Camera Reviews
by Brad Soo on March 2 2009

sony s950 prev

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)

sony s950 intro

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.

Accessories

The only few accessories available to the Sony Cyber-shot S950 are an AC adapter and various camera cases.


Camera Tour

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.

sony s950 front

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.

sony s950 back

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.

sony s950 top

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.

sony s950 side1

Well, this side of the Cyber-shot S950 is blank…

sony s950 side2sony s950 ports

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.

sony s950 bottom

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)

sony s950 scr1

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.

sony s950 scr2sony s950 scr3

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.

sony s950 scr4

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.

Video Recording

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.

Performance

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).

Image Quality

Time for image quality tests with the S950:

iso100

ISO 100 (f2.5, 1/8 sec)

iso200

ISO 200 (f2.5, 1/20 sec)

iso400

ISO 400 (f2.5, 1/30 sec)

iso800

ISO 800 (f2.5, 1/80 sec)

iso1600

ISO 1600 (f2.5, 1/125 sec)

iso3200

ISO 3200 (f2.5, 1/250 sec)

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

Photo gallery

Be sure to visit the Sony Cyber-Shot S950 photo gallery for full-sized images taken with the camera.


Playback

sony s950 scr5sony s950 scr6

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.

sony s950 scr7

In playback mode, you can view some shooting details, exposure information and even a histogram. That’s decent for an entry-level camera.

Conclusion

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.

What’s hot:

  • 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

What’s not:

  • Some color fringing and softness in photos
  • No optical image stabilization; small buttons
  • Low resolution movie mode
  • Below average performance; especially in low-light

Recommended Accessories:

2 GB Memory Stick PRO Duo memory card


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9 Comments

  1. Chris Pitts May 3, 2009 Reply

    The first week that I used my new DSC-S950 I was on vacation. I got some great shots. although I did have one proplem. I shot a short video clip with the camera then shut it off put it back in its case atached to my belt.I walked about ten minutes and wanted to take another photo, pulled it out and turned it on and the camera no longer would recognize the memory stick. 270 shots and 2 short video clips were sudenly no longer available to me and the memory is unusable. I have sent the memorv stick to a company in Clearwater FL. called LC technolagy to see if they can recover the data on the card. If they can it will cost me $125.00 us dollars, but I know there were some great shots there. I am quite dissapointed and Dont understand how this happened. SONY tech support cant or wont tell me what happened either

    Dont konw wether I should keep it or try to replace it with another model

    • Ashish September 22, 2009 Reply

      Hi Chris,

      What company card were you using? I see a similar issue as well.

      Thanks,
      Ashish

    • Dejan September 23, 2009 Reply

      I would advice you to try a Memory Stick Pro Duo (MAGIC GATE-beware there are some Memory Stick Pro Duo which is not MAGIC GATE on the market!!) first. If still does not work I would advise you to look for a Canon which support a less cheaper SD memory card. In my opinion, Sony and Canon are the best brands concerning photography and so far, I have not been disappointed with the quality of their products. Good luck!

  2. Rob Sundberg June 14, 2009 Reply

    I also had trouble with my DSC-S950 and it’s memory stick. After filming two short videos I turned the camera off. When I turned it back on the camera no longer would recognize the memory sticak and the memory stick is now unusable. This seems to be a Sony problem with this camera.

  3. Joanna August 24, 2009 Reply

    Sony camera can only use sony memory card… I'm not sure if you guys had a memory card that was sony, but that's one of the main issues ppl have trouble with

  4. Dejan Stankovic September 6, 2009 Reply

    I was really surprised to see such negative comments!!I possess a Sony Cyber-shot S 950 since 1 month now and I have not encountered any major problem so far. The quality picture outdoors is excellent. Taking landscape and portrait pictures outside was real fun. However, you need to adjust the proper settings before using it indoors (preferably use the Program mode and adjust the ISO mode to ISO 100), and still the picture quality is very good. The flash does a great job too. The optical X4 zoom is outstanding.

    Having used a Canon Ixus 95 before it got stolen, I know what I am saying! Agree the video mode is a little bit below average (I hardly make any use of it anyway..), but this is not a bad camera at all. In fact, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quality camera from a recognized brand and which takes quality pictures. And yes, buy genuine Sony products…not imitations!!!

  5. BELINDA April 26, 2011 Reply

    Ihave a sony DSC-S950 and the flash dont work, i have tried all settings ect, can the flash be replaced any help would be grateful thank you!!

  6. Ed June 3, 2011 Reply

    Overall I was happy with the camera picture quallity and features but the video quallity when viewing them on my computer was horribe. No matter what media player I used to view them would not help the poor clarity and fuzzy look of the video. I was very disapointed with it for that reason because I wanted a camera that had both decent quallity for pics and short video. If you really want good quallity videos I would avoid this model. I’ve always liked Sony products but this perchace has made me question continuing buying Sony stuff.

  7. Faith September 12, 2012 Reply

    Hey Michelle.That is very odd that a sales person would talk you out of this lens. I know a ton of papoogrhthers that shoot with it and would recommend it. I promise you would not be disapointed with it. If you have any more questions, please do let me know!

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