Sony's 7.2-megapixel Cyber Shot DSC-W7 has the same great 2.5-inch LCD, metal-alloy body, and 3X Carl Zeiss zoom lens as those of its predecessor, last year's DSC-W1, but the W7 improves on it with 2 more megapixels and plenty of extra speed. This compact digital camera shoots and processes its bigger images in less time, making it easier to get that fleeting shot of baby's first step or your boss taking a spill after too much eggnog at the holiday office party. Keen-eyed photographers might find the photos a bit too flawed, and enthusiasts will miss the manual controls, but it's a fairly quick and responsive camera with very solid automatic settings and respectable image quality, making it perfect for mainstream users looking to point, shoot, and make large prints with minimum fuss.
The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-W7's design remains largely unchanged from that of its predecessor, an attractive, little 9.1-ounce camera that will fit in a jacket or a loose pants pocket. The first thing you notice is its silver-metal-alloy skin, its simple rectangular shape, and its solid bulk. With no goofy colors, shapes, or lettering--the model name and pixel count are etched discreetly on top of the camera--the DSC-W7 has the appearance of a serious tool that business users and adults shouldn't be embarrassed to use.
Look at the camera's rear, and if the display is off, you'll see a big reflection of your face. Why? As with many other Sony digicams these days, a big, 2.5-inch LCD dominates the back of the camera.The screen is bright and refreshes quickly and makes framing and reviewing pictures a pleasure. Unfortunately, it leaves little room for a useful optical viewfinder; this one is small, it crops the view significantly, and what little it enables you to see is distorted. Two status LEDs next to the viewfinder indicate focus and flash readiness.
You navigate the menus and photo review via a four-way directional keypad whose buttons double as controls for the last-image-shot review, flash, macro and self-timer. There's also a zoom rocker, a display button, and a menu button on the back, as well as a dedicated image-size button, useful for switching from 7 megapixels to 5, 3, or even fewer when your Memory Stick becomes cramped.
Without a lot of dedicated buttons or a second status LCD, as many other cameras have, users must navigate through the menu system to change most simple, common settings such as white balance, ISO speed, and even manual focus distance. While the menu is easy to read and use, this seems like a lot of unnecessary work that will slow down photographers who like to tinker with these settings.
The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-W7's capabilities squarely target the user who likes to get the best possible pictures with the least amount of work required, with a few extra features thrown in for fun or convenience. Advanced or aspiring creative photographers who like to use manual settings, though, may want to look at other cameras.
The hallowed words Carl Zeiss and Vario-Tessar appear on the lens, indicating a serious optical pedigree. However, it's slow, with apertures of f/2.8 to f/5.6 at the wide end and f/5.2 to f/10 at the telephoto end, and covers a fairly narrow range (with a 35mm focal-length equivalent of 38mm to 114mm) compared to the best cameras in its class.
Among the camera's notable features are a TV-quality movie mode that records 30fps, 640x480-pixel MPEG video on a Memory Stick Pro card (non-Pro cards can do only half the frame rate). Multiburst mode scoops up 16 frames in less than one second, then tiles the images into one 1,280x960-pixel montage. Besides being supercool, this feature is useful for analyzing sports action, such as a golf swing. A live histogram makes judging exposure easy before shooting or during review. And 30MB of usable internal memory allows you to shoot even if you confused your Memory Stick with a piece of gum and gave it to your neighbor's kid.
The camera features three metering modes: spot, which is useful for precision metering in high-contrast scenes with uneven lighting; center-weighted, which is useful when your subject fills the middle of the frame; and multipattern, a very effective smart mode that analyzes a scene at multiple points in the frame and decides which parts to meter and which to ignore. There are also several white-balance presets, including the common sunny, cloudy, tungsten, and flourescent settings, as well s several typical automatic picture-taking modes, such as Twilight (slow shutter), Twilight Portrait (slow shutter with flash), and Landscape (focus set to infinity).
One missing feature that may irk snapshooters is autorotation of vertical photos. And those looking for a camera to grow with will find several features missing: aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes; full manual exposure control--you can choose from only two apertures at any given focal length; full manual focus--you must choose from five preset focal distances; rear-curtain flash sync, which shows light trails behind a moving object instead of in front of it; and raw file support.
One of the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-W7's biggest attractions and its main improvement over the DSC-W1 is its speed. Thanks to a fast processor, this is a quick little camera from the moment you turn it on. It takes just 2 seconds from the time you push the power button to the time the camera is ready to take its first shot, an interval that bests many cameras costing much more. Autofocus time and shutter lag are very short for its class, at an average of 0.3 second under high-contrast conditions and 0.5 second for low contrast. Typical time between shots is just 1.4 seconds, or 3.6 seconds with flash using the bundled 2,100mAh rechargable nickel-metal-hydride batteries. Continuous-shooting performance is only average at 1.3fps for 5 shots, but at 7.2 megapixels per image, that's not bad. Knock the resolution down to 640x480 pixels, and you can shoot at about that speed for 100 straight frames.
Image review is also very fast; holding down the scroll button will let you fly through 30 7-megapixel, low-compression images in just more than 4 seconds. The zoom lens slides in and out fairly quickly and quietly, too.
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|
The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-W7's image quality is excellent for its class; while there are some flaws, especially at the corners of its image, they are very minor and noticeable only under close scrutiny. Blooming--the leakage of bright backlight onto dark objects such as branches against a sky--is very tightly under control and barely visible. Chromatic aberration, or the purple fringing often seen around high-contrast objects, is also negligible. The lens is fairly sharp in the center, rendering details well, and a calibrated monitor reveals dynamic range and tonal separation to be very good as well. Barrel distortion, which makes images look curved outward at the edges at wide angles, and pincushion distortion, which has the opposite effect at telephoto angles, are both very minor.
The DSC-W7's lens doesn't do as well when it comes to the edges of the frame, where discriminating eyes will notice vignetting and a falloff in focus. The latter is especially apparent on the left side of scenes. Using the automatic multipoint focus ensures that more areas of your photos are sharp, but the camera doesn't always choose the same subject as you would. Photos taken at ISO 100 show relatively low noise, and pictures taken at ISO 200 look almost the same. Some sensor noise is visible at ISO 400, but this Sony performs better in this regard than many other cameras in its class. Some JPEG compression artifacts, such as jagged or smeared edges and white or dark halos at high-contrast edges, are visible in many images shot with low compression.
The camera's automatic exposure system, especially with multipattern metering, is very accurate even in tricky backlit situations. The flash will occasionally blast with too much power, but if that's not corrected by metering on something lighter, then you can dial down the flash power.
The camera tends to oversaturate a scene's colors a little too much but only very slightly and nowhere near as much as other offenders in the consumer arena. Controls are provided to lower (or increase) saturation and contrast to taste. The automatic white balance works very well in sunny and cloudy outdoor conditions, but setting the camera to its tungsten preset yields more accurate colors when in the presence of incandescent lighting. The camera's flourescent white-balance preset works well under certain types of flourescent lights, but under some, colors are rendered too reddish; you're better off using the automatic white balance.