The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M2 is a jack of all trades and a master of some. Thanks to good image quality and a big, bright LCD that's usable in sunlight, this hybrid still camera/camcorder update to the DSC-M1 remains a surprisingly good point-and-click 5-megapixel snapshooter -- assuming you're willing to pay a premium for a camera with a 3x zoom, no manual controls and no bundled memory card.
Besides some aesthetic and interface changes, the DSC-M2 isn't very different from the DSC-M1. Both cameras have the same 5-megapixel sensor, the same MPEG-4 movie support, the same 3x zoom lens, and the same good image quality for photos and videos. The DSC-M2 is sleeker than its predecessor and has a few new functions, but under the case, it's basically the same hardware as the DSC-M1. Regardless of its flaws, though, anyone who needs a pocketable camcorder and doesn't want to sacrifice photo quality should consider this quirky shooter. There aren't enough improvements in this model to justify replacing your old DSC-M1, though.
You'll either love or tolerate the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M2's design. When folded for transport, the 227g camera is about the size and shape of a 2002-era mobile phone. When in use, the back panel swivels 90 degrees and the LCD flips around to face you. The screen rotates 270 degrees, so you can use it for self-portraits, waist-level shots, and overhead viewing, all with equal ease. It also fits comfortably into the left or right hand -- a plus for lefties.
Unfortunately, only the most basic controls -- still-photo shutter release, movie-record button, shooting/playback mode key and zoom rocker -- are readily accessible with one hand. The back panel of the main body of the camera has just two other controls: a switch to toggle between normal recording and the movie/still/hybrid mode, and a switch that limits video recording to five seconds. On the right side of the camera is a power switch, though the camera powers on automatically when unfolded.
All the other controls reside on the LCD side of the camera and thus require two hands to operate. To the left of the LCD is a flat panel with three stacked icons. The top icon serves as an alternate shutter release in record mode and, in play mode, runs a musical slide show. The middle icon cycles among LCD info-display options. The bottom icon shoots video clips in record mode and displays the photo album in play mode.
Another cluster of controls sits to the right of the LCD. These include a menu button for accessing the DSC-M2's multipage shooting and setup screens, a button that controls image size and acts as a delete key, an index button for changing the number of images displayed during playback (1-, 9- or 16-up), and a four-way cursor control pad with central OK button. A useful but overly sensitive shuttle dial surrounds the control pad, which adjusts EV in photo mode (plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV steps) or regulates rewind and fast-forward speeds during movie playback. Each of the cursor-pad keys performs a secondary function, too, including self-timer (up), macro (left), metering mode (right) and flash options (down).
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M2 provides several practical and entertaining features, if you can get past its dearth of manual controls. We especially like the built-in photo album, which organises and displays VGA versions of your photos (you can turn this feature off if you like) and stores them in the camera's 57MB of internal memory or on a Memory Stick Duo. The internal memory is dedicated solely to the slide-show function, so you'll need a big memory card to take photos and videos. The slide show, which can include both stills and movies, is accompanied by any of four supplied music tracks. If you don't like the canned tunes, you can swap them for four of your own audio clips of up to 3 minutes with the bundled software. Sound quality from the mono speaker is surprisingly good.
Unfortunately, the camera's photography features are nothing to write home about. The 38mm-to-114mm (35mm-camera equivalent) Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom lens provides neither a very wide view nor much of a telephoto reach, but it focuses down to just 10mm in supermacro mode. There's no manual focus beyond five fixed presets, but you can select from spot, centre or multipoint autofocus with four zones. In every AF mode, the camera indicates the active zones on the LCD screen.