- Review Price: £239.00
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.
Although it is primarily a snapshot camera, the W7 does have a good selection of manual and creative options, including full manual exposure with apertures of F2.8 and F5.6 and shutter speeds of 30 seconds to 1/100th of a second. To help gauge the correct exposure, spot and centre weighted metering are available as alternatives to the default multi-segment metering. Noise reduction automatically kicks in on shutter speeds longer than 1/6th of a second, but more about that later.
Other creative options include a menu-controlled manual focus which allows you to set focus distances of 0.5, 1.0, 3.0 and 7.0 metres as well as to infinity. Flash output can be manually varied but only to the extent of being plus or minus the recommended setting. Contrast, saturation and sharpness can also be varied, but again only within very limited parameters. Likewise white balance can be set to a range of pre-set values, but there is no option for setting it manually. Although these manual options do give a degree of creative control, it is very limited.
With the dual benefits a 7 megapixel Sony Super HAD CCD and a high quality Carl Zeiss lens picture quality should be exceptionally good, but in fact it is a little disappointing, and frankly not a patch on the rival Nikon Coolpix 7900. Colour rendition is near perfect, pictures are correctly exposed and in focus, but there is a certain softness that robs them of the level of detail you might expect from such a powerful sensor, and this is probably the fault of the noise reduction system.
The W7 only has three manual ISO settings, 100, 200 and 400, but even at the highest value images are relatively noise free. That said the higher the ISO setting the lower the level of detail, so it’s best to stick to ISO 100 wherever possible. Despite this criticism the W7 is capable of producing very good photos that can be printed at around 10 x 8 inches at full photo quality, or A3 size at near-photo quality.
The W7 also has a very good movie mode, capable of shooting in 640 x 480 resolution at a full 30 frames per second with sound. Movies are recorded in the MPEG1 format, with very little visible compression, and it will shoot until the memory card is full.
Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-W7 represents a good middle ground in the new 7 megapixel snapshot market. Image quality could be a little better, but overall performance, build quality and handling are everything we’ve come to expect from Sony. At a price point of around £239 it represents excellent value for money, and will not disappoint.
”A range of test shots are shown over the next two pages. Here, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop (taken from the original full resolution image at Adobe ImageReady jpg quality 60) follows each image in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality. The next page consists of resized images (to Adobe ImageReady jpg quality 50) so that you can evaluate the overall exposure. For those with a dial-up connection, please be patient while the page downloads.”
”’If you look closely at this picture you’ll notice a certain softness and lack of fine detail. In the original full size image (not shown) some edge distortion in the corners is also noticeable. Exposure, colour balance and focusing are all spot-on though.”’
”’The bright sunlight on these colourful blooms can overload some exposure systems, causing highlights to burn out, but the Sony has handled them well resulting in a nicely balanced picture.”’
”’ISO 100: At the minimum ISO setting the picture is completely noise-free.”’
”’ISO 200: At 200 ISO there is little discernible difference, although some fine detail has been lost.”’
”’ISO 400: At the highest sensitivity setting there is still very little image noise even in the shadow areas, but a lot of detail has been lots and some colour irregularities are present.”’
”This page consists of resized images (to Adobe ImageReady jpg quality 50) so that you can evaluate the overall exposure.”
”’Although it has problems with low-light focusing, the W7 has coped well here, with the flash correctly metered for accurate skin tones, and virtually no red-eye either.”’
”’Despite the very difficult high-contrast lighting, the W7’s multi-segment metering system has done a good job here, and the Carl Zeiss lens has kept lens flare to a minimum.”’
”’With the flash off, the metering system has exposed for the scene beyond the arch.”’
”’The metering system has correctly balanced the output of the flash to the ambient light, filling in the foreground shadows perfectly.”’
Score in detail
Image Quality 8
|Camera type||Digital Compact|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||7.2 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||3x|