Check out an examination of photo quality from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W370, a sub-$230 14-megapixel compact camera with a 7x zoom.
The W370's photo quality is generally very good but not without issues. Photos taken in the range of ISO 80-200 were better than expected for a camera with its features and price. (In my tests, the Auto ISO usually went with ISO 100 in bright daylight.) Photos viewed at 100 percent have a decidedly digital look to them and might look soft and lack fine detail. However, prints of 8x10 inches or smaller looked nice and fairly natural. Even larger prints up to 13x19 inches are fine as long as you're not overly critical. Higher ISO photos--those at and above ISO 800--are where this camera falls apart in comparison to the W350. The W350's color performance was fairly consistent from ISO 80 to 3,200. And while its noise suppression made subjects look painterly, the photos were still usable for small prints when sensitivities above ISO 400 were used. With the W370, these higher ISOs yield poor results with noticeable shifts in color and a lot of noise.
The W370 has a High Sensitivity scene mode that boosts ISO for low-light shooting without a flash. This was taken at ISO 3200 and, oddly, the results are better than if you shoot in Program and set the camera to that ISO. If you're going to be in dim light and don't want to use a flash, use this mode above everything else.
Despite not being a wide-angle lens there is some barrel distortion at this camera's widest lens position (top). I kind of expected pincushion distortion when the lens was extended but saw no signs of it (bottom). Center sharpness is pretty good, though my test camera was softer on the left side, particularly in the upper corner.
The amount of fringing on high-contrast subjects was average to above average for its class, which unfortunately means shots like this. At small sizes it's easy to overlook, but anything above a 4x6 and your eye will likely be drawn to it.
The shutter lag is noticeably long with the W370 making shots like this tricky to get. It was possible because its continuous shooting speed was good at 1.3 frames per second. On a user-error side note, this shot is blurry because I used the zoom and the camera switched to a slower shutter speed. I was set to ISO 100, but a change to ISO 400 allowed the camera to pick a faster shutter speed on subsequent shots reducing blur. Just mentioning this as a reminder that if you're going to use the zoom lens, you're going to either need a lot of light and/or a higher ISO setting to freeze your subject.
In testing, the W370's color performance was very good and reasonably accurate. Reds tended to look oversaturated, but otherwise subjects looked bright and natural. Exposure was generally good, but blown highlights are frequent. White balance was also good.
The quality of the Sweep Panorama photos is decent, but they're best used for Web sharing and small prints. It's a cool feature and it should be enjoyed for what it is--an easy and fast way to shoot scenery. But they're nothing you're going to want to view closely or print at full size.