Sony Ericsson C903 review: Slider-shot
The 5 megapixel camera can use a push
As you should already know by now, the Sony Ericsson C903 has a 5 megapixel camera capable of producing images with a maximum resolution of 2592 x 1944 pixels. The handset is equipped with a LED flash to assist shooting in poor light conditions. The flash itself is quite weak even for a LED unit - noticeable weaker than the Sony Ericsson W995 flash for example. Of course, take our words with a pinch of salt - the flash performance may change before the phone gets into production.
The 5 megapixel autofocus camera offers a wide range of niceties such as smile shutter, face detection, image and video stabilizer, BestPic, auto-rotate, macro mode, spot metering, camera images geo-tagging, etc.
The camera has the familiar user interface. Its pop-up sub-menus enhanced with icons and the Multi Menu packing all the available settings are here to facilitate the user experience.
The camera toolbar gives access to shoot mode, scenes, picture size, focus, flash, self-timer, metering mode, white balance, effects, and settings Multi Menu. Sadly, an ISO setting is not available in the C903.
The focus mode has an extra feature - Face detection. The face recognition system allows you to simultaneously track as many as 3 faces but focus is locked on the one that's closest to the center of the frame.
The image stabilizer is supposed to keep images from blurring in dark environments but, as in all phone cameras so far, it's purely a software tweak of questionable efficiency. Plus, no stabilization can help you if your subjects are moving.
The shoot mode menu has five modes, two of which deserve special attention - the well known BestPic and a feature introduced to the market for the first time by Sony Ericsson in C905 via a firmware update - the Smile Shutter mode.
Using the Smile Shutter is easy - first you fully press the camera key all the way down to activate it. A small blinking yellow icon in the right upper corner indicates that the mode is working and from here on the phone automatically snaps the photo as soon as it "spots" a grinning face.
The ultra quick-snapping BestPic mode has two varieties - fast and slow. In fast mode it produces 9 full-size 5 megapixel images in about 1.6sec, each of them of approximately 1MB of size. The slow mode takes 9 images again but at a larger interval of about 2.8sec. The good thing about the BestPic mode is that the LED flash can be used in both slow and fast modes and illuminates constantly while the camera takes the 9 photos.
With a built-in GPS receiver, the Sony Ericsson C903 is capable of putting standard GPS coordinates in images. You can enable geotagging (Add position) from the settings to add GPS location data to your pictures. A flag icon at the bottom of the viewfinder indicates that the option is activated. A satellite icon in the top left corner shows that the phone is attempting to get a GPS lock.
However, the proper geo-tagging of images requires some time for the GPS to lock position. The successful lock is depicted by a set of green stripes in the upper right corner of the camera viewfinder (right next to the satellite icon).
You can of course speed up the process by enabling the Assisted-GPS function, but this would generate some extra data traffic on your account. So please bear that in mind if you want to use A-GPS.
When browsing tagged images in the gallery, the View-on-map option displays the location where the picture was taken directly on the preinstalled Google Maps.
The dedicated macro mode in the C903 allows you to take images from as close as 10 cm (focus lock is reported in the viewfinder even at closer distances but the image is actually a bit blurred).
Thanks to the built-in accelerometer the camera is also able to auto-rotate your images when you are previewing them.
The silent shooting mode completes the notable features of the C903 camera.
There is one shortcoming that concerns the one-way camera menu layout - to reach the Multi Menu you have to pass all the other settings on the toolbar as it's the last item there. Browsing items on the toolbar from the opposite should be an option, as with the camera interfaces of competing brands.
The C903 camera is a capable shooter. The images are crisp with good contrast though with a clear tendency to over-sharpen edges, especially in high-contrast areas. Noise level seems relatively high, especially with insufficient light, but the autofocus camera does very well at close-ups.
Color rendering is relatively good, though all colors are a bit cold. We think they need about 10% more saturation to look natural. And finally, there is a lot of purple fringing.
The trademark red-to-pink conversion that all recent Sony Ericsson cameraphones manifest is kept under control and we see well balanced reds and pinks.
To sum up, at this stage the Sony Ericsson C903 outputs an identical image quality to Sony Ericsson C902. We expected at least a little improvement but it looks like the lens, the processing logic and the image sensor used are the same as in the C902. We have seen what Sony Ericsson are capable of with the superb image quality of the C905 camera, and we hoped to see at least a bit of its glory here in the C903 too.
As usual, photos at 100% should not be indicative, as even mid-range digicam quality suffers at full size. Just to give you an idea of what the C903 photos can turn out with just a wee bit of photoediting, here are the samples downsized to 1024x768 pixels.
Of course, the C903 is also capable of capturing video, even if it's limited to QVGA resolution at 30fps. The clips are recorded in mp4 format and take about 3 MB for every minute of recording.
Here is a sample video for you to check out.