DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P5
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, September 5, 2001
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2002

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The already skinny Sony DSC-P1 (see our review) has gone on a diet. After several months of hard work, the P1 has been reborn as the new DSC-P5, a thinner camera with the latest bells and whistles that you expect from Sony. What was the secret to the P5's weight loss? It wasn't one of those Hollywood miracle diets; rather, it's a new two-stage lens design, which let Sony take off those inches (or millimeters, as the case may be). The camera's width and height hasn't changed much, but its depth most certainly has.

With a retail price of $599, the DSC-P5 is sure to give the competition a run for the money. Read our review to find out how it "measures up".

What's in the Box?

The DSC-P5 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Cyber-shot DSC-P5 camera
  • 8MB Memory Stick
  • NP-FC10 InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring MGI PhotoSuite software and drivers
  • 99 page manual

The issues I will raise here are typical of my reviews of Sony cameras.

My first issue is the Memory Stick. It's a Sony-only storage format, and proprietary-anything isn't great in my mind. The included 8MB Stick can hold a whopping 4 "Fine" photos, so you'll want to buy a bigger card.

The second, related issue is the battery, which is again proprietary. Unlike the DSC-P50 (see our review), the P5 can only use the included InfoLITHIUM battery, so when you're desperate for power, you can't just pick up a set of AA's. Another reason I don't like proprietary batteries is the cost -- they're many times more expensive that NiMH AA cells.

In order to shrink the camera, Sony had to come up with a new, smaller battery. The new "C" series InfoLITHIUM battery is about the size of 4 Memory Sticks stacked on top of one another. As you might expect, shrinking the battery also shortens the battery life. Sony estimates that you'll get between 60 and 90 minutes of battery life before you have to recharge. Recharging takes between 90 and 150 minutes.

One nice thing about InfoLITHIUM batteries is that the camera knows how many minutes of battery life you have left before you'll need to recharge. The included AC adapter can power the camera as well as charge the battery (in the camera).

Since the DSC-P5 has a built-in lens cover, there is no need to worry about lens caps.

The DSC-P5 has one of my favorite accessories: the Marine Pack. With this case (model number MPK-P5), you and your P5 can go underwater as deep as 40 meters! It will cost about $250 when it ships in October.

The P5 is compatible with both Mac and PC computers. For compatibility with Mac OS X, you'll need to go into the Set Up menu and change the USB Mode from "Normal" to "PTP".

Sony's manuals aren't great. They remind me of the one that comes with the VCR that most people can't figure out how to program.

Look and Feel

As I've already mentioned, the Sony DSC-P5 is a small camera. It's not Digital ELPH sized (its wide but thin), but it's still easy to slide into a pocket. The body is made of a mixture of metal and plastic, and it feels solid. The controls are well-placed, and will be familiar to anyone who has ever touched a Sony digital camera. The camera is easy to use with one hand, if you wish.

The dimensions of the P5 are 4.25 x 1.44 x 2.25 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs just 180 grams (6.4 oz) empty. Let's take our usual tour now, starting with the front of the P5.

On the front of the camera is that new two-stage lens (see the picture at the top of this page for a better look). This F2.8 lens has a 3X optical zoom, with a focal range of 8 - 24mm, which is equivalent to 39 - 117mm.

The lens is not threaded, so don't expect any attachments for it.

Just above and left from the lens is the AF illuminator, which helps to light up the subject in low-light situations, to ease focusing.

Over to the left is the flash, which has a working range of 0.5 - 2.8 m (wide-angle) and 0.6 - 1.4 m (telephoto).

Here's the back of the camera, which looks like other Sony digicams, only more cramped for space.

The 1.5" 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). One thing I noticed is that if you use the optical viewfinder, your nose will smudge the LCD.

Speaking of the optical viewfinder, it's right in the middle of the camera, and is a bit on the small side. In addition, there is no diopter correction to help focus the image for those of us with less than perfect vision.

Just above the LCD is a nice treat - an LCD info display. This little display shows flash setting, battery life, remaining photos, and more. It's nice to see such a thing, as most tiny cameras skip over it. This is also helpful to cut down on battery usage, as you don't need to use the big LCD to see these pieces of information.

To the right of the LCD are a number of buttons, including the four-way switch, LCD on/off, and menu buttons.

In addition to controlling the menu system, the four-way switch also does the following:

  • Flash
  • Macro
  • Self-Timer
  • Quick Review (shows the last shot taken)
Below all those buttons, under a rubber cover, are the I/O ports on the P5. They include:
  • Power port (the AC adapter plugs in here)
  • USB
  • A/V out

Last, but not least, towards the top right of the photo you can see the zoom controls. They were placed right where your thumb rests for easy access. The zoom mechanism is a little noisy but its precise and smooth.

Here's the top of the P5, featuring the microphone, mode wheel, shutter release button, and power button.

The mode wheel is essentially the same as other modern Sony cameras, except for one thing: there's no "scene mode". It's strange that they skipped this, since many of their other new cameras have it. What you will find on the mode wheel is:

  • Set Up
  • Movie Mode
  • Playback
  • Record
  • Twilight mode (for night shots)

I'll cover these in further detail later in the review.

Here's one side of the DSC-P5, where you can get a good look at that new lens design.

And on the other side, you can see where the Memory Stick and battery go. The plastic door seems a bit flimsy, so be careful. The Memory Stick slot is spring-loaded, making it easy to remove those sticks.

And lastly, here is the bottom of the P5. Here you'll find the speaker (at left) and the metal tripod mount.

Using the Sony DSC-P5

Record Mode

The P5 takes just three seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. Depressing the shutter release halfway results in a focus lock in under a second in most cases. There is no noticeable shutter lag when you press the button fully to record the picture. Shot-to-shot speed is very good, as well - you'll wait about 2 seconds before you can take another shot (Fine mode). TIFF files take longer to record, but since you can't actually fit one on the included Memory Stick, I can't tell you exactly how long (I'd guess about 40 seconds to write it).

What you'll see on the LCD in record mode

Here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the P5:

Image Size # photos on included 8MB Memory Stick
Standard Quality Fine Quality
2048 x 1536 9 5
2048 (3:2) 9 5
1600 x 1200 15 8
1280 x 960 22 12
640 x 480 118 48

As I mentioned, you can't get a single TIFF file on the included 8MB Memory Stick. If you're doing to be shooting TIFFs, buy a much larger card (they come as big as 128MB).

The DSC-P5's "overlay-style" menu system is pretty simple and easy to learn. Let's take a look at the various menu items and what they do:

  • Exposure Compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV)
  • Focus (Auto, 0.5m, 1.0m, 3.0m, 7.0m, infinity)
  • White Balance (Hold, Auto, Indoor, Outdoor)
  • Spot Metering (on/off)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Image Size (2048 x 1536, 2048 (3:2), 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
  • Photo Quality (Fine, Standard)
  • Rec Mode (TIFF, Text, Voice, E-Mail, Burst2, Normal) -- more on this below
  • Flash Level (High, Normal, Low)
  • Photo Effects (Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
  • Sharpness (-2 to +2)

There is no manual white balance on the P5, unlike some of the more expensive Cyber-shots. The "hold" white balance mode is for use with single-colored subjects or backgrounds.

Here's more details on those Rec Mode choices:

  • TIFF: uncompressed large image - cannot fit on 8MB stick
  • Text: records a GIF in black & white
  • Voice: records an audio file along with the JPEG
  • E-mail: Records a 320 x 240 image in addition to the recorded image
  • Burst2: records two images continuously (interval of 0.6 sec)

In Setup Mode, there are a number of other options available. Here are the interesting ones:

  • Moving Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion) - explained later
  • Digital Zoom (on/off)
  • Red-eye reduction (on/off)
  • AF illuminator (on/off)
  • File numbering (series, reset)
  • LCD brightness
  • USB connect (normal, PTP) - put it in PTP mode for Mac OS X only.

Okay, enough about menus already, let's take a look at our photo tests!

It took a little help from the exposure compensation feature, but I was able to take a good macro test shot of the "usual suspect" above. The colors are right on, which isn't easy in the room where this shot is taken.

You can get as close as 10 cm (4") at full wide-angle, or 60 cm (about 24") at full telephoto.

I wasn't able to get much of a night test shot with the P5, due in part to the lack of manual controls. I admit that the city isn't as lit up as it used to be, but even the Kodak DX3900 did better. There weren't any "artificial stars" caused by noise in this photo.

Overall, I was very happy with the DSC-P5's photo quality. Photos were sharp, colors were accurate, and I didn't notice any major problems with chromatic aberrations. But don't take my word for it -- check out the gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

Sony digital cameras have one of the best movie modes out there. The P5 can record until the Memory Stick fills up (and with an 8MB stick, that's not long), plus there's a high quality mode if you need it.

The zoom lens cannot be used during filming, since the microphone is close to the lens. Sound is recorded (obviously) during filming.

You can record up to 15 seconds in HQ mode, and longer in the regular 320 x 240 (80 sec) and 160 x 112 (320 sec) video modes.

Here's a thrilling sample movie (taken in standard 320 x 240 mode) for you:

Click to play movie (MPEG format, 908KB)

There is also a movie-like feature called ClipMotion which will take 10 images and put them into an animated GIF for you.

Playback Mode

The DSC-P5'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 & scroll".

The less common, "advanced" features include:

  • Resize - change an image's size
  • Rotate
  • Divide - splits movies in half
  • Trim - 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 image quality.
  • Copy - transfer images from one Memory Stick to another

You can get more information about photos by zooming out twice. You'll get a scrollable list of information that you can see above.

I 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 P5 into thumbnail mode, invoke the menu, and choose Delete > Select and you'll see what I mean.

The P5 moves between images quickly in playback mode, and it shows a low res version before a high res one replaces it. The low-res image shows up almost instantly, with the high res arriving about three seconds later.

How Does it Compare?

Just like with its predecessor (the DSC-P1), the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P5 is one of my favorite "little cameras". It's got a wide array of features, stopping short of having manual controls of things like shutter speed and aperture. But for the point-and-shooter, the P5 is a great choice. The photos are very good, it's easy to use, and very easy to stash in your pocket. It's closest competitors are probably the Kyocera Finecam S3 and Canon PowerShot S300 Digital ELPH, and it keeps up very well with those two. My advice, as always, is to try them all and see which you like best - you can't go wrong with any of them.

What I liked:

  • Very good bundle
  • Very small, light, and THIN!
  • Great photo quality
  • Impressive startup and shot-to-shot speeds
  • Nice movie mode w/sound

What I didn't care for:

  • Proprietary battery and memory card
  • Night shots not great
  • No manual controls

Other small 2 and 3 Megapixel cameras you should consider include the Canon PowerShot S110 and S300 (both of which are 2MP), Casio QV-3EX, Kyocera Finecam S3, Pentax Optio 330, and the Sony DSC-P3 (same as the P5, without an optical zoom).

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DSC-P5 and its competitors before you buy.

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 a third?

Check out Sony DSC-P5 reviews from Steves Digicams and the Imaging Resource Page.


Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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