Of course a big selling point for the W80 is the Super SteadyShot image stabilisation system, but a little explanation of this is in order. Although it has the same name as the extremely effective moving-sensor IS system used on Sony’s DSLRs, what the W80 has isn’t quite the same technology. The actual details are a little hard to come by, but as far as I can discover it still uses tiny gyroscopes to detect camera movement, but the actual image stabilisation is electronic, derived from the system used in Sony’s digital camcorders. (”’UPDATE: I was wrong; in fact the W80 uses optical image stabilisation”’) However it does work very well, and I was easily able to take shake-free hand-held shots at maximum zoom at shutter speeds as low as 1/8th of a second, which is pretty impressive.
In spite of its plain exterior, limited features and relatively low price, the W80 performs well. It starts up in approximately 2.2 seconds, and shuts down again in just under three. In single-shot mode the shot-to-shot cycle time is an impressive 1.6 seconds, but it is continuous mode that it is most surprising. It is able to maintain a shooting speed of nearly three frames a second, apparently until the memory card is full. It is worth noting that I was using a high-speed Sony MemoryStick Pro-HG Duo card for my test shots. Slower cards may limit this performance, but I don’t have on available for testing. The autofocus system is fairly quick in normal conditions, and works well in low light, although with a noticeable speed reduction. It is also a little slower in macro mode, although this is the case with most cameras. Battery performance is good, with the 940mAh Li-ion cell providing enough power for 340 shots. The built-in flash is very effective, producing good exposures even at close range, and full frame coverage at longer ranges, although it’s not terribly powerful, with a maximum range of 3.3m at wide angle.
The W80’s only real weakness is its overall image quality, and even then it’s not all bad news. Focusing, exposure and colour reproduction are very good, and the f/2.8-5.2 Carl Zeiss-branded lens is excellent, producing a high level of sharpness from edge to edge, with only a little barrel distortion at the wide angle end. Unfortunately the image files, averaging around 2.2MB for a typical scene, are quite compressed, and there is a general smudging of fine detail. However the worst problem is that of image noise, with effects visible even at the lowest ISO settings, particularly in the darker areas, which robs images of a lot of shadow detail. The noise quickly gets worse at higher settings, with images barely printable at 400 ISO and totally unusable at the maximum setting of 3200 ISO. I don’t see the point of including such a high maximum ISO setting when the results are so bad.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 is a very reasonably priced camera considering its build quality and specification. Although it is a bit lacking in style and elegance it makes up for it with very fast continuous shooting performance, good low light ability and effective image stabilisation. Overall image quality is a bit disappointing, but for general snapshot and social photography it performs as well as most other models in its class.