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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 review: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170

Underneath its plain exterior, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 hides a wealth of clever features and an extremely intuitive graphical interface. It also includes a viewfinder -- a compact rarity, these days -- and good a face detection system among its many tweakable options

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Richard Trenholm
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Richard Trenholm Movie and TV Senior Editor

Richard Trenholm is CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture over the past 15 years from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.

Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
4 min read

Our first impression of the the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 is that it's identical to its younger sibling, the W150. If it wasn't for the small engraving that reads '10.1 megapixels' on the front of the W170, we wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Despite being initially underwhelmed, we found there was more to this £170 snapper than met the eye.

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7.5

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170

The Good

Good user interface; lots of options; burst mode stamina.

The Bad

Frustrating zoom rocker switch; cluttered controls; proprietary memory stick format.

The Bottom Line

Plain Jane styling and cluttered controls belie a wonderfully intuitive graphical user interface and some clever features. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 is a surprisingly adaptable camera that can be tweaked to take decent pictures in various environments

Design
The W170 comes in cherry red or silver with a brushed metal effect to the frame. It's quite plain on the front and back; there's a raised bezel around the screen and viewfinder giving it a clunky appearance. The viewfinder is small and the screen distractingly stays on when using it, but it's clear and moves in and out with the zoom.

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The Sony W170 has too many buttons. This is the menu screen invoked by the home button

The controls are cluttered. The 69mm (2.7-inch), 230,000-dot LCD screen is large enough, but a thick black bezel pushes the controls too far over. There are at least two buttons too many: a dedicated slideshow-launching button that could have simply been an option in the playback menu and a menu button that accesses shooting options. The latter is handy, but its function could've been assigned to the OK button in the centre of the clickpad that doesn't do anything in normal mode.

Meanwhile, there's no delete button -- it's the first option in the playback menu, so there's an extra button-push involved and it could initially fox anyone looking for the little rubbish bin icon. You do get a handy option to delete multiple selected images or all images taken on the same date, which is more subtle than a delete all option.

The flat zoom rocker lets down the long zoom. We can't stand flat rocker switches, especially when they're as small and unresponsive as this one. But despite the underwhelming physical controls, the menus are excellent. Options pop out from a sidebar, leaving room on the screen for simple captions to explain the feature and for the adjustment to be previewed on screen.

Features
Along with the viewfinder, the W170 boasts a couple of features you wouldn't find on many compacts. It has a versatile 5x optical zoom lens with a satisfyingly wide 28mm focal length, equivalent to a 35mm film camera, although this is let down by the poor zoom rocker.

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Face detection handled this kind of portrait well and although the white balance is a little warm, we were still pleased with this lower light shot taken in program mode

Face detection is included, continuing the trend for souped-up face-tracking features. Clever subject tracking follows a face as it moves around the frame, allowing you to recompose your images. There's also the option to prioritise childrens' or adults' faces. These options are all repeated for smiling faces, so you can, for example, focus on smiling children. The shutter's sensitivity to smiles can be adjusted, although we have no idea why you'd want to.

Playback mode can then filter your saved images to display only those that feature faces, only those that feature children or adults or just those that feature smiling faces. We were sceptical, but for the most part these work, even tracking and filtering faces in profile or at awkward angles.

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This crop from a shot taken in automatic mode shows that noise is under control at ISO 400, although there is some loss of fine detail

In program mode there are plenty of adjustments to be made. It's possible to tweak the intensity of the flash to half intensity and another clever flash option is a white balance preset specifically for when the flash is enabled. SteadyShot optical image stabilisation can be kept on continuously or just when the shutter is pressed. It's hard to see much difference in everyday snapping, but we generally prefer the shutter option.

Performance
Images are crisp. Portraits are warm and detailed. The wealth of easily tweakable options in program mode gave us some excellent results, even in low light. Even the limited options of the automatic mode gave us some good results at the default settings with the occasional exposure compensation tweak all that was necessary for decent results. The easy mode isn't quite as capable and while it's nice to have, we promise you'll be rewarded if you take the plunge into tweaking this surprisingly adaptable camera.

The burst mode in automatic will snap 100 shots in 1 minute before stopping. That kind of staying power is still frustratingly rare in compacts. The first 10 seconds are at 2.5 frames per second, which isn't bad at all, before slowing to a still creditable 2fps or so for the remainder of the minute.

Noise performance is pretty good, thanks to the limiting of ISO speed in program mode to ISO 400. There's some smearing from noise reduction, but it isn't too obtrusive. Even the high ISO mode is less overzealous than many other compacts; it's nice to see a camera that knows its limitations. Purple fringing is barely in evidence and all told, we were pleased with the quality of the W170's images.

Conclusion
We really weren't expecting much from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 because of its unprepossessing looks, cluttered controls and the usual proprietary memory bugbear. But the graphical user interface is a joy and pictures aren't bad either. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 and the Casio Exilim EX-Z200 edge it on features and looks, but the W170 is still extremely adaptable.

Edited by Shannon Doubleday

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