The metal body not only looks great but also gives the reassurance that the camera is robust and can be carried anywhere. Controls are straightforward and include a mode dial, a zoom toggle, and menu navigation buttons. Access to the Memory Stick and battery are from a single compartment door on the side of the camera. Input-output jacks are the fairly standard power, USB, and AV out.
The 3x optical zoom lens tucks neatly into the body of the camera when not in use and includes an automatic lens protector. In use, the zoom moves from wide to full telephoto in less than three seconds, although it is a little noisier than expected, especially as compared to the notably quiet transport on the Kodak DX4900.
The Sony menu navigation, which is fairly consistent across the range, is extremely easy to use. In capture mode, there are options to set exposure compensation, manual focus, white balance, spot metering, ISO, image size from 2,272 x 1,704 down to 640 x 480, compression levels, flash levels, and picture effects. There is also a scene selection mode that offers presets for twilight, night portrait, and landscape. While useful, this is extremely limited when compared to some other digital cameras, such as the easy-to-use Nikon Coolpix 2500 or the endlessly configurable Casio QV-4000.
The image quality is what you would expect of a 4-megapixel camera--plenty of detail and scope for cropping to get just the right composition. When using the automatic settings, the images were not as sharp as expected, although this can be compensated for using the in-camera sharpening. Both exposure and white balance were generally accurate, but it would have been nice to see the ability to take a manual white-balance reading like on the Nikon 2500. To its credit, the DSC-P9 has a powerful autofocus illuminator that greatly aids focusing in poor light conditions.
One feature we feel should be included in a camera of this quality is an orientation sensor that automatically rotates images when stored to match the photographs as taken. Despite this we would still recommend the DSC-P9 as being one of the sexiest high-resolution cameras available. --Nick Baxter