Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3 Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera
At a Glance
The point-and-shoot crowd has been all aflutter about the sleek, 10-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3 ($500 as of 3/16/09) ever since its announcement at CES in January. It's the first camera with a built-in Web browser, "one-touch" Wi-Fi photo uploads, and 4GB of on-board flash storage (in addition to a Memory Stick slot).
Admittedly, its Wi-Fi tricks are nothing new: The Eye-Fi card adds Wi-Fi capabilities to any camera that supports it, and cameras from Kodak, Nikon, and Panasonic have all boasted wireless connectivity in the past. The Cyber-shot DSC-G3's browser and flash storage, however, are notable additions to the mix.
What all that Wi-Fi wonderfulness means, of course, is that you can easily upload shots to Daily Motion, Photobucket, Picasa, and Shutterfly directly from the camera, as well as upload videos to YouTube. You can access other photo- and video-sharing sites via the Cyber-shot DSC-G3's Web browser, as well, but the sites mentioned here are made more easily accessible by dedicated icons on the camera's wireless menu screen.
The functionality may be a boon to travelers, college students, and backpackers who want to share their photos and videos immediately. In fact, I can imagine YouTube enthusiasts taking serious advantage of the feature, uploading one video at a time as they shoot them. (Breaking news!)
However, I found the camera's optional Web browsing feature limited in several ways, not the least being a clumsy interface. You must delete and enter URLs character by character (no "select all" here), and with a small, somewhat slow touch-screen interface, that can become pretty frustrating. You can also upload only one file at a time--a batch-upload feature would have been great. The chief attraction to the wireless aspect of the DSC-G3 is clearly its simple photo-uploading ability; don't expect to be visiting all your favorite Web sites on this camera's browser.
Like its predecessor, the 4GB (but non-Wi-Fi-enabled) Sony Cyber-shot T700, the Cyber-shot DSC-G3 is quite the looker. Its sleek metallic front slides aside to reveal the flash, a focus-assist strobe, and the Zeiss-Tessar lens. Covering the back is a 3.5-inch touch screen that really shines when you enable the G3's slide-show feature. The 4GB of storage come in handy if you want to cue up your own tunes to accompany the on-screen images.
Photographers with short fingernails will want to use the supplied stylus, because the touch screen isn't the most responsive one on the planet. However, having longer fingernails and thin fingers, I found few problems using the screen, and Sony's menu system remains straightforward and easy to navigate.
Comments on the Internet regarding Sony's new side-slide design have been mostly favorable, but I wasn't a fan. (That is, aside from the protection for the lens and flash that it offers, of course.) Slid open, the camera became more heavily weighted on the left, forcing me to shoot two-handed. Some camera-slingers may value the extra grip space it creates, but I like to shoot quickly and often one-handed. My final critique of the design: The zoom, shutter, playback, and WLAN buttons are practically recessed into the camera body, making pressing them a bit tricky at times. All of these little things slowed me down more than I would have liked.
The Cyber-shot DSC-G3 provides most of the features of its T700 cousin, including a smile-triggered shutter, face detection, and scene selections such as snow, fireworks, beach, a night mode, and a portraiture mode that supposedly softens the background while keeping the subject in focus. I had mixed results with the last setting (to make it work, your subject should be at least a few feet from the background). While the flash could be a bit overpowering, the DSC-G3 allows you to modify its power from -1 to -3, a feature I love to see in a point-and-shoot. You can also select white balance, ISO, and exposure compensation, more welcome features that help you get the shot you want under adverse conditions.
The image quality was generally quite good, but regrettably this camera has trouble at the far end of the (4X) optical zoom range. Here, I encountered considerable noise in mono-tonal areas, such as sky and sea. That's not unusual in a consumer-level point-and-shoot, but I expected better from an expensive hunk of design.
Likewise, high-contrast scenes were hit-and-miss, as a lot of edges exhibited halos. The camera hemmed and hawed finding focus in low-light settings, and the usual digital noise was present at ISOs over 400. (Again, such results are not uncommon for a point-and-shoot, but still, Sony: Five hundred smackers for this?) My shots outdoors under neutral or late-afternoon light, however, were impressive: Colors were saturated, exposures were right on, autofocus was quick, there was no noticeable shutter delay, and the camera proved it could resolve a great deal of detail.
The PC World Test Center's jury evaluations were in line with what I experienced in my test shots: The Cyber-shot DSC-G3 earned an overall image-quality score of Good, with color accuracy and low levels of distortion being the camera's strongest suits. Battery life, on the other hand, left much to be desired. The DSC-G3 fired off 200 shots on a single battery charge, far short of the 400-plus-shot battery life of many point-and-shoots. The huge screen and all the Wi-Fi bells and whistles take a toll on the camera's juice.
The DSC-G3 also shoots video, and allows zooming throughout your short films, but due to the nontactile zoom buttons and the slide-out design of the camera, I had to shoot two-handed for balance. Zooming this way was awkward, and it made my video clips look a little too Drunk-o-Vision for my taste. Videos I made during the day were good, but, as is common with many point-and-shoot video modes, the camera faltered when shooting indoors under incandescent and fluorescent lighting.
So, is the extra benefit of wireless access worth the money? That's your call. Currently the wireless photo-upload service does not include the wildly popular Flickr or Facebook, but Sony has said that it is working on bringing in other "one-touch" upload partners. For now you must access those sites manually by typing their URLs into the camera's browser, which takes longer than it should.
Despite the Cyber-shot DSC-G3's nerd chic, detail-oriented photographers like me, who prefer to painstakingly review and carefully edit their photos before uploading them, probably won't be all that jazzed about this model's wireless functionality. And wireless upload speeds with the camera were roughly the same as those of my computer and its digital cable connection.
The first-generation implementation of the Wi-Fi feature is a bit rough around the edges, due to the navigation issues. Still, early adopters and casual photographers looking for a whiz-bang gadget may be enticed to plop down the five Benjamins for this camera; more-advanced photographers can find plenty of other options for $500 or less that hold much greater appeal.