Obsolete Review Sony Cybershot DSC-V3; In 2004 the Cybershot division released the DSC-V3, a follow up to their enthusiast level DSC-V1. Known primarily for the Carl Zeiss lens, manual control/handling, relatively larger sensor and accessories, the V series only had two iterations and has not had any follow up to the current time in 2015. Originally released at a price of 700 USD ( I thought it was closer to 950 CDN but I can’t recall for sure), it was the second in line to the flagship DSC-F828. It wasn’t a camera that really blew my mind when I saw it, and in fact I never saw it in person until this year. It competed with the Canon G series, Nikon P series …etc. It was also among the first 7 megapixel cameras out. This was an interesting line up, because most of the 8 MP cameras were widely lauded for poor high ISO performance. Smaller MP meant bigger pixels and so the 7MP was seen as a better balance of resolution and noise performance.
I managed to score this one off Kijiji for a super slick price of 25 bucks in near mint condition. Despite owning it for not too long, I think I have had enough time to write a review. Why is this called an obsolete review and not just a retro review like my other reviews of old equipment? Because its so so so clear that photography has shot light years ahead of where things were 11 years ago. The following is my IRL (In Real Life) review of the Sony DSC-V3.
Design: I love the design of this camera- its not trying to be as tiny as possible- its trying to provide as much control as possible for the enthusiast. And yet it does so in a style that to me is timeless. It offers things that are lasting – i.e. the 2.5 inch LCD is good enough size wise for a camera even in 2015 and doesn’t look like the minuscule 1.8 inch LCDs from prior generations. It takes a largely black/professional color scheme with silver accents. I think this was a big improvement over the all silver coloration of the predecessor, the DSC-V1. Its quite thick with an even thicker grip and clearly holds no reserve about its seriousness. Despite being from 2004, I think it still holds its own to modern enthusiast cameras. Of course when I look at it now, I do wonder why its so big with its relatively smaller sensor and unremarkable lens. But given that its 11 years old, its expected that technology just wasn’t there to miniaturize items. For example, this camera is bigger than my a6000, which is a APS-C sized sensor camera. Generally, I love its design- big and imposing.
Build Quality: Its stellar- I am not sure if its magnesium or aluminum, but I’d bet its the former. Its solid, just like the Nikon P7100 and P7700. It has few creaks and everything just feels like a brick. My one concern, that is reflected in other reviews, is that the pop up flash (where the Sony logo is) doesn’t sit evenly and it wobbles in place. This is minor, but not something you expect in a camera of this calibre. It still works fine and has no issues mechanically, but since its purpose was to protect the flash, the swiveling mechanism should have been better implemented. Other than that, I love the cold cold metal everywhere. Just a few places are plastic, including the top half of the grip. I like that the grip isn’t fading away or becoming unglued- the Nikon P7700 and D90 both had this issue and it was really annoying- the grip actually expanded in size and so it was impossible to simply glue it back. For an 11 year old camera to not have this issue, its solid. One thing I am not impressed about is the sensor- every once in awhile, the shots look like they have bizarre scanning issues- weird horizontal lines appear across the image. I have a feeling its just the sensor degrading and being old. I haven’t seen this in any of my other old cameras, and some of them are the same generation. It may be that this one was just used to death.
Image Quality: This is hard to judge, because I do feel I am very biased with modern camera image quality. In comparison to its contemporary competitors, I do think it offered a good run for the money for image quality. That’s all I can really say. In comparison to modern compacts, its absolutely obliterated. Its really amazing to see how a flagship device cannot hold its own to a camera phone (In my case, the Sony XPERIA Z3 with a 1/2.3 inch sensor). Noise levels immediately jump up at ISO 200, and detail smearing and blotchy noise quickly fill the image. You will be trying to use that high ISO though, because the lens is rather slow for a flagship- f2.8-4. Sony’s older S85 had a F2 lens, so it doesn’t make sense to me why they have a slow lens on this higher end camera. This means that you are stuck with lower ISOs and it really limits low light shooting. Since a lot of images I shoot with are indoors with crappy lighting, this isn’t great. I don’t really notice any serious barrel distortion or pin cushioning in day to day shooting. I find that there is a lack of depth of field in images, and lots of purple fringing. I don’t find any biting sharpness and the images look like snapshots, rather than photos. Its a shame really, but not unexpected from its time era. I am being rather harsh on it, because this is an IRL review and it compares the device to my current usage and expectations.
I do quite like the flip out flash- its not really a big mechanical advantage, but it does look cool. In today’s pressure to simplify things, its nice to see some mechanical kitsch. I do wish that it would rotate another 90 degrees and allow bounce flash.
Handling and Usage:This camera generally handles like a dream. I like that there is plenty of manual control to quickly access functions. In particular, I use the EV, macro, flash and ring control button a lot. I do think an additional ring control would have been nice, right in the front grip. I find the camera sits well in my hand with its substantial grip. In usage, I find that the camera starts up a bit slow, and the focus speed is adequate in today’s standards but not fast enough. Back in the day, the focus speed was a highlight of this camera because it offered a range of AF assist features like the AF lamp and a hologram laser deal. The laser in particular was quite neat and they stopped implementing the technology a generation or two after. It shot out lasers to help AF in total darkness, in case the AF lamp was not enough. Furthermore, the technology also allowed total darkness AF- you can actually shoot in pitch black conditions without flash with this feature. Of course the image looks like a spy camera shot with.
Its really hard to shoot the lasers- the above gives you an idea of the cross stitch laser pattern that comes out. There is a dedicated night framing and night framing assist mode- one is for helping the AF lock in darkness and the other one is just shooting in straight darkness.
I must admit this is one of the cool features – shooting in total darkness.
This is in Nigh Shot mode- I don’t quite understand how its shooting, but everything looks like a Paranormal Activity movie still. I honestly don’t know when I would use this shooting mode, but it is pretty nifty, especially since it doesn’t exist in the current line up anymore. If I recall right, people realized that this mode allowed shooting through dark clothing and Sony stopped this mode from being used in day time.
Conclusion: Technology progresses and the DSC-V3 is no exception to obsolescence. While it offers impressive build quality, handling and styling, it absolutely is smoked by modern cameras, including entry level point and shoots and smartphones. I have issues with the scanning issue on top of the meh/below average photo quality (in today’s standards). Compared to more contemporary models at its release, I do think it offered a lot of nice manual control and shooting modes that allowed a nice push on the creativity envelope. I suppose the big deal for its time was more about its resolution, rather than how good that resolution actually was. I just expected a little more from a flagship device, and right now I think its about on par with my DSC-F88, a similar aged camera that was more about style than photo quality. Given how fat this camera was, I feel they really could have fit in more components to make the image quality a significant step up from their mainstream consumer line. Its totally obsolete and owning it is more about novelty and nostalgia.
TLDR: Pros- Build quality, design, handling all awesome; Cons- image quality leaves a lot to be desired, whether that is being compared to 2004 standards or 2015 standards, sensor issues with scanning lines