First Look: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P31
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Monday, July 8, 2002
is a "preview" of the Sony DSC-P31. The camera described
here is a pre-production model, and features and look-and-feel are
subject to change. When a production model is available, I will
update the review and provide a conclusion.
Cyber-shot DSC-P31 is the new entry level camera from Sony. Along
with the P31, there's now the P51 and P71 as well. These replace
the DSC-P20, P30, and P50. The P51 is a 2 Megapixel camera with
a 2X optical zoom, while the P71 is a 3.2 Megapixel camera with
a 3X zoom. I've covered the P71 in a separate
DSC-P31 ($220) is a 2.0 Megapixel camera with a fixed focus lens.
There's a 3X digital zoom available, but keep in mind quality goes
down quickly when it is used. The body is totally new, and pretty
small too. The camera is expected to ship in late March.
out all about the P31 in our special preview! Note that since the
cameras are so similar, I've copied some pieces from the P71 review
to save time.
in the Box?
DSC-P31 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
2.0 (effective) Mpixel Cyber-shot DSC-P31 camera
AA NiMH rechargeable batteries
featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and drivers
what's the big news with the three new P-series cameras? Sony has
ditched the proprietary battery! While the old P-series cameras
gave you the option of using AA or proprietary, the new cameras
use two AA batteries. Sony includes two high capacity 1750 mAh batteries,
plus a charger with the camera.
says you should be able to shoot for over 2 hours on these batteries
before needing a recharge.
see this is a big win for the consumer. While proprietary batteries
do last a long time, they are expensive, and you can't just buy
another one at Disneyland when your first one dies.
estimates that you'll have two hours of shooting time, with the
LCD off. One feature that disappeared when the InfoLithium batteries
went away was the handy timer showing how much battery life you
had left, down to the minute. Now it's just a little battery symbol,
and when it gets empty, it's time to recharge.
DSC-P31 includes an 8MB Memory Stick in the box. You'll probably
want to buy a 32MB card when you start taking lots of pictures.
camera has a built-in lens cover, so no lens cap is needed.
not sure about what accessories will be available for the new P-series
cameras. Once I find out, I'll update this review.
P31 is compatible with Mac OS X, iPhoto, and WindowsXP.
more great news: the new P-series cameras have an improved manual!
It's a much more user friendly manual compared to other Sony cameras
I've tested in that past, and I'm very happy to see it. Perhaps
my complaining had something to do with this improvement, in some
DSC-P31 is Sony's smallest camera. In fact, it approaches the size
of the Canon Digital ELPH. The body is made mostly of plastic. The
P31 is super-easy to use with one hand or two, and it fits in any
dimensions of the P31 are 4.25 x 2.75 x 1.56 inches (W x H x D),
and it weighs just 231 grams with battery and Memory Stick installed!
DSC-P31 has an F2.8, fixed focal length lens (5 mm). That's equivalent
to 33 mm. Any zooming you plan on doing with this camera will be
done digitally -- meaning the quality won't be nearly as good as
it would be if you used a real optical zoom.
the lens is the AF illuminator, which helps to light up the subject
in low-light situations, to assist in focusing.
to the left is the flash, which has a working range of 0.4 - 3.8
m. Not surprisingly, there's no support for an external flash on
the back of the DSC-P31, which should look familiar if you've used
a Sony camera before.
1.6" LCD is smaller than those found on most cameras, but it's
still bright and easy to see, except outdoors (as is the case with
all LCDs). Nose smudges may be a problem if you use the optical
viewfinder with your left eye.
optical viewfinder, located the top left in the photo, is on the
small side. Also, there is no diopter correction to help focus the
image for those of us with less than perfect vision.
above the LCD of the viewfinder is the mode wheel, which has five
Scene mode has three choices: landscape, night scene, and night
scene/portrait (flash slow sync). I'll have more on the other modes
later in the review.
to the left of the mode wheel is the power save button. Turning
on this feature does three things:
the LCD a bit; won't let you change the brightness
the flash off by default
camera only focuses when shutter release button is pressed halfway
the opposite side of the mode wheel, you can see the zoom controls.
Since there's no real zoom (it's only digital), there's no noise,
and the digital zoom is smooth. Keep in mind my warnings from earlier
in the review, however.
the left side of the LCD are more buttons. The Menu and Display/LCD
buttons are self explanatory, as is the four-way switch below.
addition to controlling the menu system, the four-way switch also
does the following:
Review (shows the last shot taken)
plastic covers, you'll find the I/O ports. On the left side, you'll
see the Video Out and USB ports. The DC in port (for optional AC
adapter) is on the right side.
there's a tiny speaker just to the left of the optical viewfinder.
None of the new P-series cameras have a microphone, however.
isn't too much to see on the top of the P31. The power button and
shutter release can be found over to the right, and that's about
it. The lack of an LCD info display means that you'll have to use
the main LCD when you want to check settings and shots remaining.
not much to see on this side of the camera...
but on the other side, you'll find the battery compartment, as well
as the Memory Stick slot. Let's open those up.
you can see where the 2 AA batteries go, as well as the Memory Stick.
Note that the P31 includes an 8MB Stick, and not the 16MB one shown
but not least, here's the bottom of the P31. The only thing of note
down here is the metal tripod mount. There's also a mysterious "reset"
hole down here as well.
the Sony DSC-P31
the P31 has no lens to extend, it starts up very quickly -- in just
two seconds. Auto-focus generally takes under a second, though it
can take a bit longer if the AF illuminator is used. Shutter lag
is not noticeable on the P31. Shot-to-shot speed is excellent --
just a second elapses before you can take another shot.
new Sony cameras released at PMA 2002 have three noise reduction
systems to make your pictures better. There's one for chrominance
(Clear Color NR), another for luminance, and finally, one for noise
(Slow Shutter NR). When shutter speeds drop below 1/2 sec, the "Slow
Shutter NR" noise reduction mode kicks in. This results in
a longer wait for the image to be recorded, but you'll be rewarded
with a less noisy image.
a look at the image size/quality choices on the P31:
photos on included 8MB Memory Stick
the new P-series, the uncompressed TIFF mode has gone the way of
the dinosaur. I'm not sure why (maybe since few people actually
use it?), but it's gone now. Some of the other Record Modes (Text,
GIF, etc) seem to have disappeared as well.
DSC-P31 uses the familiar Sony "overlay-style" menu. It's
easy enough to figure out. Here's what you'll find in the menus:
Compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
(Multi AF, Center AF, 0.5m, 1.0m, 3.0m, 7.0m, infinity) - more
Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent) -
lots more options here than on old models
(Auto, 100, 200, 400)
Size (1600 x 1200, 1600 (3:2), 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
Quality (Fine, Standard)
Mode (E-Mail, Normal) - E-mail is a 320 x 240 photo saved with
a regular full size image
Level (High, Normal, Low)
Effects (Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
(-2 to +2)
white balance mode has been expanded on the new P-series. No more
indoor, outdoor, or hold choices. There are new auto-focus (AF)
modes as well: multi-area and center. The multi-area is 3 points,
though the camera will pick what point it focuses on.
Setup Mode, there are a number of other options available. Here
are the interesting ones:
Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion, Multi-Burst) - explained below
(Day & Time, Date, Off) - whether date/time is printed on
numbering (series, reset)
Moving Image feature has a new addition: Multi-Burst mode. This
is similar to a feature found on the Nikon Coolpix cameras. It will
take 16 shots in a row and put it into one 1280 x 960. I guess it's
good for analyzing your golf swing. You get to choose from several
between-frame intervals -- 1/7.5 sec, 1/15 sec, and 1/30 sec. I'll
try to get a sample of something interesting when I get the final
production-level camera. There is also a movie-like feature called
ClipMotion which will take 10 images and put them into an animated
GIF for you.
this is a pre-production camera, I won't be doing any of the usual
test photos. Those will be posted when I get a production unit.
In the meantime, I've posted some sample photos in the gallery.
Keep in mind that this is not a production camera!
have good news and bad news about the movie mode on the new P-series.
The good news is that you can use a new "HQX" mode (MPEGMovie
HQ + MPEGMovie EX = HQX). This lets you record higher quality video
(320 x 240, 16 fps) until the card is full! On a large 128MB Memory
Stick, that's over 5 minutes of HQX video.
bad news is that no sound is recorded on the new P-series cameras.
Maybe the HQX will work it's way into the higher end models soon?
know I sound like a broken record, but once I get a production model,
I'll put up a sample movie here.
DSC-P31's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on
most point-and-shoot cameras. The basic features include slideshows,
DPOF print marking, protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom &
of the "bonus features" include:
- change an image's size
- splits movies in half
- when zoomed into an image, you can crop the image down to the
selected area. You choose the resolution of the new image (the
old one is kept). The only thing to remember here is that if you
take a small area of an image and then blow it up, you'll lose
can get more information about photos by zooming out twice. You'll
get a scrollable list of information that you can see above.
would have liked a delete button on the camera itself, rather than
having to invoke the menu every time I want to remove a photo, but
that's a minor gripe. You can, however, delete a group of photos.
Put the camera into thumbnail mode (zoom out once), invoke the menu,
and choose Delete, then Select and you'll see what I mean.
P31 instantly moves between photos in playback mode. As soon as
you release the button, another picture has appeared.
Does it Compare?
once I get a production level camera, I'll post my usual final thoughts
here, plus a list of other cameras to check out.
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos
in our photo gallery!
These are pre-production images!
a second opinion? How about a third?
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for
a personal recommendation.