Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 review

Price when reviewed

Just when you thought consumer-level digital camera prices were going permanently low, 7- and 8-megapixel models have appeared and prices of higher-end models have once again popped back up. But are they worth the outlay?

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 review

Nikon’s new model is a bit of a beast, a faux-SLR style model with an 8-megapixel, 2/3in CCD sensor. For your VAT-inclusive outlay of £700 it gives you the equivalent of a whole kit-bag’s worth of lenses, with a long 10x zoom; the equal of a 35-350mm zoom range in a standard SLR. The Sony’s specifications on paper are a little more modest: a 7.2-megapixel model with a smaller 1/1.8in sensor and a 4x zoom giving 35mm equivalent zoom range of 34-136mm.

The Sony’s predecessor, the DSC-V1 (see issue 110, p88), was very much designed in the rangefinder mould, and the V3 takes the concept further: it’s not a million miles from a Leica in its looks. A major limitation of the V1 was an LCD screen that was a little too small for comfort, but the V3 fixes that with a huge 2.5in display. Other obvious new features are two memory slots: one for Memory Stick and a new one for CompactFlash (a slider switch on the rear of the body selects between the two). And if you’re wondering where the flash is, it’s where you can see the Sony logo above the lens. It swivels round into place rather than popping up though, so it’s only about 35mm from the centre-line of the lens itself: a potential problem for red-eye. The Nikon’s flash, by contrast, pops up and sits about 60mm from the centre line.

Although the lens extension of the Sony seems a little sluggish, the camera is set for use the instant it’s fully extended, resulting in an average ready-to-shoot time in wide-angle mode of 3.2 seconds. The Nikon is almost as fast, managing an average of 3.6 seconds. Auto focus at normal focal lengths is quick in both models, but once you zoom past the 4x mark, the Nikon becomes sluggish – at full zoom you’re looking at nearly three seconds to achieve a lock. Given that one of the main uses for a telephoto lens is catching fleeting moments such as wildlife behaviour from a distance, this is a problem. It’s also a shame that the sensitivity rating is capped at ISO400: the Sony manages a more acceptable ISO800 rating.

It’s not all bad though. In most circumstances a 350mm zoom exacerbates camera shake to the extent that a tripod is essential. Nikon combats this with its VR (vibration reduction) system, activated by a switch on the barrel of the lens. It has two modes: Standard and Active. Standard allows for panning while taking a shot, for instance when shooting a car. Active mode doesn’t allow for panning but keeps a better grip on excessive shake. It works exceedingly well; you still need a sensible shooting stance and a reasonable amount of light if you’re zoomed right in to 350mm, but it will let you hand-hold shots that would otherwise be unfeasible. Nikon claims that VR gives you the equivalent stability of a shutter speed three stops faster – 1/15th of a second, for instance, gives the sharpness of 1/125th. Our tests support this claim: it really does work, as long as you don’t expect miracles.

Image quality is predictably excellent across both models, but neither is perfect. The Nikon suffers from higher noise levels than we’re comfortable with, certainly much higher than from a digital SLR. There’s also some chromatic aberration (purple fringing around the edges), but with such a wide zoom range this isn’t surprising, and it’s only in full wide-angle and high-contrast situations. But overall, while both cameras offer more pixels, the resolution and clean quality of images from Canon’s EOS 300D (see A List, p47) are still far preferable to our eyes.

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