Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 £399

1st Mar 2006 | 00:00

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1

Sony's new touch-screen compact is exposed

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

A great camera for beginners but perhaps not for the more experienced

Like:

<p>Can shoot images up to 3,264 x 2,448 pixels</p>

Dislike:

<p>The LCD screen eats up battery life</p>

We use touch screens to book train tickets, check in with airlines and operate PDAs, so why not our digital cameras? Sony has seized upon this idea, incorporating it into its latest compact. So does it work and, more importantly, why don't more camera makers use it?

With the current vogue for increasingly larger camera LCD screens, attendant controls are often squashed to make room, so it's no surprise that with the N1's whopping 3-inch screen they're noticeably absent. Instead, you're left with a side switch for alternating between stills, video and playback, plus a Tic Tac-shaped zoom lever and two pimple-sized buttons for calling up on-screen menus and a live histogram.

The quality of the N1's build is consistent with what you'd expect from Sony, with a brushed metal facia and a 3x zoom with Carl Zeiss optics. This gives way to plastic sides and that huge 230K pixel resolution screen at the back.

The camera powers up ready for the first shot in about a second; shutter lag is barely perceptible, and shot-to-shot delay is also commendable at about a second.

In operation it's easy to smear the 3-inch screen with fingerprints, primarily because there's no real grip. In fact, I was forced to use my shirtsleeves to wipe it clean on numerous occasions. Another grumble is that the screen displays noise in dim conditions. Saying this, when outdoors, it performs better, remaining bright and clear even in the winter sun.

Miserly memory

The camera comes with 26MB of internal memory to get you started - affording capture of just six maximum quality images - and there's a slot for Memory Stick Duo cards. Users have the choice of Auto, Program and Manual modes: Program enables you to adjust exposure plus/minus 2EV, and Manual lets you adjust the aperture and shutter speed. There are also eight scene modes.

Focus is aided by an AF illuminator light, which can be deactivated should it startle your subject. It's in Playback mode that the larger screen really comes into its own, giving you a dynamic slideshow option with cinematic wipes and fades, plus an accompanying soundtrack.

There's also the option to add painterly scrawls, stars and love hearts to pre-captured images, an idea borrowed from the photo booths beloved by Japanese teenagers. But perhaps the most innovative sharing feature is the Pocket Album, where the N1 stores up to 500 VGA (640 x 480 pixel) copies of the images taken on internal memory.

These can be viewed on the LCD or via a TV set - a combined USB, AV out lead is supplied for this. There's also a respectable 640 x 480 pixel (TV quality) video clip mode, where you can download your own musical accompaniments by hooking the N1 up to your PC. Clearly Sony is utilising its expertise in a variety of technological areas, and is looking beyond merely creating a camera that takes snapshots.

If there's plenty of daylight, images are razor-sharp with well-saturated colours and realistic skin tones. There's some barrel distortion if shooting up close at maximum wide-angle, but nothing problematic. However, the noise visible upwards of ISO 400 when shooting indoors is a real disappointment.

So, what are the overall impressions of that touch screen feature? Despite the display of noise in dim conditions, this is a success and a real plus point, making menu navigation easy and intuitive. In addition, the large screen aids composition and review - giving you a far better idea of whether your shot is in focus and well exposed than the majority of compacts.

In essence then, the Sony N1 is a unique camera that will have your friends enviously exclaiming "I want one of those".

SonyDigital cameras
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