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DCRP Review: Sony
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 29, 2006
Last Updated: January 17, 2008
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 ($249) is a compact 6 Megapixel camera with a 3X optical zoom lens, 2.5" LCD display, VGA movie mode, and point-and-shoot operations. One of the other big features on the W50 is its high sensitivity mode, which can boost the ISO to 1000 for sharp, blur free photos (though we'll check the noise levels later in the review).
The W50 is one of four cameras in Sony's 2006 W-series lineup. The chart below compares all four:
Hopefully that clears up some confusion about those models (even I wasn't sure about all the features until I created the chart).
Ready to learn about the DSC-W50 now? Read on, the review starts right now!
What's in the Box?
The DSC-W50 has an average 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-W50 instead of including a memory card. You'll get 32MB worth of built-in memory, which holds ten photos at the highest JPEG quality setting, so you'll want to get a memory card right away. The W50 uses Memory Stick Duo cards (including "Pro" models), which now top out at 4GB, and I'd say that 512MB is a good starter size. Sony includes an adapter which lets you use MS Duo cards in regular Memory Stick slots. 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 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 W50.
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 W50, so there's no clunky lens cap to worry about.
There are quite a few accessories available for the W50 -- much more than on your typical ultra-compact. Here's a look at all of them:
Now that's a very impressive set of accessories for such a small camera. Bravo, Sony!
Sony includes their brand new Cyber-shot Viewer software with the DSC-W50. 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.
Since the camera organized photos by date it's no surprise that there's a calendar view available.
You can drill down to a month view...
... or even a day view. Talk about overkill!
By the way, on any of these screens you can activate a slideshow feature.
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-W50's manuals are 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
The DSC-W50 is a compact metal camera that will fit into any of your pockets with ease. The camera is generally very solid, save for the flimsy cover over the battery/memory card compartment. The controls are all well placed, and there aren't too many buttons to deal with. The W50 can be used with one hand with ease.
|Images courtesy of Sony Electronics|
The DSC-W50 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, let's see how the W50 compares with other ultra-compacts in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the DSC-W50 is of average size and weight for an ultra-compact.
Enough about that, let's start our tour of the camera now!
The DSC-W50 (along with all the other cameras in the series, as far as I can tell) has an F2.8-5.2, 3X optical zoom Carl Zeiss lens. The focal range of the lens is 6.3 - 18.9 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can attach conversion lenses and filters by purchasing the conversion lens adapter that I mentioned earlier. This adapter attaches via the tripod mount, and can hold the two conversion lenses or any 30 mm filter.
To the upper-left of the lens is the optical viewfinder. The similar-looking item to the right of the lens is the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer countdown light. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.
Above the AF-assist lamp is the W50's built-in flash. The flash's working range of 0.2 - 4.2 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.2 m at telephoto is above average for the ultra-compact class. If you want more flash power and less redeye, consider adding Sony's optional external slave flash, which I mentioned in the accessories section.
The first thing to see on the back of the W50 is its large 2.5" LCD display. While the screen is big, the resolution of 115,000 pixels is not. Despite the low pixel count, I didn't have any problems with the sharpness of the images viewed on the LCD. Outdoor visibility was average, while low light is above average (though I've seen better).
Directly above 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 button for entering playback mode. It's so small that it took me a few seconds to find it the first few times that I used the W50. To the far left of the viewfinder is the speaker.
Next up we have the mode dial, which has quite a few options. They include:
The DSC-W50 is one of many 2006 camera models to offer a high sensitivity mode. 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 1000. As you may know, as the ISO sensitivity goes up, so do noise levels.
Sony claims that their "Clear RAW technology" (not to be confused with the RAW image format) lets you "up the camera's sensitivity without dramatically increasing picture noise, which makes pictures look blurry and grainy." After taking a few pictures with the high sensitivity mode, I think "dramatically" is a bit of an overstatement. The camera does perform pretty well for a compact through ISO 400, but after that, two things happen. One, noise levels become high enough that even a 4 x 6 inch print is lacking in quality. And second, color saturation takes a nose dive. I'll have more on this topic later.
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 top of the W50 you'll find the microphone, power and shutter release buttons, and the zoom controller. The zoom controller, which is wrapped around the shutter release button, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.4 seconds. I counted eight steps throughout the 3X zoom range.
Nothing to see here. I have no idea why there are so many electric shock warning stickers on this camera.
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. The port is protected by a very flimsy plastic door.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the DSC-W50. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount, the battery and memory card compartment, and the dock connector. The battery/memory card compartment is protected by a flimsy plastic door. You may or may not be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod (depends on your tripod). The dock connector is where you'll plug in the USB+A/V cable, as well. The W50 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50
The DSC-W50 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 W50 focuses quickly at wide-angle, and not-so-quickly at telephoto or in low light. At wide-angle it typically took between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds for the camera to lock focus. At the telephoto end of the lens, focus times frequently reached one second. Low light focusing was slow, but accurate.
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 excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot.
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-W50:
The DSC-W50 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-W50 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):
There are two burst modes on the W50. The normal burst mode took just three shots in a row (at the highest quality setting) at 1.4 frames/second -- not very impressive. 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 W50. 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 4.3 times without lowering the image quality, but the catch is that it only works at the lower resolutions. The lower you go, the more smart zoom you can use.
Enough menus, let's talk about photo quality now!
The W50 would've nailed our macro test shot if it had custom white balance. Since it does not, I'm forced to use the tungsten setting with my studio lamps, which gave the image a brownish cast. That's too bad, because the subject is nice and sharp. I should point out that this white balance issue only matters if you're shooting under unusual lighting -- most people won't encounter this problem.
You can get as close to your subject as 2 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto on the W50.
The night shot did not turn out well. Why? Because the longest shutter speed is 2 seconds, which isn't long enough for this scene. I had to take it in the twilight scene mode to get that shutter speed, and you can't set the ISO higher to brighten things up in any of the scene modes. In other words, the W50 is not a great camera for long exposures.
Since I can't control the shutter speed on the DSC-W50 I am unable to do the night ISO tests. Look below for a test taken in our studio, though.
There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the W50's 3X zoom lens. While I saw a tiny bit of blurriness in the corners, it was not enough to be of concern. Vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem either.
If you've been reading reviews here for a while then you shouldn't be surprised with the high redeye levels on this ultra-compact camera. Remember, your results may not be as bad as mine, but more than likely you'll have at least some redeye.
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 brownish 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 W50 has very low noise levels through ISO 200, and even ISO 400 is usable for midsize prints. Two things happen when you go up to ISO 800 and 1000, though. First, noise levels increase dramatically, as you can see. The ISO 800 shot does print out pretty well at 4 x 6, though I'd probably pass on the ISO 1000 one.
Something else is happening here, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. Color saturation drops through the floor at ISO 800 and 1000, making the photos look pretty dull. For that reason alone I'd probably pass on the ISO 800 and 1000 settings.
Outside of the studio I was very pleased with the photos I took with the W50. It took sharp photos with low noise and accurate color. Purple fringing levels were fairly low, and details aren't "smudged" like on some other compact cameras. When it comes to using higher ISO settings, I'd skip on the high sensitivity mode altogether and just shooting in program mode, raising the ISO as needed (but no higher than 400) to avoid blur.
Ultimately you need to be the final judge of the DSC-W50's photo quality. Have a look at our photo gallery, print the photos if you'd like, and then decide if the W50's photo quality meets your expectations.
The DSC-W50 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.
Here's a very exciting sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (14.6 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The DSC-W50 has the standard Sony playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (though not the fancy one with music), 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 W50 moves through images at an average clip. A low resolution version of the photo is displayed instantly, with the high res one appearing about a second later.
How Does it Compare
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 is a stylish ultra-compact that takes very good quality photos in most situations. If you take long exposures or shoot under unusual lighting conditions it's probably not for you, but for everyone else, it's a winner.
The DSC-W50 is a thin metal camera with a 6 Megapixel CCD, 3X optical zoom lens, and 2.5" LCD display. The camera is well put together for the most part, save for the doors covering the DC-in port and battery/memory card slots. The W50 is easy to use with just one hand, and its compact size allows it to go just about anywhere you do. The LCD display is big in size, though a bit of letdown in the resolution department. Low light visibility was above average, but not the best I've seen. Thankfully Sony included an optical viewfinder on the W50, which hardly any ultra-compacts have these days. In another positive move, there are plenty of accessories available for the camera, including conversion lenses and an underwater case.
The W50 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, with zero manual controls. That's too bad, since it could really use manual white balance and shutter speed controls, as my photo tests hopefully showed. You will find several scene modes on the camera, including a new high sensitivity mode that boosts the ISO as high as 1000, though I'd recommend not using it. The twilight mode is the only way to take long exposures on the camera, and the 2 second max shutter speed is not slow enough for most long exposures. The W50 has the same VGA movie mode as Sony's other cameras.
Camera performance was very good in almost all areas. The W50 starts up quickly, there's no shutter lag, and shot-to-shot delays are minimal. Focusing speeds were good at wide-angle, but somewhat slow at the telephoto end or in low light (though the camera did lock focus every time). The W50's burst mode is nothing to write home about, taking just three shots in a row at 1.4 frames/second. Battery life was excellent.
How you rate the W50's photo quality really depends on how you use the camera. Outdoors and in good light, the W50 did not disappoint. It took sharp photos with accurate color, very low noise, and minimal purple fringing. As far as noise goes, the camera performed well for an ultra-compact through ISO 400. At the ISO 800 and 1000 settings, noise levels got pretty high, and color saturation was poor. My advice is to shoot in the "P" mode, turning up the ISO as needed in order to get a sharp photo.
In unusual lighting conditions (such as in our studio), the lack of a custom white balance option made for images with a brownish cast. The night shot didn't turn out well since the slowest shutter speed available is just two seconds. So, if you're going to be doing a lot of those two things, you might want to pass on the W50. Redeye was a problem, as it is with most ultra-compacts.
The only other thing I wanted to mention is the new software bundle. Sony's Cyber-shot Viewer is a little better than the old PicturePackage software, though it's still very limited, and no Mac version is offered.
Overall, I'd recommend the Cyber-shot DSC-W50 to most everyone. Those of you who shoot under unusual lighting conditions, or who want to take long exposures (like I do in every review) should look for a camera with manual controls (the high-end DSC-W100 offers manual exposure control, but nothing for white balance).
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra-compacts worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD600 and SD700 IS, Casio Exilim EX-Z600, Fuji FinePix F30 and Z1, HP Photosmart R727, Kodak EasyShare V603, Nikon Coolpix S5, Olympus Stylus 710, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX01, Pentax Optio S6 and T10, Samsung Digimax i6, and the other Sony W-series cameras: the W30, W70, and W100.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-W50 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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