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DCRP Review: Sony
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 29, 2004
Last Updated: January 17, 2008
This review has been completed using a production model DSC-V3. Product shots have been reshot where necessary, and all sample photos are from the production camera.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 ($699) is a total redesign of the popular DSC-V1, a camera which I wasn't overly enthusiastic about. I have no idea what happened to the DSC-V2 -- probably the same thing that happened to the PowerShot G4. The V3 has all kinds of new features when compared to the "old" V1, including:
The V3 retains many of the nice features of its predecessor, including a 4X zoom lens, full suite of manual controls, hot shoe, laser focusing system, and more.
It seems that full-featured 7 Megapixel cameras will be all the rage this holiday season. People who aren't quite ready for a digital SLR but don't want the image quality issues of an 8 Megapixel camera may find cameras like the V3 to be the best choice.
How does the V3 perform? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DSC-V3 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Following in the footsteps of the DSC-F828, the DSC-V3 does not include a memory card. That means that you'll have to buy one unless you already have a collection of them sitting around. The V3 supports two types of media: Memory Stick Pro (and regular Sticks as well) and CompactFlash. Memory Sticks now come as large as 2GB, but they tend to be quite expensive. CompactFlash is an industry standard (unlike Memory Stick), is higher in capacity, and it costs less too. The V3 supports only Type I CF cards, which means no Microdrive! I would recommend a 256MB card as a good starting point for this camera.
One of the things I didn't like about the DSC-V1 was its weak battery. I have good news and bad news about the DSC-V3: it has a more powerful battery, but it pales in comparison to the battery on the Canon PowerShot G6 (currently the main competitor for the V3). The V1's battery had just 2.8 Wh of energy, while the NP-FR1 used by the V3 has 4.4 Wh. The G6's BP-511A battery has a whopping 10.3 Wh of energy -- over twice as much. Even so, Sony has managed to squeeze out the same number of shots per charge as the G6: 300 (using the CIPA battery life standard). Turn off the LCD to increase battery life by a third.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. They're expensive ($50 a pop) and you can't use "regular batteries" to get you throw the day in an emergency. One thing I do like about the InfoLithium battery used by the V3 is that it tells you exactly how many minutes you have left before you run out of juice.
When it's time to charge the battery, just plug in the included AC adapter. It takes about 3 hours to fully charge the NP-FR1 battery. You can also use the adapter to power the camera and save your batteries for when you're on the road.
The design of the V3 includes a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to worry about.
Optional telephoto conversion lens
There are quite a few accessories available for the V3, and I've put them into this handy chart:
Whew! That was some list! Let's move on to software now.
Picture Package viewer (Windows only)
Sony includes Picture Package for Windows as the main image viewing application. And "viewing" is about all it does -- you can print and rotate, but that's it. It can also view and edit RAW files, though the new Image Data Converter 2.0 is a lot more capable than what's included with Picture Package. The software can also create slideshows with music or burn images to a CD-R disc.
Image Data Converter 2.0 (Mac OS X version shown)
The Image Data Converter software included with the camera isn't great. It allows for adjusting the white balance and exposure compensation, and that's it. However, changes are on the horizon -- Sony included a disc of version 2.0 (I assume it's a beta) which offers many new features. You can tweak white balance, tone curves, color, and sharpness. The software can output to TIFF or JPEG formats. A Sony representative told me that this new version will be included with the DSC-V3 when it hits the shelves.
I'll have more about why RAW is good later in the review.
ImageMixer VCD2 (Mac only)
Mac users don't get PicturePackage. Rather, they get ImageMixer VCD2 and the Image Data Converter. ImageMixer is used to create a Video CD from your images. It's like a poor man's DVD. Thankfully there's software like iPhoto to bail you out in situations like this.
Cyber-shot Life (Windows only)
The best part of the software package is the Cyber-shot Life tutorial, which is Windows only. Here, a girl and her dog show you how to use your camera. While it's a little cheesy, the tutorial is far more useful for learning the ins and outs of your camera than the manual. Do note that it's not camera-specific: this is the same tutorial that came with the DSC-W1.
I don't think I've ever read a Sony manual that I thought was good (and that includes things other than cameras). The one included with the V3 is complete, but cluttered, complex, and poorly-organized.
Look and Feel
If you need any reminder about what camera is the main competitor of the DSC-V3, here it is:
The Canon PowerShot G6 shares much in common with the V3: Seven Megapixel CCD, 4X zoom, hot shoe, manual controls, support for lens accessories.
The V3 has been totally redesigned since the days of the V1 and it's all for the better. Being someone who likes to complain, I found several irritating design flaws on the V1: the flash was poorly placed, there was no diopter correction knob, the hand grip was tiny, and the LCD was way too small. Well, three of those have been fixed on the V3, and I'll tell you more about that below.
As you can see, the V3 is basically a new camera when put next to the V1. It has a stylish design with a professional black finish -- a big improvement in this reviewer's opinion. The body is made of a mix of metal and plastic and it feels fairly solid. While I don't like the feel of all the controls, they are well-placed.
Here's a look at the dimensions of the V3 when compared to DSC-V1 and G6:
It's not common to see a new revision of a camera being larger than its predecessor but that's the case with the V3! I've got no issues with the size, though -- it's just right. Note that the DSC-V1 weight in that table includes the battery and memory card, so the real number is lower than 300 g.
Let's take a closer look at the V3 now, starting with the front.
One thing that hasn't changed since the DSC-V1 is the V3's lens. It's still an F2.8 - F4.0, 4X optical zoom Carl Zeiss model. The focal range is 7 - 28 mm, which is equivalent to 34 - 136 mm. The lens is threaded and conversion lenses are supported.
Directly above the lens is the V3's built-in flash. When needed it flips into position. One area in which the V1 was fairly weak was in terms of flash range -- and sadly that hasn't improved on the V3. The range is still a relatively short 0.4 - 3 m at wide-angle and 0.4 - 2.5 m at telephoto. Compare that to 0.7 - 5.0 m at wide-angle and 0.7 - 4.0 m at telephoto on the PowerShot G6. The camera does support an external flash, thankfully. More on that later.
That tiny circle to the immediate upper-right of the lens ring is the emitter for the Hologram AF laser focusing system. When needed this shoots a laser grid on your subject (don't worry, it's safe) which allows the V3 to focus in near-zero light. This is the best low light focusing system, by far, and I'm glad to see it on the V3.
Just to the right of the laser is the self-timer lamp and IR transmitter (for Nightshot).
A recent trend at Sony in 2004 has been the inclusion of large LCDs on their cameras. The screen on the V3 is a full inch larger (diagonally) than the one on the V1 -- meaning it's 2.5". That's great news for everyone, not just those with not-so-perfect vision. The screen only has 123,000 pixels, so it's not as sharp as it could be, but it's still very usable. The screen is plenty bright and is easily visible outdoors. In low light, the LCD "gains up" so you can still see what you're looking at, as long as it's not too dark in the room.
Quite often the arrival of the big LCD means the departure of the optical viewfinder. That's not the case here -- you'll find an average-sized viewfinder right in the middle of the camera. One thing still missing on the DSC-V3 is a diopter correction knob, which focuses what you're viewing through the viewfinder.
To the left of the optical viewfinder are four buttons, which do the following:
The manual focus feature is pretty much the same as it was on the V1. Press the focus button and then use the command dial (at the top right in the above photo) to choose the focus distance, which is shown on the LCD. The camera doesn't enlarge the center of the frame, though -- this is a useful tool when trying to verify focus.
The frame button is new to the DSC-V3. It selects the focus mode, and you've got a choice of 5-point auto (Multipoint AF), center-point, or manual. The manual focus point is virtually identical to the FlexiZone system on the G6 -- you can position the cursor anywhere in the frame -- save for a margin around the edges -- and the camera will focus on that point.
Over on the other side of the optical viewfinder is the switch for which memory card slot to use (Memory Stick or CompactFlash). Next to that is the zoom controller. While I have no problem with the placement, I don't like how the buttons are nearly flush with the back of the camera. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.2 seconds. I counted twelve steps throughout the zoom range.
Above the zoom controller is the command dial, which is used for manual focus and selecting manual exposure settings.
Below the memory card switch is the display button, which toggles the LCD on and off, as well as what's displayed on it. Below that is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation plus some additional functions. Like the zoom controller, I found the four-way buttons to not have enough "play". The other functions for the four-way controller include:
Below the four-way controller are the menu and image quality / delete photo buttons. Just below that, under a plastic cover, is where you'll find the DC-in port. This is where you plug in the included AC adapter to power your camera and charge your battery.
The first thing to see on the top of the DSC-V3 is its hot shoe. Here you can attach one of Sony's flashes or one from a third party. Using the Sony flash is advisable, as it fully integrates with the camera; users of a non-Sony flash may need to manually set the flash exposure settings before each shot.
The next item over is the camera's microphone. After that you'll find the power and Nightshot/Nightframing buttons.
What are Nightshot and Nightframing? In case you haven't used the DSC-V1 or DSC-F707/717/828, I'll tell you. Nightshot uses infrared light to let you take pictures in near darkness. Do note that your photo will be green, just like those "night vision" videos you've seen on TV. You'll get the best results with the ISO sensitivity set to Auto, but the image will be grainy. Nightframing takes things one step further. The camera uses the Nightshot system to help you frame the photo (since it's hard to see in the dark without it), the Hologram AF system to focus the image, and then the camera takes a flash picture with normal colors. I find this to be far more compelling that the regular Nightshot feature alone. Here are examples of each:
Taken in very low light using Nightshot
Same situation, this time using NightFraming
The next thing to see is the V3's mode dial, which is made of metal and has a nice "notchy" feel when you turn it. Also, when you turn the dial, the LCD shows a "virtual mode dial", so you can see what you're doing without looking at the actual dial. The items found on it include:
As you can see the DSC-V3 has a full suite of manual controls, just as the DSC-V1 did.
Above the mode dial, at the top of the grip, is the shutter release button.
On this side of the V3 you'll find the I/O ports. The top one is the accessory (ACC) port, which is where you'll plug in the HVL-F1000 flash or a remote shutter release.
The ports under that plastic cover are for USB 2.0 high speed (don't worry, it'll work on your old computer too) and A/V output.
Nothing to see on this side of the camera.
On the bottom of the camera are the speaker, metal tripod mount, battery compartment, and memory card slots. The tripod mount is located in the center of the camera body.
The battery and memory cards are kept under a plastic door of average quality. You may have trouble opening this door if the camera is on a tripod. As I mentioned at the start of this review, the V3 can use both Memory Stick / Memory Stick Pro and CompactFlash Type I cards (no Microdrives!).
The included NP-FR1 battery is shown at right.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3
It takes the V3 about 2.9 seconds to extends its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
A histogram is shown on the LCD in record mode
The DSC-V3 focuses very quickly, taking about 0.3 seconds to lock focus at wide-angle, and just slightly longer at telephoto. If the camera had to "hunt" or use the Hologram AF laser then it can take more like a second. Low light focusing is excellent thanks to the laser focusing system. This camera really can focus in total darkness!
Shutter lag was very low, even at slower shutter speeds. Sony has done a good job of getting rid of this annoyance on all of their recent cameras.
Shot-to-shot speed was excellent, with a delay less than a second between shots (assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off). In TIFF or RAW mode, the camera is locked up for about 8 and 11 seconds, respectively, while the image is saved to the memory card (a High Speed Memory Stick Pro, in this case).
You cannot delete a photo right after it's taken -- you must use the Quick Review feature.
Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the V3:
As you can see, the V3 supports the RAW and TIFF formats. TIFF is a standard, uncompressed format which offers an image free of JPEG artifacts at the expense of hefty file sizes (20MB) and slower write times. RAW images are also lossless (though not necessarily uncompressed), and they contain unprocessed image data. They're still large files -- about six times larger than JPEGs -- and they require post-processing on your Mac or PC before you can share or print them. But here's the real advantage of RAW: it allows you to edit things like white balance, color, and sharpness on your computer without any loss of quality. Botch the white balance? In RAW mode you can change it and it's like taking the picture again.
Along with the RAW and TIFF file, the camera also saves a JPEG image. You can choose the size and quality of that image by changing the image quality options. RAW and TIFF files are always taken at the 7MP setting.
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 V3 uses the new Sony menu system that was also featured on the DSC-F828. The menu is overlay-style, meaning that its shown on top of the image you're preparing to shoot. Here are the menu options on the V3:
Hopefully everything up there is self-explanatory. I did want to mention something about the burst modes, though. The LCD does briefly turn black between each shot, which may make following a moving subject a little challenging.
There's also a setup menu (accessed via the mode dial), which has the following options:
Single AF is just like you're used to: press the shutter release halfway and the camera locks focus. Monitor AF lets the camera focus constantly, even without the shutter release pressed. This helps reduce the time required to take a picture. Continuous AF is like Monitor AF except that it continues focuses even while the shutter release button is halfway-pressed -- great for moving targets.
The DSC-V3 has two types of digital zoom. Precision digital zoom is the same old "enlarge the center" system that you should avoid. Smart Zoom lets you enlarge the image without a loss in quality, with the catch being that you can't use much of it unless you're at a low resolution.
Let's move on to our photo tests now, shall we?
Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
The DSC-V3 did a very nice job with our macro test subject. The image has a smoothness to it that reminds me of the PowerShot G6 -- not surprising since they use the same sensor. Colors are accurate and are quite saturated to boot.
Focus distances are unremarkable on the V3. You can get as close to the subject as 10 cm at wide-angle and 40 cm at telephoto. The G6 beats those by quite a bit (5 and 15 cm, respectively). Sony does offer a close-up lens for the V3, though I was not able to find out how the focus distances change if you use it.
The night shot turned out pretty well, too. It's a bit soft, but the camera took in plenty of light and there's not much purple fringing to see (the G6 did worse in this area). Noise levels are fairly low here. With shutter speeds as long as 30 seconds, night shots like this are easy -- just remember your tripod.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:
The added noise at ISO 200 actually sharpens the image a bit, but then things start going downhill rapidly. A lot of detail is lost at ISO 400, and I'm not sure if the ISO 800 can be saved.
There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide-end of the V3's lens. I also see some vignetting in the top-left corner of the chart, and this appeared in quite a few photos in the gallery as well.
There was quite a bit of redeye on the V3, unfortunately. Your results may differ, but you've been warned.
Every serious digital camera review site needs a test scene full of cheap booze (note the choice of wine), and now we have one too! I'll pull this thing out for comparisons every once in a while. You can click on the links above to see the original (and unrotated) images from the DSC-V3 and PowerShot G6, or you can just look at my crops below. Photos were taken with 600W quartz studio lamps at F4.0 on both cameras (more on why I did this later).
DSC-V3 at ISO 100 (the lowest value available)
PowerShot G6 at ISO 50 (lowest value available)
DSC-V3 at ISO 400
PowerShot G6 at ISO 400 (highest value available)
DSC-V3 at ISO 800 (highest value available)
The first thing to point out is that all ISOs are not created equal. While the G6 starts at ISO 50, according to tests (I believe at DP Review), it's really closer to ISO 80 or 100. With that in mind, I would say that the V3 took sharper, more saturated images than the G6 with both cameras at their default settings. In addition, ISO 800 on the V3 was comparable to ISO 400 on the G6. If you really want to compare everything, view the full-size photos using the links above the crops.
While shooting my G6 vs V3 shootout last week, I learned an important lesson about how to get the best photo quality out of the DSC-V3. For whatever reason, the V3 usually preferred to use a small aperture (like F8), while the G6 chose F4. At small apertures like that, the photo quality on the V3 starts to go south, with everything becoming soft and fuzzy. I'm told that this phenomenon is known as diffraction. The trick to getting sharp images is to make sure the aperture doesn't close down that much (keep the F-number at F6.3 or below), even if it means shooting in aperture priority mode. These samples tell the whole story:
F8, which the camera chose in program mode
View Full Size Image
F4, chosen manually in aperture priority mode
View Full Size Image
Pretty shocking difference, eh? Why the DSC-V3 tends to use small apertures outdoors is beyond me. So, force it to use a larger aperture and it's all good. I should add that this only happened while shooting outdoors in bright light - the typical conditions for my test photos.
So, if you keep an eye on the aperture, you'll get very good images out of the DSC-V3. Images are very sharp at the larger apertures, but are quite soft at smaller apertures, as you saw above. Colors are accurate and saturated, and purple fringing isn't bad at all. There is some noise to be seen here, a direct result of having a lot of pixels on a tiny sensor, but it's less than what you'd see on an 8 Megapixel camera.
With all that out of the way, I can now point you to our photo gallery and G6 vs V3 shootout. I encourage you to print the photos if you possibly can!
The DSC-V3 has the same, top-notch movie mode as the DSC-F828. The MPEG Movie VX Fine mode takes VGA resolution video (that's 640 x 480) at 30 frames/sec, until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well. This movie mode is vastly superior to what the Canon G6 offers.
The VX Fine mode requires a Memory Stick Pro card (a CompactFlash card apparently won't cut it). A 1GB Pro card can hold about 12 minutes of video at this quality.
If you don't have a Memory Stick Pro card, don't fret. You can still use the very nice VX Standard mode, which is still VGA, just at 16 frames/second. A much lower resolution (160 x 112) option, known as Video mail, is also available. A 1GB memory card holds 44 minutes in VX Standard mode and nearly 12 hours (!) in Video mail mode.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
Movies are saved in MPEG format.
Here's a sample movie for you. Be warned, it's big.
Click to play movie (19MB, 640 x 480, VX Fine mode, MPEG format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Cyber-shot DSC-V3 has a pretty standard (though well-implemented) playback mode. Basic features include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom & scroll". The V3 is PictBridge-enabled (as you'd expect these days), allowing direct printing to compatible photo printers.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom up to 5X into your photo, and then scroll around in it. This us useful for checking the focus in a photograph. When zoomed in, you can also use the trimming feature I'll describe in a second.
Some of the more advanced playback features include:
I do appreciate how the V3 lets you delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all of them. (To do this, you must be in thumbnail mode.)
The V3 gives you quite a bit of information about your photos, including a histogram.
The V3 moves between images extremely quickly in playback mode -- you can move from one photo to the next without delay or a low resolution placeholder.
How Does it Compare
When used at the right settings, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 takes very good photos that compare nicely to my 7 Megapixel camera of choice, the Canon PowerShot G6. A few days, I wouldn't have been able to say that, but after someone very knowledgeable pointed out the aperture issue I discussed above, my opinion changed. For whatever reason, the V3 likes to use small apertures (high F-numbers) outdoors, which dramatically reduces image quality. By forcing the camera to use a larger aperture (F4 worked great for me), I got much sharper photos. Colors were saturated, noise levels were comparable to other 7MP cameras, and purple fringing levels were low. I did, however, notice some vignetting in several of my photos.
Other nice things about the DSC-V3 include robust performance, manual controls, a huge LCD, a great movie mode, and expandability. The camera shoots quickly, with amazing autofocus talents and no shutter lag. Shot-to-shot speeds are great, except in RAW and TIFF mode where there's an 8-10 second delay between shots. The camera has a full suite of manual controls, including shutter speed, focus, and white balance. I do wish there was a center-frame enlargement feature in manual focus, as it can be hard to see if your subject is sharp without it. While not high resolution, the V3's 2.5" LCD is huge, and it's remarkably visible outdoors. Low light visibility is fairly good as well. The camera has one of the best movie modes out there, with unlimited recording at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound. The V3 supports conversion lenses as well as an external flash. Finally, the V3 supports both Memory Stick Pro cards as well as more economical CompactFlash cards.
There are a few negatives to mention. I've already discussed the image quality issue and the workaround in detail earlier in the review. The V3's flash range isn't great, but thankfully you can add an external flash if that's a problem. Along those lines, I found redeye to be a big problem on the camera. Macro mode on the V3 is average, at best. Lastly, you can't swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod (on mine, at least).
In conclusion, I highly recommend the DSC-V3 but store this message in your brain: watch the aperture.
How does the V3 compare to the PowerShot G6? They perform quite similarly in most areas, with the V3 having sharper photos with more saturated colors. Then again, I got better photos out of the box on the G6, with no need for messing with the aperture. The V3 focuses a bit faster than the G6, and the performance gap widens considerably in low light situations. The G6 has a few more manual controls, and I appreciate the ability to save your favorite settings to two spots on the mode dial. The G6 has a flip-out, rotating LCD, though it's smaller than the regular LCD on the V3. The V3 has a live histogram in record mode, while the G6 does not. Finally, the V3 has support for USB 2.0 High Speed while the G6 does not. Both are good choices, for sure, and it comes down to what features are more important to you (read the G6 review for more on that camera). Personally, I'd rather have a camera that takes great pictures without having to worry about what the aperture is -- but that's just me.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other midsized, ultra high resolutoin cameras include the Canon PowerShot G6, Casio Exilim EX-P600, Fuji FinePix S7000, Nikon Coolpix 8400, Olympus C-7000Z and C-8080 Wide Zoom, and the Pentax Optio 750Z.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-V3 and its competitors before you buy!
For plenty of photos, check out our standard gallery as well as the G6 versus V3 shootout!
Want another opinion?
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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