capsule review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1 Compact Camera

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1
Photograph: Rick Rizner

Were it not for its LCD, the Sony DSC-W1 might look like just another one of the many small, brick-shaped digital cameras on store shelves. But the monster, 2.5-inch screen on the back of the W1 clearly sets this camera apart--and it could make optical viewfinders obsolete. Composing your shots on a screen this size is a heck of a lot easier than doing so on the 1.5- or 1.8-inch panels, or the tiny optical viewfinders, most digital cameras offer. The larger screen also makes seeing and navigating settings menus easier.

But the truly compelling argument for a big LCD is playing back your photos in camera. No more squinting at images that are little bigger than a postage stamp. Your handiwork appears in a size that's truly pleasing, especially when you turn the camera over to friends and family to show them what you've recorded.

Lightning-fast startup is another of the W1's virtues; about 2 seconds after pressing the power button, you're ready to go. Shutdown is equally fast. The camera is great for those travel events where getting a great shot is reduced to stopping, tripping the shutter, and then moving on again quickly.

We were delighted with the test photos the W1 produced; we gave it an overall image-quality score of Very Good and above-average scores for exposure and color accuracy, sharpness, and distortion. All of our test prints had bright, accurate color, with or without flash. Outdoors, the W1 handled our high-contrast city scene nicely, maintaining details in both a dark-brown wall and a bright-white brick wall. It also reproduced blue sky and soft clouds in smooth, consistent colors.

A competitor to Canon's popular Digital Elph models, the W1 is slightly larger than Canon's diminutive cameras but has the same solid, well-machined feel. And it one-ups the Elphs by adding a threaded mount for optional accessory lenses--an unusual but very attractive feature for a pocketable (but not quite shirt-pocketable) camera. Sony didn't send us these lenses, but early samples we've seen elsewhere looked well made and, like the camera, fairly compact. The two telephoto lenses and one wide-angle lens cost $100 to $130, a reasonable price, though you also need a $30 lens adapter tube. In addition, Sony offers a $70 polarizing filter kit that threads onto the adapter tube.

Like other Cyber-shot models we've reviewed, the W1 has a simple, easy-to-navigate menu system for changing settings. Because of the 2.5-inch LCD, the text-based menu labels are large, easily decipherable even when you've forgotten your reading glasses.

As you spin the camera's typical top-mounted mode dial, a replica of the dial's icons shows up briefly (way too briefly) on the LCD. These on-screen icons may help when you're choosing a setting in very low light, but they could have been more useful for novice photographers if Sony had added text descriptions for them.

The camera's focus control is comprehensive for a point-and-shoot: You get a manual focus (with five stepped distance settings); a center-spot automatic focus; and a multipoint autofocus that displays green markers in the LCD to tell you exactly where in the scene the W1 is focused--especially useful for macro photography or in other situations where you want to ensure that the primary subject does not end up blurry.

Shutter lag, the bane of digital cameras, seems negligible in this Sony. It fired flash shots immediately after we pressed the trigger, and, once we had autoexposure lock, natural-light shots were equally quick.

Sony gave the W1 two forms of digital zoom: Smart Zoom is designed to minimize the image deterioration that is common with digital zoom by trading image size for zoom range. For example, when the camera's resolution is set to 1 megapixel, you can use up to 6.1X digital zoom; at 3 megapixels, you get 3.8X zoom. And at the camera's default 5 megapixels, Smart Zoom is switched off, leaving you with a 3X optical zoom to play with. Precision Zoom, on the other hand, works like most digital zooms: It crops the image in the camera, which, just like cropping on your PC, limits the amount you can enlarge a shot before it is blurred beyond all use.

It seems a little odd that the camera comes with a full-manual exposure mode, but neither aperture- nor shutter-priority mode. The W1's full manual is limited but easy to use: Pressing the top and bottom buttons on the four-way thumb pad sets the shutter speed; the right and left buttons let you pick between just two f-stops, which change as you zoom from wide angle to telephoto. Still, the arrangement gives you an extra level of control above the standard exposure-value compensation.

Sony included an on-screen histogram for fine-tuning exposures. It may be useful to advanced photographers who know how to interpret it, but it's overkill for a pocket camera. Missing from the W1 are features that people could get more use out of: a panorama-assist mode and white-balance calibration. And you get no way to adjust the camera's automatic power-down time.

Sony's Picture Package, bundled with the W1, seems bare-bones. You use it to download images and view or archive images, but you'll find almost no image editing tools. The software CD includes an animated tutorial on the basics of photography and using the camera that will be useful only for novices.

Sony's DSC-W1 has most of what you could wish for in a fairly compact, easy-to-use point-and-shoot--high resolution, great imaging, a durable feel, and an oversize LCD that makes viewing your creations a pleasure.

Tracey Capen

This story, "Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1 " was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1 Compact Camera

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