Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-G1 defies summarization. Is it an overpriced, overlarge 6-megapixel camera with an optically stabilized f/3.5-to-f/4.3, 38mm-to-114mm (3x) lens? A portable photo album with a big 3.5-inch display but a mere 2GB of memory and frustrating Wi-Fi capabilities? An underfeatured portable media player with not enough memory and basic MP3 and movie playback? Or just a confusing mashup of solutions in search of a problem?
The large LCD constrains the G1 to an equally large size; to want this camera you really have to be more interested in huddling around the G1's excellent 3.5-inch LCD display, watching slide shows soundtracked by your favorite MP3s, than in actually shooting photos. At 8.3 ounces and with closed dimensions of 2.8 inches tall by 3.8 inches wide by 1 inch thick, it's not terribly compact but will fit comfortably in a jacket pocket. Sliding a latch and pulling exposes the lens and puts you in shooting mode. The shooting controls--zoom, camera/movie, review, flash, macro, trash/thumbnails, and self-timer--reside on the back of the sliding portion, which means they're pretty flat. I find them a bit awkward to use and hard to differentiate from each other--especially the zoom, which offers little tactile feedback. And, of course, there's the irony that Sony's biggest camera LCD doesn't use the company's ubiquitous touch-screen interface.
The controls on the side--Display, Back, Menu, and Home plus a joystick for navigation--provide additional opportunities for fumbling around. You have to grip the camera tightly with your left hand to maneuver them. They become especially trying when attempting to adjust the shooting settings, which include exposure compensation, focus point, white balance, metering, ISO speed, and drive mode. Except for the shutter button, none of my fingers fell naturally over any of the controls. I found myself tilting the camera sideways to locate the Menu button, then switching between my thumb and forefinger to navigate with the joystick because neither one felt particularly comfortable. I wonder if it might have made more sense to simply have made the camera big enough to accommodate better handling.
It offers a reasonable set of shooting settings--no aperture- or shutter-priority modes, but manual control over all else, with the odd exception of custom white balance. However, the bulk of the G1's features aren't about shooting. It's Sony's first Wi-Fi-enabled camera, and integrates DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) wireless connectivity, a superset of Wi-Fi that adds device recognition for DLNA-enabled consumer electronics, such as TVs. Right now the only remotely popular DLNA device is the PlayStation 3.
It works fine using the PS3 as a conduit to display photos wirelessly from the G1, but the photos don't look very good on an HDTV. That's because via DLNA the G1 displays photos only from the Albums stored internally--images that are limited to 640x480-resolution thumbnails. To display higher-resolution images on an HDTV, you've got to connect via a composite cable using the camera dock, which lets you access the higher-resolution photos stored on a memory card. The other rather gimmicky uses for the Wi-Fi are Collaboration Shots--networking on the fly with three other DSC-G1s to pass photos back and forth--and one-way Picture Gifts.
If the DSC-G1 supported DLNA in addition to standard Wi-Fi access points and hot spots, with the ability to upload your photos and videos to a sharing service, or to wirelessly upload to a laptop via an ad-hoc connection, the others might be considered neat and novel features. But since the camera supports only DLNA devices, and seemingly only for playback, it becomes just another disappointing Wi-Fi camera.
In addition, the G1 operates as an MP3 player. Happy irony of ironies, unlike Sony's players it doesn't adhere to Sony's proprietary ATRAC/ATRAC3 formats, instead supporting simple drag-and-drop file copying. The sound is fine, but given the limited 2GB of memory (which your music has to share with your photo albums) and minimal playback controls--shuffle or linear playback in directory order, with no playlists--it becomes just another awkward convergence device. On the other hand, the ability to use any of your numerous MP3 files as background music for the G1's very nice slide shows gets addictive.