DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U60
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: July 12, 2003
Last Updated: July 12, 2003

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The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U60 ($299) is probably the most bizarre-looking digital camera out there. But it's looks aren't what make it unique. Rather, it's the ability to go underwater, without having to buy a special case, that defines the U60. But don't get me wrong, this isn't a serious scuba camera: in fact, it can only go 5 feet deep. But for its price, there's really nothing else like it.

Aside from its unique design and abilities, the U60 is a 2 Megapixel camera with a fixed focal length lens. As a digicam, it's very basic, with no manual controls of any kind.

Is this the perfect camera for playing in the pool or snorkeling? Find out now!

What's in the Box?

The DSC-U60 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 2.0 effective Mpixel DSC-U60 camera
  • 8MB Memory Stick
  • Two AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries
  • Battery charger
  • Hand strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Pixela ImageMixer and USB drivers
  • 86 page camera manual (printed)

The 8MB Memory Stick that's included with the U60 is a good place to start, but you'll probably want something larger when you're ready to get serious with it. The U60 supports Memory Stick Pro cards, though I don't know why you'd need capacity like that with a 2MP camera.

The Sony U-series cameras are unique, in that they use two AAA batteries for power. Sony includes two NiMH rechargeables in the box, which provide you with about 75 minutes of shooting time. I'd recommend picking up a few more batteries as backups.

Sony also includes a NiMH battery charger that takes 6 hours to fully charge two AAA batteries. This is faster charger than the one included with the last U-series camera I tested (the U10).


You hold the U60 differently than other cameras

The U60 doesn't have a lens cap of any kind. One thing I usually don't comment on is camera straps, but the U60 has a nice rubber one, perfect for underwater usage.

Don't expect a whole lot of accessories for the U60. I could only find things like card readers, carrying cases, faster battery chargers, and Memory Sticks.

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. 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 U60 is typical of those from Sony. The information is there, but finding it can be challenging. It's not terribly user-friendly -- kind of like a VCR manual.

Look and Feel

The DSC-U60 is very small, bizarre-looking camera. It's vertically-oriented, which is quite a departure from the typical digital camera. The body is made of high impact plastic, and everything that opens is sealed. It's a little weird in that it's hard to figure out when the camera is level. More on those items in a minute.

As I mentioned at the top of this review, this is an underwater camera, as opposed to "water resistant" like the Olympus Stylus 300. You can take the camera up to 5 feet underwater, which is fine for the swimming pool or snorkeling. Just don't drop the camera. Sony doesn't say what happens if you drop the camera to the bottom of the pool (assuming it's more than 5 feet deep), but I'd imagine that it's not a good idea.

The camera is made to be held and operated with just one hand.

The dimensions of the DSC-U60 are 2.9 x 1.2 x 3.6 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 191 grams with battery, Memory Stick, and camera strap inserted/attached.

Let's begin our tour of the camera now.

The first thing you'll notice is that the camera is not oriented the way you'd think it would. "Level" is how you see it here -- you judge it by the LCD, and not by the top of the camera. More on that in a second though.

The DSC-U60 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 U60.

Straight above the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.5 - 1.9 m.

The only other item here is a self-timer lamp, which is located just to the left of the lens. There's no AF illuminator, though I don't really see room for one.

Here you can see what I was saying about what "level" is for the U60. You want to have it so the top of the LCD is parallel with the horizon, as opposed to having the camera itself level. That probably doesn't make much sense, but you'll understand if you try a U60.

The U60 has a very small, though high resolution, 1-inch LCD display. The LCD has a backlight that you can turn off when you're outdoors, to conserve battery power. The U60 has no optical viewfinder, so it's the LCD or nothing.

Below the LCD are all the U60's controls. These include (left to right, top to bottom):

  • Power
  • Up / Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off)
  • Menu
  • Down / Scene modes
  • Mode Switch (Playback, still record, movie record)
  • EXEC / Playback "zoom and scroll"

Scene mode allows you to pick a scenario, and the camera chooses the appropriate settings. The U60's scene modes are:

  • Underwater
  • Active outdoor (AKA action)
  • Soft snap (AKA portrait)
  • Illumination snap (AKA night portrait)
  • Twilight
  • Vivid nature

The only thing on the top of the U60 is the shutter release button. You saw the rather unusual shooting position with the "in the hand" picture in the previous section.

Nothing to see on this side of of the camera!

On the other side of the U60, the sole item of interest is the release for the door which has the battery and Memory Stick compartments.

Those compartments are actually located on the bottom of the camera.

Note also the lack of a tripod mount.

Opening up the bottom, we find the Memory Stick / Memory Stick Pro slot, battery compartment, and the USB port. Unlike most of the other 2003 Sony models, the U60 does not supports USB 2.0.

Also note the o-ring around the compartment door. You need to make sure these rings are clean, otherwise they may not seal properly. And that's not good.

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U60

Record Mode

Since there's no lens to extend, the U60 starts up almost instantly. Press the shutter release halfway, and the camera locks focus in under a second. Press it all the way down and the photo is taken with a minimal delay.

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

There's no way to delete a photo as its being saved to the memory card.

Let's have a look at the very basic quality and resolution choices available on the U60:

Resolution # shots on included 8MB Memory Stick # shots on 64MB Memory Stick
(for reference)

2.0M
1280 x 960

14 122
VGA
640 x 480
80 656

There is no TIFF or RAW mode available on the U60, which really should not be surprising. The camera numbers files as DSC0####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you format or replace the Memory Stick.

The U60'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 (2.0M, VGA, Burst)
  • Focus (Auto, 0.2, 0.5, 1.0 m, infinity)
  • Self-timer (on/off)
  • Photo effect (Off, negative art, sepia, black & white, solarize)

The burst mode allows you to 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.

There are very few controls on the U60. Not even exposure compensation.

There's also a small setup menu, which has things like LCD backlight (on/off), beep, USB mode, and date/time.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now. This will be a smaller section that usual, since the U60 has no tripod mount. That means no night shot and no distortion test.

The U60 has an automatic macro mode, which turns on when you're very close to the subject. The minimum focus distance is 10 cm on land, and 15 cm underwater. Since there's no exposure compensation, I couldn't brighten up the macro shot seen above. It's a shame, because it would've looked pretty good. Here's what the thumbnail above looks like after a trip through Photoshop:

Much better, eh?

No night or distortion test shots due to the lack of a tripod mount.

I do have a redeye test for you, though it's hard to show here, since the U60's resolution isn't great in the first place. You'll definitely have to retouch your photos to get rid of that redeye!

The DSC-U60's photo quality isn't bad at all. Above sea level, it took colorful, sharp images, though they had a bit of a "video capture" look to them. While I wasn't about to fly out to Hawaii for an underwater photo shoot, I did get some decent shots at the local tide pools just by plunging the U60 into the water, and aiming toward something interesting. I look forward to seeing other people's underwater shots.

Anyhow, check out the photo gallery and see what you think.

Movie Mode

The DSC-U60's movie mode pales in comparison to those on other Sony cameras. You can record up to 15 seconds of 160 x 112 video, without audio. Movies are saved in MPEG format.

The included 8MB Memory Stick can hold about 5.5 minutes of video in total.

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


Click to play movie (288KB, MPEG format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

Playback mode on the U60 is basic, basic, basic. You can view photos, delete photos, and mark photos for printing (using DPOF) -- that's it.

There's a playback zoom feature that lets you zoom in 2.5 or 5 times, but you cannot scroll around to see the rest of the image. Seems dumb to me.

The camera moves through images very quickly, with about a 1 sec delay between photos. What you see above is all the info available about your photos.

How Does it Compare?

If you buying your primary digital camera, then the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U60 probably not a good choice. If you're looking for a portable camera that can do underwater, then it's a great choice. No other camera will let you go underwater straight out of the box. The U60 isn't a scuba camera -- rather, it's best for shallow pool and snorkeling photos. I was pleased with the photos I took, including a few underwater shots. The camera is very limited in terms of features and controls -- this is a point-and-shoot camera if there ever was one. The menu system is clunky, especially with the up/down button on the back of the camera. The unique design of the U60 takes some getting used to, as well. The U60 is a pretty specialized camera, but if underwater shots are what you're after, then it's worth a look. I should add that the camera is very durable and may be a good (and somewhat expensive) choice for kids.

What I liked:

  • Waterproof for up to 5 feet
  • Very responsive
  • Durable plastic body
  • Surprisingly good battery life
  • NiMH batteries + charger included
  • Pretty good photos considering the size of the camera

What I didn't care for:

  • Poor movie, playback modes
  • No real controls, like white balance and exposure compensation
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Clunky menus
  • Playback zoom feature doesn't allow scrolling
  • Redeye
  • Small LCD

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-U60 before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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

Want another opinion?

None available.

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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