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Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1 review: Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1

Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1

Robert Dubbin
5 min read

The M1 in its dock.

The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1 dispenses with the tried-and-true, rectangular box shape of most point-and-shoot digital cameras, going instead with a twist-and-turn design that evokes the aesthetics of mid-1980s Transformers. The M1's brushed-black-metal surface feels good in your hand, and at 7.5 ounces with battery and media installed, the camera is hefty enough to not feel cheap but light enough that it won't tire you out during longer shoots. One of the M1's quirky charms is its one-handed grip design, a configuration that borrows from compact MiniDV camcorders and allows for some novel shooting angles. Though there's no optical viewfinder, the big, bright 2.5-inch LCD screen rotates 360 degrees, allowing you to compose everything from self-portraits to upside-down macro shots.


Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1

The Good

Eye-catching design; big, bright 2.5-inch LCD screen; solid snapshot feature set; pleasing photos and excellent movie quality for a combo unit; great performance.

The Bad

Horrible bundled software; control layout takes some acclimation; low-light shutter lag.

The Bottom Line

If you're looking to buy a digital camera that takes decent movies, this is your best current option.
At the unveiling of the eye-catching Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1 in the fall of 2004, it promised hybrid still and video performance to accompany its futuristic, quirky design. We found that the M1 delivers on most counts, delivering decent 5-megapixel images, a solid snapshot feature set with some novel additions, and a video mode that's impressive as long as you can afford the high-capacity Memory Stick Duo Pro media. Indeed, the Sony M1 has two major pluses that separate it from the hybrid pack: superior performance for a point-and-shoot camera and MPEG-4 movie quality that tops any we've seen from a competitor. On the minus side, Sony burdens the device with subpar software.

The M1 takes Memory Stick Duo Pro media which are inserted into a slot next to the screen.

Sony has given movie capture equal footing with photo capture on the device's main control area, so there are separate shutter buttons for each function, both within reach of your thumb; two additional shutters can be found to the left of the LCD screen, for convenient snapping when the screen is facing away from the main buttons.

Initially daunting, the M1's control layout is easily mastered once you've scaled the learning curve.

We're glad that Sony avoided the confusing 3D menu that comes with its camcorders, instead going with a simple lineup of settings that you can deftly tweak using the four-way selector at the bottom of the camera's grip. Unfortunately, the bundled Picture Package software is underpowered and amateurish, making downloading and working with movies and stills a chore.

Though it lacks manual aperture and shutter-priority modes, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1 does offer a respectable array of consumer-targeted features. In addition to taking straight 30fps, VGA-quality (640x480) MPEG-4 videos, the M1 also incorporates a hybrid video mode that uses the camera's recording buffer to store five seconds of video before and three seconds after any image you take, giving you additional context for particularly important shots. You can play the MPEG-4 movies using QuickTime (we couldn't get it to work with Windows Media Player), and the nature of the MPEG-4 format--highly compressed with keyframes and differential frames--makes editing the movies both difficult and ill advised.

The collection of preset scene modes isn't exhaustive, though the M1's set of nine includes such standbys as Landscape, Fireworks, and High-Speed Shutter. A nice slate of manual focusing options rounds out the package, allowing you to select your own focal point if you don't want to let the M1's five-point autofocus do the work for you.

The M1 sports an internal 3X optical zoom lens, with a protrusion-free design that should be familiar to anyone who coveted Sony's popular DSC-T1. The lens has a focal-length range of 38mm to 114mm (35mm equivalent); we normally consider 38mm to be a bit narrow for a wide-angle focal length, but given the M1's one-handed design and its versatile LCD screen, you shouldn't have trouble composing even tricky indoor shots. Zooming with the M1's lens can be a bit slow, so in sudden photographic situations, you'll have to settle for a wide-angle picture or risk losing your shot while creeping toward maximum telephoto.

With one notable exception, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1's performance was excellent for a point-and-shoot digital camera. Its 1.6-second time to first shot places it in the upper echelon of cameras we've tested, and its solid continuous-shooting mode can grab four full-resolution frames in a bit more than a second. Out of the box, the M1 posts lackluster shot-to-shot times of 3.2 seconds without a flash and 3.5 seconds with flash enabled. But disabling the M1's default autoreview feature dramatically improves shot-to-shot performance: without autoreview, the M1's speed improves to 1.2 seconds between shots without a flash and an impressive 1.5 seconds between shots with a flash.

Though the M1's shutter lag comes in at an impressive 0.2 second under bright conditions, it takes a significant performance hit under dim light, dipping to 1.3 seconds. That's slow enough that you may catch some trailing feet if you plan on shooting lots of moving subjects in the dark. The camera's proprietary InfoLithium battery held up quite well in our battery tests, powering the M1 for more than 1,000 shots before it died. You should expect significantly lower performance out of the battery if you're taking lots of videos, though at maximum resolutions most photographers will run out of media space before they run out of battery power.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Time to first shot  
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1
Kodak EasyShare LS753
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-F88
Nikon Coolpix 5200
Canon PowerShot SD20
Pentax Optio SV
Note: Seconds.

Continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Note: Frames per second.

Note: Number of shots.

Overall, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1 produced pleasing images with good color and few significant flaws. Sony's postprocessing algorithms did smear some of our images' more intricate details, but we noticed the smudges only after magnification and generating letter-size prints. Noise predictably became an issue at the M1's highest ISO setting of 400, but at lower sensitivities, the camera performed quite well. The majority of our shots exhibited good dynamic range, with detailed highlights and shadows; furthermore, in high-contrast situations, we didn't see a lot of the purple fringing that sometimes plagues highly compact cameras. The camera's white balance tended toward the warm side of the spectrum, and the lack of a manual white-balance setting will frustrate those who are used to getting their whites just right. The M1 also did a nice job when we challenged its macro capabilities; our test shots looked sharp in the foreground and appropriately blurred in the background.

The M1's photos look very good when scaled down (top), but at actual size, you can see problems with blooming on out-of-focus edges (above left), or detail-obscuring artifacts (above right).

In an increasingly crowded field of cameras with the ability to take VGA-quality (640x480) videos at 30fps, the M1 stands out with the best MPEG-4 movies we've seen so far. We noted occasional hiccups and dropped frames, but by and large, playback was crisp, and the movies themselves had the same good color as the M1's images.


Sony Cyber Shot DSC-M1

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Image quality 7
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