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    Senior Member racingpinarello's Avatar
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    Jan 2004
    Mountain View,CA

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 Pro Review

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 Review

    by Loren Crannell

    The Sony DSC-W7 is a 7-megapixel, full-featured, compact digital camera. It's Sony's newest addition to its top-of-the-line compact digital camera lineup. The DSC-W7 has a 3x optical zoom lens, full manual controls, a massive 2.5" LCD, easily available AA battery power supply, and the quality of Carl Zeiss glass.

    Price: Approximately $400 US

    • Excellent 7-megapixel sensor.
    • Complete range of exposure controls.
    • AA battery supply.
    • Built-in 32mb memory.
    • Sony Memory Stick memory, which can be used in other Sony products.
    • Very heavy for its size.
    • Lack of shutter mode and priority mode.
    • Conservative lens range (38-114mm), 35mm equiv zoom.
    • Uses only Sony Memory Stick memory.
    • Shoots only in JPG mode.
    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 Studio Test Images
    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 Studio SamplesISO 100 Sample >>
    ISO 200 Sample >>
    ISO 400 Sample >>

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    All Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 Photos >>
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    Sony Web site >>

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 - Front and back

    This is the newest of Sony's DSC series. The Sony DSC-W7 has come out to battle against other 7- to 8-megapixel point-and-shoot (P&S) cameras, such as the Canon G6. Sony has established a credible series of digital cameras, and they improve with each new addition. The 7-megapixel sensor is a gem, and the bigger-than-life LCD monitor is a pleasure to use.

    Normally, I carry my digital SLR and a 35mm film P&S camera. With any photographic image, I always want enough resolution to make at least an 8x10. In the past, most digital P&S cameras didn't provide enough resolution for me to include one of them in my camera bag. My digital P&S experience has been very limited, but I was looking forward to using the Sony. I wanted to see how easy this camera would be to use, especially in the hands of an SLR user. To test this camera, I took it everywhere for a week, as I went about my life in and around Stanford, CA. It would be interesting to see how it performed in a variety of situations. How far could the Sony DSC-W7 be pushed, and how easy would it be to capture spur-of-the-moment images that I would expect from a P&S camera?

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 Features
    The exposure features the Sony DSC-W7 offers are nine preset exposure modes, which include program mode and fully manual mode. I was disappointed that there were no shutter or aperture priority modes, which could allow for some creativity. To help with color management there are five custom settings with an auto white balance (AWB) setting. Typical modes such as sunny, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, and flash are present. Especially with a camera that shoots only in JPG format, this camera needs to have a variety of settings to ensure that the image has proper color management.

    The LCD screen provides useful information, including real time histogram, exposure data, flash status, and the white balance (WB) setting, to name a few. The screen measures 2.5" and is extremely bright. As the name implies, the DSC W-7 is a 7-megapixel camera that has a resolution of 3072x2304 pixels: you can easily print an 8x10 without losing any detail. The sensor is a Super HADâ„¢ CCD that measures 1/1.8". With its Carl Zeiss lens, it is a camera that offers quality image capture from lens to sensor. The lens features a focal length of 7.9-23.7mm, which is the equivalent of a 38-144mm lens in a 35mm camera. For added distance there is a 3x optical zoom. A macro mode is also included with a minimum focusing distance of 2 1/4". If you like to photograph landscapes, then the 38mm will be restrictive and, in my opinion, annoying.

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 - Controls
        Left: Main feature controls - white balance, ISO, meter, exposure compensation, etc.
        Right: LCD capture display with live histogram

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 - Controls
        Left: Main menu display
        Right: LCD playback display

    Once you are taking pictures, you have great auto-focus (AF) control with a five-area multipoint AF; center-balanced focusing; and a five-step manual. You will be able to see readily where the focus points on the LCD screen. My favorite feature is the power supply, which uses two AA batteries--no more having to recharge your battery during a long day at the theme park. Who would want to risk missing a once-in-a-lifetime shot when a charged-up battery is needed, if there's a gift shop nearby selling batteries? When you are done for the day, you can quickly upload the images from your camera via USB 2.0.

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 Design
    Physically, the DSC-W7 is in the medium-small part of the digital camera spectrum. The size is very close to that of its predecessor, but it offers more resolution. Because of its size, it fits easily into a shirt pocket, so you will be able to take it almost everywhere. The weight of the camera is a surprise: for its size, it feels very heavy, and some users will notice that while carrying it around. Despite the minor weight issue, the metal body feels sturdy and comfortable in the hands.

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 - Controls
        Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W7 button and control placement

    Button layout has been arranged perfectly, and settings can be changed quickly and without fumbling. The ergonomics of this camera are excellent despite its small size. The controls are intuitively positioned, and I very quickly found myself able to adjust the settings with ease and without much thought. When I needed to change the ISO and shutter speed, I could do it quickly and reliably. If you choose to use manual, aperture and shutter are on separate toggle buttons, so you can adjust both without having to press a button as you do with the Canon G6.

    Cable and I/O connections are securely positioned on the sides of the camera protected by waterproof rubber covers. They fastened into place securely and rapidly and didn't get in the way, nor did I fear that the covers were not doing their job. The dial on the top of the camera was easy to adjust and easy to decipher.

    Performance considerations include start-up, shutter-lag, battery life, capture rate, and, most important, image quality. The start-up of the camera is a bit slow but, luckily, shutter-lag is minimal. It will never match a digital SLR, but I was impressed with the lack of an annoyingly long shutter-lag. Battery life was decent, and with two AA batteries I was able to take around 75 shots using flash, low light, focusing light, playback, and just horsing around with it. I'm sure most users will be able to get more images with normal use.

    Using the flash or shooting in low light did slow down the focusing, but the infrared focusing aid still made it possible. Users can adjust the flash to normal strength and over/under-compensate. At every setting the flash overpowered subjects within three or four feet even with slow-sync. The best distance for illuminating the subject without harsh glare was beyond four feet. Overall, the performance of this camera would be excellent as long as the user understands its strengths and weaknesses. This is a camera that would take great snapshots, stills, nature shots, and portraits, but you would not be able to capture fast-moving sports and other shots normally taken with an SLR.

    Image Quality
    The image quality delivered by the Sony DSC W-7 was incredible and easily matches that of other 7-megapixel P&S cameras. At ISO 100, the resolve of this sensor may even outperform older digital SLR cameras. To have this type of quality in such a small package is truly amazing.

    What I look for in a digital sensor is dynamic range, which we take for granted with our film cameras. Since this and most handheld digital cameras don't have readily available filters to compensate for harsh contrast situations, the ability to capture shadow detail and highlights in the same frame is extremely important. If you look at the street shot of the café (see below), you can see a lot of detail in the shadows while not having a blown-out sky in the upper right. When you want to take a shot without having to think, this camera can do it.

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 shadow detail sampleSony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 ISO comparison
    Left: Sample photo for dynamic range/shadow detail - click for original
    Right: ISO 100 and 200 comparison - click to see samples

    Sensor noise is also very important. How much noise is created by the sensor at the three ISO speeds? At 100 the sensor noise is barely noticeable and will not affect the image, while at ISO 200 and 400 it becomes more evident. In the studio samples, taken at ISO 100, 200, and 400, notice the increased noise. Regardless of the noise, your images will not be a problem, unless you make large crops of the image or have lots of shadow detail. As long as you can shoot the majority of your images at ISO 100 using the fast lens, your images will be superb with good dynamic range and noise control.

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 color adjustment samples
    Click above to view before and after DSC-W7 color adjustment sample images

    White balance and color shift were something of a problem. I found the images shifting to a slight green hue. The shift is not ghastly, but it is noticeable under mixed lighting and landscape shots. Using Auto-Color in Photoshop was a quick and easy solution, and I was happy with the results. With the cloudy setting, I found the result too warm; it overpowered the scene. Looking at the comparison of the AWB and the cloudy setting (see chair photo comparison, below), you can see how strong the cloudy setting was. The Sony performed best using P mode at ISO 100 under the AWB setting.

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 white balance samples
    Click above to see larger white balance comparison

    Overall Camera Experience
    I was extremely happy to use the Sony, and it helped me have fun taking pictures again. Lately I have had a photographic mental block, and when I went out to test this camera I had fun. Taking pictures of the café and in and around the Stanford Mall was enjoyable, and I didn't feel that I was intruding on anybody given the small size of the camera. I was able to take it everywhere with me, and you never know when an opportunity will present itself. After seeing the results, I didn't feel that I compromised my time or my images. Some of the shots that I took from the Sony DSC W-7 will go into my library of images, along with those from my Canon 1D MarkII and Velvia 50 slide scans. The resulting images were strong enough, which is amazing coming from a camera that is less than $500.

    Usually I am an aperture-priority photographer, but since this camera didn't have that type of control, I set the camera to P and just took pictures. This approach was fun and liberating. The Sony does have a credible macro setting, which was fun to use, but it's not powerful enough to really do macro-specific work. Luckily, with such a large sensor, one can blow it up the image and crop it.

    The best thing about the Sony is the image quality. In fact, I think the image quality of the Sony far exceeded that of most other handheld digital cameras and in some cases beat the Canon 10D I used in the past in shadow detail. The Sony-made sensor is available in some truly wonderful cameras like the Canon G6, Olympus, Casio, and others. If you like the image quality but aren't sold on the Sony DSC W-7, you should take a look at some of the other cameras that use the same sensor. Image quality is a combination of the sensor, the lens, and the camera's processor, and Sony's overall package is truly spectacular.

    It's hard to say anything about this camera that would keep you from buying it. The main issue for me would be a lack of artistic control, the result of not having aperture or shutter priority. That probably will not even affect you, because it relates to my style of photography, and it doesn't make this camera inferior to any other competing camera. For most people, this could be the camera that provides the most reliable source of family memories, and they may never need to buy another camera. On the other hand, it could inspire you to take the next step and buy a digital SLR. As a complete package, the Sony DSC W-7 lives up to its brand name.

    Who Should Buy The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7
    I would recommend the Sony to anyone who is not a professional "I-NEED-A-DIGITAL-SLR-AND-NOTHING-ELSE" photographer. It comes in at a price point that is affordable to most families, is easy enough for grandparents to use, and provides professional results to the aspiring photographer waiting to raise enough money to buy a digital SLR. My mother needs a new camera, and I could rest well at night after suggesting this camera to her. She isn't the most technical person, and this camera would be a great fit.

    Even if you are proficient with SLR cameras, having something this small and powerful could result in having your camera with you all the time. How many times have we said to ourselves, "I wish I had my camera"? Unless you are shooting birds, sports, or doing a lot of night photography, this camera is highly recommended. If you understand its limitations, use ISO 100 and a tripod for those important shots, and have realistic expectations, the Sony DSC W-7 will not disappoint. After using it for a week, I will strongly consider a camera like the Sony for my own personal use.


    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 box contents
      Contents of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 box.

    Discuss the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 or this review >>

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    Last edited by Photo-John; 08-05-2005 at 11:27 AM.
    Loren Crannell
    LC Photography
    Visit My Website

    * Any photographer worth his salt has 10,000 bad negatives under his belt. - Ansel Adams

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