Abundance of features
Pick up the black 16.9-ounce, 4.6x2.8x2.6-inch DSC-S85, and you'll be able to shoot just fine using its default settings. But this is definitely a camera for photo enthusiasts who want choices, with most of its functions easily reached through the clearly marked buttons and dials on the solidly constructed camera body.
There are five resolution settings, ranging from e-mail-worthy 640x480 to 2,272x1,704 for making large prints. After you shoot a picture, you have the option of resizing the image file or copying it to a second Memory Stick. And if you get an urge to shoot moving pictures, the MPEG EX Movie mode allows you to store almost 11 minutes of low-resolution, 160x112-pixel video on the included 16MB Memory Stick. At the higher, 320x240-pixel HQ setting, you're limited to about 40 seconds' worth of video clips. You can also create animated GIFs and annotate your still shots with audio recordings.
The camera's excellent macro capabilities are worth a mention; they allow you to shoot a subject clearly from just slightly more than an inch away from the lens. For more precise focusing, there's a 13-step manual focus, which is easily accessed by a designated button near the LCD and controlled by a rolling dial that's within reach of your thumb. An array of picture effects--Solarization, Black And White, Sepia Tone, and Negative Art, which reverses the color of your image as in a film negative--are also available.
Although the DSC-S85 provides plenty of choices and features for the photo enthusiast, including a fully manual exposure mode and spot metering, the camera has a couple of shortcomings. First, there's a slight shutter delay, and recording an uncompressed TIFF file isn't speedy either, though that's not unusual. Second, while the camera's optics and lush color rendition create excellent images both outdoors and in bright lighting, the DSC-S85 underperforms in low-light situations. The images we shot without the flash were noisy and lacked detail in the shadows. While there was minimal noticeable purple fringing where the light and dark areas met, the blooming and bleeding of light into the shadowy edges was more perceptible. The white balance was generally good, but we found the Indoor setting more effective than the automatic one under tungsten light.
On a more positive note, we got good battery life from the included InfoLithium battery pack, which recharges in the camera. As with other Sony cameras, we appreciated the precision of the battery-life indicator, which shows the number of minutes left on your cell on the LCD. Sony says that you can get as many as 2,500 shots before recharging.