Sony DSC-W5 Review

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5

Steve's Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5 is 2005 upgrade of the very popular DSC-W1 from last year. It offers many of the features found on its predecessor, like a Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens, 5-megapixel imager and 2.5-inch LCD display. This compact and durable model can be easily used by anyone, simply rotate the Mode dial to either the Auto or Program AE exposure mode for point-n-shoot simplicity. When you want to be a little more creative, it offers 7 scene-specific exposure modes that help you capture great images in a variety of shooting situations. And for anyone who wants to take control over the entire process, the full Manual mode gives you access to more advanced settings like Aperture and Shutter Speed values. With the ability to choose from five different image sizes, the camera offers a great deal of versatility for all types of applications. There's a 3:2 aspect ratio mode that is perfect for capturing images without having to worry about cropping before creating 4x6-inch prints. Its 1MP mode is great for sending pictures via e-mail or posting listings at online auctions, where file sizes need to be as small as possible.

We were pleased with the ergonomics of this model. The controls are well placed and the menu system is logically organized. I especially like the size of these models, small enough to fit in a average sized pocket, yet large enough for a comfortable feel in your hands. The "finger grip" located on the front makes one-handed shooting easy and gives a more secure feeling. When you look at the back of the camera, the first thing you'll notice is the massive 2.5-inch TFT color LCD. It performed well when shooting outdoors, the menu screens were legible and framing was no problem, even with the harsh sun beating directly on it. It also does very well in low-ambient light. The LCD does not "gain up" when shooting in these situations, but it is very sensitive, and will allow you to frame even with the slightest amount of light. Also when the focus-assist lamp fires, it illuminates your subject for a brief moment.

The Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens helped produce sharp images throughout its 38 - 114mm (35mm equivalent) range, that are virtually free from any signs of chromatic aberration. At full wide angle there is a mild amount of barrel distortion, but not enough to cause any major distortion of your subject. Sony offers three conversion lenses for the W5 when using the optional VAD-WA adaptor. The VCL-DH0730 0.7x Wide angle lens is perfect for landscapes and large group portraits, while the VCL-DH1730 1.7x Telephoto and VCL-DH2630 2.6X Super Telephoto lens will bring distant subjects up close and personal. Its 5 Area Multi-point autofocus system is very quick and thanks to the focus-assist lamp, we had few problems focusing on subjects in low-light conditions. When using Macro mode, we found that the flash does an excellent job of "throttling down" to ensure that it doesn't overexpose the subject.

The W5 is a robust performer. Power up to first image captured was a fast 1.5 seconds. Shutter lag was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and only 3/10 of a second including autofocus. In Normal record mode, the shot to shot time is about 1.4 seconds without the use of the flash and 1.5-2.5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance. You can choose between two burst modes (Burst, Multi Burst). The number of images you can capture when shooting in burst mode depends on the image size and quality settings. Burst mode captured 4 frames in about 1.9 seconds. It takes about 6-7 seconds for the W5 to process a full buffer and then you can continue shooting. Shooting in Multi Burst mode, with the interval set at 1/30, captured 16 images in 3/10 of a second. When using Multi Burst mode, the image size is locked at 1MP and all 16 images a recorded within a single animated frame. The LCD briefly displays the last image captured when using either burst mode, making it difficult to follow a moving subject; this is when the optical viewfinder will come in handy. All of our test were done using the camera's 32MB of internal memory, with the image size/quality set at 5M/Fine mode, Program AE mode, preview off and all other settings at default (unless noted.) All times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.

Like many of Sony's models this year, the W5 features three recording size choices for Movie mode. You can use the 640x480 "VX" Fine mode (30fps) for high-quality movies that can be displayed on your television or choose 640x480 Standard (15fps) to conserve space on your memory card. When using the "VX" Fine mode, a Memory Stick PRO Card is required because of its faster read/write speeds. There is also a 160x112 mode that is great for sending clips via email or posting on the web. Overall the 640x480 Standard movie mode captures good-quality movies. The autofocus system did a good job of keeping up while panning, and there is average amounts of compression noise, but then again a 10 sec. movie is only 4MB compared to the "VX" Fine mode's 14MB.

I was pleased with the overall image quality when using its 5M/Fine mode. For the most part our samples were well saturated and properly exposed. Users can control the saturation, contrast and sharpness, which allows you to "dial in" just the right look for your images. I found that the automatic white balance did its job well, even when shooting in very mixed lighting conditions. Our outdoor images were sharp and showed good color balance, with very little noise in both high and low contrast areas. You can see for yourself by taking a look at our Samples page. The flash has an above average range of about 14.5 feet, which works great for all types of indoor situations. You can't illuminate large open rooms like gymnasiums, but portraits of individuals and groups are no problem. If you need some help illuminating your subjects, the optional HVL-FSL1B Slave Flash unit (about $100), is designed specifically for use with Sony Cyber-Shot models and includes a handy mounting bracket. I did notice an average amount of redeye in our indoor flash portraits, even when using the Redeye Reduction flash mode. We felt this is due to the poor position of the flash (directly above the lens.)

Bottom line - the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5 is a durable and stylish digicam that offers great image quality and robust performance. With 5-megapixels of resolution, you can create photo-quality 11x14-inch or larger prints; just make sure you spend a few seconds correcting the redeye in your flash portraits. With a great deal of versatility and price tag of only $350, we feel it offers an excellent value, and should make a great choice for the family, tourist or business user. If you need more resolution and still want all of the features found on this model, be sure to check out our review of its 7-megapixel "big brother" the DSC-W7.

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