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DCRP Review: Sony
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 25, 2006
Last Updated: January 17, 2008
The Cyber-shot DSC-W100 ($350) is the top-end camera in Sony's 2006 W-series lineup. While it shares a similar design and lens with the other models, the W100 has the most resolution, courtesy of its 8.1 Megapixel CCD.
The chart below shows you how the W100 fits in with the other three models in the W-series:
Ready to learn about the DSC-W100? Then keep reading, our review starts now!
Since the two cameras share so much in common, I'll be reusing large portions of the DSC-W50 review here.
What's in the Box?
The DSC-W100 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
As is the case with more and more cameras these days, Sony built memory right into the DSC-W100 instead of including a memory card. Sony didn't skimp at all here: the W100 has a whopping 64MB built right in (some other cameras have 10MB!). Despite the hefty amount of built-in memory, you'll still want to buy a memory card, and I'd suggest 1GB as a good starter size.
The W100 uses Memory Stick Duo cards (including "Pro" models), which have come down in price considerably recently. Sony includes an adapter which lets you use MS Duo cards in regular Memory Stick slots, so they'll work in card readers and printers. Sony doesn't say anything about high speed Duo cards making any difference when it comes to camera performance.
All four W-series cameras use the NP-BG1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Strangely enough, this isn't an "InfoLithium" battery like on most of Sony's other cameras, which means that you won't get a minute-by-minute countdown of remaining battery life. What you will get from this 3.6Wh battery are plenty of photos, as this chart attests:
The W100 doesn't last as long as the W30 or W50, but it still turns in numbers that are above average.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. They're expensive ($45 a pop) and you can't use "regular batteries" to get you throw the day in an emergency. Unfortunately these batteries are "par for the course" on ultra-compacts like the W100.
Included with the camera is an external battery charger. This is my favorite kind of charger, as it plugs directly into the wall. It takes a rather sluggish 4.5 hours for a typical battery charge.
Like all ultra-compacts there's a built-in lens cover on the W100, so there's no clunky lens cap to worry about.
Strangely enough, the top-end DSC-W100 doesn't support nearly as many accessories as the lower-end models. That means that you'll have to step down to the W70 if you want to use conversion lenses, filters, or the weatherproof case!
Boy, that list is kind of disappointing compared to the W50, no?
Sony includes their brand new Cyber-shot Viewer software with the DSC-W100. This software replaces the not-so-great PicturePackage software, and it's about time. Unfortunately, Cyber-shot Viewer isn't as powerful as Olympus Master and similar products, and there's still no Mac version to be found.
The software can import your photos right from the camera, and they are all organized by date. You can view photos in the traditional thumbnail view, as you can see above.
A screen with more details is also available.
Photos can also be viewed by the date on which they were taken. You can choose from year, month, or day views.
Double-clicking on any image brings up the edit window. Here you can rotate and crop photos, remove redeye, and adjust brightness, saturation, and sharpness.
Overall, Cyber-shot Viewer is pretty basic... but it seemed to work okay.
The DSC-W100's documentation is split into two parts. For the basics there's a fold-out "Read This First" guide, which covers things like charging the battery and simple camera operation. For more details you'll want to crack open the User's Guide, which covers just about everything. While the "Read This First" guide is fairly straightforward, the user's guide could be a little more user friendly.
Look and Feel
Though it's a little chunkier than the other W-series cameras, the DSC-W100 is still a very compact camera. The camera is made mostly of metal, and it feels very solid in the hand, though the door over the memory card and battery compartment is on the flimsy side.
The important controls are easy to reach (though the playback mode button is kind of hidden), and the W100 can be used with just one hand.
|Images courtesy of Sony Electronics|
The DSC-W100 comes in both silver and black bodies. In fact, all of the W-series cameras do, with the exception of the entry-level W30.
Now here's a look at how the W100 compares to other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:
As I said earlier, the W100 is a bit larger and heavier than the other W-series cameras. As ultra compacts go, it's on the large side, but it'll still fit into your pockets with ease.
Okay, enough numbers, let's start our tour of the W100 now, beginning with the front.
While the specs on the W100's F2.8-5.2, 3X optical zoom Carl Zeiss lens are the same as on the other W-series cameras, I'm not sure if it's actually the same lens. At the very least, the zoom motor is different, as it makes a very different sound than on the W50. The focal range of the W100's lens is 7.9 - 23.7 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The lens is not threaded, and unlike the W30/W50/W70, you cannot attach a conversion lens adapter via the tripod mount. Why Sony left this feature off the camera is beyond me.
Directly above the lens is the W100's built-in flash. This flash is a powerful one, with a working range of 0.2 - 6.0 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 3.2 m at telephoto. If you want more flash power and less redeye, consider adding Sony's optional external slave flash. This flash attaches to the tripod mount, and fires when the onboard flash does.
To the left of the flash is the microphone, with the AF-assist lamp below that. The AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp, is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.
The back of the camera is more or less the same as on the DSC-W50. The W50, W70, and W100 all use the same 2.5" LCD display. While the screen is large, the 115,000 pixel resolution leaves something to be desired, especially given the W100's place as the top-end camera. Still, I didn't find the low resolution to be a real problem -- the screen is still sharp. Outdoor visibility was about average, and low light visibility was very good, as the screen brightens automatically in those situations.
To the upper-left of the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which has become less and less common on ultra-compacts these days. The viewfinder is pretty small, and there's no diopter correction, but I'll take what I can get.
To the right of the viewfinder is the speaker, followed by the playback mode button (which should be placed more prominently) and the mode dial. The mode dial has the following options:
The W100 is the only one of the four W-series cameras to offer manual exposure controls. Unfortunately they're not as manual as I would've liked. The issue is this: you can only choose between two aperture settings at any time. At the wide-angle end of the lens the choices are F2.8 and F5.6, while at the telephoto end they're F5.2 and F10 (other options are available between the two ends).
The DSC-W100 is one of many 2006 camera models to offer a high sensitivity mode. While the other W-series cameras have it too, the W100 can boost the ISO the highest: to 1250. The idea here is to get the shutter speed as fast as possible, which reduces the risk of having a blurry photo. The camera accomplishes this by boosting the ISO sensitivity as high as necessary, to a maximum of 1250. As you may know, as the ISO sensitivity goes up, so do noise levels.
How well the high sensitivity mode works really depends on what you plan on doing with the photos. If you're sticking to 4 x 6 inch prints, then it's worth using. If you're going to be doing 8 x 10's or larger, you may want to set the ISO manually, because noise will be visible in your prints when the sensitivity goes above ISO 400. I did print the cat and public market photos at 8 x 10 and they looked great.
Below the mode dial are three buttons plus the four-way controller. The buttons are for Display (toggles the LCD on and off, as well as the info shown on it), Menu, and Image Quality / Delete photo.
The four-way controller is used for menu navigation as well as:
On the top of the W100 you'll find the power and shutter release buttons plus the zoom controller.
The zoom controller, which is wrapped around the shutter release, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.9 seconds, which is slower than on the W50 (I guess they really do use different lens motors). I counted nine steps in the 3X zoom range.
On this side of the camera you'll find the connector for the USB and A/V ports. A plastic door of average quality protects the connector when you're not using it. The W100 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.
On the other side of the camera you'll find the DC-in port, which is where you'll plug in the optional AC adapter.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the DSC-W100. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount and the battery and memory card compartment. The battery/memory card compartment is protected by a pretty flimsy plastic door. You won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NP-BG1 battery is shown at right.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W100
The DSC-W100 starts up quickly, taking just 1.3 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
A histogram is shown on the LCD in record mode
The W100's focusing speeds are above average in most situations. Typical focus times are between 0.2 - 0.4 seconds, with longer waits at the telephoto end of the lens. If the camera has to "hunt" a bit, focus times can exceed one second. Low light focusing wasn't terribly snappy, but it was accurate, thanks to the W100's AF-assist lamp.
As with Sony's other recent cameras, shutter lag was not noticeable, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
Shot-to-shot speed was very good, with a delay of about one-and-a-half seconds before you can take another picture.
You cannot delete a photo right after it's taken -- you must enter playback mode.
Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the DSC-W100:
It's so nice to see a camera that can hold more than six photos in its internal memory!
The DSC-W100 does not support the RAW or TIFF image formats.
The file numbering system used by Sony is quite simple. Files are named DSC0####.JPG, where #### = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained as you erase and swap Memory Sticks.
The DSC-W100 has the standard overlay-style Sony menu system. Here's the complete record menu (some of these options may not be available in all modes):
The only real manual control on the W100 is the manual exposure mode that I described earlier. One control that would've been really nice is custom white balance, which comes in very handy when you're shooting under unusual lighting.
The DSC-W100 has two different continuous shooting (burst) modes. The normal burst mode took four shots in a row at a sluggish 1 frame/second, which is not very impressive. The LCD blacks out briefly between between shots, so you may have to resort to the optical viewfinder to track a moving subject. The multi burst mode takes sixteen shots in a row (at an interval you choose) and compiles them into a collage (1 Megapixel resolution).
Now let's take a look at the items in the setup menu:
Before we go on, I want to briefly describe the AF mode and digital zoom options. The Single AF mode only focuses when you halfway press the shutter release, while the monitor AF mode is always trying to focus. Monitor AF will reduce focus times, but it'll eat up your battery faster.
There are two digital zoom options on the camera. The "precision" mode just digitally enlarges the center of the frame, which reduces the quality of the photo. The smart zoom feature (similar to the expanded optical zoom on Panasonic cameras) blows things up by as much as 15 times without lowering the image quality, but the catch is that it only works at the lower resolutions. The lower the resolution goes, the more smart zoom you can use.
Enough menus, let's talk about photo quality now!
The macro test results were about the same as on the DSC-W50. Since there's no custom white balance setting on the W100, I had to use the incandescent preset, which didn't work well with my studio lamps -- hence the reddish cast. That's too bad, since the subject is nice and sharp. Do note that the white balance issue only matters if you're shooting under more unusual lighting conditions -- for most people it won't matter.
You can get as close to your subject as 6 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto on the W100.
The W100's manual exposure controls allowed it to take a much nicer night shot than the W50 (to get at those slow shutter speeds you'll need to use the "M" mode). The camera took in plenty of light, the buildings are sharp, and noise levels are very reasonable considering the resolution of the camera. Purple fringing levels were moderate.
I have two ISO tests in this review -- one in low light and the other in normal light. First is the low light test, which uses the night scene above:
While noise levels are low at ISO 80 and 100, things start to get worse quickly. While you can still get a 4 x 6 inch print out of the ISO 200 shot, the rest of the images are not usable, in my opinion.
In normal lighting the W100 fared a lot better, as you'll see below.
Barrel distortion was fairly mild at the wide-angle end of the W100's 3X zoom lens. While I saw some blurriness in the corners of the test chart and a few real world photos, I don't think it's much of a problem.
Redeye seems to be all the rage these days on ultra compact cameras, and the W100 has plenty of it. While your results may vary, expect to be cleaning up a lot of red eyes in software.
Okay, here's that other ISO test that I promised. This scene was taken in my studio (with 600W quartz studio lamps) and as you can see, it has the same color cast as the macro shot. I took the shot at each of the ISO settings so you can see how noise levels increase as you crank up the sensitivity. Have a look:
The W100 surprised me with its very good high ISO performance. You can make good-sized prints through ISO 400, and you can still squeeze out a decent 4 x 6 at the ISO 800 setting. Noise is pretty visible at ISO 1250, so I'd probably avoid that setting myself. The W50 had a noticeable loss of color saturation at the higher ISO settings, but thankfully the W100 does not.
Overall, I was impressed with the photos that I took with the DSC-W100. They were well-exposed, with pleasing sharpness and low noise levels. Purple fringing was not a major issue. The only thing I noticed that bugged me a little were the saturation -- I'd crank it up a bit (though most of my photos were taken on cloudy days).
Please don't take my words as gospel, though. Have a look at the photo gallery, printing the photos if you can, and then decide if the W100's photo quality meets your expectations.
The DSC-W100 has the same top-notch movie mode as Sony's other digital cameras. The MPEG Movie VX Fine mode takes VGA-sized video (that's 640 x 480) at 30 frames/sec until the memory card is full, with sound. The VX Fine mode requires a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, and you cannot use the internal memory at that setting either. A 1GB Pro Duo card can hold about 12 minutes of video at the highest quality setting.
If you don't have a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, don't fret. You can quadruple the recording time by using the VX Standard mode, which is still VGA, just at 17 frames/second. An even lower resolution mode is also available: 160 x 120, 8 frames/second, which boosts recording time by a factor of fifty seven!
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
While not the greatest sample movie, here it is:
Click to play movie (8.2 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The DSC-W100 has the standard Sony playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (though not the fancy one with music found on the DSC-N1 and DSC-T9), DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view (9 or 16 images per screen), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo up to five times and then move around in the zoomed-in area. This is great for checking to make sure that your subject is properly focused.
Images can also be rotated, resized, and cropped. A "divide" function can removed unwanted parts of your movie clips.
By default, the camera doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press the Display button and you'll see a lot more, including a histogram (shown above).
The W100 moves through photos quickly. A low res placeholder is shown instantly, with the full res image appearing about half a second later.
How Does it Compare
I have a bit of a dilemma in writing my final thoughts about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W100. On the one hand, it's a very good camera. In fact, it exceeded my expectations in terms of photo quality and high ISO performance. At the same time, I'm a bit disappointed that Sony didn't add more features to separate it from the other W-series cameras. In other words, is it worth the price premium for a higher resolution sensor and limited manual controls, while giving up battery life and conversion lens support? Ultimately that decision in yours.
The DSC-W100 is a compact (but not tiny) camera with a metal body. The W100 comes in your choice of silver or black. The W100 is a little chunkier than the other W-series cameras, probably to accommodate its different 3X zoom lens (I think). The camera has the same 2.5" LCD display as the W50 and W70, which is a bit of disappointment. It would've been nice to have a larger screen (or at least a higher resolution 2.5" one) on the flagship W-series model. While the W100 is generally well designed, I'm not a fan of the cheap door over the memory card and battery compartment, or the fact that you can't swap either of those while the camera is on a tripod. Another letdown on the W100 is that it doesn't support conversion lenses -- unlike the W30/W50/W70. Sony goes get a big thumbs up for building a whopping 64MB of memory into the camera, though.
The W100 is a point-and-shoot camera with a few manual controls. For those who want ease-of-use, you'll find an automatic shooting mode as well as five scene modes. A high sensitivity mode will allow for sharp photos when light levels are not ideal, though it's best suited for 4 x 6 prints (since you can't control what ISO setting is used). The camera has really only one true manual control, and that's its "M" mode, which lets you set both the aperture and shutter speed at the same time. Even this mode is a bit limited though, as you can only select from two aperture settings at a time. It would've been nice for the fancy W-series camera to have full manual controls -- it really needs white balance for sure, as some of my test photos showed. While the W100's movie mode was very nice, its continuous shooting mode wasn't as impressive (taking 4 shots in a row at a snail-like 1 frame/second).
Camera performance was good in most areas. The W100 starts up quickly, focuses quickly (at wide-angle), and shutter lag was not a problem. Shot-to-shot times were very good. I did find telephoto and low light focusing to be on the slow side, though. Photo quality was very good, with accurate exposure, pleasing sharpness, and low noise and purple fringing levels. The W100 surprised me with its high ISO performance (when the lighting was good) -- you can get 8 x 10 inch prints even at ISO 400, with smaller prints above that. My only photo quality related complaints are that color saturation could be a bit higher, and that redeye is a problem (not too surprising, really).
I've mentioned most of my complaints about the W100 in the previous paragraphs. The only other thing I should mention is that no Mac software is included, but the camera works fine with iPhoto (which is vastly superior to Cyber-shot Viewer anyway).
Is the W100 worth paying another $50-$100 for (over the W50 and W70)? The only things you're really getting are more resolution and built-in memory, and limited manual controls. At the same time, you're losing support for conversion lenses and Sony's camera dock, and battery life isn't as good. If you're a regular point-and-shoot user I'd probably pick the W50 instead and use the savings to buy a decent-sized memory card. If you really need the 8 Megapixel resolution or limited manual controls, then the W100 is worth the extra dollars.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other high resolution compact cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot SD600 and SD700 IS, Casio Exilim EX-Z850, Fuji FinePix F30, HP Photosmart R927, Kodak EasyShare V603, Nikon Coolpix S5, Olympus Stylus 810, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX01, Pentax Optio A10, Samsung Digimax i6, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1, DSC-W50, and DSC-W70.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-W100 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Then have a look at our gallery!
Want another opinion?
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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