DPInterface Sony Cyber-shot S600 Review
Brad Soo - June 11th, 2006

New to the Cyber-shot S-series of entry level cameras is the S600, which replaces 2005's S40. The Sony Cyber-shot S600 features 6 megapixels, a 31 mm "wide-angle" lens, 2 inch LCD and high sensitivity mode. With competition like the Canon A430 and Panasonic LS2 featuring a big 4x lens and optical image stabilization respectively, how does the S600 stand up against them? Find out now.

Sony S600 vs Sony W30 comparison

Sony has two 6 megapixel cameras with 2 inch LCDs selling for about the same price; the Cyber-shot S600 and W30. Here are the differences:

 

Sony S600

Sony W30

Original retail/
current price*

$199/$189

$229/$219

Resolution

6.0 megapixels

6.0 megapixels

CCD sensor size

1/2.5 inch

1/2.5 inch

Lens specifications

31 - 93 mm
f2.8 - f5.1

38 - 114 mm
f2.8 - f5.2

LCD size

2.0 inch
(85k pixels)

2.0 inch
(85k pixels)

Conversion lenses

No

Yes

Macro mode

No

Yes (2 cm)

Internal memory

32 MB internal memory

Color modes

No

Yes

Function guide

No

Yes

Max flash range

11.0 m

7.3 m

Burst mode

1.3 FPS/7 shots

1.4 FPS/3 shots

WB presets

4

5

Battery life

460 shots

400 shots

Power source

2 AA batteries

NP-BG1 lithium-ion

Dimensions (mm)

99.9 x 52.0 x 36.8

89.0 x 59.0 x 23.0

Weight (g)

133 g

123 g

*As of June 11th, 2006

Size and Weight

Here's how small and light the S600 is compared to other entry-level cameras:

(195.0)  103.0 x 51.8 x 40.2 mm (160 g) - Canon PowerShot A430
(177.2) 90.0 x 60.0 x 27.2 mm (136 g) - Casio Exilim Z110
(180.5)  93.0 x 60.0 x 27.5 mm (140 g) - Fujifilm FinePix A500
(188.0)  95.0 x 62.0 x 31.0 mm (139 g) - HP Photosmart M425
(190.1)  92.2 x 65.7 x 32.2 mm (145 g) - Kodak EasyShare C643
(177.5)  91.0 x 60.5 x 26.0 mm (120 g) - Nikon Coolpix L3
(185.0)  96.0 x 63.0 x 26.0 mm (130 g) - Olympus FE130
(194.9)  110.5 x 53.5 x 30.9 mm (138 g) - Panasonic Lumix LS2
(190.0)  91.0 x 61.0 x 38.0 mm (150 g) - Pentax Optio 60
(188.7)  99.9 x 52.0 x 36.8 mm (133 g) - Sony Cyber-shot S600
(169.0)  89.0 x 57.0 x 23.0 mm (127 g) - Sony Cyber-shot W30

As usual, I've included the "DPI measurement unit" (As opposed to volume) on the left for a more accurate impression of a camera's size.

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 is one of the mid-sized entry-level cameras and it's fairly light. It can fit into your pocket with ease.

Open up the Box

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 has a very small and basic bundle which includes:

  • 2 AA alkaline batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cables
  • CD-ROM

Storage and Power

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 includes 32 MB of built-in memory so it'll be wise to get at east a 512 MB Memory Stick PRO Duo right away. Thankfully, those tiny cards by Sony have gotten much cheaper - the last time I check, they were selling at around the same price as their SD counterparts

360 shots - Canon PowerShot A430
180 shots - Casio Exilim Z110
350 shots - Fujifilm FinePix A500
N/A - HP Photosmart M425
N/A - Kodak EasyShare C643
330 shots - Nikon Coolpix L3
N/A - Olympus FE130
390 shots - Panasonic Lumix LS2
270 shots - Pentax Optio 60
460 shots - Sony Cyber-shot S600
400 shots - Sony Cyber-shot W30

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 has the best battery life rating of the bunch. It can take 460 shots (CIPA Standard) with 2 AA batteries - rechargeable of course. And don't forget to get a set of 4 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and a fast 15 minute charger since Sony includes throw-away batteries.

 

Extras

There are only 2 accessories for this entry-level camera: An external slave flash and an AC adapter.

Camera Tour

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 has a simple design, similar to other entry-level cameras like the Canon A430 and Panasonic LS2. On the front is a very small retractable lens where two small "leaves" cover the lens when the camera is off. All of the buttons at the back are grouped to one area though the camera's rather small buttons make single-handed shooting difficult.

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 has a tiny 3x optical zoom lens which has a focal length of 5.1 - 15.3 mm and aperture range of f2.8 - f5.1. In 35 mm terms, that's a wide-ish 31 - 93 mm. Sony says it's a wide-angle lens but I'd say it's somewhere in between wide (28 mm) and normal (35 mm). Anyhow, with a 31 mm lens, you'll get 10% more picture than you would with a 35 mm lens. In return for a more wide-angled lens, you get less reach at the telephoto end.

Near the lens is a viewfinder window. On the other side, there's a self-timer/AF-assist lamp and flash. At ISO Auto, the maximum range is 7 m and at ISO 1000, it's 11 m. That's very powerful from a camera and flash this size.

There's an average sized 2 inch LCD at the back with a below average 85,000 pixels. Low light visibility was good since the camera brightened things up. Outdoors, things were okay with some glare from the LCD at times. The LCD was still not very sharp though. Thankfully, there's an optical viewfinder to the top left along with 2 status lights.

Directly above the LCD is a mode switch which I'll discuss later. Moving on to the right and there's a tiny "smiley face" zoom controller which is also the place to rest your thumb. I did find the zoom controller to be too tiny though; making it a little unresponsive.

Next up is the 5-way controller and 3 other buttons squashed in the tiny space below. The MENU button does just what it sounds while the 5-way controller does the following:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, on, off, slow sync - red-eye reduction is turned on/off in the menu)
  • Down - Self-timer (On, off)
  • Left - Quick review; displays the photo you last took
  • Right - Metering method (Multi, spot)
  • Center - OK (in menus), exit playback zoom (playback)

Next is the display button which toggles the amount of info displayed on the LCD. There is a live histogram in one of those displays. The final button brings up image resolution selection while shooting and deletes photos in playback

Up here there's a microphone, power button, shutter button and the mode switch I was talking about. The mode switch moves you around playback, still shooting and movie mode.

Over here is a compartment so you can pop in 2 AA batteries. The door is fairly sturdy and it has a locking mechanism. Nearby is an access light (the stray dot) which blinks when the Memory Stick Duo is being accessed. Above that is a wrist strap mount.

There's a USB 2.0 High Speed port here covered by a rubber seal which is attached to the camera so you won't lose it. So what's missing? The Sony S600 doesn't have an A/V Out port which allows you to attach the camera to your TV.

At the bottom is a Memory Stick Duo slot with a little flap. While there's no lock here, the door clicks shut when closed. I found it easier to remove the card compared to the H5, which also uses a small door like this. The cover below that is where you'll put in the AC adapter to connect into the DC-IN battery.

Towards the left is a speaker and metal tripod mount. And guess what? Since the tripod mount is across the world from the MS Duo and battery slots, you can swap either/both while the camera is on a tripod. The downside is the camera will tilt if attached to smaller tripods.

Shooting

As with the W30, you can select from six image resolutions on the S600; 6 megapixels (with a 3:2 option), 3 megapixels, 2 megapixels (with a widescreen 16:9 option) and VGA plus two compression options - Fine and Standard. I'd recommend using 6 megapixels and Fine for everyday shooting. But why use the highest resolution? Well, you'd mind as well buy a lower megapixel camera or even a camera-phone if you're gonna use smaller resolutions... and you can always crop and downsize from there. I find the most cameras, including this one, mush up the photo slightly when using smaller settings.

Despite being an entry-level camera, the Sony Cyber-shot S600 has some menu options for you to tweak:

  • Sub shooting mode (Auto, Program, High Sensitivity, Scene modes [Twilight, twilight portrait, soft snap, landscape, beach, snow])
  • Exposure compensation (2 in 1/3 increments)
  • Autofocus (Multi, center)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent)
  • ISO (80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1000)
  • Drive (Single shot, continuous, multi-burst)
  • Multi-burst interval (1/7.5 sec, 1/15 sec, 1/30 sec)
  • Flash output level (Low, normal, high)
  • Photo effects (Monochrome, sepia)
  • Contrast, sharpness and saturation

And should I point out that the Sony Cyber-shot S600 is missing a macro mode so the "auto macro" lets you get as close as a far 12 cm! Overall, the Sony Cyber-shot S600 is an easy to use camera. While the camera has no manual controls, it does have customizable settings like sharpness and saturation.

Recording

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 has a first rate movie mode for an entry-level camera. It can take VGA (640 x 480) videos at 30 FPS with sound till the memory card fills up. A VGA option with a choppier 16.6 FPS is available to conserve space or if you have the non-Pro MS Duo. An even smaller 160 x 112 8 FPS movie mode is for e-mailing purposes. Movies are recorded in MPEG format and a 1 GB card can record up to around 12 minutes. Exposure is automatically adjusted but you can't zoom.

Both video and audio quality are quite good.

Performance

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 starts up in 2 seconds - that's average. The Sony Cyber-shot S600 autofocuses usually within 1/3 to 1/2 second - that's above average but not as fast as the Panasonic LS2 which does it almost instantaneously.

Shot-to-shot speed was 1 shot every 1.5 seconds, longer if the flash is used. Flash recharge time using fully charged batteries took fairly long - around 12 seconds - due to the powerful flash I suppose. In continuous shooting, the Sony Cyber-shot S600 took 8 shots at 1.2 FPS for me - though shooting may vary slightly, things are still slow and limited.

The zoom mechanism is fairly silent and moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 2 seconds. The camera powers down in 2 seconds from shooting and instantly from playback. All-in-all, the Sony Cyber-shot S600 is an above average performer except in the continuous shooting area.

Image Quality

Let's see how the Sony Cyber-shot S600 does:


ISO 80 (f5.1, 1/160 sec)


ISO 100 (f5.1, 1/160 sec)


ISO 200 (f5.1, 1/400 sec)


ISO 400 (f11, 1/160 sec)


ISO 800 (f11, 1/320 sec)


ISO 1000 (f11, 1/400 sec)

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 produces smooth and clean photos at ISO 80 and ISO 100 - Quite common for most cameras. Noise goes visible at ISO 200 and up again slightly at ISO 400. At ISO 400, things are far more acceptable on the Sony Cyber-shot S600 versus the Canon A430 and Panasonic LS2. The Sony Cyber-shot S600 produces noisier photos are ISO 800 but the workaround is either to downsize or reduce noise using photo editing software. Noise levels are at the peak level at ISO 1000 but this is comparable to ISO 400 on the two competitors I previously mentioned.

Overall noise levels were low compared to other cameras and the Sony S600 offers up to 1.5 stops of ISO higher than competing cameras. Chromatic aberration levels (not just from the shots above) was very low.

Barrel distortion is noticeable while pincushion distortion is not. Colors accuracy was very good with all colors except with odd lighting as the camera is without any custom white balance. As expected on a small camera, there was much red-eye based on my testing but that's what ISO 1000 is for, isn't it? Dynamic range was average with blown out highlights only in extreme conditions.

Overall image quality of the Sony Cyber-shot S600 is above average and deserves a thumbs up. I did not see much of a saturation drop at higher ISOs too.

Photo gallery

Check out the Sony Cyber-shot S600 photo gallery.

Playback

In playback, the Sony Cyber-shot S600 can playback stills and movies (With sound) and: Protect image, print marking, slideshow, resize, crop, rotate and simple movie editing. You can also magnify still photos by 5x and take a look around using the 4 arrow buttons. The Sony Cyber-shot S600 displays a lot of info about your photos; including exposure information and a histogram.

Appeal to the crowds

Who's the Sony Cyber-shot S600 for? Check out the target audience rating:

Penny pinchers - At around $180 now, the Sony Cyber-shot S600 is a very affordable camera and is a worthy competitor in the entry-level camera market. It's the same price as the Canon A430 and Panasonic LS2 yet it offers more useable high ISO, good performance and a wide-ish zoom lens.

Digital camera newbies/beginners - Great! The Sony Cyber-shot S600 has an auto mode and very few buttons and simple menus. Beginners can jump straight to the menu and select a scene mode or two.

Everyday shooters - The Sony Cyber-shot S600 is good for everyday snapshooters since it offers simple operation with a few settings to tweak such as contrast and saturation. Still, some may be looking for custom white balance, a larger LCD and a more compact, stylish camera.

Advanced amateurs/enthusiasts - Not for these guys. The Sony Cyber-shot S600 has no controls or special features these photographers will find interesting.

Professional photographers - It's not suitable for these people because of the low level of control the Sony S600 offers. Professional photographers are looking for either high-end digital SLRs or pocket cameras with at least some controls.

Upgraders - There's nothing to upgrade from to this entry-level camera.

Users jumping ship - It's practically useless to jump from one entry-level camera to another.

 

Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 is an entry-level camera with 6 megapixels, a 2 inch LCD, 31 - 93 mm 3X zoom lens and excellent battery life.

The camera has many good things like class leading battery life. It takes 460 shots on a single charge which is more than just about any camera on the market, not only the entry-level group (save for some Casio cameras).

The camera also features a nice 31 - 93 mm lens which is on the fairly wide side. The lens is fast moving and performance is just as good. Overall performance was better than most of the competition save for continuous shooting. While it takes a limited number of shots at a slow frame rate, some of the Sony S600's peers can shoot at around 2 FPS till the memory card fills up.

The camera build was very good - solid and without that "cheap" feeling. But the thing which disappointed me was the lack of an A/V Out port and the tiny buttons which are packed in a tiny area, making them hard to press and thus, unresponsive.

Image quality was very good and the movie mode is one of the best in its class. The Sony Cyber-shot S600 has especially good high ISO performance. The only things which prevent image quality from being "excellent" are red-eye and lack of custom white balance. The Canon A430 offers custom white balance while the Panasonic LS2 takes things one step further by offering white balance by color temperature!

The Sony Cyber-shot S600 is a nice and compact entry-level camera, overall and I'd recommend it anytime. But don't take my word for it - so do visit the Sony S600 photo gallery and remember to check out competition. The main competitors of the Sony S600, in case you haven't noticed, are the Canon A430 (Which has a bigger zoom lens) and Panasonic LS2 (Which has optical image stabilization and blazing fast autofocus). Check out the S600 and pals to see which camera is ultimately good for you.

Camera rating upon 10 (more about this): [Category: Entry-level]

  • 8.0 - Body/Exterior
  • 6.0 - Bundle, batteries and memory
  • 6.5 - Lens
  • 8.0 - Feature set
  • 5.0 - Controls and operation
  • 8.0 - Performance
  • 8.5 - Image quality
  • 7.1 - Overall rating

What's hot:

  • Excellent battery life
  • Wide-ish 31 mm lens
  • Powerful flash
  • Above average performance
  • Offers higher ISO sensitivity than most competition
  • Unlimited VGA movies at 30 FPS
  • Very good image quality; acceptable high ISO shots

What's not:

  • No macro mode; minimum focus distance is far
  • Terrible LCD resolution
  • Tiny packed buttons
  • No custom white balance
  • Slow and limited continuous shooting
  • Red-eye
  • No A/V Out port

Recommended Accessories

  • 512 MB Memory Stick PRO Duo card
  • A set of 4 rechargeable AA NiMH batteries with a fast 15 minute charger

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