Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S85
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2001
Friday, October 26, 2001
first got a taste of Sony's DSC-S85
at a private "show and tell" with Sony, high up in a San
Francisco skyscraper. Like a magic trick slowly unfolding, things
got better and better as the presentation went along. At first,
I figured it was just an enhanced DSC-S75
with a black body (hey, it worked for Olympus). But then, the presenter
removed his thumb, revealing "4.1 Mega Pixels" on the
body. Wow, the first consumer-level 4.1MP camera, I exclaimed.
asked me, "how much do you think something like this would
cost?". I hate questions like that. I first thought of the
only 4 Megapixel camera I could recall -- the Olympus E-10. But
that's too expensive, I figured, so I guessed $899. They replied,
"we wish we could charge that!". Uh oh, too low I guess.
"$999" I replied. Nope, wrong again.
they told me. I couldn't believe it! With all the features this
camera promised, at a great price, I figure they'll be flying off
the shelves. But does it live up to the sales pitch? Keep reading...
in the Box?
DSC-S85 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
4.1 Mpixel Cyber-shot DSC-S85 camera
InfoLithium battery w/charger and AC adapter
cap w/ strap
featuring MGI PhotoSuite software and drivers
really isn't much to comment here since the bundle is good. The
only real negative (in my mind) is the Memory Stick. It's a proprietary,
Sony-only (at least in digital cameras) format. Also, the 16MB is
a bit small for a camera that takes such large pictures.
all of Sony's cameras and camcorders, the S85 uses the InfoLithium
battery. This battery tells you how many minutes are left until
the battery dies. The included NP-FM50 battery will last for roughly
165 minutes before needing a charge. Recharging the FM50 takes about
kudos to Sony for including a lens cap with strap.
6/20/01: The DSC-S85 is indeed Mac OS X friendly. First, though,
you must visit the Setup Menu and change the USB Mode to "PTP".
Once that's done, the Image Capture app. will launch when the camera
is connected under Mac OS X.
find Sony's manuals not very user friendly. The layout and organization
needs work -- they're just like the one included with your VCR.
DSC-S85 is pretty traditional looking and should be easy for first-timers
to pick up and use. The body is a mix of metal and plastic and feels
solidly constructed. It is a bit bulky so don't expect to keep it
in your pants pocket. The dimensions of the camera are 4.625 x 2.875
x 2.625 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 462 g (1 lb) fully loaded.
This is the same as the S75.
begin our tour with the front of the DSC-S85. The "Carl Zeiss"
lens looks familiar -- I think we've seen this one before on Canon,
Epson, and Toshiba cameras. This F2.0 lens has a focal range of
7 - 21mm, which is equivalent to 34 - 102mm. The lens is threaded
(52mm) and a number of filters and lenses are available from Sony.
S85's flash has an effective range of 0.3m - 3.0m.
other item of note on the front is the AF illuminator, using for
focusing in low light situations. It's just left of the optical
back of the DSC-S85 is where most of the action is. The 1.8"
LCD is bright and fluid, though it liked to collect thumb prints.
Nose prints will be a problem for those of you who use your left
eye with the optical viewfinder.
the LCD is the info display most often found on top of most cameras.
In the shot above, it shows battery life, shots remaining, aperture,
shutter speed, and flash setting.
right of that is the zoom control, which is well-placed for easy
thumb access. To the right of the zoom control is the thumb wheel
(which is also a button) that is used for adjusting manual settings
such as shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation.
the other side of the LCD info display you'll find an optical viewfinder.
The size is just right, and there's diopter correction for our fellow
that you'll find the four-way switch, which is use for menus and
basic camera functions as well. This includes:
Review (shows the last shot taken)
that you'll find buttons for:
the lower right of the photo, you can see (under a rubber cover)
the port for the AC adapter (included with camera).
the top of the camera, you'll find the mode wheel, shutter release
button, microphone, and a shoe for an external flash.
found the shutter release button to be a bit sensitive at times--
I accidentally took photos on several occasions.
flash shoe is "cold" and uses a proprietary flash sync
port that you'll see on the side of the camera in a second. You
can use Sony's HVL-F1000 flash ($120) for sure -- I'm not sure if
any others are compatible.
mode wheel (which has the power switch below it) has a very "notchy"
feeling (that's a good thing) and has the following options:
further explanation on these:
Mode: Choose between Twilight, Portrait, and Landscape. The camera
picks the best settings for these situations. I don't like how
you have go to to the Setup Mode to change this though.
Priority: You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate
shutter speed. The choices range from F2 - F8 and will vary a
bit depending on the focal range used.
Priority: exactly the opposite, you choose the shutter speed and
the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number
of speeds ranging from 8 sec - 1/1000 sec.
Manual: You choose both the shutter speed and aperture. The values
available are the same as above.
this side of the camera, you can see the speaker, accessory port
(for an external flash), USB port, and A/V out port. Those last
two ports are kept under a sturdy plastic door.
much is happening on the other side of the camera. Where's that
Memory Stick slot then?
down at the bottom of the camera, with the battery! Underneath that
plastic door, you'll find the slot for the FM50 battery as well
as the Memory Stick. The Stick slot is spring-loaded, so it's easy
to remove. You'll find a metal tripod mount down here as well.
the Sony DSC-S85
camera turns on with much fanfare and takes about four seconds to
get ready to take photos. When you depress the shutter release button
halfway, it can take up to a second to lock focus. When you press
the button all the way down, the photo is taken with no delay. Recycle
time is very quick on the S85 -- about two seconds -- which is impressive
considering the size of these images. Writing a TIFF file takes
considerably longer, locking up the camera for nearly 40 seconds.
zoom controls were fine, though the lens continued to move a bit
after the button is released.
DSC-S85 has a number of choices for image size and quality. Check
out this table which describes them:
photos on 16MB Memory Stick
S85's menu system is pretty simple, since many functions are buttons
rather than menu choices. Let's take a look at the various menu
items and what they do:
Balance (One push, Auto, Indoor, Outdoor)
(Auto, 100, 200, 400)
Size (2272 x 1704, 2272 (3:2), 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x
Quality (Fine, Standard)
Mode (TIFF, Text, Voice, E-Mail, Exposure Bracketing, Burst3,
Normal) -- more on this below
Level (High, Normal, Low)
Effects (Solarize, Black & White Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
(-2 to +2)
"one push" white balance mode is indeed a manual WB mode.
Shoot a piece of white paper or whatever you want to be white, and
you'll be able to get accurate color in almost any lighting.
more details on those Rec Mode choices:
uncompressed large image - only one fits on 16MB Stick.
records a GIF in black & white
Records an audio file along with a still image
Records a 320 x 240 image in addition to the recorded image
bracketing: three shots in a row with different exposure compensation
values. This feature is new to the S85.
Records three images continuously, at a interval of about 0.6
sec. There is no "real" continuous shooting mode on
this camera, due to a lack of buffer memory.
Setup Mode, there are a number of other options available. Here
are the interesting ones:
Mode Selection (twilight, landscape, portrait)
Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion) - explained later
Step (1.0EV, 0.7EV, 0.3EV) - for auto bracketing function
numbering (series, reset)
connect (normal, PTP) - put it in PTP mode for Mac OS X only.
took me many tries to get a good macro shot, but I finally got the
sample you see above. I tried auto-bracketing, manual ISO, and finally
succeeded in aperture priority mode (F8.0) with manual white balance.
You can shoot as close as 4cm in wide-angle, or 20cm in full telephoto,
in macro mode on the S85.
camera was about average in the nightshot test. The color is a bit
off on the lights (though messing with White Balance settings may
have helped), and it's a bit dark (of course, so is the SF skyline,
lately). Aside from that, there are no "unnatural stars"
in the sky or other noise.
photo quality on the S85 was excellent, with accurate color, no
major chromatic aberrations, and good sharpness. Take a look at
our photo gallery to judge for yourself.
movie modes is one of the best out there: the video and audio quality
is very good, and you can fill up the Memory Stick with video in
non-HQ modes. The only downside is that you cannot use the zoom
(optical or digital) during filming.
are three sizes available in movie mode:
# of seconds on 16MB Memory Stick
(clips can be 15 sec max)
quality is highest in 320 (HQ) mode, but you're limited to 15 second
clips. In the other modes you can record until the Stick fills up.
finally have exciting sample movies to show you! No more panning
past buildings, or watching cars go by! This time, it's roller coasters!
in MPEG-EX mode. 32 seconds, 2.8MB
in MPEG-HQ mode. You'll have to turn your head to view this the
way it was intended. 9 seconds, 3.2MB
is also a feature called ClipMotion which will take 10 images and
put them into an animated GIF for you.
DSC-S85's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on
most cameras. Those include slideshows, DPOF print marking, protection,
thumbnail mode, and "zoom & scroll".
advanced features include:
- copies an image
change an image's size
- splits movies in half
- 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
can get more information about photos by zooming out twice. You'll
get a scrollable list of information that you can see above.
also would've liked a delete button, rather than having to invoke
the menu every time I want to remove a photo.
S85 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.
Does it Compare?
can I say? The DSC-S85 is the first 4 Megapixel camera priced for
the masses, and it's excellent. The photo quality, features, and
price are all standouts. My major concern with many of Sony's cameras,
is the Memory Stick format. I'm not a fan of proprietary storage
formats (not to mention batteries), but this probably won't bother
most people. Other quibbles include the underwhelming nightshots,
and lack of true continuous shooting. Aside from that, the Sony
DSC-S85 gets my enthusiastic approval!
million pixels for under $800!
good photo quality
good bundle (except for Memory Stick)
movie mode with sound!
I didn't care for:
zoom in movie mode
Memory Stick, external flash port, and battery
could be better
true continuous shooting mode
of this writing, the only other announced 4 Megapixel cameras under
$1000 are the Casio
C-4040Z, and the Toshiba
always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out
the DSC-S85 and its competitors (if there are any when you're there)
before you buy!
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos
in our photo gallery!
a second opinion? How about a third?
Digicams review of the DSC-S85. If that's still not enough,
Resource has one too.
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not ask for personal camera