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DCRP Review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 25, 2007
Last updated: June 2, 2012

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The Cyber-shot DSC-W80 ($250) is a midrange model in Sony's W-series line of compact cameras. It has a number of step-up features from the lower-end models (the W35 and W55), including image stabilization, a faster image processor, face detection, and component video output. That's on top of its more standard features: a 7.2MP CCD, 3X optical zoom lens, 2.5" LCD display, and VGA movie mode.

If you're a bit confused about all of the W-series models then, well, you're in good company. I created this chart to help make things a bit clearer for you:

Feature DSC-W35 DSC-W55 DSC-W80 DSC-W90 DSC-W200
Street price
(at time of posting)
$179 $198 $256 $287 $388
Resolution 7.2 MP 7.2 MP 7.2 MP 8.1 MP 12.1 MP
Lens max. aperture F2.8 - F5.2 F2.8 - F5.2 F2.8 - F5.2 F2.8 - F5.2 F2.8 - F5.5
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 38 - 114 mm 38 - 114 mm 35 - 105 mm 35 - 105 mm 35 - 105 mm
Image stabilization No No Yes Yes Yes
Bionz image processor No No Yes Yes Yes
LCD size 2.0" 2.5" 2.5" 2.5" 2.5"
LCD resolution 85,000 pixels 115,000 pixels 115,000 pixels 115,000 pixels 115,000 pixels
Onboard memory 56 MB 56 MB 31 MB 31 MB 31 MB
Manual controls No No No No Yes
ISO range 100 - 1000 100 - 1000 80 - 3200 80 - 3200 100 - 6400
Face detection No No Yes Yes Yes
Supports conversion lenses Yes Yes No No No
Supports underwater case Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Component video output No No Yes Yes Yes
Battery life
(CIPA standard)
380 shots 380 shots 340 shots 350 shots 270 shots
Available colors Silver Silver, black, blue, pink Silver, black, white, pink Silver, black Silver

I find myself scratching my head about some of the decisions made in Sony's marketing department when they were designing the 2007 W-series models. Generally when you pay more, you get more. But on the W-series, the more expensive models have half the built-in memory and less expandability compared to the cheap models (the W35 and W55 in this case). The LCD resolution is low across the line, which is disappointing, especially on the W200.

Something else worth pointing out are the features that come with the Bionz image processor (borrowed from Sony's DSLR-A100 digital SLR) on the W80, W90, and W200. You get faster processing, better continuous shooting, face detection, in-camera redeye reduction, and more.

Okay, enough about all that. If you're ready to learn about the Cyber-shot DSC-W80, I'm ready to tell you. Read on, our review starts now!

Since the cameras have much in common, I will be reusing portions of the DSC-W55 review here.

What's in the Box?

The DSC-W80 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 7.2 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-W80 camera
  • NP-BG1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB + A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Picture Motion Browser and drivers
  • 32 page basic manual (printed) plus full manual (on CD-ROM)

Like all of Sony's 2007 cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-W80 has built-in memory instead of having a memory card included in the box. While the low-end DSC-W35 and W55 have 56MB of built-in memory, the DSC-W80 has just 31MB. That holds just ten photos at the highest quality setting, so you'll want to buy a memory card right away. The W80 uses Sony's Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, which currently top out at 8GB. I would suggest buying a 1GB card for use with the W80. An adapter is included with all MS Duo cards so they work in standard Memory Stick slots.

The DSC-W80 uses the same NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery as all of the recent W-series models. This is the only Sony digital camera battery that I know of that isn't an "InfoLithium", which means that it won't tell you how many minutes you have left before the battery dies. The NP-BG1 has 3.6 Wh of energy, which isn't much, but somehow Sony manages to squeeze good numbers out of it. Here are the battery life numbers for the W80 and the competition:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD850 IS * 230 shots
Canon PowerShot SD1000 210 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z75 230 shots
Fuji FinePix F40fd 300 shots
GE G1 200 shots
HP Photosmart R827 240 shots
Kodak EasyShare C763 250 shots
Kodak EasyShare V803 200 shots
Nikon Coolpix S500 * 180 shots
Olympus Stylus 760 * 220 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX12 * 350 shots
Pentax Optio A30 * 150 shots
Samsung L73 180 shots **
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 * 340 shots

* Has optical image stabilization
** Not officially calculated using the CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

As you can see, the DSC-W80 is just shy of having the best battery life in its class. Sony's engineers have really done an impressive job of squeezing a lot of juice out of the rather anemic NP-BG1 battery, and they should be applauded for that. I listed the battery life numbers for the

I do have to mention my usual complaints about proprietary batteries, though. They're more expensive than rechargeable AAs (the BG1's prices start at $27), and you can't use "regular batteries" to get you through the day in an emergency. However, finding a camera this small that uses AA batteries is darn near impossible.

When you're ready to charge the W80's battery, just pop it into the included charger. And then go for a day trip or something like that -- the battery will be charged when you get back. It takes a whopping 4.5 hours to charge the battery, which seems ridiculous to me. Naturally, Sony sells a faster charger (which takes just 1.5 hours), but that'll set you back more than $50.

Like with all ultra-compact cameras, the W80 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to fumble with.

In one of those great mysteries of life, the DSC-W80 has fewer accessories than its lower-end siblings. That means no conversion lenses, folks. Here's what is available though:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Underwater case MPK-WB $200 Take your camera up to 40 meters under the sea
External slave flash HVL-FSL1B From $68 Boost flash range while reducing redeye; attaches via the tripod mount and fires when the onboard flash does
Macro ring light HVL-RLS $95 Continuous LED lighting for close-up photography
HD output cable VMC-MHC1 From $34 1.5 m component video cable (with stereo audio as well) lets you connect to an HDTV
Cyber-shot Station for TV CSS-HD1 $79 This camera dock charges your battery (faster than the included charger too) and connects to an HDTV via included component and composite video cables. Also includes a remote control.
AC adapter AC-LS5K From $31

Power the camera without wasting your batteries

Compact battery charger BC-TRG From $47 Dump that slow charger and use this fast one instead.
Accessory kit ACC-CLGB From $41 Includes a spare battery and a leather case
Carrying cases

LCS-CSJ
LCS-CSL
LCS-TWB

From $14
From $29
From $39
Protect your camera with these cloth and leather cases
* Prices were accurate when review was posted

One of the W80's unique features is to output HD quality video to your HDTV. You'll need to buy some accessories to do it, though. The cheap option (and I use this term loosely) is to buy the component video cable, which plugs into the bottom of the camera.


Front of the dock


And the back, with the included remote

Another option is to buy the $79 Cyber-shot Station for TV. Just pop the camera into the dock and you can then charge its batteries or connect to a television. This dock does NOT allow you to connect to a computer! A remote control is also included, so you can sit back and view slideshows from the comfort of your couch.

Contrary to all the labels on the W80 and the box it came in, the camera doesn't output video at "Full HD 1080" (1080p). Instead, it outputs video at 1080i, though most people won't be able to tell the difference. If you're just viewing one photo at a time, they will not fill the screen, unless you took them in the 16:9 mode. The only way to see them full screen is to use the slideshow feature, and then everything looks really nice. For some bizarre reason, movies cannot be played back at all when using the HD cables.

[Section updated 6/5/07]


Picture Motion Browser for Windows

Sony includes version 2.0 of their Picture Motion Browser software with the DSC-W80. This software is Windows only, so Mac users will want to use iPhoto or Image Capture to get photos off of the camera.

The software offers the usual thumbnail view of your photos (shown earlier), plus the calendar view you can see above. From either screen you can select photos for printing, e-mailing, and slideshows. You can also burn them to a CD or DVD.

Double-clicking on any thumbnail brings you to the edit screen. This adds some basic photo editing tools such as redeye reduction, brightness/contrast/saturation adjustment, and trimming. You can also put the date on your photo -- something which the camera itself does not do.


Music Transfer in Mac OS X

Also included is Music Transfer for Mac OS and Windows. You'll use this to customize the slideshow background music on the camera. The camera can hold four separate audio tracks, limited to 3 minutes in length.


Selecting tracks on an audio CD

In theory, you select unprotected MP3s or tracks on an audio CD, and the software will convert it into whatever format the camera uses. In reality, I was unable to get the software to see any of my MP3 files, but it worked fine with CD audio.

Sony's camera documentation has taken a major step backward this year. In the old days you got a full, printed manual in the box with camera. Not anymore. Now you get a printed manual covering the basics, but for more advanced operations you'll have to open up the "Cyber-shot Handbook" on the included CD-ROM. The quality of the manuals themselves is fine, but having to open a PDF to read it isn't cool.

Look and Feel

The DSC-W80 is a slightly more stylish version of the DSC-W35/W55. It's very compact, but not as tiny as some of the really thin cameras on the market. The camera is made mostly of metal, and it feels pretty solid for the most part. The only exception is the plastic door that protects the memory card and battery compartment.

The camera is fairly easy to hold and operate with one hand. Your thumb sits on the mode dial, so you have to make sure that you don't turn it accidentally. There aren't many buttons on the camera, but the few that are there make the back of the camera a bit crowded.


Image courtesy of Sony Electronics

Sony is big on selling cameras in multiple colors, so you shouldn't be surprised to see that the W80 comes in four shades. Choose from black, pink, silver, and matte white.

Okay, now let's see how the stylish and compact W80 compares to other cameras in its class:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD1000 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in. 5.7 cu in. 125 g
Canon PowerShot SD850 IS 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 7.9 cu in. 165 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z75 3.8 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.3 cu in. 122 g
Fujifilm FinePix F40fd 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 153 g
GE G1 3.6 x 2.5 x 0.8 in. 7.2 cu in. 115 g
HP Photosmart R827 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8 cu in. 140 g
Kodak EasyShare C763 3.5 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 8.4 cu in. 130 g
Kodak EasyShare V803 4.1 x 2.1 x 1.0 in. 8.6 cu in. 142 g
Nikon Coolpix S500 3.5 x 2.0 x 0.9 in. 6.3 cu in. 125 g
Olympus Stylus 760 3.9 x 2.1 x 1.0 in. 8.2 cu in. 120 g
Pentax Optio A30 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 130 g
Samsung L73 3.9 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 7.2 cu in. 140 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W200 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 9.1 cu in. 142 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 116 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 124 g

The DSC-W80 is fairly average in the compact group as far as size and weight go. While not as tiny as some cameras (like Sony's own T-series models), you can still put the W80 in any pocket you may have. I left the W80's twin (the DSC-W90) off the list, since they have the exact same numbers.

Enough numbers, let's tour the camera now, shall we?

The DSC-W80's 3X optical zoom "Carl Zeiss" lens is a step-up from the W35 and W55. The specs are about the same, with the biggest differences hidden inside. This F2.8-5.2 lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded, and conversion lenses are not supported.

Deep inside that lens is Sony's Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization system. If you've been frustrated with blurry photos, especially in low light conditions, then you'll appreciate this feature. Sensors inside the camera detect "camera shake" (caused by tiny movements of your hands), and the camera moves a lens element to counteract this movement. It won't stop a moving subject, nor will it allow for handheld 1 second exposures, but it will allow you to use shutter speeds that would result in a blurry photo on an unstabilized camera.

Want some evidence? Have a look at this:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

Both of the above photos were taken at 1/5 second, which almost always results in a blurry shot. The Super SteadyShot did a great job of reducing blur, as you can see. The image stabilizer is also active while recording a movie, and this example illustrates how well it works.

Above the lens you'll find the flash, AF-assist lamp, and optical viewfinder. As with the other W-series models, the W80's flash is fairly anemic. It has a working range of 0.2 - 3.3 m at wide-angle and 0.4 - 1.8 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). Compare that to two other cameras in this class and you'll see what I mean: the Fuji FinePix F40fd has numbers of 0.6 - 6.5 / 0.6 - 3.5 m, while the Canon PowerShot SD850's range is 0.5 - 3.5 / 0.5 - 2.0 m (and that's with a bigger zoom lens, too).

For more flash power you can add the external slave flash that I mentioned earlier. It doesn't actually sync with the camera -- it just fires when the onboard flash does.

The AF-assist lamp serves as the W80's focusing aid in low light situations. It's also used as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The main thing to see on the back of the DSC-W80 is its large 2.5" LCD. While the screen is big, the resolution is not -- it has just 115,000 pixels. That's disappointing, since a lot of the competition has LCDs sporting more than 200,000 pixels. You'll notice the lack of resolution when you use the camera -- so you may want to check out the W80 before you buy it to see if its acceptable to you. Outdoor visibility is average when the LCD is at its default brightness, but if you press the Display button a few times it brightens up nicely, which improves things considerably. Low light visibility was very good, as the screen "gains up" automatically in those situations.

To the upper-left of the LCD you'll find the camera's optical viewfinder. It's small, and lacks diopter correction, but it's better than nothing. There aren't many cameras in this class that still have viewfinders, so I applaud Sony for continuing to offer it on at least some of their cameras.

Moving now to the right side of the LCD. The first thing to see is the zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.5 seconds. I counted eight steps in the 3X zoom range.

Below that is the mode dial, which is packed with point-and-shoot options. They include:

Option Function
Auto record mode Point-and-shoot, some menu options locked up
Program mode Still point-and-shoot but with full menu access
Movie mode More on this later
Snow These are all scene modes; pick the situation and the camera uses the proper settings
Beach
Landscape
Twilight
Twilight portrait
Soft snap
High sensitivity mode Boosts the ISO as high as 3200 for blur-free photos; see below for more

The DSC-W80 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, with no manual controls. If you want manual controls you'll need to pony up for the DSC-W200. What you will find on the W80 are plenty of scene modes, including a high sensitivity mode. This mode boosts the ISO as high as 3200 in order to get a blur-free photo. Unfortunately you also get a pretty lousy looking photo, as this example illustrates (and it wasn't even taken at the highest ISO!). My advice is to avoid the high sensitivity mode, instead adjusting the ISO manually, keeping it as low as possible.

To the lower-left of the mode dial are two buttons: playback and menu. Below that is the rather small and stiff four-way controller, used for menu navigation, as well as:

  • Up - Display - toggles what's shown on LCD, as well as its brightness
  • Down - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec)
  • Left - Macro mode (on/off)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, flash on, slow synchro, flash off)

The final thing to see on the back of the W80 is the Home button, which is part of the camera's very confusing new menu system. I'll cover all things menu in detail later in the review.

There isn't a whole lot to see on the top of the camera. There's only the microphone and the power and shutter release buttons. The power button is poorly placed. It feels a lot like the adjacent shutter release button, so you may accidentally turn off the camera when you really wanted to take a picture.

Nothing to see on this side of the camera.

At first glance it doesn't look like there's anything here, but that's because everything interesting is hidden under that plastic door. Before I give you a look under the door, I do want to mention that the lens is at the full telephoto position in this photo.

Under that flimsy plastic door is the memory card and battery compartment. In the above photo you can see the NP-BG1 battery and an optional Memory Stick Pro Duo card.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find the dock connector, the speaker, and a metal tripod mount. In addition to being the connection between the W80 and the optional camera dock, the port on the left is also where you'll plug in the included USB + A/V cable. The camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast photo transfer to your Mac or PC.

Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80

Record Mode

The Cyber-shot DSC-W80 is quick to start up, taking just 1.5 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting.


A histogram is shown on the LCD in record mode

The DSC-W80 was very responsive when it came to focusing, as well. Typically it took the camera between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds to lock focus at the wide end of the lens. At the telephoto end, or if the camera had to "hunt" a bit, it could take closer to a second to lock focus. Low light focusing often took more than a second, but the camera did a good job at locking onto the subject in those situations.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.

Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent, with a delay of about a second before you can take another shot. If you're using the flash, expect a 3-4 second wait.

You cannot delete a photo right after it's taken -- you must first enter playback mode.

The image quality choices have been greatly simplified on the W80 compared to previous Cyber-shot models. You can no longer select how much compression is applied to an image -- only its resolution. Here are the available options:

Resolution # images on 31MB on-board memory # images on 1GB memory card (optional)
7M
3072 x 2304
10 308
7M (3:2 ratio)
3072 x 2048
10 308
5M
2592 x 1944
13 384
3M
2048 x 1536
21 617
VGA
640 x 480
202 5928
16:9 (HDTV)
1920 x 1080
33 988

That last resolution (1920 x 1080) is the only true "Full HD" item on the whole camera.

The camera 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 Cyber-shot DSC-W80 (along with some other recent Sony cameras) has a totally new menu system, and I can't say that I like it. The regular "Menu" is an attractive but sluggish version of the Function menus found on Canon, Panasonic, and Fuji cameras. Keeping in mind that some of these options are not available in all shooting modes, here's the complete list of record menu items:

  • Image size (see above chart)
  • Face detection (on/off) - see below
  • REC mode (Normal, burst, exposure bracketing) - see below
  • Color mode (Normal, vivid, natural, sepia, black & white)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200)
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) - why is this buried down here?
  • Metering mode (Multi, center, spot)
  • Focus (Multi, center, spot, 0.5, 1.0, 3.0, 7.0 meters, infinity) - sort of a manual focus feature
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1/2/3, incandescent, flash) - no custom option to be found
  • Flash Level (Low, normal, high)
  • Redeye reduction (Auto, on, off) - see below
  • SteadyShot (Shooting, continuous, off)
  • Setup - see below

I want to discuss a few things before we move on to the dreaded Home menu.

The camera located five faces in the frame And it locked onto the same five

First up is face detection. For some bizarre reason, this feature is only available in two modes: auto and soft snap. If you're in either of those modes, the camera will seek out up to eight faces in the frame (only two in soft snap mode though), and make sure they're properly focused and exposed. In my "lab test", the face detection system worked very well, performing just as well as Canon's latest cameras, which seem to have the best implementation of this feature. Now if only Sony let you use it in all the shooting modes!

There are three REC modes to talk about, and you can probably figure out what Normal does by yourself. Sony's cameras have always had weak burst modes, but that's no longer the case on the DSC-W80. In its burst mode, the W80 will take up to 100 photos at a whopping 2.7 frames/second. The LCD keeps up with the action without any blackouts. Great job, Sony!

The other REC mode is for exposure bracketing. This feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. You can select an exposure interval of ±0.3, ±0.7, or ±1.0 EV.

Next up is the redeye reduction feature. If you're using face detection (which, again, is only available in two modes), you can select the "auto" option to have the software redeye removal tool run automatically if needed. Otherwise you can choose "on" to have use preflashes before the shot is taken, which is what all cameras have.

There are tree options for the SteadyShot image stabilization system. If you select "continuous", the IS system activates as soon as you halfway press the shutter release button -- this helps you compose your shot without camera shake. For more effective image stabilization you'll want to use the "shooting" option, which only activates the IS system when the photo is actually taken. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is recommended for those times when you're using a tripod.

That brings us to the Home menu. The Home menu uses the Cross Media Bar (XMB), first seen on the Playstation Portable, which is now spreading across Sony's product lines, even to televisions.

This menu has a bit of an identity crisis -- it doesn't know what it's supposed to be. It's partly a mode dial, partly a setup menu, partly pointless -- and very confusing. And why is it called Home anyway? (This is starting to sound like a Seinfeld episode.) Some items don't make any sense (e.g. "Shooting" being the only option in the Shooting menu), while others take too much button mashing to get to. Some of the items in the menu open up another menu system -- for a grand total of three separate menus on the camera. I'd take the old Sony menu system any day over this one.

So here's what's in this bizarre Home menu:

  • Shooting
    • Shooting (huh?)
  • View Images (isn't that what the playback button is for?)
    • Single image
    • Index display
    • Slide Show
  • Printing, Other
    • Print
    • Music Tool
      • Download Music - from your computer
      • Format Music - erase the music
  • Manage Memory
    • Memory Tool
      • Memory Stick Tool
        • Format
        • Change/create rec folder - manage folders on the memory card
        • Copy (Internal memory, album) - copies either the photos in internal memory or in the album to a MS Duo card
      • Internal Memory Tool
        • Format
  • Settings
    • Main Settings
      • Main Settings 1
        • Beep (Shutter, on, off)
        • Function guide (on/off) - describes the mode you've selected
        • Initialize - return camera to default settings
      • Main Settings 2
        • USB Connect (Auto, Mass Storage, PictBridge)
        • Component (HD/1080i, SD) - whether you're using the component cables
        • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
    • Shooting Settings
      • Shooting Settings 1
        • AF illuminator (Auto, off)
        • Grid line (on/off) - displays a "rule of thirds" composition grid on the LCD
        • AF mode (Single, monitor) - see below
        • Digital zoom (Off, precision, smart) - see below
      • Shooting Settings 2
        • Auto orientation (on/off) - automatically rotates images shot in the portrait orientation
        • Auto review (on/off) - post-shot review
      • Clock settings - set the date & time
      • Language setting

Menus don't get much more hierarchical than that. The W80's weird menu system is another reason to try it before you buy it!

What are those two AF modes all about? Single AF is just like you're used to: press the shutter release halfway and the camera locks focus. Monitor AF lets the camera focus constantly, even without the shutter release pressed. This helps reduce the time required to take a picture.

The camera has two types of digital zoom. Precision digital zoom is the same old "enlarge the center" system that you should avoid. Smart Zoom lets you enlarge the image without a loss in quality, with the catch being that you can't use much of it unless you're at a low resolution. The lower the resolution, the more smart zoom you can use. For example, lowering the resolution to 3MP will give you a total zoom of 4.5X. This feature is called Safety Zoom on some Canon cameras, and Extended Optical Zoom on some Panasonics.

Let's move on to our photo tests now, shall we?

The macro shot turned out "just okay". Since the camera lacks a custom white balance option, there's a brownish color cast here. While most of the subject is sharp, both the top and lower left portions are fuzzy (and yes, I turned off image stabilization). Noise was not noticeable.

In macro mode you'll be able to get as close to your subject as 4 cm at wide-angle and 35 cm at telephoto.

With no manual control over shutter speed, you'll have to resort to the W80's scene modes in order to take a night shot like the one you see above. Unfortunately that doesn't often give you the desired result, as is the case here. The camera didn't take in nearly enough light, so the whole scene is dark. Since you can't really see much, it's hard to tell how much noise is in the shot, or how sharp the buildings are. Purple fringing was minimal, though. The bottom line is that this is not a great camera for fans of night scenes.

Since I can't control the shutter speed on the W80, I was unable to perform the low light ISO test. I do, however, have the studio ISO test below.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the DSC-W80's 3X zoom lens. If you want to see what this does to real world photos, then have a look at this shot. While I didn't find vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem in my photos, corner blurriness was noticeable (see example).

Ultra-compact cameras almost always have redeye problems, and the DSC-W80 is no exception. However, the camera offers a software-based redeye removal tool that does a good job of removing this annoyance.

Above you can see the results of the redeye removal tool. You can access it in playback mode, or you can have it run automatically if you're using face detection (which, again, is only available in two shooting modes). If the images above look noisy, it's because I had to boost the ISO to compensate for the W80's weak flash.

Now it's time for our ISO test. This shot is taken in our studio and has the same color cast issue as the macro and distortion tests. Since this test is designed to measure noise (and not color), you should be able to compare it with other cameras we've reviewed. And with that, here we go:


ISO 100


ISO 200


ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

You can see the difference between the ISO 100 and 200 crops by looking at the black background on the poster. You can see how the grain is smudged away in the ISO 200 shot. Noise reduction artifacting becomes more obvious at ISO 400, limiting your print sizes a bit. Things start to go downhill at ISO 800, with a loss in color saturation, and noticeable detail loss. It only gets worse at ISO 1600, and the words I'd like to use to describe the ISO 3200 aren't appropriate for this website. Let's just say that those crops illustrate why I don't recommend using the high sensitivity mode.

Overall, the DSC-W80's image quality was good but not great. On the positive side, photos were well-exposed, with pleasing colors, and minimal purple fringing. The bad news is that overzealous noise reduction tends to blur fine details such as grass, leaves, hair, and roof tiles, and you can see this is nearly all of my sample photos. For a great example of this, compare the details in this photo (taken at the same time) on the DSC-W80 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8. If that's not enough, have a look at the difference between this shot, taken with the W80 and the Fuji FinePix F40 (again, at the same time). None of this is a big deal if you're making smaller sized prints, but for large prints or 100% onscreen viewing, you may be a bit disappointed with the W80's photo quality.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, printing a few photos if possible, and decide if the W80's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The DSC-W80 has the standard Sony movie mode. I was disappointed to see that there was no HD movie mode, as HD output is one of the most touted features on the camera. The MPEG Movie VX Fine mode records video at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with sound until either the memory card fills up, or the file size reaches 2GB (that takes about 25 minutes). The VX Fine mode requires a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, and you cannot use the internal memory at that setting either.

For longer movies that take up less space on your memory card you can use the VX Standard mode, which is still VGA, just at a more sluggish 17 frames/second. There's also a 320 x 240 mode for even longer movies, but the 8 fps frame rate makes this video too choppy to be useful.

As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. The image stabilizer is available, however. Movies are saved in MPEG format.

Here's a short sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (10.1 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, MPEG format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The DSC-W80's playback mode has been changed considerably compared to the DSC-W55 which I reviewed a few months ago. The menu system is the same style as the main record menu, which means that it's a bit sluggish. Basic record options include image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature (AKA playback zoom) lets you enlarge an image by as much as five times, and then move around in the enlarged area.

The W80 also has an enhanced slideshow feature, complete with fancy transitions and background music. You can use your own background music via the Music Transfer software that I described in the first section of the review.

Partial color effect (look at the tree on the left) Fisheye effect

One of the new playback items on the W80 is the retouch menu. Here you can apply various effects to your photos, including soft focus, partial color (shown above), fisheye lens, cross (star) filter, trimming (cropping), and redeye removal. As you saw in the previous section, the redeye removal tool works very well.

Some features from previous Cyber-shots to go missing on the W80 include image resizing and movie editing. One feature that's still present is the one that lets you delete a group of photos at the same time.

By default, the DSC-W80 doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press "up" on the four-way controller and you'll see a bit more, including a histogram.

The W80 moves through photos at a good clip. You'll wait for less than a second to see the next full resolution image.

How Does it Compare?

I've been a fan of Sony's Cyber-shot W-series cameras for the last few years, so I had high hopes for the DSC-W80. While it has some nice improvements over earlier models, the DSC-W80's sub-par image quality, lack of manual controls, and clunky interface were a disappointment. Same goes for the camera's limited face detection and borderline useless ISO 3200 mode. The W80 is good enough for those who will be making small prints of photos taken in good lighting, but ultimately there are better choices out there.

The DSC-W80 is a compact and stylish camera made almost entirely of metal. Being 2007, it's no surprise that the camera comes in your choice of four designer colors. It's pretty solid for the most part, save for the flimsy-feeling plastic door over the memory card and battery compartment. The camera is easy to stuff into your smallest pockets, and it can be operated with one hand. I was not a fan of the power button placement or the tiny and stiff four-way controller. The camera features Sony's effective Super SteadyShot image stabilization system, which allows you to use slower shutter speeds than you could on an unstabilized camera. It can be used for both still shooting and movie recording. The W-series cameras have always had a weak flash, and the W80 is no exception. You an add an external slave flash, though. On the back of the camera you'll find a large, but low resolution 2.5" LCD display. Outdoor visibility is very good when the brightness is turned up, while low light viewing was excellent (with no adjustments necessary).

The W80 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, with absolutely zero manual controls. It has a few scene modes, though not nearly as many as some other cameras in its class. Like most cameras these days, the DSC-W80 has a high sensitivity mode, which boosts the ISO as high as 3200 in order to get a sharp photo. Unfortunately, what you get instead is a drab photo with mushy details -- avoid this feature if possible. The W80 has the feature-du-jour, face detection, and it works as advertised. The problem is that it's only available in two modes: auto and soft snap (scene mode). Why they don't let you use it in any shooting mode is beyond me. Similarly, there's the automatic redeye reduction feature -- it's only available when you're using face detection (sigh). The camera's playback mode has some interesting features, including fancy slideshows with music and transitions, various photo effects, redeye reduction, and the ability to delete a group of photos at the same time. The movie mode on Sony cameras hasn't changed much in recent years... it's still VGA (30 fps) until you hit the 2GB file size limit, which takes 25 minutes. I would've liked to have seen a HD movie mode to take advantage of that HD video output feature.

The W80 has a redesigned menu system, and I know I'm not the only one who can't stand it. There are really three different menus on the camera (and this is just in record mode): a record menu with your usual shooting options, a confusing and clunky "home" menu, which itself has several submenus below it. I often found myself cursing at the camera for making it so difficult to change options (and no, it didn't help). While having the same interface across your products is cool, it helps if its well-implemented.

Camera performance is the W80's only real strong point. It starts up quickly (in about 1.5 seconds), focuses without delays, and has minimal shutter lag. Low light focusing speeds won't break any records, but the camera lock focused consistently in those situations. The W80's continuous shooting mode is excellent. You can take up to 100 shots in a row at an almost SLR-like 2.7 frames/second. Battery life was well above average, but the included battery charger works at a snail's pace. The camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your computer.

I was somewhat disappointed with the photos produced by the DSC-W80. Previous cameras in the W-series had great photo quality, but on the W80 it seems like there's too much noise reduction, resulting in soft photos with fuzzy details. There's also a considerable amount of blurriness in the corners of the frame. That's too bad, since the camera has nice color and exposure. There isn't much noise to speak of at lower ISOs -- just noise reduction artifacting. Once you get to ISO 800, photo quality drops rapidly, with smeared details and dull colors. If it's great high ISO performance you're after, you should be looking at one of the Fuji cameras that uses the SuperCCD sensor. As with all compact cameras, the W80 has a big redeye problem, but at least now there's a tool in the playback menu to remove it for you.

While I slipped most of my complaints about the W80 in the preceding paragraphs, here are a few more. There's no Mac software included, save for the Music Transfer application, and that doesn't even work as advertised. The camera has less built-in memory than its cheaper siblings, the W35 and W55. And finally, the full camera manual is only available in PDF form on CD-ROM, which I never like to see.

In a market already oversaturated with ultra-compact cameras, coming out on top requires a pretty solid product. While the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 has quite a few things going for it (such as image stabilization and robust performance), the negatives outweigh the positives, so it's hard for me to recommend this camera. It's not a bad camera, it's just that there are better options out there for your hard-earned money.

What I liked:

  • Stylish, compact metal body, comes in four colors
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Low noise through ISO 400
  • Large 2.5" LCD display (but see issues below)
  • Optical viewfinder (a rarity in this class)
  • Snappy performance; amazing continuous shooting mode
  • AF-assist lamp; good low light focusing
  • Face detection and redeye removal features work well, though limited to just two shooting modes
  • Nice playback mode
  • Above average battery life
  • Optional underwater case
  • USB 2.0 High Speed protocol supported

What I didn't care for:

  • Images are soft, with fuzzy details, even at lower ISOs
  • Considerable corner blurriness
  • Clunky, confusing new menu system (and I'm being generous here)
  • Redeye remains a problem (but it can be fixed in playback mode)
  • Low resolution LCD
  • Weak flash
  • Needs manual controls, especially for white balance and shutter speed (see photo tests to see why)
  • High sensitivity mode borders on useless
  • Design annoyances: poorly placed power button, tiny and stiff four-way controller, flimsy door over memory card / battery compartment
  • Very slow battery charger included
  • Optional HD video output feature is disappointing
  • No Mac image browser included; Music Transfer software did not recognize MP3s
  • Full manual only on CD-ROM

Some other ultra-compact cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS and SD1000, Casio Exilim EX-Z75, Fuji FinePix F40fd, HP Photosmart R827, Kodak EasyShare C763 and V803, Nikon Coolpix S500, Olympus Stylus 760, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX12, Pentax Optio A30, and the Samsung L73.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-W80 and its competitors before you buy!

[Conclusion updated 5/26/07]

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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 or for technical support.

Want another opinion?

You'll find another review of this camera at CNET.com.