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Sony Ericsson K800i Cybershot - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 11/10/2006
Rating: Above Average
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As one of the first reviews of a mobile phone with built in digital camera on this site - this review will focus mainly on the digital camera features, with brief mention of some of the stand out or more interesting mobile phone features.

Introduction: The K800i (K790i) is the first Sony Ericsson mobile phone with built in digital camera to feature the "Cybershot" name - it appears as though the digital camera included with this mobile phone has been designed to be competition for budget digital cameras, rather than simply an add-on feature to the mobile phone. With 3.2 megapixels, an auto-focus lens with no optical zoom, and a built in flash, the camera is very similar to the Sony Cybershot P32 and Canon Powershot A300 from the later half of 2003, albeit with much thinner dimensions (as shown below).

Canon Powershot A300 Measurements: 11 x 3.7 x 5.8 cm, 175g
Sony Cybershot P32 Measurements: 10.1 x 3.3 x 5.8 cm, 217g
Sony Ericsson K800i Measurements: 10.5 x 2.2 x 4.7 cm, 115g

Sony Ericsson have this to say about the camera:

"Cyber-shot™ digital still camera. And mobile phone. It’s here. A Cyber-shot™ digital camera and a small and sophisticated feature-packed 3G mobile phone all in one. Open the lens cover and you're ready to take the picture. Bring the K800i with you and you have a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus, built-in xenon flash and image and video stabilizer function ready for any moment, anytime. And a 3G phone for sharing your pictures. Instantly."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Casio Exilim EX-Z1000)


Camera side off - lens cover in place.


Camera side on: sliding the lens cover down switches the phone into camera mode. Flash, focus assist lamp, lens, microphone, self-portrait mirror.


Phone side: There is a very small digital camera lens at the top - this is used for video calls. From this side the phone appears very much like a traditional mobile phone with no obvious signs that it's a camera phone. The screen is a good size for a mobile phone at 2" with a decent resolution.


Top: Shutter release, zoom / volume control, infra-red port.


Bottom - Sony Memory Stick Micro M2 Memory card slot, audio dictation button. The camera can be rested on this side to allow photos to be taken, however there is no tripod mount provided.


Battery cover off, battery, SIM card slot, and at the bottom of the phone is the Sony connector for charging, USB, and accessories such as the handsfree earphone.


Lens close up. Flash, focus assist lamp, mic, self-portrait mirror, and underneath a light-meter? To the right is the loud-speaker.

Size Comparison:


Size comparison, compared to the ultra-compact Canon Digital IXUS i. (picture taken with the Canon Powershot A700)

Specifications / Features:

  • Cyber-shot™ 3.2 megapixel digital camera
  • Auto-focus lens f=5.2mm 1:2.8
  • 16x Digital Zoom
  • 2 inch LCD - 320x240
  • Movie mode: Records 640 x 480 at 30fps with sound
  • Xenon flash - real photographic light / red-eye reduction
  • BestPic™ - pick the best, delete the rest
  • 3G - high speed Internet services
  • Music and video player
  • PictBridge compatible - easy photo printing
  • Memory Stick Micro™ (M2™) support
  • ISO: Auto (80 - 640)
  • ~8cm macro mode
  • 66mb built in memory

Box Contents:

  • Sony Ericsson K800i
  • Lithium-Polymer 3.6v 950mAh Battery
  • Phone charger
  • Stereo Headset
  • USB Cable
  • CD Rom
  • Users Guide (Orange Get started with your Sony Ericsson K800i 122page manual, Sony K800i 48page manual)

Average box contents - The camera phone has a fairly decent amount of internal memory (66mb), and isn't supplied with a memory card. Purchase of an additional case is recommended to protect the screen and body of the camera phone. The camera connects directly via a usb cable and can be charged via the USB cable which is to be commended.

Battery usage: The K800i takes 2 and a half hours for a full charge. Battery life is quite good, although highly dependant on usage, and therefore difficult to measure. Standby time is rated at 350 hours - over 14 days assuming you never use the camera phone. The more you use the phones features, the shorter the battery life, using 3G internet or email access drains the batteries very quickly for example.

Camera Operation and Options: The view button turns the camera to review mode while the shutter release button returns it to photo mode. The camera has four shooting modes: Normal, BestPic, Panorama, and Frames. Scene mode options cover almost every event: Auto, Twilight Landscape, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Portrait, Beach / Snow, Sports and Text. In playback photos can be shown individually or as 9 or 25 thumbnails.

Photo mode/menus: The "Settings" menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode Shooting settings menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen has a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels and updates fairly smoothly - the colours appear accurate for reviewing photos. There is no live or review histogram available but the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder.

Shooting Options: Mode, Scenes, Picture Size, Focus (Auto, Macro, Infinite), Flash, Self-Timer, Effects (shown above), White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent), Metering mode (Normal, Spot), Picture Quality, Shutter sound (choice of four), Turn on time and date, Reset file number, Save to (Memory stick or phone memory).

Photo shortcuts screen Playback screens

Photo shortcuts screen: By pressing the 0 button on the numeric keypad whilst in photo mode, the camera will display the photo shortcuts screen shown above. This provides quick access to photo scenes (top left icon / button), photo modes (bottom left icon / button), zoom, picture resolution, focusing mode, night stabilisation, and flash.

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom is fairly quick and works at up to 32x. Very basic shot information is shown about the images. From playback mode you can Print, Edit in PhotoDJ, Rotate, Delete, View a Slideshow, or Send the picture (as an MMS message, or as an email).

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of pictures will fit in the provided memory:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
Fine
Normal
3M (2048x1536)
78
100
2M (1632x1224)
124
217
1M (1280x960)
242
300+
VGA (640x480)
300+
300+

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a larger amount of memory, however, as the camera is fairly low resolution compared to other digital cameras, you can fit a lot of photos in the provided memory, assuming you don't use the memory for other files (mp3s, videos etc). If you are only interested in small photos, then you can fit a very good number of 2mp, Normal photos in the memory. The K800i has 66mb of memory built in and assuming you don't fill the shared memory with videos and mp3s, then you should be able to fit upto 100 3MP, Normal photos. There is the choice of four image sizes: 3mp, 2mp, 1mp and VGA, and there is a choice of two compression options: Normal or Fine. Unfortunately there is no choice regarding aspect ratio. You can choose between "High Quality" video or low quality video, the later is designed for sending as MMS text messages or attached to emails etc. If you need to fit more mp3s, photos or videos then you can expand the memory with a Sony M2 memory card, prices are around £20 for 512mb or around £40 for 1gb assuming you shop around (and assuming you can find a shop that sells them, one source is: www.directmobileaccessories.co.uk).

Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: Phone switch on / off time is slow taking around 10 seconds to bring up the main screen assuming you cancel out of the switch-on animation - switching off is equally slow as the camera shows you another pointless animation during shutdown. When the phone is already on, getting into the camera mode is quite quick taking around 2 seconds from sliding the lens cover down to showing the camera view on screen. Focusing is fairly quick outside in good light (but slow compared to the majority of point and shoot digital camera), but if the light is poor then focusing can be very slow and isn't always successful, especially if it has to rely on the focus assist lamp. Shutter response seemed slow at around 0.4 seconds from having the camera pre-focused, to taking the shot - this is around 4 times slower than an average to good speed digital camera. Shot to shot time was average - and severely slowed down due to the camera leaving you in a psuedo-playback (review) mode where the camera constantly shows you photo you have just taken until you switch back into photo mode - more annoying is the fact that you have to switch to photo mode, then switch into playback mode before you are in the proper playback mode. The continuous shooting mode is slightly different to other cameras, and is called "BestPic" - this takes a sequence of nine photos at roughly 9fps and then you pick the ones that you want to keep, the camera then deletes the rest. The flash recharge time did not seem to cause a problem, as there was generally a delay between shots due to having to switch back into photo mode before each shot. The cameras menus seemed fairly responsive, however zooming in and reviewing photos in playback mode is fairly sluggish. Screen updates in photo mode and playback mode were slightly sluggish.

Ease of use: The camera part of the phone is very easy to use, simply slide down the lens cover and press the shutter release button. The camera has a built in help page, simply pressing 0 will bring up a helpful overlay showing the majority of the controls such as flash, focus, zoom etc, making it easy to use. There is a second, interactive, guide to using the camera (hidden) in the phone accessible through Menu / Organiser / My applications / Photo mate. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use although occasionally frustrating as you use one button to select the menu, then to continue with the menu you have to use the joypad. Switching between photo mode and playback / view mode is fairly straightforward, however the camera leaves you in a "review" mode after you have taken the photo, and then to get into the normal playback / view mode you have to first switch to photo mode, and then back to play mode - this doesn't take too long, but due to the slightly awkward buttons / joypad issue it can quickly become frustrating and overall seems clunky and slightly un-polished. Despite these issues, the majority of people shouldn't have any problems using the camera's features. The menus are responsive and easy to read. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple. There are a number of scene modes that help beginners.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The camera is thin and lacks a hand grip on the front or back, however the camera phone was easy to hold like a normal digital camera. The buttons are fairly easy to use but some are a little small and difficult to press, which may be a factor for some people, for example some people particularly dislike Sony Ericsson joysticks. The buttons are in a good position and easy to reach while composing shots, although occassionally require the use of both hands. There seems to be a good amount of buttons for straight-forward digital camera use. The buttons feel okay, however the zoom control is quite small, and in playback mode will interfere with MP3 playback volume if you are playing MP3s at the same time as using the camera features. The shutter release is quite good with two stages, the first allows you to focus, the second takes the photo. The buttons aren't labelled especially well for photo use, as they are shared with the phone's features, thankfully pressing 0 brings up details. I thought the camera felt okay ergonomically, considering that it's attached to a mobile phone. The compartments and covers seem well positioned and are easy to open.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Sony Ericsson K800i Cybershot Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and flower the only image with flash
Heather without flash (ISO200) Flash photo (ISO400)

Inside: The camera produces average results indoors - with flash the results can look overly bright - whereas without the flash images appear much softer, although with much better, more natural looking colour. The camera is fairly good at producing a shake free photo in low light, however the camera doesn't always focus successfully, despite the focus assist lamp. Red-eye was a problem when the flash was used, especially in group photos. Noise was high, and colour was lacking when the ISO setting was automatically set high (ie ISO400).

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels and will choose anywhere between ISO80 and ISO640. Here are some example crops shown at 100%:

ISO80 ISO200 ISO640

Noise can be a problem, especially if indoors if the flash isn't being used. Noise was quite high, and was even noticable in some photos after they were resized for web use. Night time shots were especially prone to high noise levels, as can be seen in the photo above of the swimming pool (ISO640) - not only are there big red, green, and blue dots, but there are also black dots. It would be nice if there were some control over the ISO setting, as then you would be able to choose the one with the least noise, instead you have to leave the decision to the camera and hope for the best. Noise is most noticable in the darker areas of images. Noise is visible at ISO80 in some photos which is disappointing.

Outside:

wall
Liverpool shops (ISO80) Brighton Pavilion (ISO100)

Outside: Outside colour is very good with saturated colours that are fairly accurate. Colour is impressive for a mobile phone, and better than any other mobile phone photos I've seen. Images do appear over-sharpened perhaps to compensate for focusing errors or lens softness. Lens flare was occassionally a problem (causing the entire image to appear hazy, this is slightly visible on the Liverpool shops photo above). Purple fringing was also noticable, especially if taking photos of high contrast items. The camera appears to have good dynamic range maintaining detail in both bright and dark areas - although the dark / shadow areas do suffer from noise.

Zoom: There is no optical zoom, just a digital zoom, this degrades image quality quite dramatically and is best avoided (often better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop). With this camera, if you need to get closer to the subject, you are best walking or moving closer!

Exposure: Exposure generally seemed very good with no noticable problems.

Other Image Quality issues: Noise is noticable inside or outside especially in shadows, Purple fringing is slightly higher than average, Focusing problems indoors.

Macro: the macro mode allows you to be roughly 8cm away from from the subject. This is average for a digital camera, but very good for a camera phone.

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO80)

There is no custom white balance, however there is a choice of white balance mode if needed. Noise seems fairly low in this photo and detail and colour is quite good. Focusing struggles in low light when it has to use the focus assist lamp, and if you use the flash then the image will be over exposed.

Video mode: Video recording seemed poor when compared to other digital cameras or other mobile phones as the resolution was quite low at 320x240 and 30fps - most other mobile phones and cameras now provide 640x480 video modes.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Outside image quality can be very good, providing sharp images with good colour and exposure - this is assuming that purple fringing or lens flare aren't noticable - in ideal situations outdoor image quality should match budget digital cameras, and results from the K800i are better than from other camera phones (For resized web photos it can produce very good results). However indoor focusing is fairly regularly a problem and the weak flash can cause the image to be overly dark, and colour is poor. Without the flash noise is a noticable problem, but colour is better. (If indoor photography is where you want to be, then you would be much better off with the Fujifilm FinePix F30!) There are a number of scene modes that may help you acheive better results. There is a good range of image sizes and compression options, but unfortunately there is no choice regarding aspect ratio. (6/10)

Everything else (the camera phone as a whole): The camera phone is compact, stylish and fully featured, and as a mobile phone wth MP3, Internet, Email, RSS Reader, FM Radio, 3G etc fully met my requirements in a mobile phone. On the camera side of things there is very little in the way of dedicated camera buttons, the buttons are fairly small and require learning. The camera is simple to use, the menu system is straightforward and hasn't been overly simplified, ie, it still has the majority of features you've come to expect from a digital camera. There is a good choice of features and options. The camera speed is generally good to average, with a fairly fast switch on time (excluding the phone's long switch on/off time), fairly quick focusing time, slightly sluggish shutter response, and a very fast continous shooting mode. The screen size is good at 2" with a good resolution, and the quality appears excellent. Battery life can be very good (the less you use it). The video mode is disappointing at 320 x 240, 30fps with sound.  (8/10)

Value for Money: The Sony Ericsson K800i from FREE, is very good value for money, assuming you get a good mobile phone deal. Compared to a budget 4 megapixel digital camera available from around £60 (the Kodak Easyshare C310) the Sony Ericsson K800i on a £30 a month tariff is quite expensive (working out at a total of £360 per year), but if you were going to get that mobile phone tariff anyway, then effectively the phone is free and excellent value for money. If you are buying the Sony Ericsson K800i seperately (without a contract), you can expect to pay around £240 / $400 which is very expensive, and you would be better off buying a simple point and shoot digital camera like the Kodak C310. (8/10 - assuming you get it free) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: Overall the Sony Ericsson Cybershot K800i offers a lot, it provides a fully functioning mobile phone (with Internet, Email, RSS, 3G, MP3 etc), and an adequately functioning 3 megapixel digital camera. The camera can take mostly decent shots outdoors (assuming lens flare doesn't rear it's ugly head), and takes average to poor indoor photos. The main problem with indoor photos is noise, focusing and a weak flash. If you want a fairly simple, easy to use point and shoot digital camera for snapshot type photos, and want it attached to a mobile phone so that you can take it everywhere you go, then this is one of the better options. However, if you want better image quality in all situations, then you would be best buying a dedicated digital camera. I found myself using the camera regularly for "Fun" snapshot photos that I wouldn't necessarily have bothered taking with a dedicated (and bigger) digital camera. As a "take everywhere" camera, it is ideal, but expect better image quality in the coming years.

Sony Ericsson K800i Cybershot Rating: Above Average (7.5/10)
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What I like:

  • Only slighly larger than a normal compact mobile phone, still smaller than some, smaller than most digital cameras
  • Charges through the USB cable
  • Focus assist lamp
  • Real digital camera style flash
  • Real auto-focus lens
  • Built in panoramic mode
  • 66mb built in memory, capable of storing around 100 3mp, Normal shots
  • Very fast continuous shooting / BestPic mode
  • Avoids photo shake / blur in low light quite successfully (with a lot of noise)
  • Goes everywhere with you, always ready to take photos

What I don't like:

  • USB connection drivers have not passed Windows XP Logo testing.
  • High purple fringing
  • Poor low-light image quality due to poor focus and high noise
  • Memory Stick Micro™ (M2™) support (expensive, not yet widely available)
  • Some slight bugs in the user interface (different menus in photo mode/playback mode, different buttons used to select items, sometimes the joypad, sometimes the select button)
  • Camera sometimes freezes for a few seconds
  • Poor video mode
  • Generally slightly sluggish in photo mode, and poor focusing and shutter response times
  • When switching to File Transfer Mode the camera phone switch off then on again before access is possible
  • File numbering isn't consecutive, if you remove photos 1 - 32 from the phone, then start taking more photos, numbering starts at 1 again.

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Sony Ericsson K800i Cybershot Sample Photo Gallery.

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