In the budget camera field, a little extra cash can go a long way. For instance, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W35 is a fine snapshot camera for around the £110 mark. It delivers decent photos, performance and usability, but it's not much to look at, and its LCD screen is woefully small. For only about £10 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, 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen. It's available in silver (pictured), black, blue and pink.
Against slimmer, more stylish cameras such as the twice-as-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 145g body, at less than 25mm 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 64mm screen, a useful feature that adds to the camera's function-over-form design.
The DSC-W55 performed quite well in our 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 seconds. 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. Colours 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.
Sony tames noise impressively throughout the DSC-W55's sensitivity range. At ISO 100 we saw no significant noise, even when scrutinised on a monitor. Extremely small speckles became visible on a display for ISO 200 and ISO 400 shots, but not in prints. At ISO 800, noise became apparent in prints and was very noticeable on monitors.
Surprisingly though, even at ISO 1,000, the W55 produces usable, if grainy, prints with vivid and accurate colours. We'd suggest staying below ISO 1,000 or ISO 800 when possible for best results, however. The W55 improves greatly over the DSC-W30 in this respect, with its noisy and dull high-ISO photos.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 doesn't have any notable or unique features, but its quick performance and solid picture quality make it a fine budget choice, plus it offers a larger screen and a nicer finish for just £10 more than the W35. Not a bad upgrade for a tenner.
Additional editing by Nick Hide