DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U10
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Friday, November 22, 2002
Last Updated: Sunday, December 1, 2002

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There are small cameras, and then there are small cameras. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U10 ($199) is mind-blowingly small. It gets attention everywhere it goes, similar to the reception the original Canon Digital ELPHs got a few years ago.

The U10 isn't really intended to be your primary camera. Rather, it's a camera you can have with you all the time, always ready to take a shot. If 1.3 Megapixel isn't enough, Sony also sells the DSC-U20 ($269) which is 2.0 Megapixel.

Learn more about this tiny camera in our review!

What's in the Box?

The DSC-U10 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 1.3 (effective) Mpixel DSC-U10 camera
  • 8MB Memory Stick
  • Two AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Pixela ImageMixer and USB drivers
  • 102 page camera manual (printed)

Normally I'd complain about the inclusion of an 8MB Memory Stick with a camera. But since the U10 is only a 1.3 Megapixel camera, it's not a problem. You can store 23-80 photos on the card. Still, it wouldn't be a bad idea to buy a larger card.

The U10 is the only camera I've seen that uses AAA batteries. Better yet, Sony includes two NiMH batteries and a charger. The batteries last longer than I would've expected -- about 65 minutes.

When it's time to charge, just pop them in the included charger and you'll be back in action in a whopping 13 hours. You may want to find a faster charger! (recharge time corrected 12/1/02).

The DSC-U10 has a sliding lens cover that also doubles as the power switch. It's way too easy to open, and I found myself turning the camera on by just putting it in my pocket. You can also see just how tiny this camera really is.

Don't expect a whole lot of accessories for the U10. Besides things like larger Memory Sticks and card readers, the only other option is a carrying case. You can even get a faux fur case for the U10!

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 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.

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 U10 is typical of those from Sony. The information is there, but finding it can be challenging. It's not terribly user-friendly.

Look and Feel

In case you haven't heard, the DSC-U10 is a small camera. Actually, it's smaller than that -- it's tiny. Despite the small body, it's surprisingly sturdy. It's a nice mix of metal and plastic. My one wish is for the lens cover not to be used as the power switch -- it's too easy to open accidentally.

While it may seem like it, the U10 isn't smaller than the Casio Exilim cameras. In terms of volume, the Exilims are smaller. Either one fits into any pocket with ease.

The dimensions of the DSC-U10 are 3.4 x 1.2 x 1.6 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs a paltry 118 grams with battery and Memory Stick. For the sake of comparison, the Exilim EX-S2's dimensions are 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.4 inches, and it weighs 88 grams (without battery installed).

Since there's not a lot to see, our tour of the DSC-U10 will be a short one. Let's begin!

The DSC-U10 has an F2.8, fixed focal length lens (it does have autofocus, though). The focal range is 5 mm, which is equivalent to 33 mm. There is no optical or digital zoom on this camera. I don't think that I have to say that conversion lenses aren't available for the U10.

Straight above the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.5 - 1.8 m.

That's about it on the front of the camera! There is no autofocus illuminator on the U10 -- I don't think they could fit one on it!

One of the first things I said when I saw the DSC-U10 was "wow, that's a small LCD!" And it is, at just 1.0 inches. The LCD is "transflective", which means you can use it outdoors without the backlight turned on, to conserve power. The LCD quality isn't great compared to other cameras, even the Casio Exilim. It's not bright, and not very sharp either.

There is no optical viewfinder on the U10!

Below the LCD are two buttons plus a two-way switch. The buttons are for menu and exec(ute), which are used for menus. The two-way switch navigates the menu, and also changes the flash and scene settings. The flash modes include auto, auto w/redeye, forced flash, and no flash. The scene modes have strange names but are standard choices: soft snap (portrait), illumination snap (flash slow sync), and vivid nature (landscape).

Under a plastic cover at the lower-right, you'll find the USB port. There is no video out support on this camera.

Up on top of the camera, you'll find a switch for moving between modes, the shutter release button, and the power button. The modes available are playback, still record, and movie record. The power button is a way to turn the camera on without opening the lens cover. I'd prefer it if this was the only way to turn on the camera.

Nothing to see on this side of of the camera. Man I love reviews like this!

On the other side, under a fairly sturdy plastic door, you'll find the battery and Memory Stick compartments. As I mentioned, the U10 uses two AAA batteries!

Finally, here's the bottom of the DSC-U10. There's no tripod mount!

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U10

Record Mode

Since there's no lens to extend, the U10 starts up as close to instantly as you can get. Press the shutter release halfway, and the camera locks focus in about a second. Press it all the way down and the photo is taken without delay.


Sorry for the lousy quality of these

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent as well. You can take another picture almost immediately after the previous one is taken.

Let's have a look at the very basic quality and resolution choices available on the U10:

Resolution # shots on included 8MB Memory Stick # shots on 32MB Memory Stick (for reference)
1280 x 960 23 80
640 x 480 93 325

As you can see, even a modest-sized memory card holds a lot of photos on the U10! Of course, there is no TIFF or RAW mode available. The camera names files as DSC0####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you format or replace the Memory Stick.

The U10's menu system is a little awkward to navigate. Since there isn't a four-way switch, you have to go up and down and use the Exec button a lot. I don't like it -- it's not intuitive. Anyhow, here's what you'll find in the menus:

  • Size-Burst (1280 x 960, 640 x 480, Burst)
  • Focus (Auto, 0.2, 0.5, 1.0 m, infinity)
  • Self-timer (on/off)
  • Photo effect (Off, negative art, sepia, black & white, solarize)
  • LCD Light (on/off) - turns backlight on
  • Display (on/off) - toggles what is shown on LCD

That's pretty much it. There's also a basic setup mode as well.

The only thing worth expanding on is the burst mode. You can take up to 5 shots in a row at an interval of 0.5 seconds. The catch (and there always is one) is that they're taken at 640 x 480.

Oh, and I suppose the manual focus is worth a mention too. You may want this when lighting is dim, since the camera may have trouble focusing.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The U10 did an okay job with the macro shot. Unlike the Exilims, the U10 actually has a macro mode. The image is a little soft, but the colors look good. Since there's no exposure compensation on the camera, I couldn't brighten the image, either. The distance to the subject is about 20 cm in macro mode.

Since there's no tripod mount on the DSC-U10, I was unable to perform the night shot test.

Not surprisingly, flash photos taken with the U10 produced a lot of redeye. It's hard to show here, even with the image blown up, since the U10's resolution isn't great in the first place. You'll definitely have to retouch your photos to get rid of that redeye!

I don't think people buy the U10 for the photo quality: they buy it for the size and convenience. The photo quality on the U10 isn't going to win any awards, but it's not bad. The noise levels are low, though images are quite soft. Another thing I noticed is that Sony really cranked up the JPEG compression, and you can tell (have a look at the fire truck in the gallery). Speaking of which, why not take a look at the gallery to see if the U10's photo quality works for you?

Movie Mode

The DSC-U10 has a very limited movie mode in several respects. For one, clips are limited to 15 seconds. Two, sound is not recorded. And three, the resolution is just 160 x 112.

The included 8MB Memory Stick can hold over 5 minutes of video in total.

Here's a quick sample movie for you. The quality is pretty lousy:


Click to play movie (208KB, MPEG format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

Playback mode on the U10 is basic, basic, basic. You can view photos, delete photos, and print photos -- that's it. No zoom & scroll, no slide shows. You can view images as a set of nine thumbnails, at least.

The camera moves through images very quickly. What you see above is all the info available about your photos.

How Does it Compare?

I think I've made it pretty clear in this review that the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U10 isn't intended to be your primary camera. If it was, it would be pretty lousy. But for a take anywhere camera, it's pretty neat. It's tiny, takes decent pictures, and is very responsive. The battery life is pretty good considering the size of the camera, and I like that it uses AAAs instead of a proprietary battery. The camera wasn't great in terms of redeye, and the playback and movie modes are pretty dreadful. The LCD isn't anything to write home about either. But like I said, it does what it's designed for -- taking pictures anytime, anywhere. If you like the U10 but want higher resolution pictures, don't forget the DSC-U20 for $70 more.

What I liked:

  • Amazingly small, portable camera
  • Very responsive
  • Surprisingly good battery life
  • Uses AAA batteries
  • Pretty good photos considering the size of the camera

What I didn't care for:

  • Lousy movie, playback modes
  • No optical viewfinder
  • LCD isn't great
  • Redeye a problem (no surprise there)
  • Too easy to accidentally open the lens cover

The only other tiny cameras that I've covered are the Casio Exilim models: the EX-S2 and EX-M2 (the older M1/S1 models are no longer available).

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-U10 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photo quality stacks up in our photo gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read a review of the DSC-U10 at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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