Sony Cybershot DSC-V3 Review- A Cybershot Powerhouse
January 2012, Carl Garrard
Sony DSC-V3 Price Check
Sony DSC-V3 Price Check
Sony V3 Review: Introduction, the Basics
In Sony's Cybershot glory days the DSC-V3 was a successor to the popular and capable DSC-V-1, and improved greatly upon that design. Both shared a similar Carl Zeiss lens but just about everything else was changed or upgraded on the V3. Sony's V3 is a 7.2mp rangefinder styled full featured prosumer compact camera that sports a wide range of unique features and full 14 bit raw capability (yep you heard right, a Sony compact that has raw). On the front of the V3 you see the heart of its design, a 34-136mm f/2.8-4 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens with an automatic lens cover which is surrounded by a thick aluminum accessory lens adapter ring. It also sports an optical viewfinder and some other surprises which I will go into more on the rest of the review.
|Front- Note: AF Illuminator, IR lamp, Optical Viewfinder, Flash|
|Rear-Note: Manual controls galore, and dual media card switch|
|3/4 View- Nice big grip and Rangefinder no-nonsense styling|
Sony V3 Review: How it competes today: The Sony V3 still has a competitive feature set nearly 8 years after its introduction, and in the digital age that is nearly a lifetime. In the category it competes in there is a checklist that enthusiasts look for as a staple for a camera of this type that the Sony V3 includes, such as:
- Optical Viewfinder (larger view than most compacts)
- Large LCD screen (2.5" is plenty)
- Many external Manual controls
- Raw capability (V3 records in 14 bit raw here)
- Versatile Sharp Lens (Carl Zeiss here) w/ability to use filters/adapters
- Good grip
- Flash Hot Shoe (the open type, not current proprietary type Sony uses)
- Larger than usual compact sensor (1 1/8" type, bigger than most small compacts)
- Excellent low ISO image quality and better than average high ISO image quality
- Small enough to fit into coat pocket
- Excellent Build Quality (magnesium body panels and some metal controls)
Sony V3 Review: Unique Features/Unique to Sony
Boasting a plethora of unique features, it simply baffles my mind why this camera was not continued in Sony's lineup. The V3's unique features are its Hologram AF illuminator (laser grid pattern auto focus assist lamp), Night shot infrared mode (more on this in a bit), and Night shot framing mode. Unique to Sony compacts are its 14 bit raw files (only Sony compact ever to boast raw) and dual media card slots (Sony memory stick and a compact flash slot). Also worth mentioning are its larger than normal 1 1/8" Super HAD CCD 7.2mp sensor, and big sharp f2.8-f4 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens.
|Sony DSC-V3 Showing its Hologram IR Lamp illuminating (purple light)|
Sony V3 Review: Why I like the Sony V3
As a reviewer/photographer/consumer alike, I'm an enthusiast at heart and I am especially fond of rangefinder styled cameras and rangefinders as an alternative camera to a DSLR. I find these kind of cameras especially appealing for travel and lightweight duty in a backpack which the V3 seems to serve especially well. Today they are just as attractive as an optional camera as they have ever been which gives testament and market validity to the rangefinder design. Rangefinders simply aren't going away.
Sony's V3 is unique amongst it's own herd of sheep. It is the only compact camera Sony ever made that included the capability to shoot raw, and the only compact Sony camera ever that has 14bit A/D conversion.
The V3 also included technologies that were prevalent in Sony's Cybershot cameras of the time such as a laser grid AF illumination lamp (Sony calls it Hologram AF) and an Infrared mode that does dual duty: First as an IR only shot (Nightshot IR), and the other used to aid autofocus in complete darkness -without the use of an AF illumination lamp. Sony called it "Nightframing".
I've seen some funny stuff on the internet and TV with "ghost hunters" using the V3 as a tool to take pictures of poltergeist and other strange phenomena in complete darkness. Um, believe whatever you will about these stories, but the fact remains the V3 can indeed see in the dark. I'll leave it at that.
Nightframing allows the V3 to frame and focus in complete darkness without a subject seeing any light transmitted from the camera. The photographer can view the subject in full infrared however when the final picture is made, it is made in the normal color spectrum of light.
How does the V3 shoot using IR? Simply put the V3 has a movable IR filter in camera. Most cameras have a permanent IR filter over the image sensor blocking IR light. When the V3 is in Nightframing or Nightshot modes, the IR filter is moved out of the way of the sensor automatically- letting a full spectrum range of light pass into the sensor surface.
IR light is not filtered in this mode. To help during no light situations Sony designed the V3 with an IR lamp on the camera to illuminate subjects in complete darkness- essentially giving the V3 (and the photographer watching the LCD screen) night vision. Below is a sample of what you see on screen and how the final image looks- the green tinge is due to the IR light and how the camera processes that "color".
|DSC-V3 Nightshot Mode|
Sony used this IR system on a few cameras, namely the F (F717/F828) and V (V1/V3) series only. It's a brilliant system that is gone on all future Cybershot cameras, as was the hologram AF assist. Both were removed to save cost on future cameras. I don't know about you, but I'd gladly pay the extra fee for these features. Sony, put them back in!
Sony's hologram AF assist is the best ever designed. I've used every type of AF assist on the market and without a doubt this one is the most effective. A class one laser is used to project bright laser lines in a pattern that allows the V3 to shoot and accurately focus in completely dark conditions void of any light at all.
|SONY's Hologram AF Assist- Class 1 Laser, Grid Pattern, pure genius!|
I like the V3's image output quite a bit, especially in raw (although the Jpegs aren't that bad at all), and I like the output of every ISO setting (including the secret ISO settings). I find that if I shoot raw the V3 can give the latest and greatest serious compacts a run for their money, granted at a lower resolution. (See more on this topic in the image quality section of the review).
I use every feature the V3 has and I wouldn't want to get rid of any of them. A progressive improvement in its current features would however be welcomed along with adding some of the newer cool image stacking and HDR features would be nice. Features like that would make the V5 modern, and including a sweep panorama mode that would actually work seamlessly with a smaller sensor and lack of focal plane shutter would also be greatly appreciated.
Sony V3 Review: Its Successor- What I'd Prefer or Change
Sony DSC-V3 Price Check
Lets pretend that the Cybershot division at Sony wakes up and decides to introduce a new V3 Cybershot successor. They really should, it's the perfect time for a V5 and I'd love to be a consultant on it's design- I'd even work for free if need be. Yes, I'm serious. If that ever happens here's some of what I'd design/include on a future (V5) model:
- Larger Optical Viewfinder w/center AF point (or new OLED EVF) on left side vs. center
- AEL Lock button under the thumb
- Zoom toggle switch replaced with a mechanical zoom ring on the lens (See Fuji X10)
- In place of zoom toggle, move the multi-controller wheel down in place of it
- At least a 2/3" sized sensor (no more than 12mp), preferably 4/3 size @10mp
- Faster aperture (f/2-f/2.8 ideal)
- 24-120mm f/2-f/2.8 Lens (Carl Zeiss)
- Macro on the long end of the zoom range
- Retain Nightshot and Nightframing, and Laser AF illuminator
- Speed up start up and shut down times by at least half as much time as it currently takes
- Increase battery life by double its current performance
- Allow use of NS and NF (above) in all modes and all shutter speeds (this is absolutely critical!)
- Retain 14bit raw A/D conversion
- Increase ISO range from 50-3,200
- Introduce a DNG Raw option
- 2.7" 460K Swivel screen (will settle for stationary screen of those specs)
- Include new front control wheel (customizable)
- New on board flash location (pop up type would be great, center fixed type would be acceptable)
- Improve grip design
- All metal exterior construction (especially the battery door)
- -4 to +4 EV compensation range
- Retain hot shoe type
- Add an image stabilized sensor, or lens type image stabilization
- SD and CF slots
- Simplified exterior (less soap marks and advertisements of features on the body)
- Few other things I didn't mention in this list, like getting rid of some buggy operations (bright sun small aperture syndrome for example)
The image below is somewhat of an idea of what I'd like the "V5" to look like. A more simplified front face, flash moved to a pop up style, and larger OVF (I re sized it for this image) moved to the left of the camera along with the eyepiece. Other things like the AF illuminator and IR light would need to be moved around to accommodate those changes.
|My idea of what the V3's successor should look more like. Note the position of the OVF view would not be impeded by a finger on the grip (as is you can see fingers), yet the new location of the IR/AF lamp would not be hindered either.|
Sony DSC-V3 Price Check
Also making the Sony badge smaller and less conspicuous gives priority to the simplification of the design and I think looks a lot better. The pop up type flash would be centered and in front of the current hot shoe. I've left out redesigning the grip on photoshop here, but wanted to do a quickie job visually on more what I'd be looking for in a replacement of the V3 (sorry for the shotty PS job).
Obviously I could spend a lot more time on constructing visuals on what I'd like to see in a replacement but I don't have that much time on my hands. Sony could however make a very handsome simplified replacement for the V3 (somewhat similar to the above), keeping in mind the form following function aesthetics of the rangefinder design. And if Sony did so, and were smart about listening to enthusiasts needs, could be very successful with it. One look at the NEX7 and you know Sony can do it. A lot of former V3 owners and high end Cybershot fans would likely flock to it asap.
Sony V3 Review: A Couple Secret Infrared Features
I'm not even sure if any other V3 owners even know you can shoot up to ISO 2,500 right out of the camera. Sony doesn't mention this in any of its documentation that I could see, but I stumbled upon it doing some IR testing of the camera. There are some limitations to using this ISO setting because for one, it can't be selected manually so you have to trick the V3 into using it or just shoot in very low light conditions.
|V3 Screen shot. Note Raw recording ISO 2,500|
And another little "secret" about the V3, or better yet, less well known is the fact that you don't have to settle with the somewhat greenish IR look when using Nightshot IR. All you have to do is change the P. Effect setting in the menu to b/w or sepia, and you still retain all the benefits of IR without the green haze look. Here are a couple sample shots straight out of the camera (in raw) using both of the secrets I've outlined here.
|ISO 2,500 from Raw (ACR processed, saturation 0)|
|ISO 2,500 from Raw/ACR (you can see the IR light patch here)|
I really like the look of the grain at these higher ISO settings, clean, uniform, granular (and no banding!). Not bad for an older camera using older sensor technology at all. If you can live with the rules that using IR brings with the V3 (fastest shutter speed is 1/30th sec, always uses the largest aperture setting it can), the V3 can be used for tasks it probably wasn't ever mean too at all such as regular IR photography as shown below. All I did was use a 3 stop ND filter via filter adapter for this image.
|Sony V3 Infrared Image (shot in Nightshot IR mode) using 3stop ND filter w/adapter tube|
Sony V3 Review- Image Quality
When taking normal images (color etc.) the V3 does an outstanding job today considering it's age. It can still make images nearly equal in overall quality to some of the best serious compacts I've used. Cameras like the G12 barely outperform it at lower ISO values. Here is a side by side comparison in lower light levels at ISO 800 vs. the G12.
|Canon G12 vs. Sony V3 ISO 800 from Raw (Same Settings)|
When shooting raw, you'll gain a stop of dynamic range and about a half stop of ISO performance with the G12, but that is about it. In the image above though I do think I see more detail retained from the V3 in some areas of the image, pretty amazing considering the difference in resolution here (10mp G12 vs. 7.2mp V3).
For 13x19" inch prints the V3's sharpness and resolution has never disappointed me on images I haven't cropped. That's good enough performance in my book.
|Nice Sharp Zeiss Lens|
|Plenty of camera for landscapes|
|Again, plenty of camera for Landscapes|
|Good for closeups, could be better but not bad|
|Again, good for close ups|
|Flash exposure is good- hey Dad, no red-eye!|
|Plenty of dynamic range here (Jpeg out of camera, Raw even better)|
|ISO 800 looks fantastic for a compact, Jpeg right out of the camera|
Overall image quality is one of the V3's strong points. All ISO's look good, and the Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar lens is tack sharp. Although the lens will give some barrel and pincushion distortion, and CA's show on bright contrast edges, neither are worth worrying about. The lens is great, its only weak spot is a lack of wider angle and better macro performance but it's average in both categories and gets the job done. The range of 34-136 may not seem that good now, but it was pretty good in its day and it's more than adequate for most circumstances. You can attach wide and tele adapters if you need either too, if you wish.
|That big control dial is lovely, so is that hotshoe and the rear thumbwheel/switch near the big dial|
* Movie Mode(s) : MPEG VX Fine with Audio (640x480 at 30fps) (MPEG VX Fine requires Memory Stick PRO media), MPEG VX Standard with Audio (640 x 480 at 16fps), Video Mail with Audio (160x112 at 8fps)
* Picture Effect(s) : Black & White, Sepia
* Removable Flash Media Compatibility : Tested to support up to 1GB media capacity1; does not support Access Control security function
* Scene Mode(s) : Beach, Candle, Fireworks, Landscape, Snow, Twilight, Twilight Portrait
* Still Image Mode(s) : Auto Bracketing, Burst, JPEG (Fine/Standard), Multi-Burst, RAW, TIFF
* White Balance : Automatic, Cloudy, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Manual
* Imaging Device : 1/1.8" Super HAD™ CCD
* Megapixel : 7.2 MP
* Recording Media : Memory Stick® Media, Memory Stick PRO™ Media, Memory Stick Duo™ Media (with adaptor), Memory Stick PRO Duo™ Media (with adaptor), CompactFlash® (Type I)
* PictBridge Compatible : Yes
* Battery Capacity : 4.4W (1220 mAh)
* Battery Type : InfoLithium® (NP-FR1)
* Hybrid Record Mode : N/A
* Image Stabilization : N/A
* NightFraming System : Yes
* AF Illuminator Light : Yes (Hologram)
* Clear Color/Clear Luminance NR : Yes
* Date/Time Stamp : Yes
* Erase/Protect : Yes
* Histogram Display : Yes
* Media/Battery Indicator : Yes
* Multi-Pattern Measuring : Yes
* NightShot® Infrared System : Yes
* Power Save Mode : Yes (after approx. 3 min. of inactivity)
* Real Imaging Processor™ Technology : Yes
* Red-Eye Reduction : Yes (On/Off)
* Self Timer : Yes (10 Seconds)
* Docking Station : N/A
* LCD : 2.5" (123K Pixels TFT LCD Screen)
* Lens Construction : 8 Elements in 7 Groups, 2 Aspheric Elements
* Lens Type : Carl Zeiss® Vario-Sonnar®
* Microphone/Speaker : Yes/Yes
* Viewfinder : Optical, True Zoom
* Flash Effective Range : 1'3"-8' (0.4-2.5 m)
* Flash Mode(s) : Auto, Forced, Off, Slow Synchro
Service and Warranty Information
* Limited Warranty Term : 1 Year Parts & Labor
Weights and Measurements
* Dimensions (Approx.) : 4 5/7" x 2 5/6 "x 2 7/15" (119.8 x 72 x 63mm)
* Weight (Approx.) : 13 oz (360 g) Body; 14 oz (410 g) Body w/Battery, Media, Shoulder Strap
* ISO : Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800
* Burst Mode : 8 Shot at 2fps (7MP JPEG fine)
Inputs and Outputs
* Accessory Terminal : 2.5mm Mini-Jack
* Audio/Video Output(s) : Yes (Multi-pin connector, NTSC/PAL Selectable)
* Input(s) : N/A
* USB Port(s) : Yes (Supports USB 2.02)
* 35mm Equivalent : 34-136mm
* Aperture : f2.8-f4.0 (W), f5.4-f10 (T)
* Aperture Range : f2.8/f5.6 (W), f5.4/f10 (T)
* Digital Zoom : 0-2.0X (Precision)
* Exposure Compensation : ±2.0 EV, 1/3 EV Steps
* Filter Diameter : 58mm (by required VAD-VHA adaptor)
* Focal Distance : 19 3/4" (50cm) (Minimum), 4" (10cm) (Minimum Marco W), 15 3/4" (40cm) (Minimum Macro T)
* Focal Length : 7.0-28.0mm
* Focus : 5 Area Multi-Point AF, Center AF, 14-Step Manual
* Macro Mode : 4" (10cm)
* Optical Zoom : 4X
* Shutter Speed : 1/8-1/2000 sec. (Auto) , 1-1/2000 sec. (Program Auto) , 30-1/1000 sec. (Manual)
* Smart Zoom® Technology : 0-19X (at VGA Resolution)
* Total Zoom : 8X
* Operating System Compatibility : Microsoft® Windows® 98, 98SE, 2000 Professional, Me, XP Home and Professional; Macintosh® OS 9.1/9.2/OS X (10.0-10.3)
* Supplied Software : Picture Package™ for Sony v1.1 (Windows®), Pixela™ ImageMixer VCD2 (Macintosh®), ImageData Converter v1.1 (Macintosh®), USB Driver, Cyber-shot Life tutorial (Windows®)
In the Box
* A/V and USB Cables
* Rechargeable InfoLithium® Battery (NP-FR1)
* Shoulder Strap
* Battery Charger (AC-LS5)
* Software CD-ROMs