Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Monday, July 29, 2002
review of this camera is now complete. Product shots have been re-shot
where needed, and all sample photos were taken with a production-level
I'm not mistaken, the Sony
Cyber-shot DSC-P9 ($599) is the sixth new Sony camera announced
this year. The others include the DSC-P31, P51, and P71, plus three
new Mavicas: FD200, CD250, and CD400.
I wrote that paragraph back in March, two more cameras joined the
pack -- the DSC-P2 and DSC-P7. They are very similar to the P9 except
for their CCD. The P2 has a 2.0 MPixel CCD and the P7 has a 3.2MP
CCD. The DSC-P9 is the top of the line camera in the P-series, featuring
a 4 Megapixel CCD.
this little camera the best choice for you? Find out in our review!
this camera is so similar to other Sony cameras, I've reused a lot
of text. Why reinvent the wheel?
in the Box?
DSC-P9 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
4.0 (effective) Mpixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9 camera
InfoLithium rechargeable battery
adapter / battery charger
featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and drivers
page manual (printed)
some of the P-series cameras (P31/51/71) have switched to AA batteries,
the P9 uses the tried-and-true InfoLithium battery. The included
NP-FC10 battery is about the size of three Memory Sticks put together.
Since it's so small, the battery doesn't hold a lot of juice --
just 2.4 Watt/hours. For the sake of comparison, the NP-FM50 has
a whopping 7.4 Wh of power -- but of course it won't fit in a camera
this small. Sony estimates that you'll get about 80 minutes of power
per charge. When it's time to recharge the battery, you just plug
the AC adapter (included) right into the camera, and the FC10 will
be back in action in 150 minutes.
will repeat my usual speech about proprietary stuff (keep in mind
that you're welcome to disagree -- it's just my opinion). First,
proprietary batteries. While the InfoLithium batteries are some
of the best proprietary batteries out there (they even display the
remaining minutes before they need a recharge), they're still expensive,
and you can't buy regular batteries to get you out of a bind, like
you can do with AA-based cameras. The other proprietary feature
on the Sony cameras is, of course, the Memory Stick. While prices
have really come down, it's still a shame that Sony insists on their
own memory format instead of using an industry standard format.
last Memory Stick comment -- the included 16MB card is too small
for a camera with this resolution, so you'll probably want a larger
one right away. 128MB cards are now available and hold quite a few
4 Megapixel photos.
can see just how small this camera is
the camera has a built-in lens cover, there are no lens cap worries.
DSC-P9 has a decent amount of accessories available. The two most
interesting ones are an external flash (really!) and an underwater
case. The HPK-FSL1 accessory flash ($100) attaches via the tripod
mount, and provides extra flash power, without any hot shoe or cables
needed (it uses a slave sensor).The MPK-P9 Marine Pack ($250) lets
you take the P9 up to 40 meters underwater. There are also underwater
filters, lights, and an "arm" available. The one thing
the P9 is missing is support for traditional conversion lenses.
DSC-P9 works fine with Mac OS X and iPhoto, plus Windows XP. I have
not tried the bundled Pixela ImageMixer software.
P9's manual is an improvement from those included with older Sony
cameras. I still think they have a ways to go, but things are getting
DSC-P9 is Sony's smallest digicam, or darn close to it (the DSC-P31
is very small as well). The P9 is in competition with cameras like
the Canon S40, Olympus D-40Z, and Pentax Optio 430. Here's how they
stack up in terms of size:
x 2.0 x 1.4
x 2.3 x 1.7
x 2.3 x 1.2
x 2.2 x 1.2
x 2.6 x 1.7
x 2.3 x 1.2
you can see, the Sony is considerably "wider" than the
others, but is still small. Since Sony quotes the weight of the
camera with battery installed, you'll need to take off a few grams
to compare it with the other cameras, which are measured with nothing
P9 has a very sleek, all metal body. The camera feels well-constructed
and should take whatever you throw at it (just don't throw it!).
You can hold the camera easily with one hand or two.
do our usual 360 degree tour of the P9, starting with the front.
DSC-P9 has an F2.8 - F5.6, 3X optical zoom lens, with a focal range
of 8 - 24 mm. That's equivalent to 39 - 117 mm. The lens, found
on many other P-series cameras, is not threaded.
above and left from the lens is the AF illuminator, which helps
to light up the subject in low-light situations, to ease focusing.
Now if we could only get this feature on all digicams, I'd have
one less thing to complain about!
to the left is the flash, which has a working range of 0.5 - 3.8
m at wide-angle, and 0.6 - 2.4 m at telephoto. Like the more expensive
Sony DSC-F707, the P9 uses a pre-flash TTL metering system. In layman's
terms, this means that that flash fires twice -- the first time
to figure out the correct exposure, and the second time to actually
record the image.
already mentioned the add-on flash available for the P9.
to the lower-left of the lens is the DSC-P9's microphone.
the back of the DSC-P9. The 1.5" LCD is smaller than those
found on most cameras, but it's par for the course on "micro-cameras".
The LCD is bright and fluid, and usable except in bright sunlight
(which is the case for all LCDs). I found it easy to smudge the
LCD with your fingers and nose.
optical viewfinder is right in the middle of the camera, and is
on the good-sized when compared to other micro-cameras. There is
no diopter correction to help focus the image for those of us with
less than perfect vision.
the right side of the LCD are a few buttons and the four-way switch.
The Display/LCD and Menu buttons are self explanatory. In addition
to controlling the menu system, the four-way switch also does the
Review (shows the last shot taken)
those buttons, under a plastic cover, you'll find the I/O ports.
The ports for for DC in, USB, and A/V out. You plug the included
AC adapter into the DC in port, which charges the batteries or powers
the camera (but not both at the same time).
towards the top right is the zoom control. The zoom moves smoothly
and accurately, though it's a bit on the noisy side. It takes 2
seconds to go through the full zoom range.
now is the top of the DSC-P9. 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.
here you'll find the power button and the mode wheel, which has
the shutter release button inside it. The choices on the mode wheel
mode lets you pick one of three scenes (night scene, night portrait,
landscape), and the camera chooses the best settings for that situation.
not much to see on this side of the camera. Since some people have
asked in the past, I will try to clear up that 6X label you can
see above. The camera has a 3X optical zoom lens. When coupled with
a 2X "digital zoom" feature, you get the 6X number seen
above. Unfortunately, when you use the digital zoom, the image quality
decreases, so I just turn it off. I wish they wouldn't label it
as 6X though.
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 the included battery and Memory Stick!
but not least, here's the bottom of the P9. Down here you'll find
the metal tripod mount and speaker.
the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9
DSC-P9 turns on, extends its lens, and is ready to go in just three
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 P9. Shot-to-shot speed is excellent -- just
over a second elapses before you can take another shot.
LCD in record mode
recent P-series cameras 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 P9:
photos on included 16MB Memory Stick
the recent P-series cameras, the uncompressed TIFF mode have 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
seem to have disappeared as well.
DSC-P9 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 (2272 x 1704, 2272 (3:2), 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x
Quality (Fine, Standard)
Mode (E-Mail, Voice, Normal) - E-mail is a 320 x 240 photo saved
with a regular full size image; Voice mode lets you attach a sound
clip to photos.
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 cameras.
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. .
There is also a movie-like feature called ClipMotion which will
take 10 images and put them into an animated GIF for you.
actually have a sample of the new Multi-Burst mode! Here's the official
cat of the DCRP rolling around on the floor. This image was downsized.
Multi-Burst mode, 1/7.5 sec interval
P9 does not have a "traditional" burst/continuous shooting
mode. Alright, let's take a look at our test photos now!
macro test came out nicely. The colors on this 3" subject are
very saturated, and the image is sharp. The minimum distance to
the subject is 50 cm at wide-angle and 60 cm at telephoto.
night shot test is just average. Since there isn't any control of
the shutter speed, you're stuck whatever the camera chooses. This
shot was taken in night scene mode with an exposure time of 2 seconds,
which is as slow as the P7 will shoot. It needed another second
or two to let in more light. That said, there really isn't any noise
to speak of here, which shows that Sony's Slow Shutter NR really
P9 did a fair job with our new redeye test. The eyes have a bit
of a glow to them but it's certainly not "demonic" like
on some other cameras I've used. You can clean this up a bit more
on your PC, too. Note that this image was enlarged to show detail.
was very pleased with the DSC-P9's photo quality. Images were well-exposed
and colorful, and purple fringing was not a problem. And I was able
to take some pretty cool action shots to boot, even without manual
controls or an "action" scene mode. Take a look at the
photo gallery and see if you agree!
the other new P-series cameras, the P9 supports the new MPEGMovie
HQX mode. What does this mean? It means that you can film until
the Memory Stick fills up, even at the highest quality level. Unlike
the P31/51/71, the P9 records sound too!
are recorded in MPEG format at 320 x 240. The optical zoom cannot
be used during filming.
the included 16MB card, you can only fit about 40 seconds worth
of video, so you'll want to buy a larger card if video is your thing.
actually have a "real world" movie sample, for a change!
Be warned, this one is loud, so turn the volume down on your computer
before you start the movie!
Click to play movie (5.1MB, MPEG format)
view it? Download QuickTime.
DSC-P9's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on most
point-and-shoot cameras. The basic features include slide shows,
DPOF print marking, protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom &
zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom in as much as 5X, and then
"scroll" around in the photo. It's handy for checking
of those "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.
DSC-P9 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.
Does it Compare?
like the other recent P-series models, Sony's DSC-P9 is an excellent
small camera. It's a bit limited in the manual control department
(no manual white balance or shutter speed control), but as a point-and-shoot
camera, it works very well. The camera is very responsive and easy
to use, and best of all, the pictures come out looking great. The
movie mode is also one of the best out there. For those who need
lots of pixels and don't mind not having any manual controls, the
Cyber-shot DSC-P9 is a fine choice.
easy to pocket camera; well built.
mode lets you record until Memory Stick is full
illuminator for low light focusing
for external flash
Marine Pack for underwater photography
I didn't care for:
optical zoom in movie mode
a fan of Memory Stick format and proprietary batteries (personal
Memory Stick too small for 4MP camera
true continuous shooting mode or manual controls
are some other lower cost 4 Megapixel cameras to check out: Canon
PowerShot S40, Casio
Finecam S4, Minolta
DiMAGE F100, Olympus
Optio 430RS, and the Toshiba
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out
the DSC-P9 and it's competitors before you buy!
to see how the photos turned out? Take a look at our gallery!
a second opinion?
case you still don't believe me, check out Steves
Digicams for an additional review of the DSC-P9.
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to email@example.com.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for
a personal recommendation.