White Balance

In addition to the default auto setting, the P150 has five white balance presets (sunny, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent and flash). What it doesn't have, unfortunately, is a manual/custom white balance feature. Outdoors the auto white balance works very well, and it has a fair stab under incandescent (tungsten) too. As you can see from the test shots below, it does struggle with fluorescent lighting, so you might want to switch to the preset when shooting in such circumstances. Note that the very slight blue cast in daylight is not really visible in real world shots.

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

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: -1.3%, Blue -6.9%
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 2.2%, Blue -1.2%

Flash Performance

Flash has never been Sony's strong point, and the rather under-powered unit on the P150 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 P150 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
Excellent color, slight underexposure
Color chart
Virtually no color cast, slight underexposure

Macro Focus

The P150'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 - 61 x 46 mm coverage
50 px/mm (1270 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Tele macro - 101 x 75 mm coverage
30 px/mm (771 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness:Average
Equiv. focal length: 114 mm

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 P150 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 P150 deals with scenes with a wide dynamic range - with a few exceptions (see below). It may be a little early to call, but it seems this 7MP CCD is a little gem. 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.

Color fringing

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. What we did find was the occasional instance of chromatic aberration (CA). This manifests itself as very narrow colored fringes at the edge of the frame as shown below. It is important to note that this problem was all but invisible in 99% of our real world shots (though take a look at the full size resolution chart on page 7 for an extreme example).

100% crop 38 mm equiv., F5.6

Burnt out highlights/Dynamic range

First things first; I was very impressed by the P150's ability to hang onto detail in highlights and shadows even when the scene being photographed was very bright and very contrasty - in other words this new chip has a far better dynamic range than I'd expected. It is rare to see cloud detail being lost or blue skies turning white. In part I think this is down to the P150'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. All in all very impressive indeed.

100% crop 38 mm equiv., F5.6