Sony DSC-W300 Review
Adding to the list of W-series models from Sony this year (2008), the DSC-W300 offers the highest resolution out of any of their previous "W" cameras, at 13.6 megapixels. While it now holds the "top of the line" spot in this Cyber-shot line, the W300 shares many features with its four siblings we reviewed earlier in the year. These include a 2.7-inch Clear Photo LCD screen, 9-point AF system with Auto macro, AF-assist lamp for low-light photography, Face Detection and iSCN technologies, BIONZ image processor, 640x480 VX Fine (30fps) video mode, Smile shutter mode, and Super SteadyShot image stabilization system. The DSC-W300 has been updated with increased resolution, greater Macro capabilities (as close as 1.96 in.), two new scene modes (Extra High-speed Burst and Extra High Sensitivity), increased Burst rate in normal mode (up to 1.9fps), User selectable Noise reduction settings as well as adjustments for Contrast, Color Saturation, and Image Sharpness. The only feature that I consider a "downgrade" on the W300 would be the 3x optical zoom. Both the W170 and W150 models feature a more versatile 5x zoom.
While this ultra-compact boasts features usually found on more expensive high-end digicams, it's still extremely easy to use. With full Auto, Easy, and 12 pre-programmed scene modes, the W300 can be used by anyone, whether you're one who is just entering into digital photography or one who just wants to simply point-n-shoot. Sony didn't forget about the novice users either. The W300 offers a wealth of exposure control options. You can choose from Program AE mode, which offers automatic control, but with access to advanced settings like ISO, metering, white balance, sharpness, contrast, etc. On top of this, there's also a full Manual mode, which allows you to control the entire exposure process by selecting both the Aperture and Shutter speed values for each shot.
The exterior of the W300 is both stylish and durable, thanks in part to the mostly-metal construction. Unlike other W-series cameras, the W300 is only offered in one color or finish; Black. While I consider this an ultra-compact digicam, the W300 still had a nice comfortable feel in my hands. Like we found with the W170 and W150, the ergonomics are great, for the most part. The orientation of the shutter release button and zoom controls are good, however, I found some of the buttons a tad too small, like the Playback, Slideshow, Menu, and Home buttons. If I didn't pay close 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 used to it, it didn't cause many problems.
The onscreen menu system is logically organized, which made it very easy to navigate. The W300 features one of Sony's "Clear Photo" LCD displays. At 2.7-inches, it offers a nice view for framing (with 100% coverage), and because of the larger size, the font size and icons are very legible. Overall I found the LCD was a pleasure to use. Indoors, it gains up well to help brighten the live image. When shooting outdoors, it could benefit from a non-glare coating as there are still a few angles which reflect the sun and make it difficult to see. This display is also very prone to fingerprints; you'll find yourself cleaning it often.
A feature that seems to be going away these days is the W300's eye-level, zoom-coupled optical viewfinder. Many manufacturers are eliminating these useful tools to accommodate huge LCD screens. These optical viewfinders are very helpful when following fast moving objects in burst mode, where the typical LCD blanks out. They are also great when wanting to conserve precious battery life. The size of this viewfinder however is tiny and only covers approx. 80-85% of the captured image, so you'll always capture more than you see.
Our shooting performance results were similar to past models, awesome. Power up to first image captured measured 2.3 seconds. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous when pre-focused and only 2-3/10 second including autofocus time, depending on the amount of focus change required. The shot to shot delay measured 1.8 seconds between frames without the flash and between 2.8 and 3.5 seconds using the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. The W300 offers two Burst modes to choose from, Normal and Extra High-Speed Burst. In Normal mode, I was able to capture 9 full resolution (13M) images in 4.2 seconds, about 2.1fps, which surpassed Sony's claim of 1.9fps. Extra High-Speed Burst lowers the resolution to 3M (3-megapixels), and allowed me to capture 22 images in just 4.1 seconds! That's about 5.4fps, again surpassing Sony's claims (5fps). The LCD only briefly displays the last captured image between shots; this is when the optical viewfinder comes in handy. Switching to playback mode took about a second. Our tests were done using a Sony 1GB Memory Stick PRO Duo card, 13M quality, Program mode, flash off, auto review off and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality was good for a consumer model. When viewing images fullscreen (about 20-25% on my monitor), images look sharp with good exposure and color balance is also pleasing. When you inspect an image at 100%, they don't look quite as great. I noticed some noise, even at the lowest ISO 80 setting. There was also some edge softness in most of our outdoor images. Image noise can be found at all of the ISO settings, getting worse as the sensitivity is increased. However, you can only see this when viewing an image at 100%. These 13-megapixel images are Huge, so when viewing at fullscreen resolution, even ISO 1600 and 3200 look very usable for prints say up an 8x10 or larger. These lower ISO settings, 400 and below, have the ability to create enormous prints without any problems. While this is true, I still would have liked to see a bit less noise from the ISO 800 and below settings, but most users will not be affected at all by this issue.
The W300 also does well when shooting people or portrait photos indoors. There is not a dedicated Portrait exposure mode, however I was able to capture great results when using Program mode with Face Detection enabled. This system finds and locks onto the face of your subject almost immediately, and had no problems with small children. Sony boasts that the flash has a range of up to 18 ft. at wide angle (ISO Auto.) When you set the ISO manually to a lower setting or zoom the lens, this range drops off quite a bit. I was able to capture nice individual portraits when shooting from about 6-7 feet away using the mid to full telephoto end of the zoom range and ISO 80. This was in a well lit room. Thankfully, this model also features a focus-assist lamp to aid the 9-point AF system when shooting in dim lighting (to complete darkness). The W300 controls the flash output very well when shooting close-up objects. You can see what I mean by taking a look at our Macro example on the Sample Photos page. The camera was able to squelch the flash, in order to not overexpose the candy wrappers.
One of the "coolest" features on Sony's new models is the "Smile Shutter" mode. 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. This is a really "neat" addition, and I found it worked quite well, especially when trying to snap pics of people who always cover up their face and hide. This, along with the Face detection system help make these W-series models a great choice for those who love taking people/portrait type photos.
The W300 offers the same Movie mode options that we have seen from Sony's Cyber-shot models for some time now. You can capture high-quality MPEG 640x480 "VX" Fine video at 30fps, 640x480 Standard (16fps) or 320x240 (8.3fps). 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. Our short movie clips turned out good, with very little noise (aka compression artifacts). Like the W170, I was surprised to see how well the camera performed when recording indoor movies. There was very little to no visible noise in the clips.
A small, but powerful NP-BG1 3.6V 960 mAh Lithium-ion battery pack powers the W300, which is charged in the handy BC-CSG AC charger. This pack allowed me to capture about 125 samples (including several short movie clips) as well as complete all of our tests without having to recharge; this was using the LCD 100% of the time and reviewing images often. Sony claims this pack can power the W300 for up to 300 images with the LCD on. While we did not capture near as many photos as Sony claims is possible, I found battery life was good.
Bottom line - Sony has released a wealth of "W" series models thus far for 2008. These include the DSC-W120, DSC-W130, DSC-W150, DSC-W170, and finally the DSC-W300. They all share most of the same features with the resolution, LCD size and zoom capabilities being the major differences. While the additions of the high-resolution 13-megapixel imager, greater manual control, and addition of saturation, contrast, and sharpness adjustments are welcomed additions, you're paying about US$50 for them. I was a bit disappointed to see that the W300 didn't get the nicer 5x optical zoom that is found on the W150 and W170. However, I still feel the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W300 is an awesome ultra-compact model that features unrivaled resolution capabilities. With a street price of US$349 or less, it offers a good value if you're one who wants all the latest technologies, stuffed in the tiniest of packages. Be sure to check out our reviews of the other models listed above by clicking on their name.
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