Cyber-shot DSC-W1 ($399) is an ultra-compact
5 Megapixel camera with a big 2.5" LCD, VGA
movie mode, and robust performance. It comes in both
silver and black bodies.
The W1 seems to be Sony's answer to
things like the Canon PowerShot S500 Digital ELPH.
How does it perform? Find out in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DSC-W1 has a very good bundle.
Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 5.1 effective Megapixel Cyber-shot
- 32MB Memory Stick card
- Two AA NiMH rechargeable batteries
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Sony Picture Package
software and USB drivers
- 127 page camera manual (printed)
Sony includes a 32MB Memory Stick
card with the W1. That doesn't hold a whole lot of
5 Megapixel photos, so you'll want a larger card right
away. I'd suggest 128MB as a good starter size (though
a larger card wouldn't hurt!). You can use regular
Memory Sticks or the new Memory Stick Pro cards, which
have a larger capacity (up to 1GB). Memory Stick Pro
cards tend to be a little more expensive than other
formats (such as CompactFlash).
You're all set in the battery department,
as Sony includes two rechargeable NiMH cells in the
box, plus an external charger. These two batteries
are plenty powerful, too, with 2100 mAh each. Sony
estimates that you can spend about 170 minutes in record
mode (equal to 340 pictures) with the LCD on, or 340
minutes in playback mode. That's pretty good for a
It's also nice to see a compact camera
that doesn't use a proprietary battery. If your rechargeables
ever die in the field, you can always stuff a pair
of regular alkaline AAs into the W1 to get you through
the day. By the way, I'd recommend picking up an extra
set of batteries to carry around.
When it's time to charge the battery,
just put the batteries into the included charger. It
takes a sluggish 6 hours to fully charge them, though.
This isn't one of those "plug it right into the
wall" chargers -- you must use a power cable.
The design of the W1 includes a built-in
lens cover, so there's no lens cap to worry about.
As you can see, this is a pretty small camera.
The DSC-W1 has a surprising number
of accessories for a compact camera. Let's start with
lenses, where you have three choices: the VCL-DH0730
0.7X wide-angle lens ($99) brings the wide end of the
W1's lens down to 26.6 mm, while the VCL-DH1730 1.7X
telephoto lens ($99) brings the tele end to 193.8 mm.
Still not enough zoom power for you? Then consider
the VCL-DH2630 2.6X super telephoto lens ($129), which
brings the tele end up to a whopping 296.4 mm -- amazing
for a tiny camera like this! All three of those lenses
require the use of the VAD-WA conversion lens adapter
($30), which also lets you attach 30 mm filters. Speaking
of filters, Sony sells three filter sets: special effects,
polarizing, and neutral density.
But wait, there's more. The W1 also
supports an external flash -- sort of. Just pick up
the HVL-FSL1B external slave flash ($99). It attaches
to the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera, and
is activated by the firing of the camera's main flash.
Using an external flash will give you much better flash
range and less redeye.
Other W1 accessories include carrying
cases (three to choose from), a starter kit, and an
AC adapter ($39).
viewer (Windows only)
Things have changed in the software
department, though not necessarily for the better.
Sony now includes Picture Package for Windows as the
main image viewing application. And "viewing" is
about all it does -- it's supposed to let you print
and rotate images, but it never gave me that option.
Another thing PP can do is save your images on CD-R
discs. Unfortunately the software couldn't detect the
CD writer in my brand new PC, so that didn't work.
Finally, Picture Package can create slideshows complete
Mac users are really left out in the
cold. Before we used to get ImageMixer 1.5, which wasn't
Mac OS X native, but it still worked. Now you get ImageMixer
VCD2, which burns images to video CDs (and that's it).
It's OS X native, as well. Mac users should look to
iPhoto for image viewing instead. The camera will mount
when connected to your Mac or PC.
The best part of the software package
is the Cyber-shot Life tutorial, which is Windows only
(groan). Here, a girl and her dog show you how to use
your camera. While it's a little cheesy, the tutorial
is far more useful for learning the ins and outs of
your camera than the manual.
Speaking of which, the manual included
with the camera is average, at best. Expect lots of
fine print and a cluttered layout, just like the manual
that came with your VCR or DVD player.
Look and Feel
The DSC-W1 is a compact and stylish
all-metal camera that can go virtually anywhere. It's
easy to hold, and the important controls are all within
easy reach of your fingers.
The official dimensions of the W1
are 91 x 60 x 36.3 mm / 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches (W x
H x D) and it weighs 189 grams / 6.9 ounces empty.
The closest competitor, the Canon PowerShot S500 is
both smaller and lighter: 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches and
Let's take a closer look at the W1
now, starting with the front.
The DSC-W1 has an F2.8 - F5.2, 3X
optical zoom lens, which is a bit "slower" than
the F2.8 - F4.9 lens on the S500. The focal range is
7.9 - 23.7 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm (versus
36 - 108 mm on the S500). The W1 supports conversion
lenses -- unlike the S500. To attach a conversion lens,
you just screw the adapter into the ring around the
lens, and then attach the lens to the adapter. Easy!
Directly above the lens is the W1's
built-in flash. It's not going to win any awards for
power, with a working range of 0.2 - 3.5 m at wide-angle
and 0.3 - 2.5 m at telephoto. As I mentioned, the W1
supports an external flash.
TO the left of the flash is the microphone.
Below that is the AF-assist lamp, a feature also found
on the S500.
The back of the camera is where you'll
find the "big" feature on the DSC-W1: its
2.5" LCD display. While the size is big, the resolution
isn't: it has just 123,000 pixels. By comparison, the
S500's 1.5" display has 118,000 pixels. Despite
not having a high resolution, the screen seemed plenty
sharp to me, and motion was fluid as well. I also found
it easier to see outdoors than your average LCD.
Sony didn't leave off the optical
viewfinder to make room for the big screen -- it's
just to the upper-left of the LCD. It's not huge, but
it does the job. There's no diopter correction (which
focuses what you're looking at), but then again, most
ultra-compacts don't have one either.
To the right of the LCD are a whole
mess of buttons. At the top-right, you'll see the zoom
controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to
telephoto in 2 seconds. Quick presses of the buttons
allow for precise lens movements.
Below the zoom controller are the
display button (toggles LCD and what's shown on it
on/off) and the menu button. Continuing downward, we
find the four-way controller, which is used for menu
navigation, adjusting manual settings, and changing
- Up - Flash (Auto, forced flash,
slow synchro, no flash)
- Right - Macro
- Down - Self-timer
- Left - Quick Review (jumps to playback
To the lower-left of the four-way
controller is the image size / delete photo button.
Up on top of the W1 you'll find the
power button, mode dial, and shutter release button.
The items on the mode dial include:
- Auto record - point-and-shoot,
most menu items locked up
- Program mode - still point-and-shoot
but with full menu access
- Manual mode - you set both the
aperture and shutter speed; aperture range is limited
-- you only have two choices: at wide-angle they
are F2.8/F5.6 and at telephoto they are F5.2/F10
(there are other options in the middle of the zoom
range); the shutter speed range is 30 - 1/1000 sec
- Twilight - the rest of these are
- Twilight portrait
- Soft snap - warmer tones, soft
It would've been nice to have shutter
and aperture priority modes as well as more aperture
options, but keep in mind that the main competition
(the S500) has no manual controls at all (aside from
On this side of the W1, you'll find
the I/O ports and Memory Stick slot. They're kept behind
a flimsy plastic door that doesn't fit in with the
otherwise great build quality of the camera.
The I/O ports in question are DC-in
(for optional AC adapter) and A/V out. The DC-in port
has a little door that opens so you don't have to open
the main door when you're using it.
The memory card slot supports Memory
Stick and Memory Stick Pro cards. The included 32MB
card is shown on the right.
On the other side of the camera you'll
find the USB 2.0 (high speed) port. Don't worry, it'll
still work if you have USB 1.1.
Finally we reach the bottom of the
W1. Here you'll find the battery compartment, metal
tripod mount, speaker, and reset button.
The batteries are kept behind a fairly
sturdy plastic door. The W1 uses two AA batteries.
The included NiMH rechargeables are also shown.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot
The DSC-W1 starts up very quickly,
taking just 1.5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm
up" before you can start taking pictures.
A histogram is
shown on the LCD in record mode
The W1 was very snappy in the autofocus
department. In good light, the camera usually locked
focus in 1/2 second. If the camera had to hunt or use
the AF-assist lamp, it took slightly longer -- maybe
one full second. Speaking of which, the AF-assist lamp
helped the camera focus well in low light. I did find
the LCD to be unusable in those conditions (too dark),
so you'll want to use the optical viewfinder.
Shutter lag was very low, even at
slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed was excellent,
with a delay of around a second between shots (assuming
the post-shot review feature is turned off).
You cannot delete a photo right after
it's taken -- you must use the Quick Review feature.
Now, here's a look at the image size/quality
choices on the W1:
photos on included 32MB Memory Stick
(2592 x 1944)
(2592 x 1728)
(2048 x 1536)
(1280 x 960)
(640 x 480)
There's no TIFF or RAW mode on the
W1 (nor is there on the S500).
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 W1 uses the new Sony menu system
that is also featured on the DSC-F828 and DSC-T1. The
menu is overlay-style, meaning that its shown on top
of the image you're preparing to shoot. Here are the
menu options on the W1:
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to
+2EV, 1/3EV increments)
- Focus (Multi AF, center AF, spot
AF, 0.5/1.0/3.0/7.0 m, infinity) - more below
- Metering mode (Multi, spot)
- White balance (Auto, sunlight,
cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten, flash) - no manual
white balance to be found
- ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
- Photo Quality (Fine, standard)
- Rec Mode
- Normal - regular shooting
- Burst - takes up to 9 shots
in a row at the highest quality setting, at
a rate of around 1.2 frames/second
- Multi burst - takes 16 shots
in a row (at interval selected in menu) and
compiles them into one 1 Megapixel image (like
- Multi-burst interval (1/30, 1/15,
1/7.5 sec) - for the multi-burst feature described
- Flash Level (Low, normal, high)
- Photo Effects (Off, black & white,
- Saturation (Low, normal, high)
- Contrast (Low, normal, high)
- Sharpness (Low, normal, high)
The W1 has a pseudo-manual focus feature,
where you can choose a preset focus distance. It's
not as nice as real manual focus, but it's still useful.
The three focus modes in the same menu control which
autofocus mode the camera uses. The multi AF mode automatically
selects one of five points to focus on.
There's also a setup menu, which has
the following options:
- AF mode (Single, monitor)
- see below
- Digital zoom (Off, smart,
precision) - see below
- Date/Time (Off, date, day & time)
- whether date/time is printed on your photos
- Redeye reduction (on/off)
- AF illuminator (on/off)
- Auto Review (on/off) - shows
images on LCD after it is taken
- Memory Stick Tool
- Card format
- Change/create rec folder
- manage folders on the memory card
- Setup 1
- LCD backlight (Bright, normal,
- Beep (Shutter only, on, off)
- Language (English, Japanese
[I assume], Spanish, French, Italian)
- Setup 2
- File number (Series, reset)
- USB connect (PictBridge,
PTP, normal) - you may need to change this
depending on the operating system on your computer
- Video out (NTSC, PAL)
- Clock set
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 W1
lacks the continuous AF feature found on other Sony
The W1 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 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. For example, at
3M, you can only use about 1.2X -- but at VGA, you
can use 4X.
Let's move on to photo tests now.
Since the DSC-W1 lacks a custom white
balance feature, I was a little worried about how it
would perform under my quartz studio lamps. Thankfully,
the tungsten WB setting worked just fine. The photo
that the W1 took is good, though Mickey's red outfit
seems almost fluorescent to me. The whole image has
a "smooth" quality to it.
You can get as close to your subject
as 6 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto, which
is comparable to the range on the S500.
The W1 took a nice shot of the SF
skyline, though I suppose I could've exposed it for
a little longer. Noise level are low and the buildings
look pretty sharp. One thing I do notice is a bit of
purple fringing, which is a bit surprising considering
the aperture of F5.2. One way to reduce this is to
use a smaller aperture, but the W1 doesn't give you
too many choices: my only other option at that focal
length was F10.
With full control over shutter speed,
you can take can night shots just like this. Just remember
to use a tripod. (I must say it humors me to watch
people taking handheld, flash pictures of this same
Using that night shot, here's a look
at how changing the ISO sensitivity affects image noise:
I was pleased with the high ISO performance
on the W1. Even at ISO 400 things really aren't that
noisy. The W1 did a better job than the S500 in this
Not surprisingly, the W1 has quite
a bit of redeye. And it's pretty hard to avoid it on
ultra-compact cameras like this one (the S500 was just
as bad). Your options? Take the shot again, add more
lighting, or clean it up in software.
The W1 has mild barrel distortion
at the wide-angle end of the lens. There's a slight
hint of vignetting (dark corners), but it's very minor,
and I didn't see it in any of my real world shots.
I was very pleased with the photo
quality on the DSC-W1: it holds up very well against
the PowerShot S500. Photos are quite sharp, colors
are accurate, and noise levels are low. Another thing
that's low is purple fringing -- there wasn't much
to be found. Photos had a smooth look that reminded
me a lot of -- guess what -- Canon cameras.
Only you can decide if the DSC-W1's
image quality meets your expectations. So please have
a look at the photo gallery where
you can judge for yourself! The PowerShot
S500 gallery is also available, but the shots were
taken at different times/locations.
The W1 has the same, top-notch movie
mode as Sony's top of the line DSC-F828 camera. The
MPEG Movie VX Fine mode takes VGA resolution video
(that's 640 x 480) at 30 frames/sec, until the memory
card is full. This mode requires a Memory Stick Pro
card. A 1GB Pro card can hold about 12 minutes of video
at this quality. Sound is recorded along with the video.
If you don't have the Pro memory card,
don't fret. You can still use the very nice VX Standard
mode, which is still VGA, just at 16 frames/second.
The included 32MB card holds about 1.5 mins at VX Standard
quality. A much lower resolution (160 x 112) is also
The PowerShot S500 can also record
VGA movies, but only for 30 seconds, and at a paltry
You cannot use the zoom lens during
filming on the W1 or the S500.
Here's a sample movie for you. I barely
got the camera turned on before the train went by.
Be warned, this is a large download:
to play movie (11.9 MB, 640 x 480 Fine, QuickTime
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The DSC-W1 has a pretty standard (though
well-implemented) playback mode. Basic features include
slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection,
thumbnail mode, and "zoom & scroll".
The W1 is PictBridge-enabled (as is the S500), allowing
direct printing to compatible photo printers.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term)
allows you to zoom up to 5X into your photo, and then
scroll around in it. This us useful for checking the
focus in a photograph. When zoomed in, you can also
use the trimming feature I'll describe in a second.
Some of the more advanced playback
- Resize - change an image's size.
The original image is not deleted.
- Divide - cut sections of movies
- Trim - when zoomed into an image,
you can crop the image down to the selected area.
You choose the resolution of the new image (the old
one is kept).
I do appreciate how the W1 lets you
delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all
of them. (To do this, you must be in thumbnail mode.)
The W1 gives you quite a bit of information
about your photos, including a histogram.
The W1 moves between images extremely
quickly in playback mode -- showing a low res version
instantly, with the high res image showing up a second
How Does it Compare
While not as small as its main competitor
(the Canon PowerShot S500), the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1
is a very impressive compact digital camera. It packs
a 5 Megapixel CCD, 3X optical zoom lens, and large
2.5" LCD into a stylish, all-metal body.
While the S500 is a point-and-shoot
camera, the DSC-W1 offers a handful of manual controls,
including shutter speed, aperture, and focus (though
the last two are limited). The one control missing
from the W1 that the S500 has is manual white balance,
which is quite useful. The W1 is a very responsive
camera, with a near-instant startup time, and fast
focus and shot-to-shot speeds. The AF-assist lamp helped
it focus in low light, though you'll have to rely on
the optical viewfinder in those situations, as the
LCD will be too dark. Photo quality on the W1 is quite
good, and is comparable to the S500, though redeye
is bad on both cameras.
The W1 also offers something not available
on the S500 -- or most any ultra-compact camera --
and that is expansion capability. The camera supports
three conversion lenses, plus an external flash (which
will help with that redeye problem). The only thing
missing is an underwater case, which the S500 offers.
For transferring photos directly from the camera, the
W1's USB 2.0 high speed support will speed things up
considerably over the S500's USB 1.1.
Both the W1 and S500 have VGA movie
modes, though the W1's is much better, assuming you
have a Memory Stick Pro card to take advantage of it.
The memory card difference is an important one, as
the CompactFlash cards used by the S500 are less expensive
than the W1's Memory Sticks. The S500 also gets points
for a superior software bundle.
While the S500 is a bit smaller and
lighter, the W1 does give it a run for the money, and
I highly recommend it. Either camera is a great choice,
so I suggest trying both in person to see which is
more compatible with you.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- Stylish, all-metal body
- Super-fast performance
- Huge 2.5" LCD display
- Limited manual controls
- VGA, 30 fps movie mode
- Support for conversion lenses and
- USB 2.0 high speed support
- AF-assist lamp
- Histograms in record and playback
What I didn't care for:
- More manual controls would be nice
- LCD nearly impossible to see in
- Unimpressive software bundle; not
very Mac friendly either
- Flimsy plastic door over memory
Other ultra-compact cameras worth
checking out include the Canon
PowerShot S500, Casio
Exilim EX-Z40, Fuji
FinePix F700, Kyocera
Finecam SL400R, Minolta
DiMAGE G500, Nikon
Coolpix 5200, Olympus Stylus
410 and C-60Z, Pentax
Optio S4i, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P93, DSC-P100,
As always, I recommend a trip to your
local camera store to try out the DSC-W1 and its competitors
before you buy!
Check out the photo quality in our gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read another review at Steve's
Feedback & Discussion
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review, please send them to Jeff.
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