The front of the N2 is mainly taken up by the telescoping lens, which protrudes about an inch and a half from the front of the camera when it telescopes out. Above the lens is the small flash window and the IR active focus emitter. Sony uses the vacant space on the other side to remind you that it’s a Sony, and to proclaim loudly that it takes 10.1 megapixel images.
By far the largest feature on the back of the N2 is the 3-inch touch screen. To the side of this are the small zoom control, the mode switch, the menu button (which accesses the on-screen menu) and the display button (which shows or hides the on-screen information such as shutter speed, aperture, etc). And that’s it: everything else is done through the on-screen menu.
On the left side of the camera is the microphone and a label that reminds you that the N2 has a 3x optical zoom. Just in case you’d forgotten.
On the right we have a lanyard loop and the cover for the battery and memory card compartment: push this in and press it down and it slides off, revealing the battery compartment and MemoryStick Pro slot. MemoryStick Duo and Duo Pro cards are supported, although the larger standard MemorySticks won’t fit. 256MB of internal memory is also included. You also see the mode switch.
On the top is the speaker vent, the power switch and the shutter button, plus a label that reminds you of the model name.
There are just two things on the bottom of the camera: a tripod bush and the socket where the combined USB and A/V cable connects. This socket also supports the $80 Sony Cyber-shot Station dock, which provides an easy way to connect the camera to a TV (it includes a remote control) and a PC without fiddling with cables.
No viewfinder is present on the N2; the live image is shown on the LCD screen.
**The 3-inch LCD screen has 230k pixels, providing a large display and ample resolution. Which is a good thing, as there is no viewfinder; you rely on the LCD screen for everything. However, it’s not perfect; in our tests indoors at the Photokina show in Germany, the screen looked unpleasant, with the florescent lights producing an unpleasant on-screen flickering effect. This didn’t seem to be present in the photos we shot, but it is a little off-putting when you’re trying to compose a shot. The screen also didn’t seem to have particularly fast updates: it only updated a handful of times a second, which could lead to lost shots if you are shooting a fast moving subject (such as small child, kitten or football player). However, this may have been due to the lighting at the show: we won’t know for sure until we get a test unit to try in other lighting situations.
The small flash above the lens is not particularly powerful: Sony claims a range of 0.6 to 15.7 feet, and this would seem to be about right: we found that objects disappeared into the haze just a few feet away. The flash location right by the lens could cause problems with red-eye, but the camera does include a red-eye reduction mode that uses a pre-flash to contract the iris. However, this would not be as effective as moving the flash further away from the lens, but the small size of the N2 case precludes this.
**The zoom lens on the N2 is a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar model with a focal length range of 7.9mm to 23.7mm: a 35mm equivalent range of 38 to 114mm. That’s a fairly standard range for a compact camera, but it’s not particularly wide at the bottom end, so squeezing in all of your family for a group shot may be a bit difficult. Again, that’s an acceptable range for this type of camera. The lens telescopes into the case when not in use, fitting almost flush to the front of the case.
Ease of Use
The N2 is obviously designed for the new and nervous shooter, and it does a good job of demystifying the process of controlling the camera. With clear on-screen icons and text, it is a simple process to change the shooting mode or otherwise tweak a setting.
One very nice use of the touch screen is focusing: in the spot AF mode, the camera focuses on wherever you touch the screen. This is seriously useful if you are trying to compose a photo with an off-center subject or are experimenting with depth of field: you can change the focus point with a touch of the screen. The focus area doesn’t cover the entire screen, but it does cover most of it.
The Auto mode does as the name suggests: control over all of the settings is given over to the camera’s throbbing silicon brain. Again, we weren’t able to test the accuracy of the exposures, but it did seem to make good choices in out limited tests. The Program mode is broadly similar, but allows for some user control, such as the shooting and focus mode. Most users will be perfectly happy putting the camera in auto and forgetting about the controls, though.
The N2 can record movies to Memorystick Pro cards in what Sony describes as MPEG VX Fine mode, which has a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels at 30 frames per second. Non-pro Memorysticks are restricted to the MPEG VX Standard mode, which is the same resolution but is only at 16.6 frames per second. A third mode called Video Mail records a 160 by 112 pixel video for sending over a low bandwidth connection or attaching to an email. All of the modes record mono audio with the video from the small microphone on the side of the camera, which captures adequate audio. It won’t blow your socks off with the fidelity, but it’s good enough to hear the subject talking. All of the videos are compressed to MPEG-4 format.
Drive / Burst Mode
Like most compact point-and-shoot cameras, the N2 has only limitied capabilities for shooting lots of images quickly. The N2 offers two burst modes which can capture 3 frames at 0.8 frames per second (at the highest resolution) or 15 frames at 0.9 frames per second, but only at VGA resolution. This wouldn’t be a good camera to choose if you are shooting sports and want to show something like a football play in a single sequence: it just isn’t fast enough to capture the flow of a game.
The N2 offers a good selection of playback modes: photos can be viewed by date or in a playlist. Effects (such as fades and basic video cuts) can also be applied to the slideshow, and it can even play back music to accompany the slideshow. It comes with 4 songs pre-loaded, but other music from MP3s or CD can be uploaded to the camera to accompany the photos. The first person to upload the theme song to Titanic to go with the photos of their sailing holiday gets to hit an iceberg, though.
Custom Image Presets
A limited but adequate range of scene modes are included, which include most of the useful ones. There are 8 modes in all: Beach, Fireworks, High Sensitivity, Landscape, Snow, Soft Snap, Twilight, Twilight Portrait. The High Sensitivity mode is the only one that requires explaining: this bumps the ISO rating up, but Sony claims it doesn’t overly increase the noise in the images. Accessing the modes requires just a single button press and one screen touch, making it pretty easy to move from mode to mode.
Manual Control Options
Unusually for a point-and-shoot camera, the N2 provides a full manual control mode. This is accessed by selecting manual mode in the mode screen, and then selecting the mSet option. You can then set both the shutter speed and aperture from the touch screen: an elegant solution that makes it easier to control both settings than most point-and-shoot cameras. It’s not a solution that a professional would use, but it works pretty well for occasional use.
Several focus modes are provided, including Multi AF (which uses five focus points and tries to get as many of them as possible in focus), Center AF (which uses one focus spot in the center of the screen) and Spot AF. The latter mode is interesting (and very useful); you pick a focus spot by touching the screen. This can be extremely useful if you have an off-center subject or are experimenting with depth of field.
The N2 provides the typical level of exposure control for a packet camera, offering exposure compensation off the first level of the on-screen menu that can push the exposure two stops either way in 1/3 of a stop steps.
The usual selection of metering modes are offered on the N2, including center weighted, spot and average. Switching between modes is a little convoluted: getting to the metering mode option required one button press (to activate the menu) and three screen touches (one to access the menu, then two to scroll down the list and one to access the list of metering modes).
The N2 has a wide ISO range, from 100 to an impressively high 1600. That’s significantly higher than most compact cameras, and our limited tests showed only a limited amount of noise at the higher settings. However, we will have to wait until we can do more in-depth testing before we can draw any real conclusions on this. Suffice to say that having a high ISO setting can be useful in situations where you can’t use a flash, as long as the noise is not too irritating.
As well as the usual auto white balance setting, 5 different options are offered: Cloudy, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent and Incandescent. There is no option for setting your own white balance point, either from a white card or directly.
The shutter speed range of the N2 is pretty standard: from a minimum of 1/8 to 1/2000 of a second in auto mode, and 30 seconds to 1/1000 of a second in manual mode. Noise would become an issue with the longer shutter speeds, though.
The aperture range of the is from f2.8 to f7.9 at the wide end (7.9mm) and f5.4 to f23.7 at the telephoto end (23.7mm). That’s pretty standard for this type of camera, but if you are shooting in low light, yo’ll want to keep the lens as wide as possible to keep the aperture open.
Picture Quality/Size Options
Eight image size options are supported, from the maximum of 10 megapixels down to VGA size. The on-screen menu doesn’t specify the resolutions of the different settings, but they are as follows: 10MP (), 3:2 () 8MP (3264 x 2448,), 5MP (2592 x 1944,), 3MP (2048 x 1536), 2MP (1632 x 1224), VGA (640 x 480) and HDTV (1920 x 1080).
Picture Effects Mode
The N2 includes four special effect color modes: Black and White, Sepia, Natural and Vivid. We generally recommend that users avoid these, as you can get better looking effects using an image editing program. Plus, if you don’t like the effect, you can reverse it, which you can’t do with the in-camera effects.
Sony supplies their Picture Motion Browser software with the N2, which does an adequate, if unspectacular job of uploading and organizing photos on a PC. As usual with bundled applications, you’d probably be better off invesing a bit extra in something like Photoshop Elements. No Mac software is supplied.
Jacks, ports, plugs
A basic combination USB and A/V connector cable is supplied with the N2. The $80 Cyber-shot Station dock is also supported, and this provides a much easier way to connect the camera to a TV for viewing, as it includes a remote control. So you can moe between photos from the couch.
Direct Print Options
The usual suspects are here: DPOF and PictbRidge are both supported, so you can flag images for later printing in a DPOF compatible printer, as well as connecting directly to a PictBridge printer via USB without the need for a PC.
Although the large screen must suck down some serious power, the small NP-BG1 Lithium-ion battery holds a lot of charge: Sony claims a battery life of 300 shots. We’ll refrain from commenting on that until we get to do out own testing, but Lithium-ion batteries do hold a lot of charge, so it may not be far off the mark.
As well as supporting Memorystick Pro Duo card capacities up to 4GB, the N2 includes 256MB of memory. Images can be copied between the Mermorystick and the internal memory, so this is a nice backup to have if you are in a shooting frenzy and run out of room. This memory can also be used to store music to play back while looking at photos: a nice touch if you want to show off your family snapshots with a suitable soundtrack. May I suggest the theme from the godfather? That way, you can make the viewers an offer they can’t refuse…
Underwater Housing – Sony offers a $199.99 underwater housing (the MPK-NA) that allows you to take the N2 skinny dipping to a depth of 40 meters. However, you can’t use the touch screen features of the camera with this case. You can, however, change modes and zoom in and out, so you should be able to snap shots of the passing fishies.
At $449.95, the N2 is at the high end of the spectrum for a point-and-shoot camera. But it has the features to make it worth the money: it shoots at a higher resolution than most, has a bigger screen and has a number of innovative features. All of these make it pretty good value for money if you don’t mind laying out the cash.
Who it’s For
Point-and-Shooters - The easy to use full auto mode makes this a dream for those who just want to press the button and leave the hard work to the camera.
Budget Consumers – At $449.95, it’s a little bit too much for penny pushers.
Gadget Freaks – Gadget lovers will go ga-ga over the big screen and the touch screen menu system.
Manual Control Freaks – Although the camera has manual controls, they aren’t that easy to use, so those who want manual control much of the time should look elsewhere.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists – Although it has the resolution of a pro camera, it really isn’t one. Pros need more control over the picture taking process than the N2 provides.
The N2 is an attractive but pricey package. It has a number of innovative features that go beyond the gimmicky into the realm of the useful. The touch screen menu, for instance, is easy to use and doesn’t require more than a handful of screen touches to navigate. Combine this with the high resolution images that the N2 takes, and you’ve got a good combination of features. We’ll have to wait until we get to test the camera in-depth before we can make any real conclusions, but it certainly looks very, very promising.
Meet the tester
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email