Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-G1 defies summarisation. Is it overpriced for around £350? It is an oversized 6-megapixel camera with an optically stabilised f/3.5-f/4.3, 38-114mm (3x) lens? A portable photo album with a big 89mm (3.5-inch) display, but a mere 2GB of memory and frustrating Wi-Fi capabilities?
Or is it an underfeatured portable media player with not enough memory and basic MP3 and movie playback? Maybe just a confusing mash-up of solutions in search of a problem?
The large LCD constrains the DSC-G1 to an equally large size. To want this camera you really have to be more interested in huddling around the DSC-G1's excellent 89mm (3.5-inch) LCD display, watching slide shows soundtracked by your favourite MP3s. Of course, this would be rather than an interest in actually shooting photos.
At 235g and with closed dimensions of 94 by 72 by 25mm, it's not terribly compact, but it will fit comfortably in a jacket pocket. Sliding a latch and pulling exposes the lens and puts you in shooting mode.
The shooting controls -- zoom, camera/movie, review, flash, macro, trash/thumbnails and self-timer -- reside on the back of the sliding portion, which means they're pretty flat. We find them rather awkward to use and hard to differentiate from each other -- especially the zoom, which offers little tactile feedback. And of course, there's the irony that Sony's biggest camera LCD doesn't use the company's ubiquitous touchscreen interface.
The controls on the side -- Display, Back, Menu and Home, plus a joystick for navigation -- provide additional opportunities for fumbling around. You have to grip the camera tightly with your left hand to manoeuvre them. They become especially trying when attempting to adjust the shooting settings, which include exposure compensation, focus point, white balance, metering, ISO speed and drive mode.
Except for the shutter button, our fingers didn't fall naturally over any of the controls. We tilted the camera sideways to locate the Menu button, then switched between thumb and forefinger to navigate with the joystick because neither one felt particularly comfortable. We wonder if it might have made more sense to simply have made the camera large enough to accommodate better handling.
The DSC-G1 offers a reasonable set of shooting settings -- no aperture- or shutter-priority modes but manual control over all else, with the odd exception of custom white balance. However, the bulk of the DSC-G1's features aren't about shooting.
It's Sony's first Wi-Fi-enabled camera, and integrates (Digital Living Network Alliance) wireless connectivity, a superset of Wi-Fi that adds device recognition for DLNA-enabled consumer electronics, such as televisions. Right now the only remotely popular DLNA device is the .
It works fine using the PS3 as a conduit to display photos wirelessly from the DSC-G1, but the photos don't look very good on an HD Ready TV. That's because via DLNA, the DSC-G1 displays photos only from the albums stored internally -- images that are limited to 640x480-pixel resolution thumbnails.
To display higher-resolution images on an HDTV, you've got to connect via a composite cable using the camera dock, which lets you access the higher-resolution photos stored on a memory card. The other rather gimmicky uses for the Wi-Fi are Collaboration Shots -- networking on the fly with three other DSC-G1s to pass photos back and forth -- and one-way Picture Gifts.
If the DSC-G1 supported DLNA in addition to standard Wi-Fi access points and hot spots, with the ability to upload your photos and videos to a sharing service, or to wirelessly upload to a laptop via an ad hoc connection, the others might be considered neat and novel features. But since the camera supports only DLNA devices, and seemingly only for playback, it becomes just another disappointing Wi-Fi camera.
In addition, the DSC-G1 operates as an MP3 player. Another happy irony is that unlike Sony's players, it doesn't adhere to Sony's proprietary ATRAC/ATRAC3 formats, instead supporting simple drag-and-drop file copying.
The sound is fine but given the limited 2GB of memory, which your music has to share with your photo albums, and minimal playback controls -- shuffle or linear playback in directory order, with no playlists -- it becomes just another awkward convergence device. On the other hand, the ability to use any of your numerous MP3 files as background music for the DSC-G1's very nice slide shows gets addictive.
Unlike most Sony cameras, which record movies using the MPEG-VX format -- a variation of MPEG-2 -- the DSC-G1 records something it calls 'MPEGMOVIE4TV', an MPEG-4 encoding. While that allows for a very low data rate (around 370K/sec), the video quality looks significantly inferior.
In most respects, the DSC-G1's shooting fares much better, putting it in the top 25 per cent of point-and-shoot cameras we've tested over the past year. Its shutter lag in optimal lighting is an impressive for its class 0.4 seconds, rising to a modest 1.2 seconds in low-contrast conditions. It takes only 1 second from shot to shot, though adding flash recycling raises that to 2.4 seconds -- still very good for its class. Though it has a seven-shot buffer limitation, it can fire at 3.8 frames per second in continuous shooting mode.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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||Shutter lag (typical)||
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Only the 3.8 seconds it takes from power on to first shot ruins the DSC-G1's performance track record, and that time doesn't include sliding open the camera, which takes another couple of seconds. The LCD also stands up pretty well. Thanks to its relatively wide viewing angle, it's usable in direct sunlight.
The battery life is fairly short. Its CIPA-standard capacity is only 280 shots, probably thanks to that mammoth LCD -- recharging is the truly annoying aspect of the DSC-G1's performance. It doesn't trickle charge. So when you get back to your home or hotel room with the depleted camera, you can stick it in the dock and play back or download your images but you've got to leave it alone and turned off for a couple of hours to charge.
Thanks to its SteadyShot optical image stabiliser and relatively low resolution sensor, the DSC-G1 produces some surprisingly sharp photos with decent high-ISO performance. Nonflash exposures look very good, despite some blown-out highlights that are typical of this camera class.
The flash doesn't throw quite as much as we'd like. It left sections of our test scene underexposed with colour blooming on object edges. Finally, the DSC-G1 tends to push colour saturation toward the overly vivid.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1 seems like an awkward convergence device from two years ago, or from a time when putting MP3 players in cameras was all the rage. We wish Sony had opted instead to create the more market-worthy Wi-Fi contender we've been waiting for.
Given the high price for what it offers -- huge LCD notwithstanding -- there's really nothing else worth paying a premium for. We have to suggest that you give this one a miss. Get yourself a really nice MP3 player and a top-notch ultracompact instead.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday