Sony Cyber Shot DSC-W70
Aside from its 7-megapixel sensor, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-W70 is physically and functionally identical to its series brethren, the 6-megapixel DSC-W50 and the 8-megapixel DSC-W100. And just like its siblings, the DSC-W70 delivers a pleasant snapshooting experience--with the photos to match--making it a good choice for many casual and vacation photographers. However, photo artifacts will disappoint pickier shooters, and the deft finger work needed to manipulate its tiny controls may frustrate others.
Although it boasts a sleek, ultracompact design, the 5.5-ounce Sony Cyber Shot DSC-W70's controls are just a bit too small and closely spaced for easy operation, the mode dial is too easy to turn accidentally, the buttons are too flush with the surface, and the four-way-plus-center button lacks depth when clicked. The DSC-W70's 2.5-inch LCD is bright and acceptably visible in direct sunlight--you can make it a tad brighter--but if necessary, the tiny, distorted optical viewfinder serves adequately.
It's easy enough to access the top-level adjustments--image quality, flash, exposure compensation, macro, and self-timer--plus the Cyber Shot DSC-W70's handful of scene modes. As is typical of its class, many of the more advanced (albeit useful) features reside in the menus, such as metering, continuous shooting, and white balance. However, the camera lacks shutter- and aperture-priority modes altogether. One especially irritating trait of Sony's camera menus is that they don't wrap; when you reach the end, you have to reverse your clicks to reach the beginning.
Excellent color reproduction counts as one of the Cyber Shot DSC-W70's strongest assets. At its best, the vivid colors pop without crossing over to glowing, exhibiting good white balance. The 38mm-to-114mm lens (35mm equivalent) renders crisp, sharp images with limited fringing, and when properly exposed, photos exhibit solid tonal range and contrast. Exposure itself can be a bit hit-and-miss, in part because the LCD doesn't accurately display the current image. I got the best results by switching to spot-metering mode and using the histogram rather than my eyes to judge; that's not something I expect most snapshooters to do, however. When it misses, the Cyber Shot DSC-W70 tends to err on the side of overexposure but not by so much that it will ruin your priceless photo of Johnny on a camel.
Upon closer inspection, however--in prints larger than 8x10 and 100 percent zoom onscreen--areas of my photos displayed a variety of unpleasant artifacts. Even at ISO 100, noise in shadow areas combined with aggressive noise-reduction algorithms to produce that smeary oil-paint look we see so often. As long as you don't plan to crop in on details or print large, you'll be OK.