Sony Cyber Shot U review: Sony Cyber Shot U

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MSRP: $199.95

The Good Ultraportable; fast performance; easy-to-use menu system; PictBridge compatible; includes rechargeable AAA batteries and charger.

The Bad No optical viewfinder; small, stiff controls; no optical zoom; no exposure compensation; so-so image quality.

The Bottom Line Snapshot photographers who value portability and style over advanced features and photo quality will like this sleek little camera.

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6.6 Overall

Smaller than an Apple iPod Mini and every bit as stylish, the 2-megapixel Sony Cyber Shot DSC-U40 offers easy point-and-shoot operation. And like Apple's trés chic MP3 player, it comes in four colors: red, blue, black, and silver. In addition to looking slick, the U40 is fast. However, it has some drawbacks. There's no optical zoom, and its 1-inch LCD can be hard to work with. Plus, its photo quality won't exactly wow you. If you're looking for substance over style and are willing to spend a little more, check out our favorite ultracompact camera alternatives here.

At 3.9 ounces with two AAA batteries and a memory card installed, this little Cyber Shot is roughly the weight of a stick of butter. It takes Sony's smaller flash memory card, the Memory Stick Duo. Like its predecessor, the Sony U30, the Cyber Shot DSC-U40 doesn't have an optical viewfinder, so you have to frame your shots on the 1-inch LCD. While bright, the LCD is a little too small for our taste. The DSC-U40's control layout is exactly the same as the U30's, though somehow the controls themselves don't seem as well made. The slider for switching among recording and playback options is especially hard to maneuver. We do like the sliding lens cover on this model, though; it slides back and forth quite smoothly.

In terms of resolution, you're limited to a choice of 1,632x1,224 or 640x480. This obviously isn't the camera to get if you want to make large prints, but the DSC-U40's photos should be fine for e-mailing, uploading to the Web, or making small prints to share with friends. Feature-wise, you get manual focus at preset distances, five scene modes, two burst modes, four special effects, and a soundless MPEG-1 movie-recording mode. You can adjust the white balance by selecting from four preset modes. The DSC-U40 also supports the &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ecipa%2Ejp%2Fenglish%2Fpictbridge%2F">PictBridge standard, which enables direct output to any PictBridge-compatible printer or peripheral.

What you don't get in features, the Cyber Shot DSC-U40 makes up for in speed. There's very little shutter lag: about 0.5 seconds without the flash and 0.7 seconds with it. Start-up time is a fast 1.3 seconds, and shot-to-shot time comes in at less than 2 seconds. Unfortunately, the 2-megapixel burst mode is pretty much useless, since it captures just two consecutive shots. The U40 ships with two AAA nickel-metal-hydride rechargeable batteries, which should be adequate for a day's shooting. We managed to take more than 300 shots on a full charge, with the flash firing for half of our shots.

The test shots we took with the DSC-U40 fall into the same mediocre 2-megapixel category as our U30 and U50 photos, with average levels of sharpness and detail, decent exposure and color rendition, and more visible noise, artifacts, and blown-out highlights than we'd like to see. But as with the rest of the U-series cameras we've reviewed, this camera's picture quality should be fine for casual use.