Sony has made the second update in as many months to its P-series range of compact digital still cameras with the announcement this week of a new 3-megapixel model that will go on sale in Japan in July and overseas later this year.

The DSC-P7 replaces the DSC-P5, which was one of two digital still cameras announced in August last year. The other model that was announced at that time, the DSC-P3, was superseded by the DSC-P2 that went on sale in Japan earlier this month.

Sony has made a few small changes to the specifications of the DSC-P7, but the camera is broadly similar to the previous model in terms of features, such as its 3.2-million pixel CCD (charge coupled device) optical pickup, three-times optical zoom and 1.5 inch TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor. A USB (Universal Serial Bus) socket is provided for data transfer to a computer and, like all Sony cameras, the device uses Memory Stick media cards.

The main differences come in the software features.

New is a multi-picture mode that allows 16 images of 320-x-240 pixel resolution to be taken in quick succession with a single push of the shutter key. The interval between pictures can be set to either 1/30th, 1/15th or 1/7.5th of a second and the mode is intended to be used in applications such as capturing a golf-swing.

The new model also features an improved movie taking mode, 'MPEG Movie HQX,' which enables users to record video at 320-x-240 pixel resolution up to the capacity of the memory card. For a 128MB Memory Stick, Sony says this means 5 minutes and 40 seconds of video. The previous model was limited to 15-second movie clips.

Several other new features include a scene selection mode, to tailor the camera's settings to such conditions as night-time shots or those of a scenic panorama, and a light level setting, which also better tailors the camera's settings for different light levels caused by the weather at the time, such as a bright sunny day or a dark and cloudy day.

The new camera is also slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessor. It measures 11.4cm-x-5.1cm-x-3.6 cm and weighs 206 grams when the battery, Memory Stick and wrist strap are all taken into account.

The DSC-P7 will go on sale in Japan on July 13 for around ¥60,000 (£350). Sony said it expects to put the camera on sale in overseas markets sometime during the remainder of 2002, but has yet to decide on a more concrete plan.

With the launch of the DSC-P7, Sony has five cameras in the P-series range, two of which are 3-megapixel class. The other, the DSC-P71 is not as closely related to the new DSC-P7 as its name might suggest. The camera is around a centimetre wider, deeper and taller and weighs about 40 per cent more but has a cheaper price tag of around ¥50,000.