bit of a glow to them but it's certainly not "demonic" like on some other cameras I've used. You can clean this up a bit more on your PC, too. Note that this image was enlarged to show detail.

I was very pleased with the DSC-P9's photo quality. Images were well-exposed and colorful, and purple fringing was not a problem. And I was able to take some pretty cool action shots to boot, even without manual controls or an "action" scene mode. Take a look at the photo gallery and see if you agree!

Movie Mode

Like the other new P-series cameras, the P9 supports the new MPEGMovie HQX mode. What does this mean? It means that you can film until the Memory Stick fills up, even at the highest quality level. Unlike the P31/51/71, the P9 records sound too!

Movies are recorded in MPEG format at 320 x 240. The optical zoom cannot be used during filming.

On the included 16MB card, you can only fit about 40 seconds worth of video, so you'll want to buy a larger card if video is your thing.

I actually have a "real world" movie sample, for a change! Be warned, this one is loud, so turn the volume down on your computer before you start the movie!


Click to play movie (5.1MB, MPEG format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DSC-P9'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 checking 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-P9 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?

Just like the other recent P-series models, Sony's DSC-P9 is an excellent small camera. It's a bit limited in the manual control department (no manual white balance or shutter speed control), but as a point-and-shoot camera, it works very well. The camera is very responsive and easy to use, and best of all, the pictures come out looking great. The movie mode is also one of the best out there. For those who need lots of pixels and don't mind not having any manual controls, the Cyber-shot DSC-P9 is a fine choice.

What I liked:

  • Excellent 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
  • 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 4MP camera
  • No true continuous shooting mode or manual controls

Here are some other lower cost 4 Megapixel cameras to check out: Canon PowerShot S40, Casio QV-4000, Kodak DX4900, Konica KD-400Z, Kyocera Finecam S4, Minolta DiMAGE F100, Olympus D-40Z, Pentax Optio 430RS, and the Toshiba PDR-M81.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-P9 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photos turned out? Take a look at our gallery!

Want a second opinion?

In case you still don't believe me, check out Steves Digicams for an additional review of the DSC-P9.

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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