- Review Price: £224.00
I’ll come clean and admit that I didn’t used to like Sony’s digital cameras at all. I used to consider them over-priced, underpowered, clumsy, bulky and unattractively designed. I’ll also freely admit that over the past couple of years I’ve been repeatedly forced to eat my words as the company has released one technically impressive and beautifully designed camera after another. The current range of Cyber-shot cameras are among the prettiest, best made and best performing cameras on the market, and it’s no surprise that Sony is now the world leader in digital camera sales.
The DSC-P200 is Sony’s entrant into the relatively new market sector of seven megapixel snapshot cameras, competing alongside Canon’s IXUS 700, Nikon’s CoolPix 7900, the Olympus C-70, the Samsung Digimax V700 and the Casio Exilim EX-Z750 among others. Sales in this sector have been disappointing so far this year, so manufacturers are under pressure to come up with something really special, and in this respect the P200 is an impressive contender. For just £224 it delivers blistering performance, outstanding image quality and a comprehensive list of features that must have the competition seriously worried. At that price it’s cheaper than the Canon, Olympus and Casio, and only slightly more expensive than the Nikon or Samsung, plus it offers a lot of camera for the money.
Build quality is exemplary, with a strong aluminium case, securely-mounted metal controls and an attractive brushed-metal finish that shrugs off finger marks. Sony’s distinctive design, with the lens at the far end of a relatively long and thin body, makes the P200 compact enough to fit in a shirt pocket but with enough space for the control layout to be refreshingly uncluttered. The controls are a bit on the small side, but they’re well designed and not as fiddly as they might look.
Unusually for a high-end camera the P200 has both a large 2.0in LCD monitor and a decent optical viewfinder. The monitor has 134,400 pixels, which is above average for its size, giving it extremely sharp definition. It’s also bright enough to use even in strong sunlight. Other good external features include a metal tripod bush (many are plastic) and a small sub-hatch built into the main card/battery hatch to accommodate the recharger plug. It also has an AF illuminator for shooting in low-light situations.
It is the P200’s performance that is the real eye-opener. Switching on from a cold start, Sony claims that it is ready to take pictures in 1.3 seconds, but in fact I measured it at approximately 1.1 seconds, which is astonishingly fast. Shooting in normal continuous mode it can shoot five full-resolution shots in just under five seconds, but then has to pause for six seconds to write them to the memory stick. The camera is supplied with a 32MB Memory Stick card, big enough for nine full-resolution shots.
As well as single-shot and burst mode, the P200 also has an unusual multi-burst mode, which can take a sequence of shots in very quick succession, with the interval variable to either 1/7.5th, 1/15th, or 1/30th of a second. It then displays the sequence as a slideshow on the monitor.
The rest of the P200’s systems are just as high-performance. The multi-zone autofocus is one of the quickest I’ve ever seen, and seems to be reliably accurate under most circumstances. For times when it might be confused there is also the option of centre and spot AF, as well as a five position manual focus option. The exposure system is also very good. As you’ll see from the accompanying sample pics, the multi-segment exposure meter is accurate under most normal circumstances, although a brightly-lit macro subject did seem to confuse it slightly, producing a slight under-exposure. That said you can always use the spot and centre-weighted metering for those trickier subjects.
The menu holds several other manual functions, including adjustable contrast, saturation and sharpness, sepia and monochrome settings, two levels of image compression, ISO settings from 100-400, five pre-set white balance options and manual white balance. The only grumble I could come up with is that the exposure compensation is also on the menu, which is inconvenient if you need to use it in a hurry. On the other hand, since the metering is so good you don’t need to compensate very often anyway.
The tiny main mode dial has just six settings. In full auto mode, only the drive mode is available from the menu, and all other options are left on automatic. In Program mode most menu functions are available. Manual mode, somewhat surprisingly, doesn’t mean manual exposure. All it means is that the only menu functions available are the manual ones.
Other mode settings include playback, a scene mode setting with nine choices and the movie mode. As is usual with Sony cameras the movie mode is outstanding, shooting 640 x 480 VGA mode movies at 30 frames per second, and recording in the high-quality MPEG VX Fine mode. Recording times are limited only by the size of the Memory Stick card.
Image quality is outstanding; I would judge it to be almost the equal of the Nikon 7900. The high quality Carl Zeiss lens produces excellent results with no visible lens distortion even at wide angle, and the Sony SuperHAD CCD sensor and Real Imaging processor produce bright vibrant colours with plenty of zoomable detail. Close-range flash performance is outstanding, producing a well-lit shot with no burned-out highlights even at a range of a couple of feet. Image noise is well controlled even at ISO 400, although there were some noticeable colour inconsistencies. There is some very slight purple fringing on very high-contrast edges, but it is virtually negligible and certainly much lower than some cameras with which the P200 is competing.
All in all, a very creditable performance, and outstanding value for money. If you’re looking to replace a mid-range compact digital camera with one that has more megapixels, especially if you already use Memory Sticks, then the P200 is just what you need.
In a crowded and highly competitive sector of the digital camera market the Sony P200 stands out as a very high quality camera for a comparatively low price. It has plenty of useful features, excellent build quality, good image quality and lightning-fast performance. If you’re considering a camera upgrade this year, you should certainly give it consideration.
”A range of test shots are shown over the next two pages. Here, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop (taken from the original full resolution image at Adobe ImageReady jpg quality 60) follows each image in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality. The next page consists of resized images (to Adobe ImageReady jpg quality 50) so that you can evaluate the overall exposure. For those with a dial-up connection, please be patient while the page downloads.”
”’A quick trip back in time to a medieval jousting tournament in 1465 provided some excellent photo opportunities, with lots of action and bright colours.”’
”’Compare these shots with the samples from the Olympus C-180. A digital zoom has not been used here.”’
”’Despite the camera shake, at the lowest ISO setting the image is noise free and colours are smooth and accurately rendered. At ISO 200 there is some speckling of image noise in the black areas, but colour distortion is kept to a minimum. Archbishop William Courtney’s nose remains mostly speckle-free even at the maximum setting of ISO 400, but some colour distortion has crept in.”’
”’Even at relatively close range the built-in flash delivers good results, with nice even illumination and few burned-out highlights.”’
”’The very bright colour of this rose seems to have slightly confused the exposure system, resulting in a smidgen of over-exposure.”’
”’This wide-angle shot lacks contrast, but that was mainly because of the weather and is not the fault of the camera.”’
”’In bright sunlight the P200 produces bright vibrant colours, excellent tonal range and lots of detail.”’
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
|Camera type||Digital Compact|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||7.2 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||3x|