Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P31 review
I’m very pleased with this camera. The design brief was apparently for both a compact auto-everything point-and-shoot and a real photographer's camera with all the advanced features. They did very well meeting both goals.
The compromise? No optical zoom. If you personally don’t mind taking all your photographs in wide angle, this is not a problem. More importantly, if most of the time the image is for web/email/on-screen viewing, then by cropping a 800x600 or 640x480 section from the full image the exact effect of an optical zoom is achieved.
The interrelation between cropping a larger image and image focal length doesn’t seem to be properly appreciated. Basically, cropping allows you to trade in unwanted pixels to mimic the effect of an optical zoom. So an 800x600 crop of a 1600x1200 image taken with a 33mm lens will be the exact same picture as an 800x600 image taken with a 66mm lens.
Note this isn’t quite the same as the “digital zoom” on the camera, which is, as has been often pointed out, useless.
If you need the pixels because you want to print the picture, then I recommend an optical zoom lens. If, like me, you typically work at screen resolution, consider the P31 a lighter, smaller, sharper, faster and cheaper alternative to the zoom-enabled competition.
My other favourite things about the P31:
The auto-focus lens is a fast F2.8 and has a wide range of aperture and shutter settings. It performs very well in low light situations, helped by the auto-focus illuminator, noise reduction, and twilight modes.
The viewfinder is at the extreme left of the camera, so the LCD screen is away from your nose. Overall the controls and ergonomics are well thought out.
Battery life is a solid 2h, even with the LCD on.
USB data transfer rate is over 3mb/s on my computer.
PS: The P-31 doesn't have macro mode because it is auto-focus. The lens will focus cleanly down to about 10cm.
While the plastic case is much more elegant and serious looking that the toy-like DSC-P20, it does feel more fragile in your hands than a metal-cased camera.
The size is for me small enough, but it would be perfect had it been 8 mm thinner. It is a bit on the chubby side.
The tendency for the auto-white balance to give a blue tint to outdoor shots is well-documented and in my experience true. In my opinion, any auto-WB is going to have problems at somepoint or other. Selecting from the manual WB modes - something I think you should be doing anyway - gives excellent results.