Sunday, 23 December 2012

Review: Sony DSC RX-100

Sony hopes to challenge the big boys with its little compact.
WE have heard a lot of good things about Sony's latest compact camera, the DSC-RX100.
The camera has powerful features and it'll be interesting to see how it fares in a world dominated by DSLRs and mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (MILCs).
It is impressive just how much Sony managed to cram into such a small frame. The body itself is made from aluminium which gives it a solid look and feel.
The camera is designed such that it gives users easy access to manual controls. For instance, the control ring that wraps around the lens can be customised to do just about anything such as focusing, zooming, adjusting aperture and changing ISO settings.
There's also a function button for quickly adjusting settings like ­exposure compensation, white ­balance, d-range optimiser and ­creative filters (of which there are 13).
MORE CONTROL: The dial around the RX100's lens is invaluable for making fine adjustments on the fly.MORE CONTROL: The dial around the RX100's lens is invaluable for making fine adjustments on the fly.
However, it lacks some features found on larger MILCs like an accessory port and electronic viewfinder (which can come in handy when outdoors).
The RX100 also doesn't have built-in WiFi which is disappointing because this is just the type of camera that would benefit from being able to upload photos directly to social networking sites.
Also, while the metallic body is cool, it's a little hard to hold and a bit ­slippery.
Features aplenty
The RX100 features a 20.2-megapixel sensor, a fast f/1.8 Carl Zeiss lens, an ISO range of 125 to 6,400, and is capable of shooting at up to 10fps (frames per second) in continuous shooting Speed Priority mode.
The RX100 has enough creative options to satisfy ­experienced users with the usual PASM modes on the mode dial, as well as two Intelligent Auto modes to help less experienced photographers.
RICH COLOURS: The 3in screen on the back acts as your viewfinder and you have a number of controls on the back to tweak the camera settings to your liking.RICH COLOURS: The 3in screen on the back acts as your viewfinder and you have a number of controls on the back to tweak the camera settings to your liking.
Sony also has included features like Sweep Panorama, an easy way to take a panoramic scene without the need for a ­tripod or editing in Photoshop afterwards.
There are also Picture Effect filters like tilt shift, partial colour and soft focus but we are most impressed with the illustration and watercolour filters, which we have not seen in other cameras of the same class.
The two effects take a bit of processing after each shot but the results are quite pleasing, as it gives pictures an artistic makeover.
Speed demon
The camera's startup time is incredibly fast. From the moment you turn it on, the RX100 is ready to take a shot and almost instantly gets a focus lock on a subject.
It still can't beat the speed of a DSLR but it's good for situations when you want to snap a shot ­quickly.
HANDY: The RX100 can be charged using a microUSB cable just like most smartphones which is convenient.HANDY: The RX100 can be charged using a microUSB cable just like most smartphones which is convenient.
The same can be said of the camera's lightning quick autofocus which worked well in most situations although it was a bit inaccurate in dimly lit areas.
Again, it's not as fast as a DSLR but impressive nonetheless for a compact camera.
But what took us by surprise is the image quality - the photos turned out sharp with great colours and dynamic range.
The combination of its wide-aperture lens and large sensor allows the RX100 to shoot great looking bokeh (blurred backgrounds) photos and perform well in low-light situations.
Not only are the images crisp and sharp but the ISO performance is worlds apart from that of a regular compact camera.
At ISO 1,600, for instance, the images are clear of noise with little softening. For most compacts, the image would have turned out blurry and looked like a mosaic painting.
The camera also offers the option to shoot in RAW format for those who like to tweak their images to the max.
Just like most modern cameras, the RX100 is capable of recording videos in full HD in AVCHD format. We found the video quality to be acceptable but it's definitely isn't as good as the RX100's photo taking capabilities.
The built-in stereo microphones do a decent job but if you want to capture speech clearly it would be next to impossible in a noisy environment.
There is also the option of recording in MP4 format although this lowers the video resolution to 1,440 x 1,080 which is no longer full HD.
In terms of battery life, the RX100 shot about 300 photos on a single charge. Interestingly, it is charged over microUSB, the very same way most smartphones are, so it's easy to keep it powered.
Last shot
Smaller than a MILC, the RX100 offers great ­performance and will serve well as a secondary ­camera for DSLR owners who travel often.
The combination of solid design with a fast lens and great picture taking capabilities makes it a perfect ­compact for serious photographers.
ODD: The RX100's HDMI port is strangely located on the bottom of the camera.ODD: The RX100's HDMI port is strangely located on the bottom of the camera.
Another thing going for it is the control interface which makes it easy for shutter bugs to tweak ­settings on the fly.
However, it's not perfect. For instance, the HD video recording capability could have been better.
It's also not cheap - it's priced close to entry-level DSLRs and MILCs.
But if portability is ­paramount then the RX100 is well worth the price of admission.
Pros: Great photo quality; compact size; smartly designed controls for manual shooting.
Cons: Pricey; HD video recording not great.
DSC RX-100
Prosumer compact camera
SENSOR: 20.2-megapixels (5,472 x 3,648-pixels)
VIEWFINDER: 3.0in LCD (1,228,800-dots) TFT LCD
LENS: 28-100mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8 (wide) - f/4.9 (telephoto)
SHUTTER SPEED: 30 sec - 1/2,000sec
ISO RANGE: 100 to 25,600
SHOOTING MODES: Auto, Auto Advanced, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Three Custom modes, Smart Auto, Sweep Panorama, Picture Effect
VIDEO MODE FORMAT: AVCHD (1,920 x 1,080 at 60 fps) or MPEG4 (1,440 x 1,080 at 30 fps)
BATTERY: Lithium-ion NP-BX1
INTERFACE: MicroUSB port, micro HDMI out
OTHER FEATURES: Face detection, Control Ring, Flash
DIMENSIONS (W x H x D): 102 x 59 x 36mm
WEIGHT: 240g
PRICE: RM2,499
RATING: 4 stars
- Chong Jinn Xiung (The Star)

Review: Toshiba Satellite U840W

Take a walk on the wide side with Toshiba's Ultrabook.
Toshiba has always been one to push the envelope when it comes to notebooks - the company was one of the first to release ultra-thin notebooks (Portege R100) years before Ultrabooks (or Apple's MacBook Air) ever saw the light of day.
The Satellite U840W is another one of these - instead of thin, however, this Ultrabook goes wide.
While most notebooks go for a 16:9 aspect ratio, the U840W goes even wider, going for a 21:9 aspect ratio that's wider than anything out there.
Why 21:9, you ask? Well, the reason is that the U840W is made to be a media player, with a screen that will fit the anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) aspect ratio of some movies.
In fact, many of of the U840W's features are skewed towards making it a mean movie-watching machine - for example, the speakers are high-quality Harman Kardon - with one notable exception that I will get into later in the review.
Wide and proud of it
THIN IS IN: Being an Ultrabook, the Toshiba Satellite U840W is relatively thin and light.THIN IS IN: Being an Ultrabook, the Toshiba Satellite U840W is relatively thin and light.
Anyone looking over my shoulder when I turn on the Satellite U840W will immediately notice the unusually wide screen. Indeed, the screen is the most prominent feature of this Ultrabook.
The width of the screen means that the resolution is a little odd - at 1792 x 768-pixels, the aspect ratio definitely takes some getting used to when you're not watching movies.
For example, when viewed fullscreen, webpages look like they have too much space at the side and not enough vertically.
However, it's actually not too bad if you open two windows side by side, although the amount of text that can be viewed vertically is still quite limited.
Toshiba actually has a small utility called the Split Screen that integrates into the toolbar to quickly resize your Windows into a 2/3 and 1/3 split, similar to how Windows 8 displays two screens at once in the Windows 8 Modern UI.
This differs from the normal Windows 7 behaviour where dragging a window to the far left or right of the screen will resize the window to fill half the screen.
The keyboard is well-spaced and chiclet style, although the key travel could be better.
There are three USB 3.0 ports on the device, and like most Toshiba notebooks, one of the USB ports is a Sleep & Charge port, which allows you to charge your smartphone or other USB devices even when the notebook is off.
The touchpad is large, clickable and supports some multi-touch features like two-finger scrolling.
The whole thing is done up in an understated, dark brown and dark brushed metallic finish which looks quite good.
Movie maestro
The U840W's primary function is as a media player and as such, it fulfils this function quite well.
I tested the notebook by playing back a variety of HD content and it handled them all without a hiccup.
The audio from the Harmon Kardon speakers are particularly notable. The audio is loud and bass is good, and because the speakers are spaced on either side of the keyboard, the stereo soundstaging is pretty good as well.
My one complaint is that the screen is a TN (Twisted Nematic) panel, which means that viewing angles are not that great vertically - tilt the screen even a little further backwards and the screen becomes almost unviewable.
USEFUL: The keys on the Toshiba Satellite U840W are backlit.USEFUL: The keys on the Toshiba Satellite U840W are backlit.
Since the U840W is meant to be a media player, it would have made more logical sense for Toshiba to go for an IPS LCD panel which has much better colour fidelity and viewing angles.
Battery life is very good though and I managed to play movies back to back for about four hours (with backlight set to reasonable levels) before the low battery warning flashed.
For surfing webpages and watching a bit of video, you can probably stretch it to about five or six hours.
You have to hand it Toshiba for trying something different with this Ultrabook - the ultra widescreen aspect ratio is actually quite good when you use it for watching anamorphic widescreen movies.
As a productivity tool, it's about the same as any Ultrabook in its class. It has pretty decent battery life and is powerful enough for most productivity applications out there.
SLEEK: The Toshiba Satellite U840W's brushed metal finish looks very elegant.SLEEK: The Toshiba Satellite U840W's brushed metal finish looks very elegant.
However, no talk of productivity apps would be complete without mentioning that the 21:9 aspect ratio of the U840W does affect how much information you can see vertically, which means most documents, etc. won't feel as comfortable to look at on the screen.
Pros: The 21:9 aspect ratio is great for watching movies; Harman Kardon speakers are great; good battery life.
Cons: Aspect ratio is not great for Internet browsing and word processing; TN panel has very limited viewing angles.
Satellite U840W
PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7GHz)
DISPLAY: 14.4in (1,792 x 768-pixels) LED back-lit
GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 4000
CONNECTIVITY: WiFi 802.11b/g/n, 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, Bluetooth 4.0
PORTS/SLOTS: Three USB 3.0 ports, SD card, HDMI, headphone/microphone combo jack
BATTERY: 54-watt 4-cell
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OTHER FEATURES: Built-in webcam, backlit keyboard
DIMENSIONS (W X D X H): 9.4 x 4.31 x 2.8cm
WEIGHT: 1.59kg
PRICE: RM3,999
- The Star

Review: Samsung NX1000

An entry-level camera it may be but this model is not short on features.
IF YOU have been looking for a DSLR-like camera with the functions of a smartphone and a budget price, look no further than the Samsung NX1000.
The NX1000 - an entry-level addition to the NX family - boasts rich images and fantastic colours thanks to its 20.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, as well as functions aimed at those who cannot live without social media.
The fact that it comes in black, pearl white as well as baby pink is a testament that Samsung values both form and function.
And in terms of function, this baby is definitely no lightweight (though physically it does seem scarily light, at least until you attach the lens.)
Stylish shooter
The camera's plastic body puts it a level below the NX210's metal one but this featherweight is awesome for people who would like to stuff it in a handbag and carry it around.
Size-wise, the lens does make the camera a little clunkier than the super slim ones in the market but with a picture quality that far outstrips those models.
NIFTY: The camera has built-in WiFi to enable speedy picture uploads.NIFTY: The camera has built-in WiFi to enable speedy picture uploads.
Plus, it has built-in WiFi for uploading your pictures directly to Facebook, Picasa and other sites which makes the extra space taken up in your bag more than worth it.
However, you might not want to type long captions for your photos because the camera's keypad is rather unweildy. It's the type where you have to scroll through letters to select one.
You can also link the camera to your Android smartphone and use the phone as a remote viewing device.
So, you can place the camera somewhere out of arm's reach and use your phone screen as the display.
The i-Function button (i-Fn), found on side of the lens allows you to make quick adjustments to your picture.
NEAT: You can also link the camera to your Android smartphone and use the phone as a remote viewing device.NEAT: You can also link the camera to your Android smartphone and use the phone as a remote viewing device.
Aperture, ISO, white balance, shutter speed, exposure compensation and iZoom are all accessible by just pressing the button, and can be adjusted by turning the focus ring on the lens. Talk about convenience!
Also, there is a shot-to-shot delay - this isn't a problem if you're taking stationary objects, but if you were to be on a safari tour around the savannah, this might be a bit of an issue. Minor, but there nonetheless.
For those who like to play around with effects, there is quite a range to pick from: Fish eye and Panorama are only part of 10 Smart Filters and there's also a Selective Colour function, ensuring that your pictures will definitely not be boring.
Parting shot
Overall, there are many reasons to like the Samsung NX1000. For an entry-level model, it's packed with premium features that will surely satisfy users.
You also get high-quality photos with ease of sharing just like on a smartphone.
PLEASING: For an entry-level model, it's packed with premium features that will surely satisfy users.PLEASING: For an entry-level model, it's packed with premium features that will surely satisfy users.
Although there are a few issues but these are minor.
At RM1,999, the NX1000 is for those who want something that's not too pricey but still packed with features.
Pros: Affordable; packed with features; stylish.
Cons: A little plasticky.
Mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera
SENSOR: 20.3-megapixels CMOS
VIEWFINDER: 3.0in LCD (307,200-pixels)
SHUTTER SPEED: 30sec - 1/4,000sec, plus B
ISO RANGE: 100 to 12,800
SHOOTING MODES: SmartAuto 2.0, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Lens Priority, Magic, WiFi, Scene, Movie
VIDEO MODE FORMAT: MP4 (H.264) with AAC audio
BATTERY: 1,030 mAh BP1030 lithium-ion battery
INTERFACE: USB 2.0 High Speed, WiFi, HD Video out, PictBridge Compliant, DPOF Compliant, Remote Control, Mini HDMI out
OTHER FEATURES: Mobile Link, Smart Link Hot Key, Social Sharing, e-mail, Remote Viewfinder, Cloud, Auto Backup, TV Link, geotagging with optional WGS84 GPS module
DIMENSIONS (W x H x D): 114 x 63 x 38mm
WEIGHT: 222g (without battery)
PRICE: RM1,999
RATING: 4 stars
- Lim May Lee (The Star)