DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P1
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, October 15, 2000
Last Updated: Monday, January 28, 2002

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I was already happy when I opened the box. After three years of running the site, I had finally received a Sony camera for review, from Sony directly! But what made me even happier was the camera itself -- the Cyber-shot DSC-P1 ($799) turned out to be a joy to use, and everyone I showed it to had the same level of enthusiasm. It reminded me of when I was showing off the Canon Digital ELPH -- people just said "wow, that's really cool!" It turns out that this one performs as good as it looks... read on!

What's in the Box?

The DSC-P1 has a great included bundle, with one notable exception. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.34 Mpixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P1 camera
  • 8MB Memory Stick
  • One NP-FS11 InfoLithium battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring MGI PhotoSuite and VideoWave SE, plus USB drivers
  • 70 page manual

Camera shown with NP-FS11 battery and 8MB Memory Stick

Sony gets big points from this reviewer for including a nice battery kit, which includes the NP-FS11 "InfoLithium" battery, along with an AC adapter that doubles as a in-camera battery charger. The InfoLithium battery, reminiscent of a camcorder battery, is unique in that it tells you how many minutes of charge it has left. Battery life ranges from 70-90 minutes, depending on your use of the LCD display.

The P1 is a USB-only camera, so those of you without USB will be out of luck.

The built-in lens cap is quite handy!

My big complaint about the P1's bundle is the Memory Stick, for two reasons:

1. I'm not a big fan of proprietary memory cards. Just when you thought it was just SmartMedia and CompactFlash, Sony came along with the Memory Stick, which is around the size of a stick of gum. Recently, Panasonic did the same thing with their Secure Digital (SD) memory cards. If these catch on and perhaps become a standard, I'm all for it... but for now, it just makes life more difficult for the consumer.

2. The included 8Mb stick is way too small to be useful. I could only get 5 photos on the card, which made it awfully hard to take lots of sample photos. One 15 second movie left space for just one photo. Do yourself a favor and buy a larger stick -- 64MB is the max at this point. I also found the Memory Stick to be slower than CompactFlash and SmartMedia -- though hopefully they'll get faster as the product matures.

I did not have time to test the software, though MGI's PhotoSuite is a pretty standard package included with many cameras, so it should be OK for your needs.

While I only had a draft of the manual (since this was a Japanese camera), it seemed pretty much like every other Sony manual: it tells the whole story, but not necessarily in the clearest way.

And finally, one accessory you may have seen before. But since it's so cool, I'll show you again.

Image courtesy of the Imaging Resource Page

The MKP-P1 Marine Pack underwater attachment (shown above, $250) lets you take your P1 as deep as 30 meters (100 feet)! Great for diving, or just taking pictures in the rain!

Look and Feel

As I alluded to in the beginning of the review, the P1 has a lot of the "wow factor". Everyone enjoys playing around with it, and for good reason. It's a small camera... not as small as the Digital ELPH (it's wider, thicker, and heavier), but it definitely fits in your pocket.

DSC-P1 shown with Coolpix 950 in background, and AA battery in foreground

The official dimensions of the P1 are 4.25 x 2.13 x 1.75 inches, and weighs 8.8 ounces fully loaded. For comparison's sake, the Digital ELPH's dimensions are 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches.

The camera feels exceptionally sturdy and well constructed with its metal body. All doors are solid looking (even the one over the Memory Stick slot), and they stay closed. The camera fits in one hand pretty easily, though using the zoom felt unnatural to me when I was using one hand.

The P1's lens features a 3X optical zoom of 8-24 mm (equivalent to 39-117mm on a 35mm camera). The zoom is very responsive and smooth when activated.

Now let's move on to the back of the camera. Sony included some buttons seldom seen on other cameras here, including those for volume, as well as for turning the LCD on and off. I prefer this to the Display button typically found on cameras (which is also on the P1) which cycles through info on screen, then shuts the LCD off.. here, you can cycle through the display modes, without turning off the LCD when you don't want to.

Speaking of the LCD, the 1.5" screen is smaller than most, but it's still smooth and bright. Like all LCDs, it's pretty useless in direct sunlight.

And that's when the optical viewfinder comes in handy. The viewfinder is average-sized, but it lacks diopter correction for those with glasses. No matter what eye you use, your nose will smudge the LCD. I also found my fingers on the LCD more often than I would've liked.

The buttons to the left of the LCD control LCD on/off, speaker volume, and Program AE mode.

The Program AE button lets you switch between the following modes:

  • Twilight
  • Twilight Plus
  • Landscape
  • Panfocus ("changes the focus quickly and simply from a close subject to a distant subject")
  • Spot metering

The buttons above the LCD are for macro and flash settings. The buttons to the right are for cycling through info on the LCD, and the four-way switch (actually, five-way) controls the menus. I had a little trouble with menu navigation with this switch, especially pushing in the center for "OK".

Over on the lower right, under a plastic cover, you'll find the ports for USB as well as the AC adapter / battery charger.

Just above that are the zoom controls. As I said, they're hard to use when holding the camera with one hand, and I found them a bit small as well.

Now onto the top of the camera. You can see the LCD info display on the left, which is showing battery level, resolution (2048), Memory Stick status, and photos taken (1). I don't want to know how many pictures I've taken, I want to know how many I can take!

To the right of that you can see the microphone, power button, shutter release button, and mode switch. I like the power button because you can't easily turn the camera off (by accident). The shutter release button is well-placed, though it could give better tactile feedback. The mode switch lets you choose between playback, still record, and movie record. I'll cover each of those modes in the next section.

Here's one side of the camera -- not much action here. That 6X precision digital zoom really means 3X optical + 2X digital zoom.

Here's the other side of the camera. Underneath the door you'll find the Memory Stick slot, as well as the battery compartment (see the first section for a closeup). To the left of that is the A/V output, for hooking into a television.

Finally, the bottom of the camera. The only thing down here is the metal tripod mount.

Using the DSC-P1

I'm going to discuss still record, movie record, and playback mode in this section.

Record Mode

The DSC-P1 powers up in less than four seconds, and then it's ready to go. When you first turn it on, it displays a "splash screen" with the Cyber-shot logo, as well as the current date and time.

Taking a macro shot with indoor white balance and no flash

There is about a one second lag while the camera focuses when you depress the shutter release button halfway. There's minimal lag from the time you fully depress the button to the actual recording of the photo.

Sony uses overlay style menus for all the functions that don't have buttons. These menus are easy to use, though they're laid out strangely (some things in "File" seem like they should be in "Camera", for example). Here are all the options you have available in record menus:

  • Self-timer (on/off)
  • Effect
    • Photo Effect (solarize, black & white, sepia, negative art [color/brightness reversed])
    • Date/Time stamp
  • File
    • Format card
    • File numbering (normal, series)
    • Clip-motion (see below)
    • Image Size (2048 x 1536, 2048 (3:2 ratio), 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
    • Record mode (TIFF, Text [B&W GIF file], Voice [save 5-40 secs of sound with photos], E-mail [320 x 240])
  • Camera
    • Digital Zoom (on/off)
    • Sharpness (-2 to +2)
    • White balance (Indoor, Outdoor, Hold [AE Lock], Auto)
    • Flash level (high, normal, low)
    • Exposure Compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV)
  • Setup
    • Video out
    • Language
    • Clock set
    • Beep
    • LCD brightness

A few of these options require more explanation. First, what's Clip Motion? It's an animation function that takes up to 10 frames, and puts them into an animated GIF file with 1/2 sec between frames. You can record at 160 x 120 (normal) or 80 x 72 (mobile). So now all you aspiring filmmakers can make things like the "movie" below.

The self-timer is activated via the menu system, which is unusual for a digital camera. In true Sony fashion, the build up to the photo is a spectacle, with flashing lights and sounds. The self timer is for 10 seconds (I love cameras with 3 and 10 second self-timers, but oh well).

There is indeed an uncompressed TIFF mode, but you're only going to get one photo on the included Memory Stick, which is why I recommend a much larger one. It takes over 20 seconds to store an uncompressed TIFF onto the Memory Stick.

The macro test turned out just OK. I first tried using "indoor" white balance, but that turned out too yellow. So I used "auto" and got a better result. There is a good deal of noise in this shot, unfortunately. I did have more luck with macro mode outdoors - check out the gallery and look at the flower pictures. You can get as close as 4 cm / 10 inches in macro mode.

The night shot also turned out just OK. There's not a lot of noise, but I just couldn't get it to take in a whole lot of light. The above shot used the "Twilight Plus" mode, and that's the best I could get. There's no manual control of shutter or aperture on the P1. I did notice that Steve over at Steve's Digicams has better luck with his night shots than I did.

Overall, outdoor photos proved to be very good. You can browse our gallery to see quite a few sample photos and then decide for yourself.

Movie Mode

Just a quick mention of movie mode here. Sony definitely has the movie thing down - they're probably the best out there. The 320 x 240 HQ mode produces the highest quality movies of any camera I've seen.

You have three quality choices in movie mode:

  • 320 x 240 HQ
  • 320 x 240
  • 160 x 112

When you just hit the button to start filming, and then hit it again to stop, you can record up to 15 seconds of video (you can lower this to 10 or 5 seconds via the menus). You can also hold down the button and record up to 60 seconds (but not in HQ mode).

The only downer here is that you cannot use the zoom while filming. I'm still not sure why some cameras can do it, and others can't... but let's just add this to the wish list for the DSC-P2!

Click to view movie
(MPEG format, 15 sec, 5.2MB)

Playback Mode

The Cyber-shot DSC-P1 has a full-featured playback mode that works well. All the basics are here, including slideshows, DPOF print marking, protection, and thumbnail, and there's some other features that are useful too.

The first one is the ability to rotate photos inside the camera. This is great especially when you're hooked up to a TV.

You can also resize photos, in two ways. The first is to just take the whole photo and shrink it down to one of the lower resolutions. But another option (hidden in the manual) is the ability to crop down a photo after you've zoomed into it. The downside to this feature is that the cropped photo is saved with a 640 x 480 resolution.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you get 5 times closer, and then move around within the photo. While not the fastest scrolling camera out there, the P1 does an admirable job.

You can also playback movies in this mode, complete with sound thanks to the onboard speaker.

One of only two downsides to the play mode is that it takes around 4 seconds to move between photos. There's no low resolution version to tide you over until the high resolution version shows up, so it seems a bit longer than on other cameras.

My only other complaint is that you can't see any information about the photos you've taken, other than date and filename. I'd like to see some exposure information like some other cameras have.

How Does it Compare?

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P1 is what I'd call an "advanced point-and-shoot" camera. It's very good at the basics, and it has some features found on more "prosumer" cameras such as uncompressed TIFF mode. But it lacks the real "pro" features like full exposure control. With this in mind, the DSC-P1 is a great camera, and it's aimed squarely at people who were looking at Canon's PowerShot line. In terms of size, the PowerShot Digital ELPH is the winner. For storage capacity, I'd give the nod to the PowerShot S10/S20. For overall features, the DSC-P1 is the winner -- there's a few things that I don't like, but I really enjoyed using it, and would recommend it to anyone who wants a compact point-and-shoot camera.

What I liked:

  • Great design from body to menus- Sony Style, for sure.
  • Uncompressed TIFF mode
  • Great bundle (except for skimpy Memory Stick)
  • Cool extras like Clip Motion, image rotating/resizing
  • Great movie mode w/sound
  • USB support
  • Optional Marine Pack allows underwater photography

What I didn't care for:

  • Memory Stick -- included card too small, not a big fan of proprietary memory cards
  • Macro and night shots could be better
  • No real manual controls
  • Would like exposure information in playback mode.

Let's hope that this is the first of many more reviews of Sony cameras!

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try these cameras yourself before you make any purchases.

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about three or four?

Everyone else has already had their fun with the Cyber-shot DSC-P1: Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and DP Review.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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