Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1

Pros

  • Great LCD, beautiful pictures, minimal shutter lag

Cons

  • Missing real manual controls (shutter speed and aperture)

Bottom Line

Sony's Cyber-shot DSCW1 has most of what you could wish for in a compact, easy-to-use point-and-shoot.

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Were it not for its LCD, the Sony DSCW1 might look like just another one of the many small, brick-shaped digital cameras on store shelves. But the monster 2.5" screen on the back of the W1 clearly sets this camera apart. 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" panels that 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 DSCW1's virtues; about two 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 DSCW1 produced. It produced very good quality images, and we rate its exposure, colour accuracy, sharpness and distortion as above average. All of our test prints had bright, accurate colour, with or without flash. Outdoors, the DSCW1 handled high-contrast city scenes 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 colours.

The DSCW1 is slightly larger than some of Canon's diminutive cameras, but it has the same solid, well-machined feel. It also has a threaded mount for optional accessory lenses--an unusual but very attractive feature for a pocketable camera.

Like other Cyber-shot models we've reviewed, the DSCW1 has a simple, easy-to-navigate menu system for changing settings. Because of the 2.5" LCD, the text-based menu labels are large and 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 made 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 centre-spot automatic focus; and a multipoint autofocus that displays green markers in the LCD to tell you exactly where in the scene the DSCW1 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 DSCW1 two forms of digital zoom: Smart Zoom is designed to minimise 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 one 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 only the 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- priority nor shutter-priority mode. The DSCW1'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 DSCW1 are features that people could get more use out of: a panorama-assist mode and white-balance calibration. And you don't get any way to adjust the camera's automatic power-down time.

Sony's Picture Package software, bundled with the DSCW1, seems bare-bones. You use it to download images and view or archive images, but you'll find almost no image editing tools. There is an animated tutorial, on the basics of photography and using the camera, included on the software CD, but it would be useful only for novices.

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