The hot new item on the digital camera scene this year is the 7 megapixel super-powerful snapshot camera. We’ve already taken a look at the Nikon Coolpix 7900 and the Samsung V700, and over the next few weeks we hope to be adding the Olympus C-7070, the Canon IXUS 700 and the Casio EX-Z750, amongst others. This week however, the spotlight is on Sony’s DSC-W7. It’s a super-snapshot camera, but just how super is it?
The first impression, as with most Sony cameras, is one of quality. Selling in the shops for around £239, or direct from Sony at £329, the W7 is relatively inexpensive for its class. It’s significantly cheaper than the Canon IXUS 700 and about the same price as the excellent Nikon Coolpix 7900, both of which are direct competitors. However you certainly get a lot of camera for your money. It has an all-metal body, a huge 2.5-inch LCD monitor screen and a high quality Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens. It is a big heavy camera, weighing in at a chunky 250g which is a lot for a compact. You can carry it in your jacket pocket, but you’ll definitely know it’s there.
The control layout and ergonomic design of the W7 are simple but effective, unlike some of Sony’s more eccentric designs. The camera is basically a rectangular box with a lens on the front and a monitor on the back. Thanks to its large size and relatively basic specification, the fairly small number of controls are well spaced out and still leave plenty of room for your thumb. Overall handling is fairly good and all the buttons are easy to reach, although the mode dial could do with a little work. The milled edges that make it easy to grip also catch on your pocket lining and often turn the dial to a random position, which is inconvenient if you’re in a hurry and forget to check what mode it is set to.
Despite this quibble the W7 is a pleasure to use, thanks mainly to its outstanding performance. It starts up in around 1.3 seconds, has a shutter lag of less than 0.01 seconds, and in continuous mode can shoot five frames in four seconds. It also has an unusual multi-burst mode which can shoot a rapid sequence of shots to capture sports or action. The multi-point autofocus system is fast and accurate, taking under 0.3 seconds to achieve a lock in normal lighting conditions, although its low-light performance leaves something to be desired. Despite the AF illuminator the camera seems to have great difficulty in locking on to a subject even in the shadows of a normally-lit room, and can take a couple of seconds to sort itself out.
Moving on, the LCD monitor is deserving of special mention. Not only is it extremely large, but with 115,000 pixels, auto brightness sensing, 100 per cent frame coverage and an exceptionally wide angle of view it is also very nice to use. With a monitor this good the W7 doesn’t really need an optical viewfinder, but it has one anyway, and the monitor can be turned off to conserve battery life.