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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1 review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1

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6.4

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1

The Good

Nice photos and performance; big LCD display; usable as an MP3 player.

The Bad

Awkward, occasionally frustrating design; eccentric Wi-Fi feature set.

The Bottom Line

An overpriced, overweight, and oddball camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1 takes decent photos, but its ancillary features--Wi-Fi and MP3 playback--aren't usefully implemented.

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.

Sample image from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1

Thanks to its SteadyShot optical image stabilizer and relatively low-resolution sensor, the DSC-G1 produces some surprisingly sharp photos with decent high-ISO performance. Nonflash exposures look very nice, despite some blown out highlights that are typical of this camera class. The flash doesn't throw quite as much as I'd like; it left sections of our test scene underexposed with color blooming on object edges. Finally, the G1 tends to push color saturation toward the overly vivid. Furthermore, unlike most Sony cameras, which record movies using the MPEG VX format--a variation of MPEG-2--the G1 records something it calls "MPEGMOVIE4TV," an MPEG-4 encoding. While that allows for a very low data rate (around 370K/sec), the video quality looks significantly inferior.

Performance fares much better. In most respects, the DSC-G1's shooting puts it in the top 25 percent of point-and-shoot cameras we've tested over the past year. Its shutter lag in optimal lighting is an impressive (for its class) 0.4 second, rising to a modest 1.2 seconds in low-contrast conditions. It takes only 1 second from shot to shot, though adding flash recycling raises that to 2.4 seconds--still very good for its class. Though it has a 7-shot buffer limitation, it can fire at 3.8 frames per second (fps) in continuous-shooting mode. Only the 3.8 seconds it takes from power on to first shot ruins the G1's performance track record, and that time doesn't include sliding open the camera, which takes another couple of seconds. The LCD also stands up pretty well; thanks to its relatively wide viewing angle, it's usable in direct sunlight.

Though the battery life is fairly short--its CIPA-standard capacity is only 280 shots, probably thanks to that mammoth LCD--recharging is the truly annoying aspect of the G1's performance. It doesn't trickle charge. So when you get back to your home or hotel room with the depleted camera, you can stick it in the dock and play back or download your images, but you've got to leave it alone and turned off for a couple of hours to charge.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1 seems like an awkward convergence device from two years ago, or from a time when putting MP3 players in cameras was all the rage. I wish Sony had opted instead to create the more market-worthy Wi-Fi contender we've been waiting for. Given the high price for what it offers--huge LCD notwithstanding, there's really nothing else worth paying a premium for--I have to suggest that you give this one a pass. Get yourself a really nice MP3 player and a top-notch ultracompact instead.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1
1 
3.8 
1.2 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot TX1
2 
1.8 
1.2 
0.6 
Nikon Coolpix S7c
2.1 
2.2 
1.7 
0.7 
Nikon Coolpix P3
3 
4.1 
1.4 
0.9 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1
3.8 

6.4

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G1

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 8Image quality 7