The chunky, 180g Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S600 offers remarkable flexibility despite its bargain £140 price. Its 6-megapixel resolution and moderately wide 31mm-to-93mm (35mm-film-camera equivalent) lens, in conjunction with decent low-light photos and extended shutter-speed latitude in moderate light, combine to produce a point-and-shoot camera with enough versatility to handle most picture-taking situations.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S600's nearly empty top panel hosts only a microphone jack, the illuminated power button and the shutter release. One-handed shooting is possible with the optical viewfinder, which is non-dioptre-correctable, but you'll probably want to brace the camera with your left hand if you're using the bright 51mm (2-inch) LCD.
On the back, a slider switches between review, photo and movie modes. There's also a Menu button, a Display Info key and an Image Quality/Delete button. Your image-quality choices range from resolutions of 6 megapixels to 640x480 VGA, at aspect ratios of 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 (widescreen). A circular control pad offers additional functions such as flash (up), self-timer (down), quick review (left) and metering selection (right).
For other settings such as changing autofocus options and activating burst mode, you'll have to drop into the menu system.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S600 comes with just 32MB of internal memory, so you'll want to put a Memory Stick Duo or Memory Stick Pro Duo card on your shopping list, along with some rechargeable AA batteries. This camera has no AV port for connecting to a TV, but does include a USB port for linkup to your computer. The movie mode can shoot VGA videos at 30fps and you can trim movie clips in-camera.
There are no manual or semi-manual exposure controls, other than standard- and flash-exposure compensation at plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments. Sony supplements the automatic and program modes with six scene modes: Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap (a soft-focus effect for portraits), Snow, Beach and Landscape. Unfortunately, both EV settings and scene modes can be selected only within the camera menu. Exposures are set automatically between 1 second and 1/2,000 second, at apertures of f/2.8 at the wide-angle setting to f/5.1 at the telephoto end. An internal neutral-density filter drops into place to provide the equivalent of f/5.1 and f/15.3 under bright light.
In a variation on the old 16-frames-in-one feature, the DSC-S600 includes the option to snap off 16 miniature shots at as little as 1/30-second intervals for golf-swing analysis and other stop-action tasks.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S600's performance ranged from good to mediocre. The DSC-S600 woke up, ready to shoot, in just 1.8 seconds and snapped off pictures every 1.3 seconds after that. The flash performed decently, requiring 1.8 seconds between shots. The burst mode captured seven full-resolution frames at 1.5fps and could shoot 100 VGA pictures at about the same speed.
Shutter lag was a satisfying 0.4 seconds under high-contrast lighting, but slowed to an underwhelming 1.2 seconds under low-contrast lighting, even with the aid of the red autofocus-assist lamp. The LCD was usable under all illumination but direct sunlight and could brighten in low-light conditions. The DSC-S600's red-eye correction did a fairly good job, but we sometimes noticed a pinpoint of red in the pupils of our subjects.