Sony seems to love touchscreens. First, it put a touchscreen on its 8-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-N1. Then, it put touchscreens on several of its camcorders, including the high-definition Handycam HDR-SR1 and the HDR-UX1. Then, it put a touchscreen on the ultracompact Cyber-shot DSC-T50. Now Sony has come full circle with the Cyber-shot DSC-N2.
This camera isn't especially stylish, but its big, 76mm (3-inch) touchscreen and its 10-megapixel sensor make it an attractive little compact as well as a worthy upgrade to the N1. The almost entirely touchscreen-driven control scheme results in a menu system that's finicky and awkward to use, and a display that's not quite crisp or colourful enough to frame shots.
The worst part is that touchscreens often aren't as responsive as hard buttons. We often ended up pressing the virtual buttons several times before they worked. Unlike the T50, the N2 doesn't come with a built-in stylus. Our best advice is to keep your fingernails long enough to use them when navigating the camera's menus -- the screen is more responsive to fingernails than to softer fingertips.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N2's menus themselves could also use some refinement. For instance, the first screen you come to includes seven choices -- shooting mode, flash mode, focus mode, resolution, exposure compensation, timer on/off and macro/magnifying glass on/off -- as well as a menu button. That menu button leads you to a second level of menus, which let you adjust other settings, such as ISO sensitivity, white balance, colour mode, metering mode, JPEG quality and others.
It also has a button to lead you to the Setup menu, where you can adjust still more settings. This means you have to toggle past the main menu page every time you want to change the ISO, and you have to navigate past two pages just to format a memory card or turn the red-eye reduction preflash burst on or off.
Besides the 76mm touchscreen and the 10-megapixel sensor, the DSC-N2's features are rather mundane. While hardly ugly, it's a great deal chunkier and less streamlined than Sony's style-minded Cyber-shot T-series cameras. The 25mm thick, 184g camera is a nondescript, rounded metal rectangle that seems designed more for simplicity than fashion. It feels comfortable enough to use, but the tiny zoom rocker and edge-mounted mode switch make one-handed use feel awkward and off-balance.
It uses a fairly standard 38m-to-114mm-equivalent lens with no image stabilisation or any other low-light/high-speed features besides its ISO 1,600 sensitivity boost. While the DSC-N2 has a few manual focus settings, you have to select a specific focal length such as 7m or 0.5m in the menu, rather than tweaking the focus while framing your shot. Like all Sony snapshot cameras, the N2 uses Sony's Memory Stick Duo card format. The camera includes 25MB of internal memory, but that'll get you just 10 or so 10-megapixel shots.
In good light, the shutter lagged just 0.3 seconds. In low light, however, even with the focus-assist lamp enabled, we experienced a lengthy 2.2 seconds of shutter lag. Otherwise, the camera's performance was quite satisfying. After a 1.4-second wait from power-on to first shot, we could take a frame every 1.8 seconds. Even with the flash enabled, that wait increased just 0.2 seconds to 2 seconds. Burst mode took 1.1 shots per second, a respectable rate for a 10-megapixel camera.
Compression artefacts and noise are the DSC-N2's biggest weaknesses. The camera's aggressive JPEG compression gave nearly all of our images a mottled, felt-like texture that softened and distorted fine details. This problem magnified when shooting at greater than ISO 400, when noise made already fuzzy pictures look like a television screen. Lens distortion was minimal, but we noticed significant chromatic abberations (coloured fringes) along high-contrast edges. The N2's colours were slightly warm and, like most cameras, its automatic white balance produced a yellow pallor under incandescent light.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N2 is a responsive, 10-megapixel compact that you can easily fit into your pocket. Unfortunately, compression artefacts hurt its images, and its touchscreen controls feel awkward. The slightly smaller and more conventionally designed Canon Digital IXUS 900 Ti offers cleaner shots at the same resolution.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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||Shutter lag (typical)|
Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Kate Macefield