This replacement for the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P150 adds no significant capabilities to the skimpy feature set of its predecessor. It retains its position as one of the most compact 7-megapixel models, however, offering good performance, outstanding battery life and adequate photo quality.
While competitors such as Pentax and Olympus offer lots of bonus features and zoom ranges longer than the P200's 3x zoom, 38mm-to-114mm (35mm equivalent) optics, this Sony upgrade is a good choice for casual snapshooters who want to make big prints and can live with nagging colour-balance problems. Photo enthusiasts looking for shutter- or aperture-priority controls, TIFF or raw file formats, or other extra features should check out the competition.
One of the two most significant changes to the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200 is the addition of a centre-weighted metering mode to the multisegment and spot modes offered by the previous model. In addition, the original 46mm (1.8-inch) LCD that was difficult to view in bright light has been replaced with a 51mm (2-inch) LCD that's difficult to view in bright light. The rest of the modifications seem to be largely cosmetic.
For example, the P200's aluminium body is about 5mm shorter and a hair thinner at 104 by 51 by 28mm, though it weighs the same 180g with battery and Memory Stick inserted. A raised ridge on the front of the camera has been removed, and the microphone that inhabited it has moved to the top panel. The Setup option formerly on the Mode dial is now accessible from the menu system. The cursor pad's buttons are slightly different, and while the in-focus (green) and flash-charging (yellow) LEDs next to the viewfinder remain, the buffer full (red) indicator is gone.
Although one-handed shooting is possible for the nimble fingered, a two-handed grip makes it easier to rest one finger on the top shutter release (just to the right of the illuminated power button) and manipulate the back-panel zoom rocker with a thumb. The optical viewfinder's stingy magnification provides such a tiny non-dioptre-corrected view -- and shows only 85 percent of the scene -- that you'll want to use the LCD most of the time indoors and when you're out of direct sunlight outdoors. Although you can boost the LCD's brightness, it washes out completely in full sun.
A mode dial, a zoom rocker, a four-way cursor pad with embedded OK key, and three buttons populate the back panel. The mode dial rotates among auto, programmed, scene, movie and picture-review modes, and a manual mode that allows setting aperture (either f/2.8 or f/5.6 in wide-angle mode or f/5.6 or f/10 in telephoto) and shutter speed (1/1,000 of a second to 30 seconds) manually. The cursor pad adjusts the flash (up) and the self-timer (down), reviews the most recent photo (left) and activates macro mode (right). The two remaining buttons cycle among LCD info options, including a live histogram, and activate the menu system, while the third serves as a trash/image-resolution key.
Although common adjustments such as red-eye reduction, EV setting and flash compensation are tucked away in the menu system, the camera remembers the last-accessed submenu, which pops up the next time you press the menu key.
As with its predecessor, the P200 offers only a bare-bones roster of features suitable for basic snapshooting. The lens offers neither a decently wide view nor much telephoto reach, but the macro setting will take you as close as 60mm in wide-angle mode using your choice of spot, centre or five-point autofocus (limited to 300mm at the telephoto position). So-called manual focus locks you into five preset distances of 0.5 metres, 1 metre, 3 metres, 7 metres and infinity.
The exposure system uses the same spot, centre and multipoint zones, and the noise-reduction system kicks in automatically for any exposure slower than 1/8 of a second. This effectively doubles the time required to take a picture, since the dark-frame subtraction algorithm takes a second black frame to isolate noise from image data in the first. You can also specify any of nine scene modes, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap (portrait), Snow, Beach, High-Speed Shutter (sports), Fireworks and Candle.