The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200 is the latest in Sony's "P" line of point-and-shoot cameras. The P200 has a 7.2 megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom, and a 2 inch LCD. The camera is very compact and fits nicely into a pocket and has excellent image quality in a stylish package that comes in silver, red, and black. This camera would be a good choice for a large range of people. It would make a great camera while out on the town with its size, style, and fast start up time to catch those spontaneous moments. It would be a good "parent" camera to catch those funny moments that kids make with its fast shutter speed and large image size (for good printing options). Also, there are enough manual options that would make this camera a good choice for an enthusiast as an "everyday" camera for those days when the 20 lb camera bag (with SLR and lenses) just isn't going to happen.
Note about sample images: The images in-line with the article have been resized to 500 pixels wide. The "medium" images have been resized to 1024 pixels wide. The full images are the original images from the camera and are at least 3MB, so be patient with load times.
In the Box
In the box, you will find the camera, documentation, a 32 MB Memory Stick, the InfoLithium battery, the A/V cable to connect to your computer or a TV, and the AC adapter to charge the battery. Ok, I have to get my gripe in here... With this camera shooting at the full 7.2 megapixels, you can only fit 9 pictures (!) on the included 32MB Memory Stick. When I buy something, I like to accessorize, but I like to do it on my own schedule. With 32MB, you're practically forced to buy a new memory stick as soon as you get the camera.
First, let's hit the differences between the P200 and the P150. The P200 has a 2 inch LCD, versus the 1.8 inch LCD in the P150. The P200 also adds a manual white balance setting, an option to center-weight the light metering, an option for spot auto focus and a slightly different way to access the setup menu (electronic menu vs. using the mode dial).
The P200 has a 7.2 megapixel CCD sensor, allowing images up to 3072 x 2304 pixels to be captured. The large megapixel count means that you can print photo-quality pictures to up to 11 x 17 inches. There are several other options for image size recording: 3:2 (3072 x 2048), 5M (2592 x 1944), 3M (2048 X 1536), 1M (1280 x 960), and VGA (640 x 480). The 2 inch LCD is nice to display all those large images. While shooting, the LCD can either be off, it can show minimal information, or it can show detailed information like shutter speed, time left on the battery and a live histogram. The histogram provides a way to determine if an image will be under or overexposed.
The camera has a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3x optical zoom. Using Smart Zoom, the digital zoom can get up to 4.6x (for a total of 14x at VGA resolution with the 3x optical zoom) or if you don't use the Smart Zoom, the digital zoom can go up to a total of 6x. In non-macro mode, the camera can focus as close as 19.7 inches. By switching to macro mode, you can focus on objects as close as 2.4 inches.
When taking pictures with the P200, you can shoot in one of four modes (by using the dial on the back of the camera):
1. Auto, where everything is chosen for you
2. "P"rogram mode, where the shutter speed and aperture value are handled automatically, while letting you change other settings (like ISO sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, etc.)
3. "M"anual mode -- where you get to do everything.
4. "SCN" mode -- allows you to choose between some of the preset "scenes". The scenes include Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Candle, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, High Speed Shutter.
The mode dial can also be switched to playback mode or movie capture mode. The movie mode can capture movies at a couple different quality settings: 640 x 480 in Fine (30fps) or Standard (16fps) modes, or 160 x 112-pixel resolution moving images with sound for as long as the memory card has available storage space.
There are a couple options about the way that auto focus is handled. First, you can set the AF to "Monitor AF" or "Single AF" mode. The Monitor AF setting constantly adjusts the focus while the camera is on. The Single AF mode only focuses when the shutter release button is depressed part way. There are also three modes to tell the camera how to focus:
The camera also has a focus assist light that enables the camera to focus even in dark situations.
Form & Design
The size and shape of the P200 make it an attractive little package. The camera is very compact and has a horizontally elongated body. The unit that I reviewed was the standard silver, but you can also find a red version and a black version. The camera is very solid in hand and can be easily slipped into a pocket. It's about the same size as "candy bar" style cell phone, and those certainly fit nicely in my pocket.
For me, one thing that took some adjustment was holding the camera. Since the camera is fairly solid and elongated, there is a fair amount of leverage coming from the left side of the camera. This leverage, if not counter-acted, can feel like the camera is trying to leave your hand, especially if you're just holding it with one hand. All it takes is a finger along the bottom of the camera to counteract this effect. Before buying, I would definitely recommend that you find a store near you that has this camera so you can see what it feels like in your hand. This sort of "comfort" issue is definitely not a deal breaker, especially given the other very impressive features of the camera.
On the front of the camera, you will see the optical viewfinder (the square), the focus assist light to the right of the viewfinder, the flash and the lens. When the camera is powered off or in playback mode the lens stays closed and flush with the body.
The top panel of the camera has the power button, shutter release button and microphone. The power button is flush-mounted and is surrounded by a green LED that lights up when the camera is powered on. The shutter release is slightly raised and in a good position to be reached with a pointer finger.
When looking at the back of the camera, there is a door on the right side which gives you access to the Memory Stick and battery. To charge the battery, there is a little plastic door within the larger door that can be opened to allow the AC adapter to be plugged in. One nice little feature in the battery compartment is a small spring loaded clip that prevents the battery from slipping out of the camera when you open the door.
The bottom of the camera has a standard tripod mount and a jack to plug in the A/V cable to transfer pictures to a camera or display pictures on a TV.
On the back of the camera, you'll find the 2 inch LCD, the viewfinder, status LEDs and the controls. The controls include a mode dial, the zoom control and a 5-way directional pad. The controls are easy to access while you're holding the camera. I found it very easy to spin the mode dial with my thumb and then switch to the directional pad to modify image capture settings.
The image quality of the P200 is very good for such a compact camera. The images show good color and detail and the camera handles tough shooting conditions (like low light, high contrast) well. The camera also handles the "noise" well at higher ISO values. (Noise is demonstrated below -- notice the "speckling" that appears as the ISO value increases).
I was very impressed with the SmartZoom feature from Sony. Typically, with digital zoom, you lose a fair amount of quality in an image. It's essentially the same as cropping off the outside edges of an image and then increasing the size of the remaining image back to the original size. The Smart Zoom actually decreases the image size so none of the resampling (or stretching) occurs.
I'll let the sample images speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the day that I got to take outdoor shots was a cloudy one...
Smart Zoom demonstration -- shot taken from same spot:
"Detail" shot -- notice the wood grain of the chair:
Playing with some settings -- increased saturation first, decreased saturation second:
Ease of Use
The user interface of the camera is very intuitive. Once you enter the menu system, it's very easy to navigate using the directional pad. There are enough "manual" controls (the mode dial, directional pad) available at your finger tips that the level of the complexity of the software user interface has been minimized. If you need to use a preset scene mode, you just turn the dial, and thumb left or right on the directional pad to get to the right setting. No need to dig through 3 or more levels of menus. Here are some shots of the main menu options.
The combination of the Sony Real Imaging Processor and the InfoLithium battery really give this camera some staying power. I'm not a huge fan of "proprietary" batteries, but while I was reviewing this unit, I only charged it once. I probably took around 100 shots and spent plenty of time with the camera on, playing with the menus, settings, etc. Sony claims that you can take approximately 310 shots on a single charge.
The P200 is not just all looks. Inside the stylish, compact body is a high quality camera that can handle shots in a wide variety of conditions. For a high quality, 7.2 megapixel, Point and Shoot camera, the current retail price of $400 is very reasonable. The camera is a great point-and-shoot for people who like a small, stylish camera, yet has enough options to let an enthusiast do some experimentation. It's small enough to make a good travel camera, but can also take images that are nice enough to print keepsake photos.
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