Hey DPInterface readers, how time flies… it’s Monday again. How about a review of a brand new camera? I’ve just published my review of the Sony Cyber-Shot S950, Sony’s latest 2009 entry-level camera. Do visit the Sony Cyber-Shot S950 photo gallery as well, for full-sized photos. Hit the link for the full review of the camera.
DPInterface Sony Cyber-Shot S950 Review
Brad Soo – March 2nd, 2009 (Updated March 13th, 2009)
Today we’re gonna take a look at Sony’s latest entry-level camera – the Cyber-shot S950. Introduced quietly this year, the S950 has 10 megapixels, a 4X optical zoom lens, 2.7 inch LCD and now comes with a lithium-ion rechargeable battery (versus AA batteries on the old S-series).
With plenty of entry-level choices out there, how does the Sony Cyber-shot S950 perform? Let’s have a look now.
Size and Weight
(185.2) 92.1 x 62.0 x 31.1 mm (140 g) – Canon PowerShot A480
(171.0) 97.0 x 56.0 x 18.0 mm (100 g) – Casio Exilim S5
(173.7) 91.5 x 60.5 x 21.7 mm (130 g) – Fujifilm FinePix A150
(164.4) 91.0 x 56.0 x 17.4 mm (97 g) – Fujifilm FinePix J20
(173.2) 95.5 x 58.5 x 19.2 mm (115 g) – Kodak EasyShare M340
(163.0) 89.5 x 55.5 x 18.0 mm (100 g) – Nikon Coolpix S220
(168.0) 91.0 x 57.0 x 20.0 mm (115 g) – Nikon Coolpix S230
(166.6) 93.0 x 55.8 x 17.8 mm (108 g) – Olympus FE3010
(173.3) 96.1 x 56.6 x 20.6 mm (130 g) – Olympus FE5010
(188.5) 96.7 x 62.0 x 29.8 mm (128 g) – Panasonic Lumix LS85
(181.0) 97.5 x 60.0 x 23.5 mm (110 g) – Pentax Optio E70
(172.7) 93.1 x 55.7 x 23.8 mm (135 g) – Sony Cyber-shot S950
All the weight figures above show when the camera is empty without a battery or memory card
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 is in the middle of the pack compared to most cameras in its class. It’s not as slim as, say Sony’s own T900, but it’ll fit easily into your pocket.
Camera box contents
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 comes with an average bundle:
- NP-BK1 Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB and A/V Out cables
- Camera software CD (Picture Motion Browser)
- User’s manual
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 uses Memory Stick Duo memory cards but it doesn’t come with one. Instead, it has 12 MB of built-in memory which holds just 2 photos at the highest settings. I’d recommend getting a 2 GB card with the camera to start with.
One thing that has changed on the Cyber-shot S950 is that now it uses the NP-BK1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery and comes with a charger in the box. The good thing is you don’t need to buy a set of rechargeables, and the camera is slimmer compared to most cameras which use AA batteries. The bad thing is AA batteries are easily found in shops if you run out of juice – you can’t do the same with proprietary li-ion batteries.
470 shots – Canon PowerShot A480
150 shots – Fujifilm FinePix A150
165 shots – Fujifilm FinePix J20
320 shots – Kodak EasyShare M340
180 shots – Nikon Coolpix S220
160 shots – Nikon Coolpix S230
180 shots – Olympus FE5010
550 shots – Panasonic Lumix LS85
620 shots – Pentax Optio E70 (Using lithium batteries)
330 shots – Sony Cyber-shot S950
All the cameras above are rated with rechargeable batteries with LCD on according to CIPA Standard
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 manages to achieve 330 shots per charge (CIPA Standard) which is pretty good, considering the camera uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery. Normally, it’s the cameras which use AA batteries (NiMH, of course) that manage to achieve battery life over the 200-shot mark.
The only few accessories available to the Sony Cyber-shot S950 are an AC adapter and various camera cases.
In terms of design, the Sony Cyber-shot S950 is no supermodel, but it isn’t exactly ugly with its conventional looks either. Though the camera is made of plastic, it doesn’t exactly feel flimsy in hand; in fact, the case doesn’t creak or flex when you grip the S950 tightly. The only design quirks I had were the compartment door with so-so quality and buttons on the back, which were a bit small for my liking.
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 comes in three colors: silver, black and pink. The one I have here is the black S950, and I must say that offering this color was a very wise move by Sony – it makes the S950 look like anything but an entry level camera. In other words, the camera doesn’t look ‘cheap’ in any way.
We’ll start touring the Sony Cyber-shot S950 from the front. There’s a 4X optical zoom lens equivalent to 33 – 132 mm. The lens is quite fast on the wide-end with an aperture range of f2.5 – f5.6. There’s NO optical image stabilization on this lens; instead, the S950 features digital image stabilization which I’ll talk about later.
To the upper left of the lens is the camera’s flash unit whose power is slightly below average. At Auto ISO and wide-angle, it has a range of 50 cm to 3.5 m and at telephoto, the maximum range drops to 1.5 m. Directly below the flash are the S950’s three microphone holes. The circle to the top right side on the front is the self-timer light – the Cyber-shot S950 lacks an autofocus assist lamp.
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 has a 2.7 inch LCD screen on the back. The screen has 230,400 pixels and has average outdoor visibility and in low-light, the image on-screen brightens up well.
All the S950’s controls are located to the right of the screen and as I mentioned earlier, some of the camera’s buttons are on the small side. First off is the camera’s zoom controller, followed by the mode dial. The mode dial has just a handful of modes you can select:
- Program mode
- Movie mode
- Other scene modes (Twilight, twilight portrait, soft snap, landscape, beach, snow, backlight, backlight portrait, normal portrait)
- High sensitivity
- Easy mode
- Auto mode
Between the mode dial and navigation pad below is the MENU button. You know what it does… So now I’ll head on to the navigation pad itself:
- Up – Display; toggles the information being showed on the LCD
- Down – Self-timer (Off, 2 seconds, 10 seconds)
- Left – Macro (On/off)
- Right – Flash setting (Auto, flash on, slow sync, flash off)
- Center – Confirm
There are two more buttons towards the bottom of the camera: to directly access playback and another button to select image resolution – The latter doubles to delete photos in playback mode.
There are only three items worthy of note up here: towards the left is the camera’s speaker and on the right is the power on/off and shutter buttons.
Well, this side of the Cyber-shot S950 is blank…
Over to the other side are a wrist strap loop and the camera’s ports. Peeling back the cover over the ports; there’s one for the optional AC adapter and another for both USB and A/V Out connectivity. The Sony Cyber-shot S950 supports USB 2.0 High-speed connectivity.
At the bottom of the camera is its battery/memory card compartment and tripod mount. You definitely won’t be able to swap memory cards or batteries when the camera is attached to a tripod.
Taking pictures (Shooting mode)
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 doesn’t skimp on shooting details – it shows you various camera settings, exposure information, a live histogram and even a zoom indicator.
There are just a handful of image resolution settings available on the Cyber-shot S950: 10 MP, 5 MP, 3 MP, VGA, 3:2 or 16:9 cropped resolutions. There are no image compression options available here.
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 has just one conventional menu system and lacks the infamous Home Menu found in more expensive Sony cameras (a good thing in my opinion, the Home Menu is very confusing and highly redundant). Anyway here’s what the S950’s menu contains:
- Steady Shot (Off/auto)
- Face detection
- Record mode (Single-shot, burst mode, focus preset, infinity)
- Exposure compensation (+/-2 EV in 1/3 step increments)
- ISO sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1,2 & 3, incandescent, flash)
- Flash power (Low, standard, high)
- Redeye reduction
- Color mode
- Setup area (customize things like the date/time and format the memory card here)
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 has a very misleading “Steady Shot image stabilization” system. Unlike more expensive Sony cameras which have optical image stabilization, the S950’s “Steady Shot” here is in fact DIGITAL image stabilization. Digital image stabilization is nowhere close to the real thing, and merely boosts ISO (and thus, lower image quality) so the camera can use a faster shutter speed.
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 has an “Easy” shooting mode which offers a very basic interface for hassle-free point-and-shoot operation. You can’t adjust any settings and the only things you’ll see are the number of remaining shots and a zoom indicator.
The Sony S950 also has a decent macro mode with a minimum focus distance of 5 cm at wide-angle and 50 cm at telephoto. In Easy Mode, macro mode is activated automatically.
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 has a sub-par movie mode for both a 2009 camera and even in the entry-level category. You can record QVGA (320 x 240) movie clips at 30 FPS with sound – even some cameraphones can take better video.
No other options are available; no zoom or focusing while recording, what I described above is all you’ll get. Video quality was decent with okay sound quality.
All performance testing of the Sony Cyber-Shot S950 was performed using a 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II Memory Stick PRO Duo card.
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 has a so-so startup time of 2.2 seconds. From there, focusing takes 0.2 to 0.5 seconds in bright light, and in low-light, that can drag things up to over a second. Focusing in low-light was on the sluggish side and the camera didn’t manage to focus most of the time (thanks to the lack of an AF-assist lamp).
- Shot-to-shot speed – 1 shot every 2.2 seconds, fast
- Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery – 5 seconds on average
There’s a burst mode on the Sony Cyber-shot S950 where the camera shoots at just one frame per second. The zoom lens moves from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.5 seconds and the camera powers down in two seconds with the lens at telephoto.
Overall, the Sony Cyber-shot S950 is not a fast-performing camera. You’ll be able to take snapshots, sure, but this isn’t the camera for a lot of fast action (kids, pets and sports).
Time for image quality tests with the S950:
In terms of image quality, images are decent at the lower ISO 100 and 200 settings. We start seeing more noise in the ISO 400 crop and it gets quite bad by the time you reach ISO 800 (details are lost, lots of noise). Image quality only gets way worse as we enter ISO 1600 and 3200, both of which are completely unusable
I did notice some color fringing (chromatic aberration) and redeye in photos at times – in fact you can even see a bit of fringing in the crops above. The Cyber-shot S950 produced mild barrel distortion and low pincushion distortion. Overall, the Sony Cyber-shot S950 takes just decent photos up till ISO 400; and combined with its poor low-light performance, I would stick to shooting in bright light only with the S950. The camera’s “high sensitivity” or “digital image stabilization” aren’t helpful at all here, since the S950 doesn’t already have good noise characteristics in the first place
Be sure to visit the Sony Cyber-Shot S950 photo gallery for full-sized images taken with the camera.
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 has a pretty basic playback mode. You can play back photos and video with sound, and there are the regular functions like DPOF print marking, image protection, resizing and rotation. There’s also a basic slideshow feature, thumbnail view and playback zoom. Sony includes some “retouching” features such as redeye correction and image trimming as well.
In playback mode, you can view some shooting details, exposure information and even a histogram. That’s decent for an entry-level camera.
The Sony Cyber-shot S950 is a decently designed entry-level camera which doesn’t look or feel cheap… I did find the camera’s buttons to be on the small side though. The S950 has 10 megapixels of resolution, a 4X zoom lens, 2.7 inch LCD, face detection and automatic shooting.
The Cyber-shot S950 appeals to people who want a basic camera with simple operation because the S950 is strictly point-and-shoot and you can’t possibly go wrong (especially with the camera’s “Easy mode”, which does exactly what it sounds). Even Sony’s infamous (and ever confusing) Home Menu is missing on this camera; but to me, that’s good news. If you’re looking for manual controls on the S950, you’ll be disappointed.
The Cyber-shot S950 has its fair share of issues though – such as slow performance and outdated movie mode, even for an entry-level camera. The camera’s playback mode offers only bare bone functions so no photo editing or effects here.
Bottom line is, the Sony Cyber-shot S950 is reserved only for taking pictures (not videos); casual and non-spontaneous ones in bright light to be precise. Image quality was just average too, not best-in-class, so make sure you take a look at competing cameras before you buy.
- Decent image quality (with some issues)
- Above average 4X zoom lens; good LCD display
- Good battery life; bundled with rechargeable li-ion battery
- ”Easy mode” is simple to use
- Some color fringing and softness in photos
- No optical image stabilization; small buttons
- Low resolution movie mode
- Below average performance; especially in low-light
2 GB Memory Stick PRO Duo memory card