More than once I was asked, "Is that really a digital camera?" when I tested this latest offering from Sony. The reason is the DSC-P1 is tiny - it easily fits in the palm of your hand and weighs just 250 grams. But despite its size, this offers the latest in digital still camera technology.
The DSC-P1 uses Sony's Memory Stick memory cards, which are about the size of a stick of chewing gum, and comes with an 8Mb memory card, sufficient for storing up to 118 images at a size of 640x480 pixels.
The DSC-P1 is a doddle to use - I operated it despite a Japanese manual - and few teachers or pupils would struggle getting to grips with it. Most operations are controlled by a rocker control switch and on-screen menu displayed on a 1.5-inch LCD screen. The menu lets you adjust settings such as colour balance and flash level, but the automatic settings coped with most situations.
You can use the LCD screen to frame the shot or use an optical viewfinder - the latter option means users can switch off the LCD screen to conserve battery power, although the DSC-P1 comes with a long-lasting lithium-ion rechargeable battery. There is also a 3x optical and a 6x digital zoom. This camera has a 3.34 million mega-pixel image chip and it shows - picture quality is excellent.
Users have an option to shoot moving images as short, full-screen MPEG video clips with sound. Sony also offers Clip Motion, which combines 10 still images to create an animation that can be posted on the Internet. Also supplied is MGI PhotoSuite editing software (for PC and Mac).
Yes, the DSC-P1 is a bit pricey, but if you have the money to spend, this is a superb digital camera full of top-of-the range features.
Not everyone (or school) has that sort of cash and for them Sony's Mavica FD-85 is worth a look. For most schoos, the cheap, universally compatible 1.44MB floppy disk reigns supreme and here the FD-85 scores. With better image quality than the FD7, a three-level flash and a threaded lens, the FD-85 has a floppy that can store eight pictures at a size of 1024x768 pixels in SXGA (fine) mode and 20 in 640x480 pixels VGA mode, or 60 seconds of MPEG audio and video. The 4x speed floppy drive features Whole Disk Copy, which lets you make back-up copies of images, videos or voice memos simply by putting a new disk in the camera - very neat.
The FD-85 also produces high-quality pictures for website or small photo prints or 60 seconds of MPEG movie, which is one of the easiest ways to get video and audio onto your computer. However, its quality leaves a lot to be desired. In terms of zoom you're looking at a 3x optical zoom without distortion, blurring or loss of image quality. The FD-85 also has four pre-programmed special-effects, auto-exposure with nine pre-programmed modes, auto white balance, manual exposure and a high-stamina battery.
Taking into account its pound;507.50+VAT price tag, this represents one of the best cameras around. And Cambridgeshire Software House (Sony's Mavica educational dealer) offers it at pound;495+VAT, which includes its Mirage image viewing software worth pound;50.
For a camera guaranteed to enthuse staff and pupils alike, the combination of higher-end features, superior ease-of-use, convenience and excellent optics make the Mavica FD-85 a sure-fire winner.
Price: pound;700, Tel: 0990 111999. www.sony.com
Sony Mavica FD-85 Price: pound;507.50+VAT, Cambridge Software House
Tel: 01487 741223. http:ourworld.compuserve.comhomepagescshsoftabout.
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ONLINE STAR RATING
Suitability for purpose: ****
Ease of use: ****
Value for money: ***