With its sporty vertical design and its O-ring seal, the 2-megapixel Sony DSC-U60 is one tough digicam. Impervious to the outdoor nasties that wreak havoc with electronics and lenses, this Cyber Shot is a solid choice for outdoor enthusiasts who want a simple point-and-shoot camera to capture their adventures. Better yet, the U60 works great as deep as 5 feet underwater.
Weighing an easily portable 6.7 ounces with batteries and a Memory Stick installed, the U60 cuts a stylish figure. The learning curve is almost nonexistent; all you'll need to do is quickly study how to scroll through the LCD menu. Real estate is at a minimum on the camera back, so the Execute button pinch-hits for left and right arrows.
Since the U60 is intended for one-handed shooting, the mode dial and all five control buttons--Power, Flash, Menu, Scene, and Execute--are within thumb's reach. The shutter release on top falls comfortably under the index finger. However, it's easy to block the lens with a finger when you're gripping the camera with a single hand.
Although Sony equipped the U60 with autofocus, there's no optical zoom, and you get a choice of only two resolutions: 1,632x1,224 pixels (2 megapixels) and 640x480 pixels (VGA). Of course, the relatively low resolution helps make this a speedy camera. It has a very minimal shutter lag, a quick two-second shot-to-shot time (without the flash), and a burst mode that's lightning fast. Just don't expect to make large prints with any success.
Limited resolution options didn't stop us from having a splashing good time with the U60 in the pool, and the two included AAA nickel-metal-hydride rechargeable batteries let us swim and shoot as long as we liked. In the absence of an optical viewfinder, a 1-inch LCD provides the view, which is clear even in bright sunlight and 5 feet beneath the water on an overcast day. Operating the controls underwater was easy, too, and we comfortably snorkeled with the camera dangling from one wrist. The U60 is negatively buoyant, however, so if you let go, it will sink.
You'll find several flash options, manual focus at preset distances, some special effects, and six scene modes on the U60's modest feature list. Because the camera lacks a tripod mount, getting good results from the flash-disabled Twilight mode is nearly impossible. For night shots, turn to the Illumination Snap mode. Beware of using the flash underwater, though. Because it emits light straight on, chances are good that you'll get backscatter, those dandrufflike white flecks that appear in images because the flash's light hit particles in the water and bounced back.
Our underwater exposures were surprisingly good, whether we were shooting a subject near the surface or 12 feet below us. The Underwater scene mode helps compensate for the overabundance of blue, and we were happy with even the standard mode's color balance. For a 2-megapixel model, the U60 produced a pleasing amount of image detail, but we didn't like the moderate noise in our photos. On land, as well, the camera gave us solid results for its class, although indoor shots were sometimes a little warm for our taste.