Sure to be mistaken for a mobile phone when not in use, Sony is making claims for the Cyber-shot DSC-M2 as a hybrid device, with its 5-megapixel stills and MPEG-4 video clips capability. In truth, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in standard-issue digital compacts or camcorders. So, once again, the main story here is in the funky styling; the polished aluminium build offering more weight and robustness than the Sony Ericsson handsets the M2 closely resembles.
The camera is activated either by pressing the power button located at the side, or flipping open the back – which, in Swiss army knife fashion, hides the 2.5in LCD screen – and it powers up in under a second. The screen rotates 90° to the body and twists through 180° to allow for creative camera work, and/or avoid sunlight rendering the screen invisible. There’s no optical viewfinder as an alternative means of framing images.
The M2 makes a claim for photographic credibility by displaying a real-time histogram – a graph showing the areas of brightness in an image to help the user determine an even exposure before pressing the shutter button – and incorporating top-class Carl Zeiss optics, plus macro close-ups down to an impressive 1cm.
There’s an AF illuminator for low-light snaps – particularly important for what will undoubtedly be a popular party camera. Light sensitivity, however, has been capped at ISO 400, suggesting a wish to avoid problems with image noise at that setting and higher. The built-in flash is located directly above the lens – likely to cause fiery-looking peepers when taking portraits – so it’s no surprise to find a red-eye reduction mode on offer.
In keeping with the minimalist layout, some controls have been compromised. The M2’s zoom lever is ridiculously small, requiring finger or thumb-tip control; other functions require a similarly delicate touch. More positively, the main photo, video and playback buttons fall readily under the thumb as you grip the camera. This is no mean feat as its smooth surface and lack of grip makes rock-steady control impossible. To counter this there’s a screw thread to attach a tripod.
Quibbles over handling are almost forgiven when reviewing the still images taken, which are stunningly sharp and vividly coloured under daylight conditions. However, shooting indoors without flash does introduce image noise. Video clips also impress with a frame rate of 30fps and stereo sound, ensuring a very respectable clarity of vision when replayed on a 20-inch iMac. A USB 2.0 docking station is provided, allowing the camera to sit neatly on your desktop when not in use.
As most of us now exclusively use camera phones for those spur-of-the-moment snapshots, the M2 doesn’t appear a great leap of imagination on Sony’s part. With mobile-phone resolutions rising, it would have been nice to see a higher resolution on offer here (and, why not MP3-player capability?). Nevertheless, results are more than acceptable for the 6 x 4in prints commonly output. The styling is very much a matter of personal taste, but viewed as another evolution of the traditional compact, it certainly stands out from the crowd.