While it might be overstating the case to say the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3's Wi-Fi implementation drove me to tears, I can state without hyperbole that it terribly disappointed me. When I was first briefed on the camera, I had high hopes that with its built-in browser it could fill in the missing pieces to the wireless connectivity problem for digital cameras. However, despite what seems like a good effort on Sony's part, the G3's wireless experience is instead opaque, frustrating, and slow, and turns an otherwise decent touch-screen operated, 4x zoom, and 10-megapixel compact into an overpriced novelty.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, here's Sony's step-by-step explanations of how you set up the camera to connect to a public or private access point and how to upload the photos. Setting up the network access is at turns straightforward and confusing. It easily autoscans for access points in your vicinity, but if there are multiple similarly named APs there's no way to differentiate among them. While my office situation may be unusual--I pick up two zdm*2828 and 3 CBS_Interactive_Public options--it's not unusual to find yourself surrounded by random generically named linksys APs. Nor does it indicate how strong the signal is. And you have to go two taps in to find out if it's an encrypted AP. The G3 nicely offers you a virtual keyboard, but you'll definitely need the supplied Paint Pen stylus to enter information on it. The camera does include free access via WayPort and AT&T hotspots through 2012.
Once you've defined a selected network and connected to it, either via the touch-screen menus or by pressing the WLAN button on the side of the camera, you get choices to upload and browse via the Web or to connect to a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) device. If you choose upload, it may first take you to the network's terms of service screen, where you can agree and move on. This is one of the G3's big breakthroughs relative to other Wi-Fi options, which make no provision for TOS or payment screens. Once you're through, you generally get a screen that says "This page is protected. Data is encrypted before transfer," with an Exit button. Since it's a pretty common message that you generally have to ignore (it's not like you get a choice, since your only option is Exit), the browser should intercept it. More annoying, the touch-screen becomes extremely slow to respond when connected (or when you get connection errors), which exacerbates the annoyance you feel if it's not working.
The browser's home page is Sony's imaging portal. It presents you with five options for services to connect with: YouTube, Dailymotion, Photobucket, Picasa, and Shutterfly. Note the absence of some of the most popular sharing sites on the Net, including Facebook and Flickr. Since the service connections are Web rather than camera-based, it shouldn't take much for Sony to implement support for more services. But you can't set any up yourself, and they're not there yet. If you let it sit too long on this screen, the connection tends to time out, even with Network Power Saving disabled--and when disabled, the G3 drains the battery faster than the RIAA throws together a lawsuit.
But enough about Wi-Fi. How's the G3 as an actual camera? Well, the touch screen and sliding body design can be annoying, but otherwise it's not bad. At 6.8 ounces it's a bit heavy, and the body's slim but wide 4.1-inch-by-2.5-inch-by-0.8-inch dimensions when closed make it slightly larger than an ultracompact; it expands to 4.9 inches wide when open. Nevertheless, it fits comfortably into a loose pants pocket.
The 3.5-inch 16:9 aspect LCD occupies the entire back of the camera, and the only non-touch-screen controls are the zoom switch and tiny playback, power, and WLAN buttons. The touch-screen operation itself is no better or worse than other models, that is to say, occasionally nonresponsive. (As a side note, I also find touch screens difficult to operate in cold weather.) While the display is quite nice and relatively high resolution, it's still a bit difficult to view in direct sunlight. And--irritatingly--the G3 doesn't show you a full-resolution shot during the immediate review, which means you've got to jump into playback mode to verify sharpness and focus.
Unlike many of Sony's 2009 cameras, the G3 has the last-generation menu system with the confusing Home and Menu settings, and it lacks much of the newer automation technologies in those models as well. In addition to the Wi-Fi, it has a relatively robust feature set, which includes 4GB of memory for storing photos and optical image stabilization for the internal 4x zoom 35-140mm-equivalent lens. It does offer Sony's Dynamic Range Optimization tonal-range enhancement; face detection with adult- and child-priority as well as touch-priority, where you can touch the face on the screen; and Smile Shutter, though only in full auto mode. It does have an auto macro setting, which is a great option for any class of user.
Though not super speedy, the G3 performs pretty well for its class. It can wake up and shoot in just 2.2 seconds, though that assumes you've successfully slid the camera open all the way on the first try. In good light it focuses and shoots in only 0.3 second, and manages that in a solid 0.8 second in poorer lighting. It only takes 1.8 seconds for two consecutive shots, which increases to 2.2 seconds when flash recycle time becomes a factor. It can also shoot more than 50 frames at 1.6fps in burst mode. However, the G3's battery delivers a big performance downer: it uses a meager 680mAh model, far less powerful than its competitors, and hardly up to the model of constant use you'd expect from a portable photo album/browsing device, much less a digital camera. In practice, I couldn't go a day (of sporadic use) without seeing the low-battery indicator flashing.
The photo quality looks pretty typical for a similarly specced camera, a compact with a 10-megapixel sensor and 4x zoom lens or better, though to find comparison models--these include options like the Panasonic DMC-FX500, the Nikon Coolpix S60, and the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS--you have to look a couple of price classes down. As long as you stick with ISO 200 and below, which unfortunately rules out full auto operation, the photos look relatively sharp, with low noise, consistent and correct exposures, and nicely saturated colors. At ISO 400 you start to see softness and color noise, though how obtrusive it is depends upon the content of your shot. The G3 supports sensitivities up to ISO 3,200, but the highest usable setting is probably ISO 800. Though the G3 only shoots 640x480 30fps movies--they're good as long as you remember to bump quality up to Fine--it does support optical zoom during capture.
Sony has some wrinkles to iron out in the Cyber-shot DSC-G3's Wi-Fi implementation; it's not unusable, but it is more annoying than most people should (or will) put up with. And without it, the G3 is quite overpriced--if you want essentially the same camera, but better designed and cheaper, then opt for the T700.
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|