When you first see the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3, you'll notice that its design sits somewhere between the mock-SLRs and super-small compacts on the market at the moment.
This means that it's big enough for comfortable handling (and a thoughtful weighting means that it's easy to hold in one hand), while at the same time it's neat enough to fit in a coat pocket.
The DSC-V3's gunmetal outer casing is really smooth and devastatingly handsome. There's a small handgrip fashioned at the front of the camera, with a rubber finish that makes clutching it an effortless task.
The oversize exposure mode Command dial is the first thing to note about the camera's setup, and the anti-slip grooves on its metal edge perform well. A thumb wheel is included, saving you a trip to the backplate thumbpad for aperture and shutter speed settings.
The zoom rocker is in the usual place for the right-hand thumb, but Sony has opted to stick the exposure compensation and AE lock buttons on the left-hand side, which isn't a bad decision in itself but they're a little small and don't protrude far enough - fatthumbed users beware!
As per normal
Flash, self-timer and macro shooting options are accessed via the thumbpad, which is becoming the norm these days, and a review button displays the last image shot. In order to get at all other images on your card you have to select Playback mode on the Command dial - there's no playback shutter priority.
Notable button omissions include white balance, ISO, metering and drive selection - it's rare for you to get all these on a compact, but most cameras at this price point offer at least one or, as a better alternative, a Func button to enable you to assign your most-used settings for immediate use.
Unfortunately, there are no such luxuries with the Cyber-shot DSCV3. You have to go through the shooting menu, which is annoyingly oversized and has a hard to follow layout. Still, at least there's a separate shooting menu; the less-used options are neatly tucked away in the Setup menu, accessed via the Command dial.
The Setup menu is intuitively organised and well endowed, apart from a missing time option for auto review - the default is around 2.5sec and the only way around this is to hold your finger on the shutter button after capture.
Features are bountiful on this camera: you can't grumble about 7.2 megapixels, Carl Zeiss optics, ISO 800 max, flash exposure compensation, hologram autofocus (with flexible spot auto focus), a night shot function, RAW shooting, Memory Stick and CF slots and, most satisfyingly, a 2.5-inch (yes, it's 2.5 inches!) LCD screen, which makes playback something to relish.
Performance-wise the DSC-V3 pretty much hits the spot. Shutter lag is described in milliseconds by Sony, and you'd best take its word for it - even when you include autofocus in the equation (for shooting mid-distance subjects at the wide-angle), you're still talking only a second or so from half-press to full capture (surely testament to a speedy and accurate AF).
But while fine JPEGs require about a one second wait from shot to shot in normal mode, RAW files can take as long as seven seconds. Sadly, there's no way around this wait because you can't shoot RAW in Continuous mode.
Realistically, JPEGs are the only option unless you've got time on your hands from shot to shot, so there's some serious room for improvement here. In Continuous mode (Speed Burst) you can whack out JPEGs at 2.5fps for eight frames, which is a decent hit rate, even if it sets no records.
Some colour and luminance noise can be seen at ISO 100 in areas of dark, even tone, but this is the norm for compact cameras and certainly nothing to really worry about. At ISO 320 things could be a little cleaner and, as you'd expect ISO 800, they're a bit of a mess, but do remember that we're dealing with a 1/1.8- inch sensor. There are less noisy compacts out there, but not in 7-megapixel territory.
Where this camera excels is with its optics - there's virtually no evidence of colour fringing or blooming in our test shots, which is practically unheard of for compacts, and it's a significant achievement indeed. And did we mention that this camera has a 2.5-inch LCD screen? Two reasons enough for sticking with Sony, despite having to adjust to the strange layout. Matt Henry