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DCRP Review: Sony
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 17, 2004
Last Updated: January 12, 2008
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P150 ($499) is an ultra-compact, ultra-responsive digital camera with a whopping 7.2 Megapixel CCD. Other features include a 3X zoom lens, limited manual controls, VGA movie mode, and an AF-assist lamp. The P150 is available in silver, blue, or black bodies.
In the last six months the 7 Megapixel field has grown tremendously, with new competition from the likes of Canon, Olympus, and Pentax. How does the P150 perform? Find out in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DSC-P150 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Sony includes a 32MB Memory Stick card with the P150, which holds a grand total of 9 photos at the highest quality setting. That means that you should factor the cost of a larger card into the purchase price of the camera. I'd recommend a 256MB or 512MB Memory Stick pro card as a good starter size. Do remember that Memory Stick cards tend to cost quite a bit more than the CompactFlash or Secure Digital cards used by some other cameras. Also note that a Memory Stick Pro card is required to use the MPEGMovie VX Fine movie recording mode.
The P150 uses the same NP-FR1 InfoLithium battery as the more expensive DSC-V3. This compact battery packs a modest 4.4 Wh of energy, but Sony's done some things to make the most of it. You can take a whopping 320 photos with the LCD, using the CIPA battery life measurement. The P150 easily destroys the competition in this area. The Canon PowerShot S70 takes 140 shots, the Olympus C-7000Z gets about 175 (not measured with CIPA standard), while the Pentax Optio 750Z takes 245.
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 P150 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 over 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 P150 includes a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to worry about. As you can see, this is one small camera!
Despite looks like just another ultra-compact camera, the P150 has quite a few "big camera" accessories available. Have a look at this chart for the details:
Just so everyone saw it, the P150 supports add-on lenses, an external flash (of sorts), and an underwater case. There's also a camera dock which isn't a necessary purchase for full enjoyment of the camera. If you like playing back photos from the couch, it might be a worthy investment, though.
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 your images, but that's it. The software can also create slideshows with music or burn your photos to a CD-R disc.
ImageMixer VCD2 (Mac only)
Mac users don't get to use PicturePackage (you can use the camera with iPhoto just fine). Instead, they get ImageMixer VCD2 and the Image Data Converter. ImageMixer is used to create a Video CD from your images. VideoCDs are kind of like a poor man's DVD -- not as good, but usable.
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, but that shouldn't matter since Sony's cameras have a lot in common with each other.
I don't think I've ever read a Sony manual that I thought was good, whether on a $300 camera or $3000 television. The one included with the P150 is complete, but cluttered, complex, and poorly-organized.
Look and Feel
The DSC-P150 looks exactly like its lower resolution sibling, the DSC-P100. It's an ultra-compact (though it's kind of wide) camera made almost entirely of metal. It fits into any size pocket with ease. With the exception of the plastic door covering the battery/memory card compartment, the P150 feels very solid. It's easily to hold with just one hand, with the important controls in close reach of your fingers.
Here's a look at how the 7 Megapixel cameras compare in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the P150 is quite a bit smaller and lighter than the competition. The P150 is the only one of the ultra-compact cameras to support conversion lenses like the "big boys".
With that out of the way, let's begin our tour of the camera now, beginning as always with the front.
The DSC-P150 has a compact F2.8-5.2, 3X optical zoom Carl Zeiss lens. The focal range of the lens is 7.9 - 23.7 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. With a starting point of 38 mm, this isn't a camera for wide-angle lovers. As I mentioned in the previous section, the P150 supports conversion lenses and filters, which is quite a feat for such a small camera.
To the upper left of the lens (right next to the Sony logo) is the P150's built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.2 - 3.5 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.5 m at telephoto, which isn't too bad for a camera this small. The flash range is about equal to the Canon and Olympus cameras, and inferior to the Pentax 750Z. But don't fret; if you want more flash power, consider the slave flash I mentioned earlier, which effectively doubles the flash range.
Other items on the front of the P150 include the microphone and AF-assist lamp. The latter is used by the camera to focus in low light situations.
On the back of the camera you'll find a fairly standard issue 1.8" LCD display. It packs a healthy 134,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility is just so-so; Sony's "hybrid" LCDs do a lot better in those situations. In low light, the LCD doesn't "gain up", which makes it pretty hard to see your subject. Thankfully you've got the optical viewfinder to back you up.
And speaking of which, just above the screen is the optical viewfinder, which is on the small side. As you can see, it lacks a diopter correction feature, which focuses what you're looking at.
To the right of the viewfinder is the mode dial, which has the following options:
Back in my introductory paragraph I said that the P150 had limited manual controls. One example of this is the aperture options while shooting in manual mode. You only have two choices at all times, rather than the whole range on a camera with full manual controls. You'll see this again later when I discuss manual focus.
To the right of the mode dial is the zoom controller. I do wish it had a bit more "play", as it just doesn't feel right when you press the buttons. It takes about two seconds to move the lens from wide-angle to telephoto. I counted nine stops throughout the zoom range.
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 and selecting manual settings. The other functions for the four-way controller include:
Below the four-way controller are the menu and image quality / delete photo buttons, which are self-explanatory.
The only things to see on the top of the camera are the power and shutter release buttons.
Nothing to see here...
On the other side of the camera you'll find the battery compartment, memory card slot, and DC-in port. The P150 uses Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro cards. While you could use the Duo cards with the appropriate adapter, there's no reason to do so. The door covering all this is on the flimsy side, which is disappointing considering the otherwise excellent build quality of the camera. There's a smaller door within the big door for the DC-in cable to pass through.
The included NP-FR1 battery is shown at right.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find the dock connector (for the optional Cyber-shot Station), which is also used for USB 2.0 (high speed) and video output -- plus there's also a metal tripod mount and a speaker.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P150
The P150 starts up very quickly, taking just 1.4 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
A histogram is shown on the LCD in record mode
Focusing speeds were quite good, with typical focus times of 0.3 - 0.5 seconds. Low light focusing was excellent thanks to the P150's AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was very low, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up. 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 of about 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot (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 P150:
See why I recommended buying a larger memory card back in the first section? The P150 doesn't support the RAW or TIFF image formats -- you'll need to pony up the bucks for the DSC-V3 for that.
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 P150 uses the 2004 Sony menu system, which is very easy to use. 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. Also, you can take more shots in a row at the lower image quality settings, but the frame rate remains the same.
Also, the manual focus option isn't really manual, and there's no custom white balance either, hence my "limited manual controls" comment earlier.
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.
The camera 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?
The P150 did a very nice job with our usual macro test shot. Colors are very saturated, though the red is a little too orange for my taste. The subject has a very "smooth" look to it, without any noticeable grain. The tungsten white balance setting handled my 600W quartz lamps with ease, so a custom white balance option wasn't needed here (though I still would've liked it).
You can get as close to your subject as 6 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto, which is about average.
The P150 did a decent job with the night test shot. There's a little more noise than I was expecting, and some detail has been lost. In addition, there is a bit of purple fringing to be seen here (a bit surprising at F5.2), and you can try using a smaller aperture to reduce this. With shutter speeds as long as 30 seconds, you can easily bring in enough light for night shots like this.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:
ISO 100 and 200 aren't terribly different, though the noise gets a lot worse at ISO 400. Even so, you could probably get a high quality 5 x 7 inch print out of that picture.
There's just mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. While there's some vignetting (dark corners) on the test chart, I didn't see any in my real world photos.
Ready for a big surprise? There was absolutely no redeye in our flash picture test! I was shocked... so shocked that I repeated the test several times, but the result was always the same. Well done, Sony!
Overall the image quality on the DSC-P150 was excellent -- it competes well with the best cameras in the 7MP class. Exposure and color were both very good, and images were plenty sharp. If you're coming from lower Megapixel cameras, you'll find noise levels to be higher than what you're used it, but this is normal for cameras with tiny sensors and lots of pixels. Purple fringing showed up a few times, but it was not a major problem.
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.
The DSC-150 has the same, top-notch movie mode as Sony's other higher-end cameras. 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, with sound. All the other compact 7MP cameras can do this as well, though only the P150 and the Pentax 750Z offer unlimited recording.
The VX Fine mode requires a Memory Stick Pro card, so you can't use the included 32MB card for the fancy video mode. A 1GB Pro card can hold about 12 minutes of video at the highest quality setting.
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 (14.5 MB, 640 x 480, VX Fine mode, MPEG format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Cyber-shot DSC-P150 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 camera is PictBridge-enabled, allowing for 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 is useful for checking the focus in a photograph. Sony's done a good job at making this feature nice and snappy.
Some of the more advanced playback features include:
Strangely enough, the P150 lacks the image cropping tool that the less expensive P100 offers.
The camera gives you quite a bit of information about your photos, including a histogram.
The V3 moves between images very quickly in playback mode. If you go one image at a time, the next one appears instantly, without any low resolution placeholder. If you really start flipping through them, you'll see a low res placeholder followed by the high res image a half second later.
How Does it Compare
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P150 is a very good little camera for those who want ultra-high resolution photos, but don't mind giving up some manual controls. The P150 is a very small camera made almost entirely of metal. The only disappointing things in terms of build quality are the flimsy battery/memory card compartment door and the zoom controller, which just doesn't feel right to me. Camera performance is superb in all areas, from startup to shutter lag to shot-to-shot speed. Low light focusing is great as well, thanks to the P150's AF-assist lamp. On the whole, photo quality is very good, with nice color, exposure, and fairly low purple fringing levels. There's a bit of noise, but that's typical for ultra-high resolution cameras like this. Did I mention that there's no redeye? Other nice things about the P150 include above average battery life, support for USB 2.0 High Speed, and a first-rate VGA movie mode (assuming you have the Memory Stick Pro card for it). And finally, I think it's pretty cool that a tiny camera like this supports conversion lenses, filters, an external slave flash (that attaches to the side of the camera), and an underwater case.
So what's not to like? While the P150 has some manual controls, they're still fairly limited. You can only choose between two apertures at any time, there's no real manual focus, nor is there a custom white balance feature. Using the LCD in low light was difficult, since it doesn't really gain up much. The continuous shooting mode wasn't terribly exciting, with a slow frame rate and LCD "blackouts" between shots. Last, but not least, the software bundle isn't terribly impressive.
In case you didn't notice, I like the P150 -- quite a lot. It's a great camera for those who want a small camera that can make big prints.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot S70, Olympus C-7000Z, and the Pentax Optio 750Z. For an even more expandable (and thus larger) camera, the Canon PowerShot G6, Casio Exilim EX-P700, and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 are worth a look.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-P150 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!
Want another opinion?
Read other reviews at Digital Photography Review and Steve's Digicams.
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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