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Sony Cybershot DSC-W7 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 29/08/05
Rating: Almost Recommended
Buy now: £235 | $359


Introduction: The Sony Cybershot W7 features a Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens, a 7.2 megapixel sensor, and a large 2.5" screen. The W7 is available from around £235 | $359, making the W7 extremely good value for money. The camera offers full manual controls and is quite compact - the 3x optical zoom lens is equivalent to 38-114mm on a 35mm camera. The camera is enclosed in a silver aluminium body (and is available in black as the W17). It records unlimited 640 x 480 / 30fps videos with sound when you use Memory Stick Pro memory cards. The camera's quite compact (it will fit in trouser pockets), takes AA batteries and measures: 91 x 60 x 37.1mm (without protruding parts), and weighs 197g (without batteries and memory card)

Sony have this to say about the camera:

"The highly specified 7.2 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot W7 with an superb large 2.5” LCD screen, 3x Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar zoom lens, Real Imaging Processor and a host of photo features – all packed in a strong yet lightweight silver aluminium body."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: It's quite compact and made out of silver metal.
(Photos of the camera taken with a Panasonic Lumix FZ3)


Front - Camera off.


Front - Camera on, lens extended, flash, focus-assist lamp, optical viewfinder, microphone.


Back - the 2.5" TFT screen, optical viewfinder, zoom control, display, menu, image quality / delete, 4-way controller, middle button.


Top - mode dial, shutter release, power button and led.


Bottom, under the camera there is a metal tripod mount, speaker, and battery / memory compartment.


Left Side (from back) AV/USB out - lens extended.


Wrist strap hole.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium sized compact 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison next to the 7 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS 700.

Specifications / Features:

  • 7.2 megapixel
  • Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens
  • 2.5" LCD
  • Movie mode: Record 640x480 at 30fps with sound (with Memory Stick Pro)
  • ISO: Auto ISO, Manual ISO 100, 200 and 400
  • TV Out
  • 32mb built in memory
  • Manual Exposure (aperture, shutter)
  • Quick Operation (Start-up 1.3 sec, Shutter Time Lag 0.3 sec, Shutter Release Lag 0.01sec)
  • 6cm Macro

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Battery charger
  • 2x NiMh 2100mah rechargable AA batteries
  • AV cable
  • USB connection cable
  • Strap
  • CD-ROM software

Decent box contents, it's very good to see rechargable batteries and a charger is supplied, although with the camera's built in 32mb of memory, you will need to buy a larger memory card.

Battery usage: Up to 380 pictures with the supplied 2100mah Ni-mh batteries. Battery life seemed better than average, and the figure for the included batteries is very good.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the rotating dial.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode Photo Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen resolution with 115,000 pixels is not as good as many others, although it updates smoothly and the colours appear accurate. There is a live histogram available and the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: Quite typically the optical viewfinder is quite small.

Menu options are: Exposure (shown above, shows Live Histogram as you adjust this), Focus (Multi, Center, 0.5m, 1m, 3m, 7m, Infinity), Metering mode (Multi, Center, Spot), White Balance (Auto, Sun, Cloud, Flourescant, Candescant, Flash), ISO, Quality (Fine, Standard), Record mode (Normal, Burst, Multi-burst), Flash level, P. Effect (Black and White, Sepia), Saturation / Contrast / Sharpness (+, Normal, -), Setup. Multi-Burst mode adds another menu item, allowing you to set the Interval).

Image size Setup Menu

Setup menu options: (shown on the right, above) AF mode, Digital Zoom, Date/Time, Red Eye Reduction, AF Illuminator, Auto Review, Enlarged Icon, Format, LCD Backlight (Bright, Normal, Dark), Beep, Language, Initialize, File Number, USB Connect, Video out, Clock Set.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is quick. The zoom is quick up to 5x. Playback mode displays photo settings, exposure, date and time, as well as a histogram.

Playback menu options: Protect, DPOF, Print, Slideshow, Resize, Rotate, Divide, Setup.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 32mb memory provided with the camera:

Size / Quality: Number of Photos Stored
  Fine Standard
7mp (3072x2304) 9 18
3:2 (3072x2048) 9 18
5mp (2592x1944) 12 23
3mp (2048x1536) 20 37
1mp (1280x960) 50 93
VGA (640x480) 196 491
Video 640x480 25fps 1 minute 27 seconds (Standard)

You can fit a small number of images on the built in memory - a larger memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / higher compression options in order to fit more pictures in memory. There is a good choice of image sizes, although there is a slightly limited choice regarding image compression.

A larger memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Sony Cybershot W7:

Find the latest prices for Sony Memory Stick Pro memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb, 512mb, 1gb (1024mb).

Speed: The camera is very quick to switch on and take photos - the focus assist lamp helps the camera focus in darker indoor conditions, although the Sony W7's low light focusing seemed slower than the IXUS 700. The screen updates are quick and smooth (even in low-light). The playback mode is also quick. Playback mode allows you to zoom as close as 5x. The camera shutter response seemed quick when pre-focused - and shot to shot time was also noticably quick. The flash recharge time also seemed quick.

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, although the camera does have a lot of options and features. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use - the menus are responsive and easy to read. The camera is compact and fits in (baggy) trouser pockets. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple - there's a basic mode for simple point and shoot operation, as well as scene modes to help beginners.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel okay, the shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well. I thought the camera felt quite good ergonomically, although it felt quite heavy and seemed a little bulky / chunky. The hand grip on the front was okay although not the most comfortable. The zoom control seemed decent.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Sony Cybershot DSC-W7 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower Group photo

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos. The camera did a good job at focusing the majority of the time, although occassionally struggled in low-light, or seemed to focus slightly off the main subject. Red-eye didn't seem to be huge a problem, although it was noticable in a few photos.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO100, 200, 400) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings.

Noise test photo - flash on ISO100
ISO200 ISO400

Noise levels appear low at ISO100, although some is still visible. At ISO200 noise becomes more noticable but is still acceptable, at ISO400 and above noise seems high and detail is being lost due to noise reduction. In the full size version of the ISO400 test version it's possible to see random black dots caused by noise.

Outside:

Shops Robot at Merseyfest

Outside, again the camera had good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was good detail, although some images were soft. Noise seemed fairly well controlled. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images. White balance seems a bit off in the shops photo, and the sky is burnt-out as well.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x optical zoom lens and a built in 2x digital zoom (Precision) - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the 3x optical zoom and 2x digital zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom 3x Optical zoom + 2x digital zoom

Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock towers seems a bit poor (with the overly dark clock tower) - this happened with the Sony Cybershot S60 / S80 as well - this could probably be avoided by changing the metering mode.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is fairly quiet. The lens is quick at going from wide to telephoto - there are about 8 steps between wide and telephoto! This gives you good control on how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: I did notice purple fringing in some photos, i.e. the clock tower photos, however it is still quite low.

Macro: To use this camera in macro mode, you switch to macro mode - you can use the macro mode at wide angle, all the way to telephoto. You can use the flash in macro mode. The camera can be roughly as close as 6cm away from the subject from the front of the lens.

Macro Watch Actual Pixels

The macro mode is good - colour and detail is good, and the camera allows you to get fairly close to the subject. Images did seem a bit soft - and benefitted from sharpening. The lack of custom white balance meant this photo turned out with a slight yellow cast.

Movie: 640 x 480 at 30fps with sound with a Memory Stick Pro, alternatively 640 x 480 at 25fps with sound is available using the built in memory. The movie is recorded as an .MPG file. Unfortunately you can't use the optical zoom whilst recording videos. The quality of the movie(s) is quite good, colour is good, the camera also does a good job in low-light. The frame rate is good.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is quite good, the images have good colour, saturation, contrast and good detail - however there is some purple fringing, and some images were quite soft. Images tend to come out of the camera looking quite good, however exposure of the clock tower wasn't excellent, and blown highlights occured in the shops photo. The camera did a good job focusing the majority of the time, only slightly struggling in low light. Noise was fairly well controlled but resulted in loss of detail. I did not notice vignetting in photos. There is a good range of image sizes and a good choice of compression options. The macro mode is good, allowing you to be as close as 6cm away from the subject, this provides good (but soft) detail. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be good, however manually setting the white balance may often help acheive better results, and it could be worth checked the exposure mode. Red-eye was noticable. The movie mode is good, at 640x480 / 30fps with sound when using a Sony Memory Stick Pro card, the framerate is slightly reduced when using a normal Sony memory card.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is fairly compact and is designed well - the camera feels comfortable in my hands. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls. There is a good choice of features and options, for example manual shutter / aperture settings, although surprisingly no custom white balance! The camera speed is good, with an very good switch on time, good focusing time, good shutter response, and quick flash recharge time. The camera seems like a complete package including scene modes for beginners, manual controls, and lens attachments for people looking for complete control.

Alternative digital cameras: See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The 7 megapixel Sony Cybershot W7 is a good digital camera. The easy to use camera is capable of good results, however you may have to work with the image(s) to get the best out of them - for example to produce sharper images, or alter exposure etc. The camera gives you a lot of control through manual settings, but is equally suited to beginners. The macro mode is good. The camera is very good value for money at around £235, and whilst the camera is good, due to the slight image quality issues I had with the W7 (soft, exposure, white balance, blown highlights) I would be much happier recommending the Fuji FinePix F10 to my friends and family over this camera.

Sony Cybershot DSC-W1 Rating: Almost Recommended
Buy Now: £235 | $359

What I like:

  • Good colour
  • Very good value for money 7 megapixel digital camera
  • Very nice 2.5" screen
  • Rechargable batteries (Ni-Mh 2100mah) and charger included
  • Good battery life
  • Quick switch on time, quick shot to shot time, quick shutter response
  • Good movie mode(s)

What I don't like:

  • Somewhat chunky
  • No Custom / Manual White Balance!!! (This is shocking considering all the manual controls, ability to add additional lenses etc...)
  • Pro Memory card needed for best video mode
  • Expensive Sony Memory Sticks
  • Soft images at default settings
  • Red-eye could be a problem (Heather, Group Photo)
  • White Balance / Exposure / Burnt out sky problems seen in some photos (Shops, Clock Tower)

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the new gallery.
Additional resources:
This camera, introduced in 2006-'07, is still quite viable today, and perhaps even cheaper! Information like this and more - including lap tops tips, a Canon camera history,  Sony history snippets - are all available on the Internet!