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Sony Cybershot DSC-L1 - Digital Camera Quick Review
Review Date: 19/07/05
Rating: Recommended!
Buy now: £175 | $229
Read reviews on: Canon PowerShot A520

Introduction: The Sony Cybershot DSC-L1, is available from £175 | $229 - and is an ultra compact 4 megapixel digital camera, with a 3x optical zoom lens and a 1.5" TFT screen. The camera is enclosed in an ultra compact silver metal body. The Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3x optical zoom lens is equivelant to 32-96mm on a 35mm camera. It records unlimited 640x480 / 30fps videos with sound. The camera's size is: 95 x 44.3 x 25.7 mm, and the camera weighs 122g (without batteries).

Sony have this to say about the camera:

"The DSC-L1 is the full featured Cyber-shot® digital camera that is small enough to take anywhere. With a 4.1 Megapixel Super HAD™ CCD, a Carl Zeiss® Vario-Tessar® lens with 3X optical zoom and Sony’s own Real Imaging Processor, the DSC-L1 features image capture quality on par with a camera twice its size. Other features include PictBridge™ compatibility for easy printing without a personal computer and MPEG Movie VX Fine video recording when used with Memory Stick PRO Duo™ media (not included)."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: It's very compact and made out of shiney silver metal.
(Photos of the camera taken with a Panasonic Lumix FZ3)

Front - Camera off - metal lens cover.

Front - Camera on, lens extended, flash, focus-assist lamp.

Back - 1.5" TFT, charging light, speaker holes, delete/image size button, display button, menu button, 4-way joystick, strap hole.

Top - microphone, power, mode (play/photo/video), shutter, zoom control.

Bottom, under the camera there is a mini-tripod mount - to get a normal tripod mount you have to use the (easily lost) tripod convertor.

Left Side (from back) USB out, DC in.

Battery and memory compartment, with reset button.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Casio Exilim EX-S100.

Size comparison.

Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 4 megapixel resolution
  • 3x optical zoom
  • 2x digital zoom
  • 1.5" screen
  • Sony Memory Stick Duo card slot
  • 12cm auto macro mode
  • 640x480 30fps movie mode with sound
  • 7 scene modes
  • 5-point area focus
  • ISO: Auto, 100, 200, 400
  • PictBridge Compatible

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • 16mb memory card
  • Neck Strap
  • USB cable
  • Info-Lithium Ion rechargable battery
  • Battery Charger
  • Tripod adapter
  • Software CD-ROM
  • Printed Manual

Average box contents - a large memory card, and a case would have been nice.

The Camera in Use:

Battery usage: The camera manual states that you should be able to get on average 240 shots using the provided battery. This is very good for an ultra compact digital camera.

Speed: The camera is quick to switch on and take photos. The screen updates are quick and smooth (in good light). The playback mode is also fairly quick. Playback mode allows you to zoom as close as 5x. The camera has a quick continuous shooting mode, and a quick shot to shot time (this can be made quicker by switching off review). The camera shutter response seemed fairly quick. Focusing was also quite quite.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, although the camera does have a lot of options and features. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use. The camera is ultra-compact although not as compact as other ultra-compact cameras. The menus are responsive, easy to use, and the options are easy enough to see clearly - although some may find them too small, due to the small screen. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple - there's a fully automatic mode as well as various scene modes for simple point and shoot operation.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel okay, the shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well. I thought the camera felt good ergonomically. Some people may find the buttons too small. I found the 4-way joypad to be a bit spikey, especially when in pockets.

Screen / Viewfinder: The 1.5" screen, although small, is clear with accurate colours, and updates smoothly. There is no optical viewfinder - luckily the screen is visible in bright sunlight as well as indoors.

Image Quality:

Image quality generally: Outside image quality was good, colour was rich and saturated, and noise seemed quite low, the pictures had good contrast, although images were soft and as a result detail was average - it was also very easy to produce lens flare which you may like, although you may not. Indoors - image quality was good - and focusing was good thanks to the focus-assist lamp. Images were generally fairly soft, and may benefit from sharpening. The maco mode was fairly poor as the closest you can get to the subject is 12cm away.

Image quality issues: There was very minor purple fringing, although noise was occassionaly high - especially if the ISO level was above ISO200, or the camera was set to black and white mode.

Zoom: The camera's 3x optical zoom is quite noisy when you switch the camera on/off, but in use it's very quiet. It has 8 steps between wide and telephoto. The camera also has a 2x "precision" digital zoom that enlarges the image degrading image quality, and a 3.3x "smart" zoom that you can use in VGA mode - the smart zoom allows you to zoom into the image but doesn't degrade image quality.

Movie: The movie mode offers 640x480 / 30fps when using a PRO memory card. The camera also has a 160x120 video mode, and no 320x240 video mode unfortunately. The movie mode is very good, although you'll need a large memory card, as the camera does not use MPEG4, and a 128mb card will only fit 1 minute 36 seconds at the highest video quality!

Size + Compression options: The choices are 4mp, 3:2, 3mp, 1mp, VGA. Compression options are Fine or Standard. There's quite a good choice here, with the 3:2 aspect ratio being especially useful for people wanting to print their images at the traditional 6"x4" size.

Flash Performance: The flash performed quite well in the photos I took and performed better when the subject was closer to the camera - however I wouldn't expect the camera to light up large rooms. The flash can be adjusted in camera to +1 or -1.

Value for Money: Currently at £175 the Sony Cybershot DSC-L1 offers average/good value for money, as it is around the same price as the Canon Digital IXUS 40, and Fuji Finepix F440, however the Olympus Mju Mini Digital, Konica Minolta Dimage X50, and Casio Exilim EX-S100 are cheaper.

Alternative ultra compact digital cameras:

Casio Exilim EX-S500 (5mp version of the S100),
Casio Exilim EX-S100 (3mp, Highly Recommended)

Canon Digital IXUS 30 / 40 / 50 (3, 4 and 5 megapixel),
Canon Digital IXUS i / i5
(4 or 5 megapixel with no zoom),
Pentax Optio S5n
Konica Minolta Dimage X50 (5mp, 2" screen)
Konica Minolta Dimage X60 (5mp, 2.5" screen)
Sony Cybershot DSC-T7
(Ultra slim 5 megapixel),
Olympus Mju Mini Digital
(4 or 5 megapixel versions available in various colours)
Fuji Finepix F440 (4 megapixel),
Fuji Finepix F450
(5 megapixel),
Nikon Coolpix S1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7
(5mp with image stabilisation).

Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices. See more suggestions sorted by megapixels here.

Conclusion: The Sony Cybershot DSC-L1 is a very compact 4 megapixel digital camera packed into a solid metal body. The camera produces rich vibrant saturated colours and is capable of producing some very pleasing images. The camera gives you good control by allowing you to change the saturation, sharpness, and contrast of the picture. The camera features a very good movie mode, focuses well in low light, is quick in use and has a good screen that's usable in low-light as well as in sunshine. There are some problems, such as the expensive proprietry memory format, the slightly soft images, small screen, and tripod adapter, however the ease of use, speed of use, and high pocketability make up for most problems. I enjoyed using this camera, and took it nearly everywhere I went so that I had a camera with me at all times - Recommended!

Sony Cybershot DSC-L1 Rating: Recommended!
Buy now: £175 | $229

What I like:

  • Very compact
  • Very solid metal body
  • Rich vibrant saturated colours
  • Saturation, Sharpness, Contrast Controls
  • Info-Lithium battery displays remaining life in minutes
  • Very good movie mode (640x480/30fps with Pro memory cards)
  • Focus assist lamp allows the camera to focus in low-light
  • Quick switch on time / shot to shot time (especially quick when review is switched off).
  • Excellent screen - usable in bright sunlight with the backlight off to save battery life.
  • Live histogram
  • Good battery life

What I don't like:

  • Slightly uncomfortable in trouser pockets due to spikey bits on the back.
  • Screen will only gain up in dark conditions when you a) half press the shutter, or b) set the camera to a different mode such as night mode
  • Expensive proprietry memory cards. Plus there are different kinds (Pro are required for high quality video) and sizes of Sony memory sticks (this camera will only take the smaller DUO cards, and not the normal larger Sony memory sticks).
  • Small 1.5" screen
  • Doesn't remember colour mode when switched off/on.
  • Mini-Tripod socket requires adapter.
  • High noise when ISO is at 200 or above (especially noticable in black and white photos)
  • Soft images
  • No custom white balance

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the new gallery.