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DCRP Review: Sony
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 5, 2005
Last Updated: January 17, 2008
In early 2005 Sony updated their popular Cyber-shot DSC-W1 model with two new ones: the DSC-W5 ($350) and the DSC-W7 ($450). The W5 is a 5 Megapixel camera like its predecessor, while the W7 has a 7.2 Megapixel CCD. I'll be covering the W7 in this review.
Both models share the following changes compared with the DSC-W1:
The W1 was one of the better models in its class in 2004. How does the 7 Megapixel DSC-W7 fare? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
Before we go on, I should mention that there's a similar model out there called the DSC-W17. While this is the exact same camera, the bundle includes four batteries and a carrying case. As far as I know, the W17 is not sold in the U.S.
With that out of the way, here's what you'll find in the DSC-W7's box:
With their 2005 models Sony has started going the route of so many other camera manufacturers by not including a memory card with the camera. Instead they've built 32MB of memory right into the camera. You can fit just nine images at the highest image quality setting in that amount of memory, so consider a memory card to be a mandatory purchase if you buy the W7. The camera uses Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro cards, and I'd say that a 512MB card is a good size for most people to start out with. Do note that Memory Sticks tend to be on the expensive side when compared with CompactFlash and SD.
Like the DSC-W1 before it, the W7 uses two AA batteries to supply power. One area in which the W5 and W7 have improved compared to the W1 is in terms of battery life. Using the two supplied 2100 mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries you can take a whopping 380 shots per charge (measured using the CIPA standard). The DSC-W5 does even better, taking 420 shots per charge. Either way, these numbers are way above average, and they'll be even better if you use more powerful batteries. Speaking of which, picking up an extra set or two of NiMH batteries may not be a bad idea.
Longtime readers will know that I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. You can use NiMH rechargeables which cost less than the proprietary lithium-ion batteries used by some other cameras and they last a long time too. And whenever those die you can drop in some alkalines to get you through the day.
When it's time to charge the batteries just place them into the included charger. This charger is very slow, taking six hours to fully charge the battery (buying a faster charger may not be a bad idea). This isn't one of those chargers that plugs right into the wall, either -- you must use a power cable.
The DSC-W7, like the W1 before it, has a built-in lens cover, so there is no clumsy lens cap to worry about.
There are quite a few accessories available for the W7, which I've put into this handy chart:
That's quite a few accessories for a relatively compact camera!
Picture Package viewer (Windows only)
Sony includes Picture Package v1.6 for Windows as the main image viewing application. It's a pretty basic image viewer and doesn't compare to things like ACDSee, Photoshop Elements, or even the software designed by other camera manufacturers.
Picture Package Editing
Editing functionality is new to v 1.6 of Picture Package it's pretty basic (and as poorly designed as the rest of the software). You can remove redeye, adjusting brightness and contrast, and crop/resize your photos. You can also e-mail them at the click of your mouse.
ImageMixer VCD2 (Mac only)
Mac users don't get to use PicturePackage (you can use the camera with iPhoto just fine). Instead, they get ImageMixer VCD2 (don't worry WIndows users, you get it too). ImageMixer is used to create a Video CD from your images. VideoCDs are kind of like a poor man's DVD -- not as good, but usable.
Cyber-shot Life (Windows only)
The Cyber-shot Life tutorial is now up to version 2.0. Much of the content is the same, but now it's split for the P and W series models. This helps explain things a lot better than the camera manual ever could. I'd like to see things like this included with all cameras!
If the one included with the DSC-W7 is any indication, it appears that Sony is putting more effort into their camera manuals. They're a little more user friendly than they used to be, though they still have a ways to go. They need whoever made that tutorial to design their manuals too!
Look and Feel
Except for a few small cosmetic changes, the W7 looks just like its predecessor. And that's a good thing. The W7 is a fairly compact camera that has more in common with cameras like the Canon PowerShot A95 than something smaller like the SD500. In other words, this is a jacket pocket camera, not a back pocket camera. The DSC-W7 is made entirely of metal and it feels very solid. The important controls are well-placed and you can operate the camera with just one hand.
Like the DSC-W1 before it, the W7 comes in silver and black bodies. Obviously I reviewed the silver one.
Now let's see how the W7 compares in terms of size, volume, and weight when compared to the competition:
Yes, the DSC-W7 is actually larger yet lighter than its predecessor (the W5 has the same dimensions/weight).
Okay, enough about that, let's start our tour of the W7 now!
The DSC-W7 has exactly the same F2.8-5.2, 3X optical zoom Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens as its predecessor. This lens has a focal range of 7.9 - 23.7 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. That metal ring around the lens is threaded and conversion lenses and filters are supported with the use of the optional VAD-WA conversion lens adapter.
Directly above the lens is the W7's built-in flash. This flash has a working range of 0.2 - 4.5 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.5 m at telephoto, which is pretty good. While you can't attach a flash directly to the camera, a slave flash is supported. The Sony slave flash attaches to the side of the camera via the tripod mount.
Just to the left of the flash is the microphone, with the AF-assist lamp below that. The AF-assist lamp, which is also used to count down the self-timer, helps the camera focus in low light situations.
While the LCD on the W7 is the same size as on the W1 (a very nice 2.5 inches), it's not the same screen. While the resolution has actually gone down (115,200 pixels versus 118,000 on the W1), Sony has improved the LCD in other ways. The screen has more contrast than before and a non-glare coating improves outdoor visibility and improves the viewing angle by 25%. If they could bump the screen resolution up some more it would be nearly perfect. When using the LCD in low light, the screen "gains up" automatically so you can still see your subject.
To the upper-left of that big LCD is the optical viewfinder. It's nice to see that Sony didn't dump the viewfinder on this camera -- something happens too often on cameras with large LCDs. One thing missing here, though, is a diopter correction knob, which is used to focus what you're looking at.
At the top-right of the photo you'll find the zoom controller. This moves the lens silently from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds. I counted nine steps throughout the 3X zoom range.
Below that you'll find the Display and Menu buttons and the speaker. The Display button is used to turn the LCD on and off, and also chooses what information is shown on the screen.
Continuing downward we find the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, adjusting manual settings, and for:
The last thing to see on the back of the camera is the Image Quality /Delete Photo button.
On top of the W7 you'll find the power and shutter release buttons plus the mode dial (which is around the shutter release). The mode dial has the following options:
The DSC-W7 has limited manual exposure control. There's no shutter or aperture priority mode -- rather there's just a full manual mode. There you can set the shutter speed and the aperture at the same time, though there's a catch. The catch is that at any one time you can only select between two apertures. At wide-angle that's F2.8 or F5.6 and at telephoto it's F5.2 or F10. In between wide and telephoto you'll have different values.
On this side of the camera you'll find the W7's I/O ports, which are kept under a rubber cover. The ports include A/V out and USB. Like the W1, the W7 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.
The only thing worth mentioning here is that rubber flap toward the bottom of the picture. The W7, unlike the W1, uses a DC coupler to supply power from the AC adapter. This is like a battery with a wire coming out of it that plugs into the adapter. The wire passes through that hole in the side.
On the bottom of the W7 you'll find the battery / memory card compartment, a metal tripod mount, and the speaker. The plastic door covering the battery/memory compartment is of average build quality. Do note that you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod, for obvious reasons.
The included rechargeable batteries are shown at right.
Using the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7
The DSC-W7 starts up incredibly quickly, taking just one second to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
A histogram is shown on the LCD in record mode
Focus speeds are very good, especially at wide-angle, where they range from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds. At the telephoto end they'll be longer, and focus times can exceed one second if the camera has to "hunt" a bit. Low light focusing was very good thanks to the W7's AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was very low, even at 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 (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 first.
Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the W7:
Now you can see why I recommend a larger memory card! The DSC-W7 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 W7 uses the same menu system as other recent Sony cameras. The menu is overlay-style -- meaning that its shown on top of the image you're preparing to shoot -- and it's pretty easy-to-use. Here are the menu options on the W7:
As you can see, the W7's burst mode isn't terribly impressive. In addition, the screen "blacks out" briefly between shots, making it hard to track a moving subject. At least there's the optical viewfinder!
If there ever was a poster child for a camera with limited manual controls, the W7 would be it. You get full control over shutter speed, limited control over aperture and focus, and no control over white balance (the presets don't count). That's enough for the average shooter, though enthusiasts may be wanting more.
There's also a setup menu (accessible from the record or playback menu), which has the following options:
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 though it'll put more strain on your battery.
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.
Let's move on to our photo tests now, shall we?
While it's a bit on the soft side, overall the DSC-W7 did a pretty decent job with our macro test shot. The colors are nice and saturated, and they're quite close to the originals. Despite not having a custom white balance mode, the W7 still managed to handle my 600W quartz studio lamps with ease.
In macro mode you can get as close to your subject as 6 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto -- about average.
Section rewritten 5/8/05: It took three trips to Treasure Island before I got a decent night shot out of the W7. Even then, it's not as good as I would've hoped. The image is on the soft side, and some details have been lost to noise (note how you can't make out the sign on the Airtouch buildilng). Purple fringing is a problem as well, which is a bit surprising given the relatively small aperture (F5.2). Since the DSC-W7 gives you full control over the shutter speed, long exposures like this are easy. Just remember your tripod!
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:
While ISO 200 is just a bit noisier than ISO 100, once you get to ISO 400 things really start getting bad. With decent noise reduction software you may be able to salvage that shot, though.
There's just mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the W7's 3X zoom lens. The test also shows some blurriness -- something that you can see in a few of my real world photos as well.
Like the W1 before it, the DSC-W7 isn't great in the redeye department. While your results may vary, you should expect to deal with this annoyance at least occasionally.
Overall I was very pleased with the images produced by the DSC-W7. They're generally well-exposed with accurate (and saturated) color and reasonable noise levels. Purple fringing was an occasional nuisance but nothing horrible. Images did seem a little soft at times, so if that bothers you you may want to increase the in-camera sharpening a bit (I know this one is pretty subjective).
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery and decide if the photo quality meets your expectations. I also encourage you to print the photos, just like you would if they were your own.
The DSC-W7 has the same, top-notch movie mode as Sony's other digital cameras. 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, with sound. The VX Fine mode requires a Memory Stick Pro card and it cannot be used with the built-in memory. A 1GB MS Pro card can hold about 12 minutes of video at the VX Fine setting.
Two other movie quality settings are also available. You can use the VX Standard mode, which is still VGA, just at 16 frames/second. A much lower resolution option is also available, recording at 160 x 112. Neither of these modes require a Memory Stick Pro card.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. Movies are saved in MPEG format.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting. It's the "reverse angle" of the usual train arrival movie. Be warned, it's a large download!
Click to play movie (16.8 MB, 640 x 480, VX Fine mode, MPEG format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Cyber-shot DSC-W7 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 camera is PictBridge-enabled, allowing for direct printing to compatible photo printers.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom up to 5X into your photo (in 0.1X increments), and then scroll around in it. This is useful for checking the focus in a photograph. Sony's done a good job at making this feature nice and snappy.
Some of the more advanced playback features include:
By default, the W7 doesn't tell you much about your photos. But press the Display button and you'll see a lot more, including a histogram.
The camera moves between images very quickly in playback mode. If you go one image at a time, the next one appears instantly, without any low resolution placeholder. If you really start flipping through them, you'll see a low res placeholder followed by the high res image a half second later.
How Does it Compare
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 is a very capable 7.2 Megapixel camera. It offers very good image quality, robust performance, limited manual controls, support for conversion lenses, excellent battery life, and a nice movie mode.
The DSC-W7 is a fairly compact camera that probably won't fit in your back pocket, but it's still small enough to take just about anywhere. The body is made almost entirely of metal, and it feels very solid. The controls are well-placed and it's easy to operate. The W7 has a redesigned 2.5" LCD display that's both easy to see in bright outdoor light as well as dimly lit rooms.
Camera performance is excellent, with a super-fast startup time of just one second, fast focusing times and no shutter lag. The one area in which the W7 lags a bit is in the continuous shooting department. Battery life was well above average, especially if you use high power NiMH rechargeables.
Photo quality is very good for the most part, with saturated and accurate colors and reasonable noise and purple fringing levels. Images were a little soft at times, though that's a pretty subjective observation. In addition, the night shot was a little soft and noisy, and there was more purple fringing than I would've liked to see.
The W7 has a decent selection of features as well. It has full manual control over shutter speed and limited control over aperture and focus. I would like to see less restricted control over aperture, and while Sony's at it, how about a custom white balance feature? The W7 has quite a few scene modes plus a fully automatic mode for those seeking simplicity. The camera's movie mode is excellent, though do remember that you'll need a Memory Stick Pro card in order to take advantage of it.
I have a few other complaints before I end this review. The included 32MB of built-in memory is somewhat of a joke -- you must factor the cost of a Memory Stick into the purchase price of the camera! Second, with the exception of that Cyber-shot Life tutorial, the bundled software is pretty bad. And finally, you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
Overall the W7 gets the thumbs up from this reviewer.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other cameras in this class include the Canon PowerShot S70, Casio Exilim EX-P700, Fuji FinePix E550, Kodak EasyShare Z760, Nikon Coolpix 7600 and 7900, Olympus C-7000Z, Pentax Optio 750Z, and the Samsung Digimax V700.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DSC-W7 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in our photo 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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