Sony DSC-W120 Review

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W120

Steve's Conclusion

While the Cyber-shot DSC-W120 is the "lowest" model in the "W" series ranks for 2008, don't let that fool you in to thinking it's short on features. The W120, like almost all other "W" models, is a stylish and durable digicam that can be tucked almost anywhere. It offers some appealing features for an ultra-compact, like 7- megapixels of resolution, a versatile Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 4x optical zoom lens, 9 area AF system, 2.5-inch LCD monitor, zoom-coupled optical viewfinder (something you almost never see anymore) as well as an exposure mode for just about everyone in your household or office.

The W120's ergonomics are great, for the most part. At about the size of a deck of playing cards, I had no problems sticking this durable little model in my pants pocket and carrying it around all day snapping pictures. The orientation of the shutter release and zoom controls allow for easy one handed shooting. While the position of the controls is comfortable, I found some of the buttons are a bit too small, like the Playback, Slideshow, Menu, and Home buttons. If I did not pay attention and use the very tip of my fingers, I would sometimes press both the button and part of the 4-way controller at the same time. However, this is a minor concern, and once I got use to it, didn't cause many problems.

As usual with Sony Cyber-shot models, the W120 feature a nice LCD display. At 2.5-inches, it offers a nice view for framing (with 100% frame coverage), and when navigating the user-friendly menu system, the font size and icons are very legible. The display does have a reflective coating, which I found does reflect sunlight a certain angles outdoors and is Very prone to fingerprints. Indoors, the LCD gains up very well, making it possible to see and frame your subject in marginal lighting. One feature that you don't see too often anymore is the W120's eye-level, zoom-coupled optical viewfinder. Many manufacturers are sparing this useful tool to accommodate these large LCDs. This viewfinder is useful when following fast moving objects in burst mode or when wanting to conserve precious battery life. However, it only covers approx. 80-85% of the captured image.

I was pleased with our shooting performance results. Power up to first image captured measured 2.3 seconds. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, was less than 1/10 second when pre-focused and only 1 - 2/10 second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay measured a fast 1.3 seconds without the flash and between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds using the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. In Burst mode, the camera slowed down a bit. I was able to capture 5 full resolution (7M) images in 3.7 seconds, falling just short of Sony's claim of 1.5fps. The LCD only briefly displays the last captured image between shots; this is when the optical viewfinder comes in handy. Our tests were done using a Sony 1GB Memory Stick PRO Duo card, 7M quality, Program mode, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

Image quality was also pleasing. Outdoors, the W120 captured sharp images with bright colors and good exposure. Noise levels are very well controlled for a consumer model. You can see from our ISO examples on the samples page, that noise levels are reasonable, even ISO 800 looks very usable. However, once you go over 800, noise rises dramatically and you start to lose image detail from heavy noise reduction. The 4x optical zoom lens offers a bit more versatility in composing your shots over standard 3x zooms. This lens has an equivalent range of 32 - 128mm, offering sufficient field of view for nice group shots and pleasing portraits. While the telephoto end of the zoom range will help you fill the frame with individual portraits or bring subjects closer, it by no means has the ability to bring distant subjects up close. There's also a 2x digital zoom feature, however we urge you to use this sparingly as it can degrade image quality.

Face detection technology has become a feature that is almost standard on just about every consumer digicam (even some dSLRS now) released these days. The W120 is no exception, however, this model includes a new feature called "Smile Shutter". Like a self-timer, Smile Shutter does not allow the camera to fire until the subject or subjects within the frame are smiling. You simply press the shutter release, and the camera takes care of the rest. It will then capture up to 6 photos automatically, firing when it senses one of the subjects within the frame smiling. Overall, I found these features combined help make the W120 a great choice for those who love taking people/portrait type photos. The Face Detect AF mode finds and locks onto subjects faces quickly, and the addition of smile shutter insures you'll get nice big smiles. The only negative thing I found was when shooing indoors the camera likes to select a higher ISO (like 400), which does add some noticeable noise in dark low contrast areas.

Indoors, I found the flash did well when shooting within its range. Sony claims the tiny built-in speedlite on this camera can cover up to 12.8 feet at wide angle or up to 6.2 feet at full telephoto, using ISO Auto. I found when shooting from about 5-6 feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range, the flash produced good results. Our samples show sharp facial details, good flash exposure on the subject(s), and skin tones are natural. When shooting in large rooms you will notice that the subject is properly exposed, however the background will be a bit dark. This is because the tiny flash unit on this camera just does not have the power to illuminate a mid-large sized room (nor do most compact models on the market today). You can help further extend the range by increasing the ISO, but be wary as you can also increase image noise at the same time.

When using movie mode, you can capture high-quality MPEG 640x480 "VX" Fine video at 30fps. You can also choose 640x480 Standard (16.6fps) or 320x240 (8fps) modes. Like most digicams that record audio in movie mode, the optical zoom may not be used while recording, but can be preset before hand. When using 640x480 "VX" Fine mode, a Memory Stick Duo Pro card is required. During our testing, the W120 did well when using the "VX" Fine movie mode. Our movie sample shows good exposure and the AF system does well with fast panning or moving subjects.

The W120 is powered by a small, but powerful, Sony NP-BG1 3.6V, 3.4Wh (960 mAh) proprietary Lithium Ion battery. While there are no battery life stats out on this model yet (as of 2/2008), I found battery life was good. We able to capture over 115 samples (including some short 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 at least one spare battery (about $49), and keep it charged and ready at all times; especially if you are planning a vacation or travel often.

Bottom line - Sony has put together a very appealing ultra-compact model. Like mentioned earlier, don't let the W120's "bottom of the line" position scare you away. This model offers powerful features at an affordable price. With its good image quality, fast performance, durable exterior, new Smile Shutter mode, and choice of 4 stylish colors (pink, blue, black, silver), the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W120 is sure to be a very popular model this year; especially with the teen crowds. With an MSRP of $199, I feel the W120 offers a great value. Be sure to look for it in the coming months.

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