New Sony Camera Line Offers Outstanding Value

Sony built its reputation in the electronics field on the premium thesis. Sure, there may be lower priced competitors in the market, but they couldn’t beat Sony for quality, design and sheer wow factor. Consumers recognized that, and they have been willing to pay a premium for it.

With Sony’s new “W” line of Cybershot cameras, though, the company has altered that strategy by offering a premium product at a very competitive price.

Models in the line include the W30 (US$199-$246) and W50 ($237-$259). They pack six-megapixel resolution into silver brushed metal alloy cases that are as stylish as they are slim. My W50 review unit measured 3.5-by-2.25-by-0.9 inches; the W30 is only slightly bigger.

Optical Viewfinder

Although smaller than the W30, the W50 has a larger display, 2.5 inches versus 2 inches for the W30.

The display is bright, sharp and vivid and in bright light, it can be goosed a bit to compete with the sun.

However, you don’t have to worry about challenging helios because Sony had the wisdom to include an optical viewfinder with the camera. It may be a tad small, but it beats trying to frame a shot in an LCD in bright daylight.

Splendid Photos

Sony has equipped its W units with Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lenses with 3x optical zooms (38 to 114 mm in 35 mm format).

I found photos taken with the camera to be splendid — bright and sharp with good color fidelity. Details in macro shots were very impressive.

On the other hand, MPEG1 video shot with the camera was average and typical for a digital still camera.

Noise Dampened

A nice feature of the cameras is they don’t force you into using a flash. With ISOs up to 1000, you can take natural-looking photos in low light conditions without worrying about tripping into flash mode.

Increased light sensitivity is also useful for shooting at higher shutter speeds and avoiding motion blur.

A problem with shooting at higher ISOs, though, is image noise. The wizards at Sony, however, have drastically reduced that problem with its Clear RAW technology, which dampens noise than can make pictures look grainy and blurry.

The mechanical performance of my W50 review unit — thanks to Sony’s ultra-fast Real Imaging Processor — was superlative. Power up was almost instantaneous and shutter lag was negligible.

Auto-focus and auto-exposure features also appeared to react faster because of the imaging technology.

Intuitive Controls

Controls on the W50 are very intuitive.

The power and shutter buttons are on top of the unit. A zoom ring surrounds the shutter button so your trigger finger doesn’t have to stray from it to control the zoom.

On the back of the camera are the main display and the optical viewfinder.

Beside the viewfinder is the playback button. You can press it to see photos and videos stored in the camera. A nice touch is you don’t have to turn the camera on to use the preview. The button will power up the display when playback is activated.

Beside the playback knob is the mode dial. It lets you choose shooting and scene modes.

Shooting modes are automatic and program auto, which allows you to tinker with settings like exposure, shutter speed and such.

No Mode Muddles

Scene modes are groups of settings optimized for typical photo situations such as night shots, night portraits, snow shots, portraits and landscapes.

One problem with the amazing shrinking digital camera is that mode dials have gotten smaller and so have those puzzling icons on them. Sony has addressed that problem in its W series by displaying text explaining each mode dial item as it’s chosen.

Below the mode dial, there are buttons for turning the LCD off and calling up menus.

Below those controls is a dial for navigating menus. In shooting mode, each compass point on that dial quickly activates access to the unit’s flash controls, macro mode, self-timer and plus or minus exposure compensation.

If you’ve longed for Sony quality but couldn’t cope with the premium that entailed, the new W series of digital cameras will be a tantalizing package for you.

John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected].

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