Sony DSC-W35 Review
Building on the success of past Cyber-Shot "W" series models, like the DSC-W30 from last year, Sony has released the DSC- W35 for 2007. This is an entry-level digicam that offers almost identical specs to its predecessor, however resolution has been increased to 7.2-megapixels. Whether you are one of those who are just taking the plunge into digital photography or one who just wants an inexpensive point-n-shoot, the W35 will please. With "Auto"matic exposure mode plus 7 pre-programmed scene modes, the beginner can capture great photos without much fuss. Program AE mode allows more experienced user control over settings like exposure compensation, focus mode, ISO, sharpness, contrast, white balance, etc.
The W35 is both a durable and stylish "ultra-compact", being about the size of a deck of playing cards. However, it still fits nicely in my large hands, with my thumb falling naturally over the various controls on the back and my index finger resting comfortably on the Shutter release and zoom controls. I love how the zoom controls are placed around the shutter release allowing for effortless zooming. Like the W30, I was disappointed with location of its tripod mount; being located at the extreme left side of the body, this prevents the entire bottom surface from contacting the tripod head. However, I don't see too many consumers using a tripod with this model. As usual with Sony cameras, the menu system is logically organized, allowing for quick navigation and changes to menu options. You'll also feel right at home if you have already owned a Cyber-Shot model.
In addition to the large color LCD, the W35 also offers an optical viewfinder. It seems these are becoming a thing of the past on so many compact digicams nowadays it's nice to see that Sony included one on this model. The 2.0-inch LCD is a high-quality display that is quite usable outdoors in bright lighting conditions. In marginal lighting, the display brightens the live image to help aid in framing the shot.
The W35 is equipped with a very nice Carl Zeiss 3x zoom lens. Offering you a typical zoom range for a compact consumer model, 38-114mm in 35mm equivalence. This range provides adequate field of view for interiors and landscapes shots, while the moderate telephoto magnification is great for portraits and brings subjects a bit closer. The lens produced sharp results from corner to corner throughout the zoom range, with moderate amounts of barrel distortion at wide angle and pin cushioning at telephoto. Chromatic aberrations were well controlled, with very little purple fringing present in high contrast areas.
Shooting performance was quite good for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured only 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 only 2/10 second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay measured a fast 1.2 seconds without the flash and between 1.6 and 2 seconds using the flash, depending on subject distance. If you have Red-eye reduction enabled via the Setup menu, add about 9/10 of a second to those times, due the multiple "pre-flash".
The W35 offers two sequential shooting modes (Burst, Multi Burst.) In Burst mode, I was able to capture 4 7M/Fine frames in 2.3 seconds, with buffer clearing to the Memory Stick Duo PRO card taking about 2 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 came in handy. Using Multi Burst with the interval set at 1/30, I captured 16 frames in just 2/10 of a second; these frames are then saved as a single 1-megapixel animated image. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra II 512MB Memory Stick Duo PRO memory card, 7M/Fine quality, Program mode, flash off, preview off, and all other settings at default (unless noted otherwise.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The image quality was very good for an entry-level consumer model. Our outdoor images were sharp, well exposed, and showed pleasing color saturation. However, I did notice some edge softness on the left hand side of the frame in several of our photos. Despite being positioned as an entry-level camera, the W35 is equipped with a versatile sensitivity range of ISO 100 - 1000, enabling hand-held photography in lighting conditions that would otherwise require the use of a tripod or flash. Although noise is quite noticeable throughout and saturation suffers at ISO 800 and 1000, the images are far more usable than those ruined by camera shake at lower ISO settings and shutter speeds. The noise level drops noticeably at ISO 400, being most evident in shadow areas.
I was also pleased with our indoor shooting results. The flash has a range of just under 13 feet, which will limit your effective coverage to portraits of individuals or small groups. I was able to capture nice close-up portraits with natural skin tones and good flash exposure from about 4 - 5 feet away, using the telephoto end of the zoom range. Thanks to the W35's AF-assist lamp, the autofocus system had no problems in dim lighting to even complete darkness.
When a photo just isn't enough, the W35 offers a high-quality MPEG VX 640x480 sized movie mode. You can choose either standard (16fps) or fine (30fps) quality, as well as a 160x112 8fps mode that's efficient for posting on the web or sending movies via email. Our movie mode samples were good, with very little compression noise and the AF system does very well with moving subjects. The only addition I would have liked to have seen is a digital stabilization mode, because this camera is so compact it is hard to keep steady while recording video. When using the 640x480 Fine mode it consumes about 1.3 MB per second; be sure to get a 512MB or larger Memory Stick Duo PRO card if you plan on recording a lot of video.
Power comes from a tiny SONY NP-BG1 3.6v 950 mAh Lithium Ion battery. Despite the small size, the battery allowed me to capture over 110 samples as well as conclude many of our other tests before displaying a low battery indication. The battery is charged outside the camera in the included BC-CSG charger. Make sure to get a spare and keep it charged to avoid the disappointment of finding a dead battery during a unique photo op.
Bottom line - Sony has put together yet another awesome "W" series model. The Cyber-shot DSC-W35 is an affordable "ultra-compact" that offers performance and features that rival more expensive 7-megapixel digicams. That said, the W35 offers and outstanding "Bang for your Buck" with a very reasonable street price of only US$179 or less.
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