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Some thoughts on the Sony DSC-U30 Cyber-shot U Digital Still Camera

The Sony DSC-U30 is an ultra compact point-and-shoot camera. Its size is equivalent to two fingers. It even beats the Canon Elph Jr., the king of smallness, in size.

The lens on the DSC-U30 has a fixed focal length of 5mm. This length is equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera. The maximum aperture of the lens is f/2.8.

Storage consists of a Memory Stick slot. An 8MB Memory Stick is included as part of the package. The bigger Memory Stick PRO cards can be used.

The camera can shoot in two resolutions: 1632x1224 and 640x480. The images are stored in JPEG format. Following table shows the amount of pictures a storage card can hold:

8MB 16MB 32MB 64MB 128MB 256MB 512MB 1GB
1632x1224 14 29 60 122 245 445 906 1851
640x480 80 161 326 656 1316 2380 4840 9880

The DSC-U30 has one tiny 1 inch LCD in the back that serves as a viewfinder and a picture-review screen. The LCD works pretty well as a viewfinder; composition-wise, it works like a SLR. The LCD has a resolution of 293x220. But it is too small to see any details, review-wise.

The user controls the camera through four buttons, a mode switch, and up/down-directional switch. The mode switch has three positions: review, still, video. The buttons are power, shutter release, menu, and execute. The up/down-directional switch is used to navigate in the menu system.

Many of these buttons serves double purpose. The "execute" button works as magnify in review mode to zoom into the picture. There are two levels of zoom, 2.5x and 5x. But it only zooms into the center of the image. The up/down-direction switch serves as flash-mode toggle and picture-mode toggle. Press up to toggle the flash-mode and press down to toggle the picture-mode.

The lens cover also serves as a power switch. When opened, the camera automatically turns on. This feature makes the power switch redundant. Sony could have made better use of this button. Such as toggling the info display, which requires the user to turn on and off through the menu system. It is a tedious task that occurs often because info text in a 1" display covers most of the picture frame.

The movie mode allows the user to capture motion video; silent movie that is. There is no audio input. And each clip has a maximum length of 15 seconds. The resolution of the video is 160x112. With so many limitations on vital functions, the movie mode will be rarely used. The following table shows much footage can be stored on a memory card in term of time:

Capacity Time
8MB 5 min. 35 sec.
16MB 11 min. 13 sec.
32MB 22 min. 43 sec.
64MB 45 min. 40 sec.
128MB 1 h. 31 min. 34 sec.
256MB 2 h. 45 min. 35 sec.
512MB 5 h. 36 min. 43 sec.
1GB 11 h. 27 min. 19 sec.

The camera does not support exposure compensation. What you see in the LCD is what you are going to get. There is no way to make the scene brighter or darker. The lack of this feature will prevent using the camera for some serious work.

The camera can be connected to a computer via its USB mini-B connector. It is the same connector and cable that is used on my Sony Clie and my recently reviewed Sony DCR-TRV350 Digital8 Handycam. The ImageMixer and ImageTransfer software included are also the same as the one included with the Handycam.

The power source is comprised of two AAA-sized batteries. NIMH batteries and charger comes with the package. Other types of batteries can be used, but are not recommended. Battery status report is also not reflected correctly with the other types of batteries.

The DSC-U30 is the third version of this camera. Previous versions are the DSC-U20 and the DSC-U10. Despite being the third version, its lack of many fundamental features--such as zoomed review scrolling, display toggle, exposure composition, no audio, limited video length--make it feel like it is in its infancy.

Overall, Sony succeeded in creating a high quality miniature camera. It is just as functional as my highly praised Canon Elph Jr., and even more so. But if you are planning on doing some serious work of art, you will have to look elsewhere.

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Copyright © 2003 by Chieh Cheng. All Rights Reserved.