Sony made a splash with its point-and-shoot 10 megapixel, 4x optical zoom Cyber-shot DSC-G3 - the first digital camera with a built-in browser. While it's not perfect, the G3 is a huge step forward in digicam connectivity since other wireless digital camera implementations limit the user to a single online sharing service.
With the G3's browser, you can choose from any number of sites and can type in passwords and/or credit card information if you need to pay for WiFi wherever you happen to be. But the G3 is more than just a techno novelty; read on to find out more and whether or not the camera is worth its premium price tag.
BUILD AND DESIGN
In addition to a built-in browser, this slender but solidly constructed point-and-shoot camera is equipped with a mega-sized 3.5 inch high resolution (921,600 dots) touchscreen LCD and a whopping 4GB of internal memory. With all that memory, the G3 is the perfect device for showing off your images while you're out and about.
At its heart, though, the G3 is a capable point-and-shoot camera with all the features one expects from a snapshot camera, with a few extras thrown in. You'll find some good face detection options, Smile Shutter, an anti-blink mode, mechanical image stabilization, and Sony's DRO (Dynamic Range Optimization). The latter, which helps retain details in highlights and shadows is a trickle-down feature from Sony's alpha line of digital SLRs.
Ergonomics and Controls
Measuring approximately 4x0.9x2.4 inches and weighing about 7 ounces, the G3 isn't quite as slim as some of its siblings but is still small enough to slip into a jeans pocket. It's a little weighty but that just gives the camera some substance and a good balance when trying to slide the camera open. Actually, it's more like you have to pull the camera apart in order to power it up, so grip the top and bottom of either side and pull.
Alternatively, you can use the tiny power button to turn it on but you still have to open the camera to shoot. If you simply want to view images, you can leave the camera closed and hit the playback button to review images. There's a WLAN indicator on the top left edge and a WLAN button on the right that starts up web browser, as well as a zoom switch and that's about it for hard controls. Everything else is accessed via the touchscreen.
The camera is a little awkward to hold since it's basically flat when open. But, after a while, you'll find the right balance.
The touchscreen interface isn't as responsive as I had hoped. And while the camera comes with a stylus, I found it easier to use my fingertip (or the tip of my nail) to navigate the screen. Be sure to have a microfiber cloth handy at all times to wipe the inevitable smudges from the LCD.
Menus and Modes
Unfortunately, the menu system isn't as clear cut and easy to navigate as other cameras in its class (including the G3's siblings from Sony). Visually, the icons and text are small and pale against the LCD's background, making it even more difficult to figure out what you're doing. This is one camera that, even though it's a point-and-shoot, requires a thorough review of the manual to really understand all of the camera's features. Of course, if you're patient and like to experiment, you'll eventually find your way around the menu system.
Capture modes are pretty straightforward: Auto, Program, Scene, Easy and Movie. Here's where the manual really comes in handy since there's a chart that lists the options available in each mode. For example, Smile Detection Sensitivity can be adjusted in Auto mode but not in the other options. DRO (dynamic range optimization) can be accessed in Program mode but none of the others. However, the G3 is smart enough to tell you when a feature is not available because you're in the wrong mode-press the "smile" icon and a message appears saying the Smile Shutter is only available in Auto mode. Additionally, the G3 has a very good on-board help function that explains the different settings.
While the touchscreen interface is less than super-responsive and the menu system can be confusing, the G3 offers a lot of features for a camera of its class.
First and foremost is the WiFi browser. Before you can connect, you need to set up your connection. Once you get it set up, uploading images is relatively easy. It's just that with anything WiFi, things can become complicated. If you're comfortable with terms like SSID and know your way around a virtual keyboard (the supplied stylus comes in handy here), then you'll be fine but just a little frustrated by how tedious the process can be.
Sony offers free access using WayPort and AT&T hotspots through 2012, but I found it just as easy to get a signal at a local Panera while out having lunch. Services such as YouTube, Photobucket, Picasa and Shutterfly are accessed via a Sony portal, so you'll need an account with an online photosharing site before you start. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect is that you can only upload one photo at a time, which is time-consuming and labor intensive. Still, having a browser is a huge leap forward for digital cameras.
Other features of note include the ability to simply touch the screen to indicate a focus point-which is very helpful when your subject is off-center.
Sony has implemented innovative technology for taking pictures of people that go beyond face detection that ties in exposure and AF to the recognized subjects. Like focus, you can activate face detection only when a face is touched or keep it set to Auto, where the camera will automatically recognize the faces. For even more detail, you set face detection to give priority to children's faces or to adult faces. At the same time, redeye reduction can be turned off, on or work only when faces are detected so you won't have the pre-flash delay when you're not photographing people.
DRO options are not as extensive as they are on Sony's DSLRs but you can turn the feature off or set it to standard or plus. The latter, of course, would be for higher contrast scenes. DRO can't create image information (i.e., details in highlights or shadows) that aren't there but it does a decent job of balancing the range of lights to darks in an image.
Exposure bracketing, normal/vivid/sepia/black and white color modes and three macro options are some of the other features offered by the G3. Autofocus and metering options are available as well.
Sony's SteadyShot mechanical image stabilization works fairly well when low light drops your shutter speed to slower settings.
As a portable photo album, the G3 offers tons of options including on-board organizational and creative tools and some nifty slideshow with music options as well. And a host of retouching options and a fun painting tool are some of the features that round out the G3's playback selections.
As expected, the G3 does not have an optical viewfinder. There's simply no room for one given the LCD's 3.5 inch size which occupies almost all of the camera's rear real estate. The display can be set to normal, with lots of camera data (pretty much everything you need to know when taking a photo) or you can opt for a simpler, less crowded view or pare it down so that only the image appears on the screen when you're composing a shot. You can also choose to show a live histogram to help gauge exposure and then adjust via the EV (exposure compensation) feature.
The LCD is very good under most lighting conditions and is superior for viewing images you've just shot or when using the G3 as a portable photo album to show off your pictures to family and friends.
In low light, the screen is a little grainy and doesn't refresh quickly enough when panning. There's very little gain up (brightening) of the LCD in low light and even upping the brightness setting to "bright" versus its default setting doesn't make much difference. But it's still good enough to compose in low light and works pretty well outdoors in all but the brightest sunlight
The Sony G3 is fun to shoot with and it definitely has a cool factor with its pull-apart design, huge touchscreen LCD and WiFi capabilities. Shooting with the G3 has its frustrations-the touchscreen interface (like those on other cameras) can be a little unresponsive at times, although it does pretty well when you select a focus point with your fingertip. Getting the WiFi feature to work can be tedious, as is the one-by-one uploading of images.
As a point-and-shoot camera, the G3 fares better. As you'll see in the following paragraphs, it performs pretty well from start-up to shot-to-shot time. However, there are a couple of areas in which the camera delivers only-average or below average performance.
Once you figure out how to open the camera, the G3 starts up pretty quickly. Shutter lag is minimal and there's relatively little delay between shots. Of course, the flash will slow down shot-to-shot time-but not by much.
Autofocus is decently fast and accurate in bright light and even at dusk. In low light, however, the G3's AF is a little sluggish as it searches for enough contrast to lock in. But the face detection functions work well at honing in on faces, while the smile shutter and blink detection features, for the most part, worked as planned.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3||0.02|
|Nikon Coolpix S230
|Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
|Pentax Optio P70||0.05|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||0.22|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3||0.26|
|Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS||0.34|
|Nikon Coolpix S230||0.51|
|Pentax Optio P70||0.87|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||1.15|
Continuous shooting speed, at about 1.6 frames per second is nothing to write home about but it's not terrible for a camera of this type. But the buffer is pretty large and you'll be able to capture close to 100 images in a single burst, according to Sony (I stopped after about 55 shots).
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
|Nikon Coolpix S230
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3
|Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||13||1.3 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.
Shutter speed is limited to a high of 1/1000th of a second but that's generally fast enough to stop most action. And when the lights are low, Sony's SteadyShot mechanical image stabilization can be used to help compensate for slower shutter speeds. You might gain a stop or two, so a small tripod will come in handy when you don't want to raise the ISO (read on to find out why).
Where the camera falls short is in battery life, which is limited to about 200 shots per charge. The numbers might not look bad comparatively but since the G3's 4GB internal memory, huge LCD and multiple viewing options are so enticing, as is its WiFi functionality, it's a shame that if you make use of these features the battery will drain more quickly than expected.
Equipped with a 4x optical zoom, with a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 35-140mm, the G3 doesn't excel at either end of the spectrum. With a mere 35mm wide angle, the camera can't compete with the multitude of 28mm-equipped point-and-shoot models on the market. The telephoto range isn't bad, though, and should work for zooming in mid-distant subjects.
The lens isn't terribly fast with an f/3.5-f/10 range. On the other hand, having an f/10 aperture helps give you a better depth-of-field.
Even at a mere 35mm wide angle, the G3 exhibits minor distortion at wide angle. It's noy gt terrible but at 35mm, but it should be better. Chromatic aberrations, i.e., purple fringing along high contrast edges, and some softening in the corners were also present in some test images.
The Sony G3 offers three video options (no HD, though): 640x480 at 30fps (fine), 640x480 at 17fps (Standard) and Web-ready 320x480 at 8fps. Not surprisingly, the best results are achieved at the "fine" setting, and footage at this resolution and fps is quite good for this class of camera. Colors and exposure are generally accurate and noise isn't overwhelming under better lighting conditions.
The zoom can be operated during movie capture although it's fairly slow, and recording times max out at 10 minutes. Be aware, though, that you need a Memory Stick PRO Duo (vs. the Memory Stick Duo) when shooting at the highest (fine) quality.
Image quality is good for this class of camera. Colors are nicely saturated and accurately rendered-unless faced with some shades of red (mostly flowers) where many digital cameras stray a bit from reality. If you want a bit more pizzazz, colors can be bumped up via the Vivid color mode option.
Intelligent Scene Recognition is pretty good at analyzing shooting conditions and choosing the right "scene mode" settings for it, but it does get it wrong on occasion. Still, it's one of the best ways to truly achieve no-brainer photography!
Otherwise, exposure is fairly accurate even in tricky just-before-sunset lighting outdoor conditions and Las Vegas' cacophony of neon displays.
The lens, despite its faults (see earlier discussion), delivers fairly sharp images with good detail and can handle macro shots pretty well. Try to engage the DRO setting when shooting in high contrast settings, though, to get the best results.
Auto white balance worked well outdoors but delivers very warm images under incandescent light indoors. Best to use the presets when you're shooting in anything but daylight conditions.
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light
With an ISO range of 80-3200, the G3 offers a lower light sensitivity setting than most and, whenever possible, you should keep the ISO as low as possible to keep image noise at a minimum. As you can see from the samples, image noise starts to minimally affect image quality at about ISO 200 and increases from there.
Ideally, ISO should be topped at 200 for the best results but you can get decent prints up to about ISO 800, although you might want to keep them at snapshot sizes of 4x6" or 5x7". Overall, though I was pleased with my test shots, especially the ones shot in Vegas, which is a colorful but sometimes challenging environment to shoot in.
Additional Sample Images
The Sony DSC-G3 isn't flawless but with its built-in WiFi and browser, 4GB internal memory, good functionality as a portable digital photo album and 3.5 inch touchscreen LCD, this slender camera certainly differentiates itself from every other consumer digicam on the market. The big question is whether or not it's worth the high price tag. And that's a question that only you can answer, although given that when this review was posted, Sony had dropped the price of the G3 from $500 to $420 on its website, the cost of ownership is slightly more reasonable.
As a digital camera, the G3 offers good performance and image quality and a solid point-and-shoot feature set. But if you're not going to make use of the WiFi/browser or the huge internal memory, you'll find better value elsewhere.