Recently we reviewed the Samsung i50, a camera that combined two of the most popular digital devices on the market - a camera and an MP3 player and in our opinion the amalgamation was less than successful. Today we're looking at Sony's latest convergent camera, the N1, which brings touch screen functionality to the digital camera market. The big question is, how well is it implemented?
- Touch screens are cool, robust functionality, big screen
- Poor image quality, poor battery life, screen is of low viewing quality
A pricey camera that offers never before seen technology, but ultimately unless you are a touch screen fanatic, it isn't worth the price tag.
Price$ 899.00 (AUD)
Consumers have a love/hate relationship with touch screen technology. Some love the stylish, futuristic feel of controlling everything through a single screen, whilst others find it unnecessarily clunky. We fall somewhere in the middle. Contrary to popular belief, touch screens can actually make some operations take longer. On a regular camera for example, you can change the flash mode with the touch of a button, whereas on the N1 you hit the menu button, then touch the flash option, then select your preference. We enjoyed the flashiness of the screen, but once we'd had the camera a few days it began to wear off, and we found ourselves longing for a more traditional system. On products such as GPS units, where typing with a full keypad is necessary, then touch screens really come into their own, but here it just feels wasted.
The touch sensitivity of the LCD also leads to other problems such as limited battery life. The 3" screen drains significant power, and it really hurt the overall life of the camera. We managed barely 120 shots before having to recharge and it didn't even last through our entire testing process. It is worth noting that the N1 has a function that turns the flash off when the battery is low, and won't allow it to be reactivated. It sounds like a good idea in theory, but we found it ridiculously annoying, both from a consumer and reviewer perspective. In some situations a flash is required (such as our standardised battery testing process) and without it the camera is essentially useless.
We also found results in worse image quality than a normal screen. The 3" screen on the N1 is jagged and blocky, and even though it is the only viewfinder on the camera it really doesn't offer an accurate representation of your subject.
Virtually the entire back face of the N1 is taken up by the huge screen. Whilst it feels a little big, it is necessary to give the touch screen buttons adequate room. We found that they were large enough to allow for a good level of accuracy, and were generally as responsive as we have come to expect from a good quality screen.
Sony has not chosen to completely forgo buttons just yet, however. Crammed onto the right hand side of the screen is a button to bring up the menu and activate the touch screen, as well as a button to control which information appears on the screen, a standard zoom switch, and the mode slider, which slips between video, still and playback with ease. Whilst having a button that specifically brings up the touch screen may seem like a cop out, in reality having a screen that activates automatically at a touch is highly impractical.
Screen aside, the N1 has quite a basic design. The body is brushed silver, and looks quite good, if not revolutionary. It has a smooth, curvaceous look, with nothing in the way of sharp edges, which some people will appreciate.
In our speed tests, the N1 proved to be lightning quick. Shutter lag was an incredibly low .04 of a second, and start-up time just under 2 seconds. Even writing images to the memory took a mere second and the N1 definitely impressed in this regard.
Our praise does not extend to image quality however. For an 8 megapixel model, the N1 produces below average pictures, and has a few fundamental flaws that really take it down a few notches. The worst of these is the prominent purple fringing we discovered in our outdoors shots. Whilst not quite as bad as on the Samsung L55W, some of our shots had noticeable purple bars running along the edges of several tree branches. These were anywhere from half a millimetre to a full few millimetres. Normally purple fringing is minute enough to be undetectable unless the shots are blown up, but here it was visible even in smaller prints; a definite problem.
Our indoors shots were considerably better, with crisp edges with no hint of other colour fringing. Sharpness was very good by normal point and shoot standards, but compared to other 8 megapixel models we found it came up a little lacking. There were small points of blurring here and there, nothing we could particularly pin down, but they were definitely not up to the standard we were expecting.
Colour representation was much better. The N1 presented clear, accurate colours, without a hint of oversaturation. Blues appeared perhaps a little pale, but we were very pleased with the accuracy of the automatic settings. Cameras have a tendency to overexpose shots when left to their own devices, but in this case it was as accurate as we could expect. We did however encounter a little image noise under certain circumstances. It was most noticeable on blacks, with other colours presenting a speckle free hue. Noise is to be expected under low light conditions however, and on this model is was less obtrusive than on many others.
The N1 surprised us with a mass of features, including a manual mode that gives limited aperture and shutter speed controls. Most point and shoots in this category forgo those options all together, but the N1 offers shutter speed options from 30 seconds to 1/1000th of a second, and three aperture settings between f/2 and f/8. Sony also went out of their way with the ISO settings, taking them all the way up to 800, which is another area compact cameras generally fear to tread.
Aside from these the N1 sports whitebalance, exposure, colour, sharpness and saturation options, as well as both continuous shot and bracketing modes. The continuous shot function however is quite average, taking 5 shots at roughly a picture a second.
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