This Sony insists on making most of the decisions for you, as there is no manual control of f-stops or shutter speed and only seven scene modes to choose from, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap (for pleasantly blurred portraits), both Snow and Beach modes, and a slow-speed Candlelight option. Notably absent is a sports mode to take advantage of the DSC-L1's 1/2,000-second top shutter speed, which slows down to as long as 1/8 second in low light. You can choose between multipattern and spot metering and change ISO manually to ISO 100, ISO 200, or ISO 400 settings.
No separate macro mode is required, as the five-area multipoint autofocus/center autofocus system works well down to 4.72 inches. Both continuous autofocus and single autofocus modes are available.
Performance figures for the Sony were generally excellent, except for an anemic flash, which reaches out no farther than six feet, and severe shutter lag (2.3 seconds) under low-contrast lighting, even with the high-output, red autofocus illuminator blazing. However, an almost imperceptible 0.4-second shutter delay under high-contrast lighting and 1.7-second shot-to-shot times (2.4 seconds with flash) may make the DSC-L1 your favorite camera for spur-of-the moment photos. You won't wait long for this camera to wake up, either, with its 3.3-second time-to-first-shot benchmark.
A zippy burst mode produced 4 full-resolution pictures in less than 3 seconds, and 30 VGA-sized photos in 26 seconds. We got 696 pictures from the lithium-ion rechargeable battery, half of them with flash as well as lots of zooming, picture-review, and other power-eating activities.
The DSC-L1's biggest weakness is in picture quality. Images were soft and lacking in detail for a 4-megapixel camera, with a lot of the detail masked by plentiful JPEG artifacts, even at the best Fine compression ratio. Colors, particularly flesh tones, often had a yellow cast. Blown-out highlights and chromatic aberrations such as purple fringing abounded, too, and some noise was visible even at ISO 100, increasing to a lot of noise at higher sensitivities. The red-eye preflash seemed to have no effect on the amount of red-eye produced. You'll probably be happy with the Sony's image quality only at smaller print sizes and for Web display.