While it looks a heck of a lot like
a camera phone, the Sony
Cyber-shot DSC-M1 ($600) can't make or receive
calls. Rather, it's a unique combination of camera
and camcorder, though that's not necessarily how Sony
wants you to see it. The M1 combines a 5 Megapixel
camera (mostly parts from the DSC-T1), enhances its
movie recording functionality by using the MPEG4 format,
and throwing it into a body unlike anything else on
People probably won't buy the M1 for
its picture-taking abilities: they can get that elsewhere
for less money. Instead, it's for people who want to
take higher quality movie clips with less of a hit
on their memory cards. Since the M1 uses MPEG4, you
don't need a fast Memory Stick Pro card to record video
at the highest quality -- any regular Memory Stick
Duo card will work. This new movie feature is called
MPEGMovie4TV (versus MPEGMovie VX on other recent Sony
Does the M1 take great pictures AND
videos too? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DSC-M1 has a good bundle. Inside
the box, you'll find:
- The 5.1 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot
- 32MB Memory Stick Duo w/adapter
- NP-FT1 rechargeable lithium-ion
- Battery charger / AC adapter
- Cyber-shot Station camera dock
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Sony Picture Package
software, ImageMixer VCD2, USB drivers, and Cyber-shot
- 128 page camera manual (printed)
The DSC-M1 uses the tiny Memory Stick
Duo card, which is another expensive and proprietary
memory card format from Sony. Duo cards come in sizes
as large as 1GB, and you'll find a 32MB one in the
box. I highly recommend buying a larger one, with 256MB
being a good starting size, as the included card doesn't
hold that many 5MP photos. You'll also want a large
card for recording long movies. Sony includes an adapter
which allows you to use the Duo cards in devices that
have regular Memory Stick slots.
The M1 uses the same NP-FT1 battery
as Sony's popular DSC-T1 camera. It doesn't pack a
lot of juice (just 2.4 Wh of energy) but you can only
fit so large a battery in a camera this small. That
translates into 160 photos per charge, using the CIPA
battery life standard. Turning off the LCD backlight
will improve battery life by about 20%, though this
only works when you're outdoors.
As you know, I'm not a huge fan of
proprietary batteries like this, but they're unavoidable
on a camera this small. Be warned that 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 M1
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 will probably
take about 2.5 hours to fully charge the battery. You
can also use the adapter to power the camera and save
your batteries for when you're on the road.
I/O ports on the
back of the dock
Sony includes their Cyber-shot Station
camera dock along with the DSC-M1. You can use this
for battery charging, connecting to your PC (USB 2.0
High Speed is supported), or viewing images on your
Unlike on some cameras where the dock
is optional, it's required on the M1 for everything
except power. If you want to use your A/V or USB cable,
you must use the dock!
There aren't too many accessories
available for the DSC-M1. You can get an external battery
charger ($50), a car charger, or a carrying case ($27).
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 your
images and watch movies, but that's about it. The software
can also create slideshows with music or burn your
photos to a CD-R disc.
Mac users don't get to use PicturePackage
(you can use the camera with iPhoto without issue).
Instead, they get ImageMixer VCD2 and the Image Data
Converter. ImageMixer is used to create a Video CD
from your images. Video CDs are kind of like a poor
man's DVD -- not as good, but usable.
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,
but that shouldn't matter since Sony's cameras have
a lot in common with each other.
The manual included with the camera
is just like all of Sony's other manuals: not great.
The information is there, but the presentation leaves
much to be desired.
Look and Feel
The Cyber-shot DSC-M1 is unlike any
digital camera you've ever seen. It looks more like
a camera phone crossed with a camcorder than your typical
digital camera. With the LCD in the closed position,
it looks more like a camera, but most people will hold
it like so:
Image courtesy of
What you can't see in this picture
is where the person's fingers are located on the other
side of the camera. You need to be very careful about
hand placement on this camera! It's all too easy to
block the flash and/or AF-assist lamp, so watch those
fingers! Holding and especially operating the camera
is awkward, in this reviewers' opinion.
The DSC-M1 is made almost entirely
of metal, giving it a solid feel. The exceptions here
are the cheesy plastic doors that cover the battery
slot and power/dock connector.
The dimensions of the camera are 51
x 114 x 28 mm / 2.0 x 4.5 x 1.1 inches (W x H x D,
body in closed position) and it weighs 185 grams /
6.5 ounces empty. That's the size of the camera when
it's in your pocket -- it'll be larger when everything's
Let's begin our tour of this crazy
The M1 uses the same Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar
lens as the popular DSC-T1. This lens works differently
than most: the majority of the lens elements go down
the body (via a prism), instead of going from the front
to the back of the camera. The lens is on the slow
side, with a maximum aperture of F3.5 - F4.4. The focal
range of the lens is 6.7 - 20.1 mm, which is equivalent
to 38 - 114 mm. You cannot attach lens accessories
to the M1 (obviously).
There's a built-in cover to protect
the lens when the camera is not in use.
To the lower-left of the lens is the
M1's built-in flash. The flash has a working range
of 0.3 - 1.8 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 1.7 m at telephoto.
As you can see, that's pretty weak, so this camera
may not be the best choice if you take a lot of flash
photos. You cannot add an external flash, either.
Below the flash is the AF-assist lamp,
which helps the camera focus in low lighting conditions.
Sony has been great about putting these on all of their
On the LCD panel you can see the stereo
microphone. I can't think of any other digicams with
a stereo mic.
Here's where you really see just how
unusual the DSC-M1 is. The quick and easy way to turn
on the camera is to rotate the LCD portion of the body
away from the button/lens portion. You then flip the
LCD around to face you (if that's what you're after).
As you can tell, the screen can rotate
-- 270 degrees to be exact. The range of rotation goes
from pointing at the subject all the way around to
pointing at the ceiling. The screen itself is a hybrid
type which means that it's easy to see, even in bright
outdoor light. It's 2.5" inches in size and has
123k pixels, which sounds low but in reality the screen
is plenty sharp. In low light situations, the screen "gains
up" a little (so you can see your subject), but
not as much as I would've liked. You can turn the screen
backlight off when outdoors to help conserve battery
To the left of the screen are three
buttons which have different functions depending on
the camera mode. In record mode, you can use the top
and bottom buttons for taking a still picture and movie,
respectively. In playback mode these buttons substitute
for the left/right/center buttons on the four way switch
-- you'll use these when you have the body in the "closed" position.
Okay now it's time to talk about all
those buttons on the main part of the camera body.
I should mention that I really didn't care for the
majority of the buttons: they're set into the body
too much making them difficult to press. They're also
very small. I'm going to work my way from top to bottom,
left to right.
Those lights on the top right show
the current camera mode: battery charging, record,
or playback. To switch the mode, press the button beneath
The photo button does just as it sounds:
it takes a still picture. Press it halfway to lock
focus and then fully to take the picture -- just as
you would on a more "normal" digital camera.
But there's a twist: that switch below
the photo button puts the camera into Hybrid mode,
which is one of the unique features on the M1. In Hybrid
mode, the camera records a still image and gives it "context" by
wrapping a movie around it. In Hybrid mode the camera
is constantly storing 5 seconds of video in the memory
buffer. When you press the Photo button, the 5 seconds
of video preceding that moment are saved, then the
still is taken (at full resolution), and then 3 more
seconds of movie are added to the end. The result:
a 320 x 240 / 15 fps movie and a still image. There
is a noticeable pause at the moment when the still
is taken so it's not perfect. Click
here to see what the movie portion of this looks
To the right of the photo button is
the zoom controller, which moves the lens silently
from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.2 seconds. By quickly
pressing the button you can make precise adjustments
to the zoom.
The next button over is the movie
button, which as you may imagine, records movies. I'll
discuss this in detail in the movie section later in
the review. The switch below the movie button allows
you to take 5 second movie clips (instead of filming
At the bottom of things are the menu,
image size / delete photo, and display buttons as well
as the four-way controller. The display button is used
to toggle what's shown on the LCD, and it can also
turn off the screen backlight. The four-way controller
is used for menu navigation as well as:
- Up - Flash setting (Auto, forced
flash, slow synchro, flash off)
- Down - Self-timer (on/off)
- Left - Macro (on/off)
- Right - Metering (Multi-pattern,
There really isn't a "top" of
the DSC-M1 (the only thing there is the loop for the
neck strap), so I'll show you this view instead. I've
already told you about the LCD and the buttons beside
it. With the camera in this position, you can review
photos without having to flip the LCD out to the side.
Also seen here is the Memory Stick
Duo slot and the speaker. The M1 can use regular Duo
or Pro Duo cards. The included 32MB card is shown above.
Over here you'll find the sole I/O
port on the DSC-M1. This one does double duty: it's
the dock connector and the DC-in port (for the included
AC adapter). It's protected by a plastic door of average
On the other side of things you'll
find the power button.
Here's what I would call the bottom
of the camera. As you can see, the M1 has a metal tripod
mount. Also seen here is the battery compartment, shown
here with the flimsy plastic cover on. The whole battery
compartment is poorly designed: getting the battery
in and out is difficult, and the darn door doesn't
like to close easily.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot
It takes just 1.5 seconds for the
camera to "warm up" before you can start
taking pictures. You can turn the camera on by flipping
the LCD half of the camera away from the body, or by
pressing the power button.
A histogram is
shown on the LCD in record mode
The M1 focuses very quickly when you
halfway-press the shutter release button, taking about
0.4-0.6 seconds to lock focus. The AF-assist lamp helped
the camera focus well in low light conditions.
Shutter lag was very low, even at
slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed was excellent,
with a delay of a little over one second between shots,
assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off.
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 M1:
||# images on 32MB card
2592 x 1944
2592 x 1728
2048 x 1536
1280 x 960
640 x 480
There is no RAW or TIFF mode on the
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 M1 uses the same menu system that
is used on Sony's other recent cameras. 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 M1:
- Camera (Auto, program, magnifying
glass, night scene, night portrait, landscape, snow,
beach, high-speed shutter, fireworks, candle) - see
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to
+2EV, 1/3EV increments)
- Focus (Multi, center, spot AF,
0.5, 1.0, 3.0, 7.0 m, infinity) - three autofocus
modes plus a pseudo-manual mode
- White balance (Auto, sunlight,
cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten, flash) - no custom
- ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
- Photo Quality (Fine, standard)
- Rec Mode
- Normal - regular shooting
- Speed burst - takes 4 shots
in a row at about 3 frames/second at the highest
- Exposure bracketing - takes
3 shots in a row, each with a different exposure
value; set the bracket step in the next menu
- Multi burst - takes 16 shots
in a row (at interval selected in menu) and
compiles them into one 1 Megapixel image (like
- Bracket step (±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, ±1.0EV)
- for exposure bracketing
- Multi-burst interval (1/30, 1/15,
1/7.5 sec) - for the multi-burst feature described
- Flash Level (Low, normal, high)
- Photo Effects (Off, black & white,
- Saturation (Low, normal, high)
- Contrast (Low, normal, high)
- Sharpness (Low, normal, high)
- Setup - opens setup menu, described
I want to briefly mention the Camera
submenu. Most of the items here are scene modes. The
magnifying glass mode is a sort of super macro mode
that lets you get as close to your subject as 1 cm.
You'll want to use the high-speed shutter option for
action shots, and be sure to remember your tripod for
the night scene and fireworks modes. Auto and program
mode are both automatic, with the latter giving you
access to all menu items. There's no way to manually
set the shutter speed or aperture on the M1.
There's also a setup menu, which has
the following options:
- Hybrid mode (Normal, pre
rec) - normal mode records a movie before and
after the still image, while pre rec only has
a movie before the still
- Digital zoom (on/off) - this
is the old school digital zoom, not smart zoom;
don't use it.
- Date/Time (Off, date, day & time)
- whether date/time is printed on your photos
- Redeye reduction (on/off)
- AF illuminator (on/off)
- Auto Review (on/off) - shows
images on LCD after it is taken
- Memory Stick Tool
- Card format
- Change/create rec folder
- manage folders on the memory card
- Setup 1
- Beep (Shutter only, on, off)
- LCD backlight (Dark, normal,
- Language (English, Japanese))
- Setup 2
- File number (Series, reset)
- USB connect (Normal, PTP,
- Video out (NTSC, PAL)
- Clock set
Let's move on to our photo tests now,
Our macro test shot came out fairly
well, though there's a bit of a color cast (which is
why I like custom white balance, which the M1 lacks)
and the subject seems a little fuzzy.
There are two ways to get close to
your subject on the M1. Normal macro mode lets you
get as close to your subject as 8 cm at wide-angle
and 25 cm at telephoto. The magnifying glass mode locks
the lens at wide-angle in exchange for reducing the
minimum focus distance to just 1 cm -- nice.
Our night shot is decent, though a
longer exposure would've been nice. Unfortunately there's
no way to set the shutter speed manually on this point-and-shoot
camera (using the twilight scene mode is the best option).
The image is again a little fuzzy, and I did spot a
few instances of purple fringing around some lights.
There's moderate barrel distortion
at the wide end of the DSC-M1's lens. There's no vignetting
(dark corners) in this test shot or in any of the real
world photos that I took.
The DSC-M1 seems to have a bit of
a redeye problem. We've got full-on Terminator 2 demon
eyes here, folks. While your results may vary, it's
probably a safe assumption that you'll be dealing with
it to a degree.
Image quality on the M1 is just fair.
Images are well-exposed with good color, low noise,
and very little purple fringing. However, most of my
photos were very soft and fuzzy -- have a look at almost
anything in the gallery to see what I mean. You will
still get pretty nice smaller prints out of the M1,
but for large sizes and full-size viewing on your computer,
you may be disappointed like I was.
Don't just take my word for all this,
though. Have a look at our photo
gallery and decide if the photo quality meets your
expectations. I also encourage you to print the photos,
just like you would if they were your own.
Aside from its design, the other "big
deal" about the DSC-M1 is its movie mode. I already
mentioned the Hybrid mode feature back when I was discussing
the back of the camera, so if you skipped down to here,
you may want to go back and read about it.
Some general information about the
M1's movie mode (called MPEGMovie4TV): the resolution
is still 640 x 480, 30 frames/second, like Sony's MPEGMovie
VX Fine mode, but with higher quality and less memory
card consumption. The M1 uses MPEG4 instead of MPEG1,
which reduces the bit rate by a factor of 4 (down to
2.5 Mbps) while increasing horizontal resolution by
50%. No longer do you need to reach for the Pro cards,
you can use a regular Duo card with this camera and
still get the highest quality movie. Recording is unlimited:
you can keep going until the memory card is full. With
the included 32MB you can store about 90 seconds of
video at the high quality setting. Get a 1GB Pro Duo
card and that number jumps to 45 minutes.
Two lower resolution modes are also
available, both of which use the 320 x 240 resolution.
You can choose a frame rate of 15 or 30 frames/second.
The 32MB card holds about 4.5 minutes at 320 x 240
/ 30 fps and 15.5 minutes at 320 x 240 / 15 fps.
Other nice things about the movie
mode: sound is recorded in stereo, and you can use
the zoom during filming.
And here's a sample movie for you.
Note just how small the file size is for this large
movie. As far as the quality goes, I don't think you
should throw away your camcorder just yet.
to play movie (2.7 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, MPEG4 format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Cyber-shot DSC-M1 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 M1 is PictBridge-enabled (as you'd expect these
days), allowing direct printing to compatible photo
The zoom and scroll feature (my term)
allows you to zoom up to 5X into your photo, and then
scroll around in it. This is useful for checking the
focus in a photograph.
Some of the more advanced playback
- Resize - change an image's size.
The original image is not deleted.
- Trimming - crop an image
- Divide - cut sections of movies
I do appreciate how the M1 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 M1 gives you quite a bit of information
about your photos, including a histogram.
The camera moves between images very
quickly -- it's basically instantaneous, and there's
no low res placeholder either.
How Does it Compare
While it's an interesting concept,
I don't think the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M1 is good enough
at taking pictures and videos to justify its hefty
$600 price tag. For less money you could get a better
designed camera that takes better pictures and videos
of nearly the same quality -- heck, Sony makes just
such a camera. Let's talk first about the M1's design
-- you either love it or you don't, and I don't. I
found it awkward to hold and use, with poorly placed
controls and microscopic buttons. The placement of
the flash and AF-assist lamp aren't good either, as
your fingers can easily block them. The 2.5" LCD
display is nice, though, and it's viewable even in
bright outdoor light. In low light things can be hard
to see, as the screen doesn't "gain up" very much.
The DSC-M1's photo quality didn't impress me very much.
While photos are well-exposed with accurate color,
they just seemed too soft and fuzzy to me. Redeye was
also a problem, and the flash is weak to begin with.
The video features are cool, but the
quality doesn't seem any better than other cameras
with VGA movie modes, and camcorder manufacturers certainly
shouldn't be worried. The nice things about the movie
feature on the M1 are that you can take really long
movies (thanks to the MPEG4 codec), zoom during filming,
and sound is in stereo. The M1 is a point-and-shoot
camera, with no manual controls to be found, which
is a little disappointing given its price. Beginners
will appreciate the numerous scene modes, however.
And finally, while it does support USB 2.0, the only
way to get to the port (as well as the video out port)
is to use the included camera dock.
All-in-all, I can see how gadget lovers
would find the DSC-M1 appealing. But for the average
person, you could get a nicer camera (in all respects
except for total movie recording time) for less money
-- so my advice is to pass on the M1.
What I liked:
- "Interesting" design
- you love it or hate it
- Excellent movie mode: long recording
times, small file sizes, zoom during filming, stereo
- Robust performance
- Large, rotating 2.5" LCD visible
even in bright outdoor light
- AF-assist lamp
- Magnifying glass mode reduces macro
focus distance to 1 cm
- Live histogram in record mode
- USB 2.0 High Speed supported, though
only via dock
What I didn't care for:
- Expensive for what it does
- Clumsy design: poorly placed controls,
flash, AF-assist lamp; buttons are too small; poorly-designed
- Picture quality is disappointing:
images seem soft and fuzzy
- Redeye a problem
- Weak flash
- LCD doesn't "gain up" as much as
- Manual controls would've been nice
- USB and A/V ports require use of
There's really nothing else on the
market like the DSC-M1. Check out our Reviews & Info
page to search for other cameras.
As always, I recommend a trip down
to your local reseller to try out the DSC-M1 and its
competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in our gallery.
Want a second opinion?
Read more reviews at Steve's
Digicams and Imaging
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.
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