In the field of budget cameras, a little extra cash can go a long way. For instance, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W35 is a fine snapshot camera for less than $200. It delivers decent photos, performance, and design, but it's not much to look at, and its LCD screen is woefully small. For only about $20 more, Sony offers a pleasant upgrade in the Cyber-shot DSC-W55. It's the same 7-megapixel, 38mm-to-114mm-equivalent 3x zoom camera with an attractive, brushed-metal face and a larger, 2.5-inch LCD screen.
Against slimmer, more stylish cameras such as the significantly more expensive Cyber-shot DSC-T50, the W55 won't win any beauty contests. Behind the pretty face hides a blocky, half-plastic compact camera that's built more for ease of use than for fashion. Its 5.1-ounce body, at less than an inch thick, fits easily into almost any pocket. With the exception of its irritatingly recessed power and review buttons, the W55's controls feel large, responsive, and easy to manipulate. A small optical viewfinder sits just above the camera's 2.5-inch screen, a useful feature that adds to the camera's function-over-form design.
The DSC-W55 performed quite well in our lab tests, starting up in only 1.3 seconds and firing off shots every 1.4 seconds thereafter. With the flash enabled, that interval increased to 1.7 seconds, still an impressively short wait. In bright light, the shutter responded quickly for its class, lagging only 0.5 second. With our low-contrast target, however, that time tripled to 1.5 seconds. Burst mode also lagged, snapping four full-resolution photos in 2.9 seconds for a disappointing frame rate of 1.3 shots per second.
Overall, we found the DSC-W55's photos clear and pleasing. Despite the slight softening of some finer details, photos looked crisp. Colors generally reproduced well, though users should remember to switch to the tungsten white-balance setting when shooting indoors--the W55's automatic white balance fared poorly in our difficult tungsten-lit test shots, rendering harsh and yellow.