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White Balance

In addition to the default auto setting, the P200 has five white balance presets (sunny, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent and flash). Unlike the P150 it also has a manual (custom) white balance option too. Outdoors the auto white balance works very well, and it has a fair stab under fluorescent too. As you can see from the test shots below, it does struggle with incandescent lighting, so you might want to switch to the preset when shooting in such circumstances.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red: 0.4%, Blue -2.0%
Excellent

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 0.5%, Blue -0.5%
Excellent
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 15.7%, Blue -23.1%
Poor

Flash Performance

Flash has never been Sony's strong point, and the rather under-powered unit on the P200 is usable, rather than outstanding. On the positive side, the color is almost perfect and the output is throttled down well when shooting nearby subjects, meaning blown-out results are rare. Other good news includes a fairly speedy recycle time, very short lag even when using the red-eye reduction and slow-synch and flash level output options. The autofocus illuminator only reaches a couple of meters at best, but it does allow the P200 to focus in almost total darkness.

The only real problem is that the flash isn't powerful enough, meaning indoor shots of people at night have totally black backgrounds, and it struggles with larger groups of people. There is also slight underexposure on most flash shots, but this can easily be fixed, and is a lot better than overexposure/blown out highlights.

Skin tone
Slightly warm tone, Good exposure
Color chart
Slightly warm tone, Good exposure

Macro Focus

The P200's macro mode (as usual on this kind of camera) works best at the wide end of the zoom, when you can get as close as 6cm, capturing an area around 6cm across the frame. Inevitably there is some distortion, but it is fairly mild, and there is only the slightest vignetting and a little softness in the corners. At the tele (114mm equiv.) end of the zoom the macro performance is less impressive, capturing an area around 10cm across. There is little or no distortion, but still a little softening at the edges.

Wide macro - 62 x 47 mm coverage
49 px/mm (1242 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Tele macro - 98 x 74 mm coverage
31 px/mm (791 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness:Average
Equiv. focal length: 114 mm

Noise Comparison

Here for visual comparison are three identical shots taken at 100, 200 and 400 ISO settings in our studio. As we've noted before the 7MP Sony CCD used in the P200 (and many competing models) shows relatively low noise considering it's small pixel size - no doubt helped by Sony's fairly aggressive noise reduction routines. ISO 100 and 200 are perfectly usable, though inevitably ISO 400 has some lost detail due to noise and noise reduction.

ISO 100 100% crop ISO 200 100% crop
 
ISO 400 100% crop  

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Whilst there is measurable distortion at the wide end of the zoom (around 1.8%), it is no worse than most ultra compact 3x zooms, and much better than many; it certainly doesn't have a significant impact on real-world shots. Edge sharpness at F2.8 leaves a little to be desired, but this is much improved by stopping down. There is negligible distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom.

Barrel distortion - 1.8% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 114 mm

Specific image quality issues

For an ultra-compact 'point and shoot' 3x zoom camera the P200 cannot fail to impress, and there are very few serious problems with any real-world shots. Noise is visible in shadow areas at any ISO setting above 200, but with 7 million pixels squeezed into a 1/1.8 inch CCD this is hardly surprising. What is perhaps more surprising is how little noise actually impacts on everyday shots, and even more importantly, how well the P200 deals with scenes with a wide dynamic range - with a few exceptions (see below). The lens isn't perfect - you can see a slight loss of sharpness at the corners, but it is rarely a serious problem in real world shots. After examining literally hundreds of real-world shots we were most impressed to find little or no 'purple fringing' or blooming to speak of, despite some very testing conditions. There is some chromatic aberration visble towards the edges of some wideangle shots, but you have to be zoomed in to 100% on-screen to see it.

Burnt out highlights/Dynamic range

First things first; I was very impressed by the P200's ability to hang onto detail in highlights and shadows even when the scene being photographed was very bright and very contrasty - as we've seen with other cameras using the same chip, dynamic range is very good. It is rare to see cloud detail being lost or blue skies turning white. In part I think this is down to the P200's slightly conservative approach to exposure and processing; images straight out of the camera can look a little (and only a little) underexposed and a touch flat. But the result is that images such as the one below are thankfully rare. Of course there are times when the CCD simply cannot capture the full range of brighnesses in a scene - particularly when, as here, the camera exposes for the shadows in the scene, causing slight overexposure. Add to this Sony's tendency to clip highlights rather sharply and you can - on occasion - end up with some burnt out are.
All in all, though, very impressive indeed.

100% crop 38 mm equiv., F2.8
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