Overall Image Quality

What can I say? Sony have released the first consumer level 4 megapixel digital camera and it's an absolute corker (English phrase meaning very good). Resolution is of course over and above what we've seen in 3 megapixel digital cameras, the "Carl Zeiss" lens seems to have no problems resolving more than enough detail to fill each pixel with discrete detail and Sony's image processing algorithm's do their very best to resolve and preserve that. Indeed I was surprised (and pleased) to see that the S85 is capable of resolving more detail than Olympus's 4 megapixel professional E-10.

Colour balance is pleasing, vivid, but not over saturated, very slightly less saturation than the S75. Metering and white balance are as the S75, on the whole very good. This adds up to a compact digital camera which takes resolution and image quality to a new level.

Noise levels are about the same as the S75, a close inspection of shadow areas / dark corners in the image reveal some noise which seems to be mostly isolated to the chroma (colour) channel. Though the S85 did perform better than the S75 at higher sensitivities.

Purple Fringing (Chromatic Aberrations)

The S85 does suffer from chromatic aberrations, the sample below was about the worse of all the sample we shot and it's not particularly bad (compared to some others). Interestingly the S85's "fringing" seems to be more associated with blooming (the overflow of charge from over exposed pixels) than chromatic aberrations caused by the lens system.

Visible chromatic aberrations in an "every day shot"
Our now standard chromatic aberration test shot

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

No surprises here either, as the S85 uses the same lens as the S75 we got exactly the same measurements for barrel and pincushion distortion. Both of which are relatively low.

Barrel Distortion, 0.9% @ Wide Angle Pincushion Distortion, 0.2% @ Full Tele

White Balance

Again, as I complained with the DSC-S75 there are simply not enough white balance options on this camera. Put simply you can choose from Auto, Indoor, Outdoor or One-Push manual. That really leaves the S85 sadly lacking in this department. One-Push manual worked fairly well, though there's a fairly strong hue shift in magenta under incandescent light.

Outdoors, Auto Outdoors, Outdoor Outdoors, Manual
Incandescent, Auto Incandescent, Indoor Incandescent, Manual

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range simply defines the range of light the camera is able to capture before it either loses detail in darkness (shadows for example) or blows out a highlight (edges of chromed metals are good examples of this). Most consumer digital cameras only have a 8-bit analog to digital converters, plus their CCD's are not built to have a particularly large dynamic range, Sony report the S75 as having a 14-bit ADC.

Using our new dynamic range measurement method we measured the DSC-S85's dynamic range as (higher numbers are better except for noise):

Camera ISO Noise Range Bits Density dB

Sony DSC-S85

100* 0.20 442:1 8.8 2.6D 53
100 0.22 438:1 8.8 2.6D 53
200 0.24 311:1 8.3 2.5D 50
400 0.25 212:1 7.7 2.3D 47

* In-camera sharpening set to "Off"

What's impressive about the S85's dynamic range (or that of the new CCD) is not that it's particularly that much larger than we saw of most of today's 3.3 megapixel digital cameras (though it is slightly). It's that noise remains low (which is what we saw in the ISO tests earlier in this review) and that dynamic range remains above 200:1 even at ISO 400.