On any Cyber-shot branded phone, though, the camera is the main focus. The 5-megapixel shooter here is stylishly covered up in normal use by a slide-down panel that runs the full length of the phone.

sony ericsson c903 camera

Slipping it open reveals the lens and flash, and fires up the camera in just a couple of seconds. Holding it lengthways, like a camera, there's a typical shutter button on top, plus additional buttons for switching between video and stills or for accessing the gallery.

Sony ericsson c903 review
COLOUR: the camera takes bright and detailed mid-range shots, with good colour reproduction

The volume keys on the side double up as a zoom rocker for the 16x digital zoom.

Blue backlit icons appear in the navigation D-pad to indicate fast activation keys for often-used camera features. The display does an adequate job as a viewfinder, with the softkeys providing access to more comprehensive settings adjustments

Sony ericsson c903
ZOOM: zooming to the maximum 16x digital zoom level, the image naturally becomes more noisy and degrades

The autofocus system works effectively at quickly locking onto subjects for crisply focused shots. In addition, Face Detection gives you the facility to identify and focus on faces that may not be centred for focus in a group shot; you can select the one you want to focus on from up to three the camera can detect.

Sony ericsson c903 review
DETAIL: the camera can capture lovely images with good levels of detail

In addition to this, among the shoot mode options, Smile Shutter goes a step further by identifying faces but delaying taking a snap when the button's pressed until the camera detects that the subject you've got in focus is smiling – something we found worked surprisingly well at up to a metre or two away.

Sony ericsson c903
CRISP SHOTS: this busy street scene is captured with excellent detail and crisp edges on the various high contrast elements

One welcome upper-range Cyber-shot feature is Best Pics, a clever way of getting the right shot. When you press the button, it captures nine shots almost simultaneously – which, thanks to some smart technology, includes frames before the button was fully depressed. You can choose which ones you want to keep.

Sony ericsson c903
LIGHT: the camera's autometering system deals well with contrast, ensuring the foreground image is rendered with sufficient detail

Settings adjustments are on hand for varying lighting and shooting environments (twilight landscapes, sports, beach/snow, etc.), while you can also add effects or frames, or downgrade shooting resolution if required.

Sony ericsson c903
MACRO: the C903 can capture sharp close up images with excellent detail and colour

Delve further in and you can engage a digital image stabiliser (which didn't really change the performance) or switch on geotagging of images; this adds location metadata to image files, so you can view where images have been taken on a compatible mapping application (including Google Maps on the handset).

Sony ericsson c903 review
LOW LIGHT: the camera delivered twilight shots well, producing subtle colour shades

Results from the camera are impressive. It can capture plenty of detail and colour reproduction appears vibrant and accurate. It handles high contrast images pretty well too, and generally we were very happy for the performance for this grade of cameraphone.

Sony ericsson c903 review
FLASH: the dual-LED flash worked best over a short distance

In lower light situations indoors, the camera dealt reasonably well without introducing too much noise. In darker scenarios, though, we found the illumination level from the dual-LED a bit disappointing; subjects over a metre away were still quite murky though closer up images tended to be fine.

Sony ericsson c903 camera shots
DARK SHOTS: the limitations of the LED flash are clearly exposed here

Images can be given a quick tweak post-shooting with a Photo-fix option or levels adjusted individually using the PhotoDJ application. Both images and video clips taken by the camera can be uploaded directly via the mobile network to online services as one of the shot options; the C903 has settings for Picasa Web Album, MySpace and Blogger pre-installed, though others can be added.