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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-P72 is a 3 megapixel mid-range digital camera with a 3X optical zoom, 16MB of memory and one of the best movie modes of its peers. At £279, it’s priced approximately in the middle of its closest rivals.

Finished in silver and measuring 119 x 58 x 33mm, the P72 has a longer but slightly shorter body than most of its rivals, while its weight of 259g with batteries is average. Without an obvious bulge in the case, the P72 looks like it might be hard to hold, but subtle ridges on the rear and front (for your thumb and middle finger) provide a surprisingly stable and comfortable grip. Sadly there’s no underwater housing available from Sony for the P72 at the time of writing.

Images are composed using a sharp 1.5in screen or optical viewfinder, while the built-in flash offers the usual settings plus a slow-synchro mode. The P72 is powered by two AA batteries and Sony supplies a pair (rated at 1750mAh) and a mains recharger; an AC adapter for the camera is an optional extra. The P72 has a USB 2 port (which also works on older USB 1.1 systems), although when connected to a USB 2 port on a PC, you’ll only experience a slight increase in image transfer speed.

The P72 features a 3X optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent range of 39-117mm. Its actual focal length is 6-18mm with a focal ratio of f2.8~5.6, which is a little dimmer than its rivals at the telephoto end. The lens extends around 1.7cm during a sub-three second power-up, and in line with its rivals, there’s an automatic sliding lens cover. The closest focussing distance in macro mode is a modest 10cm, but there’s also five manual focussing distances accessible from a menu if required.

The P72 employs a (1/1.8in) 3 megapixel sensor which delivers images with a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels – sufficient to make a good-looking 10 x 8in colour inkjet print. There are three lower resolutions along with a cropped 3:2 aspect ratio mode, and the choice of two JPEG compression levels. There’s no RAW or uncompressed TIFF recording mode, although the P72 does feature Sony’s unique Clip-motion mode which can capture up to ten images and save them as an animated GIF.

Unsurprisingly for a Sony camera, the P72 employs Memory Stick storage, although it’s capable of using the latest high-capacity Pro version too; a 16MB card is supplied in the box. Using the Fine and Standard compression settings with the full 3 megapixel resolution generates images measuring around 1.6 and 0.9MB respectively; this means you should fit around 10 or 18 pictures using each mode in the supplied memory.

A four-position dial simply selects between Auto, Play, Setup and Movie. Auto mode takes care of everything for you, but pressing the menu button brings up the choice of five scene presets, or Program mode which expands the options slightly to include effects, flash level, sensitivity, metering, white balance and manual focus.
Movie mode is the P72’s strong point, capturing 640 x 480 video at 15fps with mono sound for as long as you have memory remaining. Like many digital cameras, strong changes in exposure result in an audible click and the overall quality remains far below a camcorder, but the P72 remains ahead of its nearest rivals in terms of movie modes.

Sadly there’s no manual control over the shutter or aperture on the P72, although the camera itself can select shutter speeds between two seconds and 1/2000 and displays the settings on-screen if desired. Sensitivity ranges from 100 to 400 ISO.
The P72’s images were excellent, with resolution equal to the best of its rivals, and revealing subtle tonal detail in areas which lesser cameras left blank. The high resolution movie mode with sound and no fixed limits is also one of the most flexible of its kind.

On the downside there’s virtually no manual control, and the similarly-priced Nikon 3100 offers much more hand-holding, albeit without sound on movies. Ultimately those who choose the P72 will not be disappointed, but prospective buyers should compare it with the Nikon 3100, while those wanting more manual control should consider Canon’s A70.

Verdict

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-P72 offers excellent image quality and one of the best movie modes around in a compact and affordable package. There’s virtually no manual control, but five scene presets and an Auto mode which captures tonal details lesser models miss out on. A great choice for all but the most technical photographers.

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