Sony DSC-W90 Review

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W90

Steve's Conclusion

Sony has added yet another feature rich "W" series model to their Cyber-shot line-up for 2007. The Cyber-Shot DSC-W90 offers many of the same options found on past models, like the Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3x optical zoom lens, large 2.5-inch LCD, 640x480 VX Fine movie mode as well as a durable all metal body. This new model also boasts 8-megapixels of resolution, a maximum ISO speed to 3200 (one of the highest settings found on a consumer point-n-shoot), Sony's Super Steady Shot® optical image stabilization, a 9 Area Multi-point AF with their new face detection technology, etc. With Auto, Program AE, and 7 preprogrammed scene modes (including High ISO), the W90 is sure to have an exposure mode to suit the needs or experience of every user in your household or office.

Just as previous models, the W90 is well built and stylish. Durablility is addressed with the all metal construction,with exception of the battery/memory card door. The controls are well placed, offering a comfortable feel while capturing your photos. The menu system got a face lift. While the arrangement of settings is similar to past models, the W90 adds a new Home menu. This gives you access to virtually all of the settings available. While I feel the old menu system worked very well, it only took me a few times using the camera to get aquatinted with the new setup.

One feature we love about Sony's "W" series models, is that so far (as of 5/2007) they retain the optical viewfinder. Many manufacturers are sparing this useful tool to accommodate these large LCDs. While most users use the LCD to frame most of the time, the optical viewfinder comes in handy when trying to conserve battery life or when following moving subjects in burst mode. 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 shooting in low lighting the display "gains up" nicely to help you see your subject. I also found the LCD is prone to showing fingerprints, so you'll find yourself wiping it off quite regularly.

The W90 is a robust performer. Power up to first image captured measured just 2 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 1/10 second including autofocus time! The shot to shot delay measured a fast 1.3 seconds without the flash and between 2.5 and 3 seconds using the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. In Burst mode, I was able to capture 10 full resolution images in just 3.8 seconds, without billing the buffer. The LCD only briefly displays the last captured image between shots, making it somewhat usable to follow moving subjects; this is when the optical viewfinder comes in handy. Our tests were done using a Sony 1GB Memory Stick PRO Duo card, 8M 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.

The results of our "8M" megapixel images was very good. When shooting outdoors in the bright sunlight, it captured nice sharp images, with accurate exposure and rich color saturation. I did notice a bit of edge softness of several of our photos, however this is common with consumer models. The W90 is equipped with a very nice Carl Zeiss lens that offers a typical 3x zoom range (35-105mm in 35mm equivalence) for a consumer camera. At full wide angle (35mm) 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 or macro shots, and will also help bring distant subjects a bit closer. Overall I found the lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at the wide angle extreme, however there were very few traces of purple fringing (aka Chromatic Aberrations) around brightly lit objects.

As usual, when shooting indoors (or outside in marginal lighting), you'll have to work within the limits of its tiny flash. While Sony claims this unit can illuminate up to 21.7 feet at wide angle, this is using ISO 3200, and your images would have a ton of noise. Using ISO Auto, I found the flash did well when shooting close-up portraits from about 5 or 6 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. I also used Auto capture mode as it uses Sony's new Face detection technology. Doing so allowed me to capture nice portraits with sharp facial detail, good flash exposure and accurate skin tones. Red eye wasn't much of an issue during our testing, however to flash is located directly above the lens, which usually contributes to plenty of red eye in your people photos. Luckily this model includes features to fight this, like a Red-eye reduction flash mode as well as a Red eye Correction option in playback mode.

To help battle camera shake, the W90 features Super Steady Shot® optical image stabilization as well as a versatile sensitivity range of ISO 100 - 3200. These two options will enable you to shoot hand-held photography in lighting conditions that would otherwise require the use of a tripod or flash. Noise levels are about class average at 400 and below, but once you pass ISO 800 the noise is quite noticeable throughout the image. 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. While at 3200, noise can be see by the untrained while viewing an image full screen (about 23-25% depending on monitor size/settings), you can still produce a usable 4x6-inch print.

Movie mode allows you to capture high-quality MPEG 640x480 "VX" Fine video. You can choose either Standard (16fps) or Fine (30fps) quality as well as a 320x240 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, like we saw with past models, the microphone is a bit sensitive, even to the slightest breeze.

Power comes from a tiny, but powerful, Sony NP-BG1 3.6V, 3.4Wh (960 mAh) proprietary Lithium Ion battery. Despite its small size, Sony claims this pack can power the W90 for up to 350 shots. I was able to capture well over 125 still images and several 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 - Sony has created another welcomed addition to their already popular Cyber-shot "W" series. It offers speedy performance, great image quality, and loads of high-end features, all packed in a very compact and durable shell. With an MSRP of only US$299, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W90 offers an outstanding value for such a capable 8-megapixel consumer model. And, with that much resolution, the printing possibilities are almost endless!

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