Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S75

Stylish and rugged-feeling, the DSC-75 has a fast f2.1 Zeiss lens, long battery life, and a long list of manual controls, including full automatic, manual, shutter- and aperture-priority control, plus preset program modes. In addition to digital still images, with its 3.3-megapixel sensor and 2048x1536 maximum resolution, the camera takes short MPEG movies with sound, and you can add audio notes to your still shots (but only at the same time as you take the picture).

The DSC-S75 has a small LED status panel that gives the usual information, such as battery life, number of images left before the media runs out of space, and the flash mode. Unlike many digital cameras, it also displays the f-stop and shutter speed the camera has set in all exposure modes, even full automatic. It's like having full gauges instead of idiot lights in your car. When you're selecting the aperture or shutter speed yourself, the camera's jog dial makes it quick to spin through the settings.

It took some time and effort to get used to the DSC-S75's hair-trigger shutter. Trying to press the shutter release halfway down (typically to check the exposure values or to use the auto-exposure lock) often resulted in an unwanted photo. It's especially difficult when using the optical viewfinder in daylight, because the green exposure/focus lock LED is nearly impossible to see. We also disliked the relatively long delay between when you press the shutter and when the camera records the picture. Despite having full-time auto focus, this model always took several seconds to take the image - a problem if you like taking action shots.

For a camera of the DSC-S75's moderate size, the dedicated control buttons are very small, making them harder to use. Deleting shots in the camera's instant review mode is also relatively slow. Dumping a bad shot takes five separate button presses. It's nice that a camera protects you from accidentally erasing a keeper, but the Sony's design is overkill. On the other hand, the DSC-S75 does let you select a number of shots to delete at once when you're in the nine-shot index screen. A final note on media: the Memory Sticks that the DSC-S75 uses currently cost more than SmartMedia or CompactFlash.

All of our test shots turned out accurate exposures and vibrant colours. The two flaws we noted were some loss of subtle colour shading and some problems with the focus being slightly off, making some of the shots a bit soft. Outdoor shots in bright sunlight, on the other hand, looked very sharp and overall performance was good.

The DSC-S75's controls are a mixed bag - some are quick and intuitive to use, others leave you hunting for the right combination. For example, a collection of buttons lets you jump to instant review, spot metering, a different flash setting, or macro mode. A small LED status panel lets you know which of these settings you've picked. Other buttons control the manual focus and the exposure value setting, but these only work when the colour LCD display is on. The camera has a programmed mode Sony calls Scene Selection. As in other cameras, it's supposed to let you tune the auto exposure for specific types of scenes, such as portraits or action shots. In this model, however, you only get three scenes - twilight, landscape, and portrait - and you have to go into the setup menus "to select which one to use.

This model has no definitive step between optical and digital zoom. If you have digital focus enabled (a menu setting) and you're using the optical viewfinder, you can easily slip into digital zoom, producing images that are enlarged but far from sharp. Also, all of the settings you used when the camera was turned off are recalled when you turn it back on. That can be convenient, but it can also lead to some confusion. At one point, we could not get the flash to work; it stumped us until we discovered that the camera was still in continuous shoot mode (which disables the flash).

The Sony DSC-S75 is fine for novice photographers who want to learn more about the art and science of photography, but long-time photographers who like a lot of creative control may find the Sony's design somewhat frustrating. Overall, it's not a fast camera to use.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S75

3 stars; Price: $1899; Phone: 1300 137 669; URL:

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