Camera manufacturers are a largely conservative bunch, often sticking with designs that mimic old-fashioned film snappers. Is it time to shrug off traditional designs in favour of something more futuristic? Sony certainly thinks so if its £170 Cyber-shot DSC-J10 is anything to go by. But does the camera's unconventional approach extend beyond aesthetics or is its appeal only skin-deep?
The J10 has a showy two-tone design, available in black and blue, turquoise and silver, or white and pink. The device is pleasingly slim, shiny and tactile, although the surface is prone to attracting fingerprints. Its modern appearance is enhanced by rounded corners and metallic power, shutter-release and zoom buttons on the top edge.
There's a practical element to the J10's unusual design, too. It comes with its own pop-out USB arm, not unlike a Flip Video camcorder, allowing you connect the device directly to a computer, without having to scrabble around for a compatible cable.
In addition, the camera's internal memory contains a photo app that you can use on any PC, wherever you might happen to be, in order to browse, upload and share your snaps online.
Also unusual is the fact that the camera's storage is entirely self-contained. There's no slot for SD or Memory Stick cards. Instead, the J10 comes equipped with 4GB of internal flash memory. The allotted space is enough for about 550 shots at top quality, but you'll have no option other than to regularly transfer and delete your image files if you're a frequent photographer.
Besides its design and internal memory, the J10 is fairly conventional. Its 16.1-megapixel resolution, for instance, is certainly impressive, but not unheard of at the camera's price point. Also, the 4x optical zoom is acceptable but hardly exceptional. Similarly, the 2.7-inch, 230,000-pixel screen is of an average size and resolution, and it's not touch-sensitive, either -- everything's handled by good, old-fashioned buttons.
The video mode is a disappointment. At this price, we'd hoped for at least a 720p option, but the highest-quality movie setting available is sub-high-definition 480p.
Intelligent-auto, face-detection, smile-shutter and easy-shooting modes, among others, place the J10 towards the hassle-free end of the photographic spectrum. There are a few tweakable settings, though, such as white balance, ISO and exposure compensation. There's also a handful of scene presets to play with, including, rather oddly, one called 'gourmet', which is apparently designed for taking pictures of food.
Whatever you happen to be interested in taking pictures of, the J10 will deliver pretty good shots for the most part. Outdoor shots deliver strong, well-balanced colours and favourable noise-to-detail levels. Skin tones are rendered well too. You may notice some lens distortion, as well as some fringing around contrasting edges, but neither are terribly shocking for this class of compact camera.
Blurring is common if you're shooting indoors. There's an image stabiliser but, annoyingly, this is only available via a dedicated SteadyShot mode. If you can avoid shaking, then the camera can take fairly good images in low-lit environments.
Picture noise is inevitable from ISO 400 upwards. This needn't necessarily spoil your photos, though -- we found many of our indoor suppressed-flash shots turned out fairly well.
There's one big glitch in the J10's performance, however -- its inability to correctly adjust its auto settings quickly enough to compensate for bright subjects. A number of our daylight shots were curiously bleached out.
This problem was amplified when we tested the camera's panoramic sweep feature, which is supposed to automatically stitch together a series of shots into a horizontal panorama as you pan. In a couple of cases, we ended up with panoramas that had a big bleached-out mess in the middle, where the camera had overexposed a large section of the shot.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-J10 is an unusual-looking camera with some equally unconventional features -- not to mention some curious performance quirks. It's decent enough, but we think it's slightly too expensive for what it is.
Edited by Charles Kloet