One of the two most significant changes to the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-P200 is the addition of a center-weighted metering mode to the multisegment and spot modes offered by the previous model. In addition, the original 1.8-inch LCD that was difficult to view in bright light has been replaced with a 2.0-inch LCD that's difficult to view in bright light. The rest of the modifications seem to be largely cosmetic.
For example, the P200's aluminum body is about 1/6 inch shorter and a hair thinner at 4.1 by 2.0 by 1.1 inches, though it weighs the same 6.4 ounces with battery and Memory Stick inserted. A raised ridge on the front of the camera has been removed, and the microphone that inhabited it has moved to the top panel. The Setup option formerly on the Mode dial is now accessible from the menu system. The cursor pad's buttons are slightly different, and while the in-focus (green) and flash-charging (yellow) LEDs next to the viewfinder remain, the red (buffer full) indicator is gone.
Although one-handed shooting is possible for the nimble fingered, a two-handed grip makes it easier to rest one finger on the top shutter release (just starboard of the illuminated power button) and manipulate the back-panel zoom rocker with a thumb. The optical viewfinder's stingy magnification provides such a tiny non-diopter-corrected view--and shows only 85 percent of the scene--that you'll want to use the LCD most of the time indoors and when you're out of direct sunlight outdoors. Although you can boost the LCD's brightness, it washes out completely in full sun.
A mode dial, a zoom rocker, a four-way cursor pad with embedded OK key, and three buttons populate the back panel. The mode dial rotates among auto, programmed, scene, movie, and picture-review modes and a manual mode that allows setting aperture (either f/2.8 or f/5.6 in wide-angle mode or f/5.6 or f/10 in telephoto) and shutter speed (1/1,000 second to 30 seconds) manually. The cursor pad adjusts the flash (up) and the self-timer (down), reviews the most recent photo (left), and activates macro mode (right). The two remaining buttons cycle among LCD info options, including a live histogram, and activate the menu system, while the third serves as a trash/image-resolution key.
Although common adjustments such as red-eye reduction, EV setting, and flash compensation are tucked away in the menu system, the camera remembers the last-accessed submenu, which pops up the next time you press the menu key.
As with its predecessor, the P200 offers only a bare-bones roster of features suitable for basic snapshooting. The lens offers neither a decently wide view nor much telephoto reach, but the macro setting will take you as close as 2.4 inches in wide-angle mode using your choice of spot, center, or five-point autofocus (limited to 12 inches at the telephoto position). So-called manual focus locks you into five preset distances of 0.5 meter, 1.0 meter, 3.0 meters, 7.0 meters, and infinity.
The exposure system uses the same spot, center, and multipoint zones, and the noise-reduction system kicks in automatically for any exposure slower than 1/8 second. This effectively doubles the time required to take a picture, since the dark-frame subtraction algorithm takes a second black frame to isolate noise from image data in the first. You can also specify any of nine scene modes, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap (portrait), Snow, Beach, High-Speed Shutter (sports), Fireworks, and Candle.
The flash unit is rated only for distances 11.5 feet or less in wide angle mode with ISO set to Auto, or out to a little more than 8 feet at the telephoto setting. Auto, off, fill, and slow-sync modes are available.
Using a Memory Stick Pro, you can crank out movies at 640x480-pixel resolution with sound at 30fps for as long as your memory card holds out. With the 32MB Memory Stick supplied with the camera, we had to settle for 640x480 at 15fps and about 90 seconds of shooting. However, the ability to trim sequences in the camera made the most of the card's capacity.
Excellent battery life and generally quick response--the camera performs almost identically to the P150--spice up the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-P200's appeal. We got 984 shots per charge of the Sony InfoLithium rechargeable cell, half of them with flash, interspersed with a healthy amount of zooming, card formatting, and picture review. If a once-in-a-lifetime photo comes your way, you can whip this Sony out of your pocket, press the power button, be shooting 2 seconds later, and snap follow-up shots every 1.6 seconds (2.8 seconds with flash) until the buffer fills. Shutter lag may cramp your style with moving objects, however, as the autofocus system took as much as 0.9 second to lock in high-contrast subjects and dawdled for 2.2 seconds under more challenging low-contrast lighting, despite a crimson focus-assist lamp that's bright enough to read by. Burst mode yielded 5 full-resolution shots in 4.4 seconds, but snapped off 35 640x480, highly compressed JPEG images in about 40 seconds. If you're brave enough to analyze your tendency to slice on the fairway, 16 low-res thumbnails can be snapped off at intervals ranging from 7.5 to 30 shots a second and tiled into a single full-res frame.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Shutter lag (typical)||Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Typical continuous-shooting speed|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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This camera offers basic white-balance options plus autoadjustment and a new Custom Manual option that memorizes the neutral rendition of any frame-filling object, such as a piece of paper, that you hold in front of the lens while pressing the Set key. Even so, color problems plagued many photos shot in the field, producing undesired casts both indoors and out, regardless of whether we used automatic white balance, opted for the presets, or set the balance manually. Our outdoors shots were noticeably cool, while indoor available-light photos were often overly warm. Setting white balance to the Incandescent preset didn't always help; images that looked fine on the LCD were distinctly warm when loaded into an image editor. Flash shots were often yellow, whether the camera was set to automatic white balance or manually adjusted to the flash setting. Red-eye problems cropped up even with red-eye reduction activated, but pupils tended toward a ruby rather than crimson glow. CNET Labs' test shots weren't as egregiously off balance, but the color biases were definitely visible.
Color casts aside, the P200's generally well-exposed images with almost too-rich color saturation looked good at standard viewing distances. Enlargements revealed a bit of blooming and chromatic aberration, and though the camera had generally low noise, demosaicing errors exacerbated what noise there was. Test shots weren't terribly sharp, and there seemed to be a decided falloff in focus down the left side of the lens.