Shooting in the field was easy with the S2100. It fit effortlessly in my large coat pocket, and I could get my shot with one hand when necessary. Hitting on the right exposure, though, was sometimes frustrating. Challenging lighting situations could sometimes push the camera to overexpose and burn out highlights. Other situations, like well-lit scenes indoors, were captured nicely with default settings.
Auto Focus speed was somewhat slow in our studio test. In the field, the camera never felt especially slow to lock focus. AF speed is slowed down almost to a full second at telephoto in low light. The S2100 will lock focus as close as 5 cm at wide angle in macro mode, a feature I liked for capturing small details.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot S2100||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot SD940 IS||0.03|
|Nikon Coolpix S640||0.04|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Nikon Coolpix S640||0.29|
|Canon PowerShot SD940 IS||0.34|
|Sony Cyber-shot S2100||0.68|
|Nikon Coolpix S640||2||2.2 fps|
|Sony Cyber-shot S2100||∞||1.0 fps
|Samsung TL225||7||1.0 fps
|Canon PowerShot SD940 IS||∞||0.9 fps
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.Continuous shooting mode was fairly slow, but the camera never hesitated to write to the memory card.
The S2100 is equipped only with digital SteadyShot image stabilization, a processing technique that combines two images taken in succession to create one ideally less-blurry image. It didn't appear to be very aggressive. The function was more successful in bright light outdoors. Indoors, it couldn't overcome a shaky shot.
The pair of AA batteries included with the camera got me through about three weeks of shooting on-and-off for this review. I used the flash sparingly, so heavier flash use would drain the battery quicker. Sony rates battery life at 170 shots. Without much use of the flash, I'd say my number was much higher.
Sony's Smile Shutter function is here. This feature is turned on through a single press of the smiley-face icon on the four-way control. It's available in any shooting mode, and will automatically snap an image when it detects a smiling face in the frame. I tested it out on some photographs of smiling friends and it worked well. Face detection was also successful, and I found that Sony's system was more accurate than other manufacturers'.
The S2100's lens bears only a "Sony" branding. It offers 3x optical zoom, covering an equivalent range of 35-105mm. Maximum aperture is somewhat slow at f/3.1 at wide angle and f/5.6 at telephoto. The 3x zoom lens offers just enough focal range to help frame objects across a room a little better.
Lens performance was mixed. Some shots displayed wonderful details with minimal distortions. However, the lack of optical stabilization is a big trade-off in the low price of the camera. Without any form of mechanical stabilization, images in low light require higher ISO settings, which lead to the loss of some fine detail. Even at ISO 1600, it will be difficult for most users to handhold the camera and keep it steady enough to get a clear shot in dim conditions. Using the flash is essential in very poor light.
Details at the center of the frame are quite sharp, though there is some noticeable softness moving out toward the edges. Barrel distortion was visible in some of my wide angle shots, though pincushion distortion at telephoto was well-controlled.
I did notice some vignetting (dark corners in images) at wide angle, but not so much that the average user would complain about it. Lens flare seems to be under control, and chromatic aberration wasn't much of a problem until images are viewed at 100%.
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