The Cyber-Shot DSC-W100 is the highest resolution "W" series model we have seen from Sony this year (2006), and is the "big brother" of the W50 and W70 we reviewed earlier this year. This model offers many of the same features we enjoyed on its siblings, like the Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3x optical zoom lens, large 2.5-inch LCD, VGA (640x480) sized movie mode as well as an almost identical durable all metal body. The W100 however, increases resolution to 8-megapixels, and boosts the maximum ISO speed to 1250; one of the highest settings found on a consumer point-n-shoot. Aiming to please every user, Sony equipped the W100 with various user friendly exposure modes like Auto, High ISO as well as several Scene modes. And your novice and advanced users will appreciate the Program AE mode that offers adjustments to settings like ISO, White balance, Metering, Focus, etc. as well as the full Manual mode that enables the user to set the desired aperture and shutter speed values.
Ergonomics are excellent, the body is stylish, yet still durable and functional. Controls are well- placed, offering a comfortable feel while capturing your photos. We especially liked the zoom controls mounted around the shutter release. The tripod mount is metallic and provides a secure mount, and we were glad to see the multi-connector I/O port was moved to the side of the camera is relocated. (On past models it was too close, preventing the camera from being mounted to a tripod while connected to either a computer or video device.) The menu system is easy to navigate, and will be very familiar to users of other SONY models. Also, the size of its display means a larger and more legible text.
I was happy to see the optical viewfinder was still on this model. Many manufacturers are sparing this useful tool to accommodate these large LCDs. I found its 2.5-inch display worked great when shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, with only a few angles that reflected the sun. When using the camera in marginal lighting, like your typical tungsten lit home, the display "gains up" to help you see your subject. As with most LCDs, this one is very prone to fingerprints, so you will find yourself cleaning it often.
The W100's shooting performance was also excellent. Power up to first image captured measured just 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, was less than 1/10 second when pre-focused and 3/10 second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay measured a fast 1.3 seconds without the flash and between 1.7 and 3 seconds using the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. You can choose from two sequential shooting modes; Burst or Multi Burst. In Burst mode, I was able to capture four 8M/Fine images in 2.5 seconds, with buffer clearing to the Memory Stick PRO Duo taking just over 3 seconds before the next burst can be captured; the LCD only briefly displays the last captured image between shots; this is when the optical viewfinder comes in handy. Using Multi Burst with the interval set at 1/30, I captured 16 frames in 1/10 of a second; these frames are then saved as a single 1-megapixel animated image. Our tests were done using a Sandisk 256MB Memory Stick PRO Duo card, 8M/Fine quality, Program mode, flash off, preview off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
I was pleased with the image quality results of our 8-megapixel fine images. Outdoors it produced sharp images that showed good overall exposure and nice color saturation. The W100 is equipped with a very nice Carl Zeiss lens that offers a typical 3x zoom range (38-114mm in 35mm equivalence) for a consumer camera. At full wide angle (38mm) the field of view is sufficient for most of your interior and landscape shots, however, you'll find yourself walking backwards with your feet at times. Its moderate telephoto magnification is great for your close-up portrait shots, and also will bring distant subjects a bit closer. All in all, it helped in producing sharp results throughout its zoom range, showing moderate amounts of barrel distortion at wide angle as well as slight pin cushioning at telephoto.
Indoors, you'll find you have to work within the limits of its tiny flash. While the range is greatly extended thanks to the W100's high ISO capabilities, there still is not enough power to illuminate large rooms. Sony claims a range of 19.7 feet at wide angle when using ISO auto. I found it captured nice indoor flash portraits from about 5 - 6 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. While our indoor people shots showed good flash exposure and pleasing skin tones, I did notice Red-eye in many of our subjects, even with the pre-flash enabled. This is due mainly to the poor position of the flash (directly above the lens.)
The W100 is equipped with a versatile sensitivity range of ISO 80 - 1250, enabling hand-held photography in lighting conditions that would otherwise require the use of a tripod or flash. Noise is almost nonexistent at ISO speeds of 200 or less, and even ISO 400 looks pretty good. Once you reach ISO 1250 the noise is quite noticeable throughout the image, however it drops considerably at 800. As we have mentioned on various models that feature such high sensitivity options, the usefulness of being able to capture handheld images without motion blur in situations where most cameras need the flash greatly outweighs the degenerative effects to the image quality. Even at ISO 1250, you can still create pleasing 4x6-inch prints.
The W100 also features a high-quality MPEG 640x480 "VX" movie mode. You can choose either Standard (16.6fps) or Fine (30fps) quality as well as a 160x112 8fps mode that's perfect for posting movies on the web or sending via email. When using 640x480 Fine mode, a Memory Stick Duo Pro card is required. Our movie samples were good, showing typical amounts of compression noise. However, the microphone is a bit sensitive, but we have seen much worse.
Power comes from a tiny, but powerful, Sony NP-BG1 3.6V, 3.4Wh (960 mAh) proprietary Lithium Ion battery. Despite its small size, this pack can power the W100 for up to 360 shots (according to Sony.) I was able to capture over 130 still images and about 20, 10 seconds movie clips as well as conclude all of our other tests on a single charge. The battery is charged outside the camera in the included BC-CSG charger. We recommend you purchase a spare battery (about $49), and keep it charged and ready at all times.
Bottom line - the Cyber-shot DCS-W100 is an awesome 8-megapixel digital package. In fact, the
only compaint I had with the camera was the fingerprints on the LCD issue, and this is a
common problem with most LCDs. With excellent image quality, robust performance, and
versatile exposure modes, the W100 will make a great choice for anyone in the market for an
"ultra-compact" pocket-rocket. With a durable all-metal body, you can be sure it will stand
up to the active users lifestyle. With a price tag of US$350 at the time of this review, it
offers an excellent value for compact and full featured 8-megapixel camera.
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