The S85 shares its design and layout with the DSC-S75. Almost every detail is identical except the actual body colour which is now a cool, professional looking, charcoal grey (not quite black). As with the S75 the S85 is very solidly built, all the cameras components are manufactured to a high level and everything has a very satisfying feel to it.
The S85 has a more photographic, "camera feel" to it than last years S70. You have more and quicker access to camera controls immediately thanks to buttons on the outside of the camera. This means you don't have to worry about diving into the menu just to change (say) flash mode.
Note also the addition of a dummy accessory shoe, though without any connections it's designed only to take Sony's HVL-F1000 external flash which must be connected to the camera via a cable to the "ACC" connector on the side.
Here's a comparison of the S85 beside its 3.3 megapixel brother the S75 and Canon's G1. As you can see the S85 and S75 are completely identical down to the lens, all the controls, flash, buttons, viewfinder and compartments.
In your hand the S85 feels quite comfortable, the hand grip is the full height of the camera and built out with a nice gripable chunk of rubber. The thumb rest on the rear is shaped to provide a better grip and the location of the lens means you can steady the camera more easily with your left hand.
The S85's status LCD can be found on the back of the camera above the main LCD, it provides a wide range of information which allows you to use the camera without the main LCD. Everything from camera mode to battery life, storage space and even exposure details.
A breakdown of displayed information can be found below.
Main LCD Display
The S85's LCD display provides an impressive 99% frame coverage. This means that whatever you frame on the LCD display is exactly what you'll get, border to border.
The viewfinder on the S85 is of the normal optical type, that is it has its own optical path and lens set which zoom in parallel with the main lens, the view is as with other optical viewfinders, cramped and distorted. There's a dioptre adjustment for those wearing glasses and a central "aiming cross-hair" indicates the metering / autofocus center position. There aren't any parallax error lines which would help frame alignment at close subject distances.
The three lights which run along the right edge of the viewfinder indicate the following:
|Red (Top) Steady||Recording Movie clip|
|Red (Top) Blinking||Memory Stick access|
|Green (Center) Steady||Good AF Lock|
|Green (Center) Blinking||No AF Lock / subject too close|
|Yellow (Bottom) Steady||Battery charging (connected to AC adapter)|
|Yellow (Bottom) Blinking||Flash charging|
Storage / Battery Compartment
On the base of the S85 we find the combined storage and battery compartment, the spring loaded compartment door opens towards the front of the camera revealing the Memory Stick slot (top) and battery compartment. The S85 takes Sony's proprietary Memory Stick format, the camera is provided with a 16 MB Memory Stick, with the camera set to JPEG Fine (approx. 1.8 MB image) you'd be able to store around 8 images.
The battery is one of Sony's truly impressive InfoLithium NP-FM50 batteries (the same as used in the S70), this provides a huge 1200mAh at 7.2V (8.5Wh) which translates into nearly 3 hours of non-stop shooting (mixed use of the LCD). The battery charges in-camera, simply connect the provided charger/AC adapter to the camera's DC-IN connector and the status LCD will provide a readout of charge progress.
Obviously another problem with having the compartment door in this configuration is that you have to lay the camera down on its front (assuming of course you'd powered it off and the lens was retracted).