Recommend this product?
I am an amateur photographer who loves my Canon EOS Rebel XT. Still, early last year I decided that a small portable digicam (I now own two) was worth the money. I first bought a Samsung that was DOA, so I returned it for the Casio Exilim EX-Z77. That Casio was a good little camera, but the low resolution screen and poor sound quality got to me. As I noted the picture quality was quite poor, though normal for a tiny digicam. I ended up returning it wanting something a notch better, and I got this Sony for only $149. Just yesterday, I decided to get a second small digicam and I bought an Olympus 850SW - I would *never* buy or recommend Olympus cameras normally, but in the waterproof market you just don't have many choices. Look for a review on it to be coming soon (hint: I will be recommending it only strongly conditional on actually needing water proofness)
On to the first impressions
This Sony is *huge* for a digicam. Huge. The purpose of a small digicam is to be small, and this Sony is on the absolute upper end of what I consider acceptable at almost an inch thick! And as I sit here writing I laugh to myself as it is about the same thickness as a roll of 35mm film, not counting any camera body in that equation...my how times have changed! It's bigger than my new waterproof Olympus though. And MUCH bigger than most small digital cameras.
Sony did some really odd things that make it so big - for example, it has an optical viewfinder. While I like using the optical viewfinder on an SLR - it's big, it looks through the lens, and it really helps you compose a shot - an optical view finder on a miniature digicam is a waste of space and money. The view through it is absolutely tiny and it is not terribly close to what the camera will actually shoot - remember it is a separate lens located fairly far apart. The live LCD image is MUCH more useful on any of these cameras - and most manufacturers have rightly eliminated the separate viewfinder that is a remnant of compact film cameras where there was no other choice.
Okay, enough of that, I know it's big... I want some good things
This camera has a 7 megapixel sensor in it, which is a nice resolution for such a small camera. One thing many people do not understand is that "megapixels" is not a rating of picture quality. Not even remotely... it's the picture *size*. You can have a really good small picture or a really bad huge picture. One problem is that while the sensors pack more pixels into them, they are not physically getting much, if any larger. So each individual pixel is getting smaller... and smaller pixels gather less light than larger pixels. Sure, the sensor technology is getting better each day, but I think camera manufacturers should start looking at quality over quantity. With today's technology, they could make 5-megapixel cameras that shot amazingly clear, low-noise images even in very low light. But no, they just keep adding millions of pixels to a tiny sensor. Because thats what people want to buy.
The point of that? Because 7 megapixels was a more conservative size when this camera came out, it's noise performance is very good. It shoots up to ISO 3200 - though that is quite noisy of course. At 400, it resembles the noise from my Rebel XT on 1600. At 800, it's still usable. At 1600, 4x6 is the real limit, and at 3200 - avoid that high unless you wouldn't get the picture otherwise! That's good though, there are many small digicams that you need to avoid using the 400 setting because the pixels are so tiny!
The built-in 3x optical zoom lens is manufactured by Carl Zeiss and is about as good as it gets on a compact camera. Pictures are sharp, clear, and show minimal distortion. For a motorized zoom, the lens zooms quickly and efficiently and focus is almost instant.
This camera shoots MPEG-1 video with excellent sound quality. While not as efficient as newer codecs, MPEG-1 is still better than the MJPEG many manufacturers are using. Sound is the best I've heard from a compact digicam.
Software and User Interface
The camera has a very intuitive user interface that is well-designed and offers a reasonably large amount of control for a compact camera (though not proper manual control of shutter and aperture - just white balance and exposure comp). There is no manual white balance, but the auto settings seem to work well. The screen is nice and sharp and bright, and can show both histogram and grid lines at the same time for framing and exposure. Face detection AF only works in portrait mode, but the normal autofocus works well and is very quick + efficient.
Pictures from a recent trip on which I took this as my only camera can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/comicexpressions/sets/72157606157154763/detail/
This camera will serve your average user well, though it's not waterproof, and it's not a subcompact pocketable camera. It uses Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo media so be aware of that need. It is very well designed, intuitive, easy-to-use, and takes great pictures for such a small camera! Sony could have shrunk it more pretty easily I think but they chose not to and it is what it is. I'm going to give it 4 stars and recommend it, but read the entire review and decide if it is the camera for you.
Amount Paid (US$): 150
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Easy Enough for Anyone to Use