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One annoying detail is the lack of a separate button for exposure compensation. Sure, it’s available as a menu option, but with the type of horizontally scrolling menu that is used on the W15 it can take as many as twelve button presses to find it, by which time you’ve missed your shot. The camera does have a spot metering option, a good choice for difficult high-contrast situations, but easy-to-use exposure adjustment would be more useful. Also in the menu are adjustable contrast, saturation and sharpness, which are useful tweaks for the perfectionist.
Other shooting modes on the main dial include night scene, night portrait, candlelight, snow, beach, landscape and portrait, as well as movie mode. Like most Sony digital cameras the movie mode is extremely good. It can shoot 640 x 480 pixel VGA resolution at 30 frames a second with mono audio, with clip length limited only by the available capacity of the memory card.
The W15 has two burst shooting modes. In the standard burst mode it can shoot up to nine shots at full resolution in just under eight seconds, but then has to pause for 14 seconds to write them to the Memory Stick. This write time may be improved by using the more expensive Memory Stick Pro. In the multi-burst mode the camera fires off 16 shots in very rapid burst, but only at low resolution. It then stitches them together as a sort of stop-motion animation. It’s hard to think of a sensible use for this that wouldn’t be better served by a short movie clip, apart from Sony’s suggestion of analysing your golf swing. I don’t play golf and I don’t know anyone who does, so I was unable to test the effectiveness of this technique.
Sony makes a big deal about its cameras having Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lenses, but in reality the lenses are made by Sony. They are made to a method approved by the Carl Zeiss company, and are allowed to carry the illustrious name, but they are simply buying a license to use a famous brand. Nonetheless the lens on the W15 is a good one, although its focal length range equivalent to 38-114mm lacks a good wide angle setting.
Within its range it provides sharp images with excellent contrast and a minimum of distortion. Coupled with the excellent Sony Real Imaging Processor it makes the W15 a very capable camera indeed, able to produce consistently stunning results. Colour rendition is perfect under all normal lighting conditions, and very good even under difficult lighting. Exposure and focus are quick and accurate, and images are refreshingly noise-free.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W15 is an excellent mid-range camera, offering an easy-to-use package that would make an ideal gift for a keen amateur photographer. Picture quality and performance are outstanding, and the camera has some limited potential for creative use, although an enthusiast will want to upgrade soon. The inclusion of a leather case and spare batteries is a nice touch, although a decent-sized Memory Stick would also be a welcome addition.