As a writer, I take great offence to people mangling the English language, and one thing that particularly annoys me is the needless invention of compound words, especially where some marketing genius has decided to cram an extraneous capital letter in the middle of the word because it looks cool and edgy. Sony scores an extra Brownie point by not only omitting the unnecessary capital, but actually using a hyphen correctly. With such an advantage, how can the Cyber-shot DSC-W15 fail to impress?
It’s not just in the field of English grammar that the W15 excels. It comes as a very attractive package - a high performance 5.1 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss 3x zoom lens, complete with two pairs of rechargeable NiMH AA batteries, a compact battery charger and a smart genuine leather belt pouch, all for a very reasonable £199. The camera itself is also attractively designed, with a square boxy shape and an almost retro-looking matt black and silver finish. It isn’t a particularly small camera, but it does feel comfortably solid and, like all of Sony’s recent models, exceptionally well made. The case is cast aluminium with steel fittings, so although it’s no lightweight it isn’t excessively heavy, despite using those two AA batteries for power.
The control layout is reasonably straightforward, with small but well-spaced buttons for menu, display mode and image size/delete, as well as a multi-function 4-way controller positioned alongside the big 2.5-inch LCD monitor. Despite the size of the screen the W15 still sports a nice bright optical viewfinder, although it’s difficult to use it without getting nose-prints all over the monitor. The square shape and considerable thickness of the body makes the W15 easy to grip, helped of course by the chrome finger grip detail on the front and a small raised thumb grip and textured area on the back. The main mode selection is via a dial on the top plate. The shutter button is located in the centre of this dial, which is not an ideal location but at least it falls comfortably under the forefinger.
Also on the top plate is the main power button. Press it and hold for a moment and the camera comes instantly to life. It has a start-up time of just over a second, which is among the fastest of any compact digital camera. Sony is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of computer displays, so it’s not surprising that the LCD monitor on the W15 is exceptionally good. It has a resolution of 115,000 pixels, which is sharp enough although not the sharpest available. Colour rendition on the screen is very good, reacting well to unusual lighting such as fluorescent strip lights and adjusting quickly to low-light situations. The W15 has a very bright built-in AF illuminator to aid focusing in darker conditions, although despite this I found the W15 was unable to focus in very low light conditions. This is unusual for a Sony AF system, as previous models have had no problem focusing even in total darkness.
The cameras other systems work perfectly well though. The W15 is quite a sophisticated camera, and definitely more than just a snapshot model. It has range of different shooting modes, including fully automatic, program AE and full manual. In the latter mode the 4-way controller is used to set the shutter speed from 30 seconds to 1/1000 of a second, and to set either a minimum or maximum aperture. This is fairly limited as creative modes go, but it’s better than nothing.