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Sony Cybershot DSC-U40 - Digital Camera Review
Introduction: The Sony Cybershot U40 is an ultra compact metal bodied 2 megapixel digital camera with a fixed auto focus lens (equivalent to 33mm on a 35mm camera). It has a 1" Colour TFT screen. The camera comes with an 8mb Sony Memory Stick DUO memory card, and can be upgraded with an additional Sony Memory Stick DUO card. The camera takes 2 AAA batteries. The camera also records unlimited 320x240 videos at 8fps without sound. The camera can be bought for 99 / $175 from Amazon. The camera is very compact with a size and weight as follows: Dimensions: 83 x 39 x 26 mm (3.3 x 1.5 x 1.0 in). Weight: 114g (without batteries or recording media). Check Latest price on Amazon.co.uk

The camera offers decent value for money for an ultra compact metal digital camera, especially since the recent price drops.

Sony have this to say about the camera:

"The stylish U40 camera will come in four colors (silver, black, dark blue and red) that match your mood or your outfit. Slide the front cover sideways and the two-megapixel camera comes to life in under one second—giving enough time to capture candid shots. "Life happens in the blink of an eye, and the U40 camera is ready when you are," said Steve Haber, senior vice president for Sony Electronics' Personal Mobile and Imaging Division. "It's about the size of a candy bar, but full featured enough to ensure that the shots turn out great."

You can find out more about the Sony Cybershot U40 in the Press Release (at DCViews).

The Camera: It's compact and made out of shiney metal.


Front - Camera off. Sliding lens-cover, Flash.


Front - Camera on, lens and self-timer light.


Back - the 1" TFT screen, Menu, Flash, Scene, Exec/Zoom, USB connection (under cover on right), Strap hole.


Top - shutter release, power on/off, and mode switch(play, record, video).


Bottom, under the camera is the reset button, and no tripod socket.


Left Side (from back) - Nothing to see here.


On this side is the wrist strap hole, battery compartment and memory compartment.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic, this camera is much smaller than the Pentax.


There is no optical viewfinder.


Size comparison next to the Olympus Mju Mini Digital / Stylus Verve.


Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 2.0 million pixel CCD
  • Fixed focal length lens, 33 mm equiv. F2.8
  • 1 inch, 2.5 cm LCD (64,000 pixels)
  • Fast start-up time
  • Auto macro (10cm)
  • PictBridge compatible
  • Low power consumption; operates on 2xAAA batteries
  • Movie capture (320x240pixels) at 8 frames per second
  • Burst mode (10fps VGA, 2fps 2m)
  • 5 scene modes: Twilight, Active Outdoor, Soft Snap, Illumination Snap, Vivid Nature

Full Specifications can be found at DPreview.

Box Contents:

  • Camera
  • Strap
  • 8MB Sony Memory Stick DUO and adapter
  • Battery charger
  • USB cable
  • 2 Rechargable 'AAA' batteries
  • Software CD-ROM
  • Manual (90 page)

Quite good box contents - It's nice to see a decent manual, and rechargable batteries and a charger, but a case, and a larger memory card would have been nice.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the switch on the top of the camera, this switches between photo, playback and video mode.

Photo mode: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown below:

The options are: Photo - size/burst (2m, VGA), focus (auto, manual - 0.2m, 0.5m, 1.0m, infinite), selftimer (on/off), white-balance. LCD - light on/off, display on/off. Settings - clock set, beep, usb (normal, ptp), language. Card - format, create folder, change folder. There is no custom white balance.

Video mode: The video mode has the same menu options as the photo mode, except the size choice is 320x240 or 160x112.

Playback mode: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown below:

In playback mode the options are: Play - Delete, Delete in Folder, Index, DPOF. LCD, and Setup options are the same as the photo mode options. The card options are: Format, Print, and Change folder.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures / and the following number of images will fit on the 8mb memory card: (an extra memory card is recommended)

Number of Photos Stored / Quality / (Average file size)

Resolution:

2M - 1632 x 1224 VGA - 640 x 480 320x240 video
Number: 19 (400kb) 100 (55kb) 1min 26 seconds

You can't fit very many images on the provided 8mb memory card - a larger memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower megapixel setting (ie VGA). There is a fairly poor choice of image size and compression levels available.

Speed, ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, quick to switch on and quick to take photos, the controls on the back of the camera are easy to use. The screen updates are quick and smooth. The camera speed in use, seems quick when taking a photo, and shot to shot time is good. The camera is very compact, and very easily fits into pockets. The menus are easy to pick up and use, and the modes are easy to access (due to there only being photo/video/playback), the menus seem quick.

Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons, although in playback mode, you can zoom in to the middle of the image, but you can't scroll around the image, perhaps with more buttons this would have been possible. The buttons feel okay, they are also labelled fairly well, although they could be a bit small for some people.

The buttons on the back of the camera quickly give you access to: Menu, Flash, Scene, OK.

Battery usage: Battery life seems very good - using the supplied rechargable Ni-MH AAA batteries, I only charged them once, about a week or more ago, and haven't had to charge them again since. You can also switch off the LCD backlight to save power even more.

LCD Display (Photo mode / Playback mode):


LCD display in photo mode: Battery life (this is displayed at all times), Picture size / quality, Folder (>101), remaining pictures / memory left, Flash setting.

LCD display in photo mode: The screen is a decent resolution, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. The screen shows how many remaining photos you can take with the available memory, as well as current mode etc, although unfortunately the camera does not show aperture / shutter speed and there is no live histogram - this isn't a huge issue however.

Playback mode: The camera displays the information as shown above. Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom is fairly quick, but you can't scroll around the photo. Playback menu options are discussed above.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Full size (and medium size) versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the new gallery!

Inside:

Tom and Helen 2 people Group photo

Inside: The camera has a small flash, but still copes well with group photos. Red eye was noticable on a lot of the photos - however the photos colour and detail is good. Some of the images are slightly soft. The camera did okay focusing in low light, but not brilliantly.

Noise: Noise generally is a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, due to this the usual noise test picture has not been used, these crops are cropped from the images used in the gallery. The ISO levels ranged between 100 (outside) and 250 inside, when using the VGA mode, the ISO level occassionally went up to 320.

ISO100 - 100% ISO160 - 100% ISO250 - 100%

Noise levels between ISO100 and ISO200 are fairly low, although there is some "grain". ISO250 doesn't seem terribly worse though.

Outside:

Clock Tower Unisys Building Heather, and People (grey day)

Outside the camera had good colour, with fairly low noise, I didn't notice jpeg artifacts in the images. Images are a tiny bit soft.

Zoom: This camera has no optical zoom and no digital zoom, so I'll skip this section.

Other Image Quality issues: Chromatic Aberrations / Purple Fringing was not noticable in photos.

Macro: When this camera is in macro mode, you can use the flash. This camera can focus down to roughly 10cm in macro mode. You don't have to switch the camera to a special macro mode, the camera simply focuses automatically on the subject.

Macro - Timex Watch Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is okay - you can't get very close, and detail is a bit soft. The camera does a good job of toning down the flash. Colour is good.

Movie: 320x240 / 160x120 - 8fps without sound. The movie is recorded as an .MPG file. Length is limited only by the size of the memory card.


Quick clip from the Simpsons - Download 320x240/8fps movie
Click here. (right click, save target as, 500kb MPG) (saved as Zip file)

The quality of the movie(s) is just about okay, in that colour and focus are okay - but 320 x 240/8fps without sound is very poor / choppy.

Conclusion

Image: When outside image quality is quite good - colour is good, although images are a bit soft. There is very little purple fringing. Image compression doesn't seem to cause jpeg artifacts, although there is a fairly poor range of image sizes and compression options. The macro mode is average. The flash didn't cause problems when the subject was close. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be good. The movie mode is worse than average, at 8fps without sound. When inside, the camera does an an okay job of focusing, but the camera has a weak flash and causes fairly bad red-eye. Colour is quite good.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is very very small, easy to use, and quick in operation. The 1" screen updates smoothly and has accurate colour but is very small. The camera is very easy to use, the menu systems being easy to use, if a bit basic in the amount of options and features available. Camera handling, and button layout are good, but again, a bit limiting. The camera speed is good in use, shot to shot time is good, especially in burst mode, and the camera has a fast switch on time. Other complaints are that it takes Sony Memory Sticks (expensive), and there is no custom white balance, however there is a psuedo manual focusing mode that lets you choose from 4 distances.

Alternative ultra compact digital cameras: Olympus Mju Mini Digital (£195 - read my review), Canon IXUS i (£172), IXUS 30/40 (£230), IXUS IIs (£172), Nikon Coolpix 3200 (125), Konica Minolta X31 (£117 - read my review), Konica Minolta Dimage XG (160), Konica Minolta Dimage X50 (£236), Sony Cybershot DSC-U40 (£99), L1 (£196), T1 (£299), T3 (£313), Casio Exilim EX-S100, EX-Z30 (£192), EX-Z40 (£215), Panasonic Lumix FX2, FX7 (£289 - read my review), Pentax Optio S4i, S5i (£256). Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices.

Summary: The Sony Cybershot U40 is an ultra compact 2 megapixel digital camera with a small 1" colour screen. The camera generates good pictures, with good colour, although images are a bit soft. The camera can also record unlimited videos without sound. The camera has a quick switch on time, and a quick shot to shot time. For around 90/£99 (UK) this camera offers fairly good value for money, especially for such a small, "take anywhere" digital camera. If you want an easy to use, ultra compact digital camera that produces decent 2 megapixel images on a budget, then this is well worth considering. Bottom line: images aren't brilliant, and there is no optical zoom, but for a fun ultra compact digital camera that you can take anywhere, this fits the bill, recommended. Check Latest price on Amazon.co.uk

To buy the Sony Cybershot U40, you will find the best prices on dealtime.co.uk. Those who like the look of the U40, but would like something more advanced should check out the Sony Cybershot L1, a 4 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens, and a larger 1.5" screen: available for £195 from amazon.co.uk.

What I like:

  • Very Easy to use. (fun)
  • VERY small and stylish, take anywhere.
  • Quick switch on time, shot to shot time.
  • Includes rechargable batteries and charger.
  • Good quality screen.
  • Take 'AAA' batteries.

What I don't like:

  • Sony Memory Stick DUO - costs 4 times as much as SD / CF, twice as much as XD!
  • VERY small screen
  • Doesn't record sound on videos - Poor video mode
  • No optical or digital zoom
  • Only comes with 8mb memory card

Remember to have a look at the full size (and medium size) versions of these photos in the new gallery.