This is a bold design from Sony. Digital compact cameras normally shoot video as a bonus feature, and no one really expects the quality of the footage to look or sound that good. But from the design of the DSC-M2, with its flip-and-spin viewing panel and equally-sized Photo and Movie mode buttons, Sony is essentially saying that this is a hybrid camera that performs equally well at both tasks.
It would be a revelation indeed to find a digital video camera with even decent resolution, frame-rates, out-of-the-box memory and handling for this price. You're normally talking £500 at least for a semi-decent video camera. And in our experience, mini-DV cameras always trump disc or stick memory in terms of final video quality, due to differing image-compressing techniques. So has Sony pulled a rabbit out of the hat with this one?
Not really, but it does depend on your needs. If you're looking for a handheld video camera for shooting average video with near zero video-editing features, but which can take decent photos, it's fine. But if you're after good microphone quality, long battery life, decent anti-shake software, impressive zoom range and high compression rates, then look elsewhere.
Video quality is shaky because the camera can only be held with one hand, and whatever anti-shake software there is performs badly. Also, the twin 'stereo' microphones face back away from the scene you're shooting and are only about two centimetres apart, so stereo sound pretensions are a joke.
If it weren't for the rotational viewfinder, the quality would only just be a step up from footage taken on mobile phones. In fairness, there's still a market for people who couldn't give a toss about frame-rates and just want to capture the new baby or grandma falling over, and for that purpose it's a fine if pricey solution.
As mentioned, the still shots are much better. We took several snaps under different lighting conditions, then piped them into iPhoto using the boxed USB cable. Image quality is fine, although the flash is weak and ISO options are limited.
Noise is minimal and resolution on the money. Sony's Real Imaging technology drives the process well. It's reasonably Mac-friendly, too, although powering down the camera when docked produced a Device Removal warning panel on our desktop. A safe shutdown feature would've removed this irritation. All in, it's not a bad stills camera, but the hybrid design doesn't live up to its promise. James Ellerbeck