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Sony created the W-series to be its budget line of snapshot cameras. Without the sleek designs of the T-series or the high-powered zoom lenses of the H-series, the W-cameras distinguish themselves only through their modest price tags. Despite their lackluster features, the W-cameras have proven themselves with solid performance and good image quality. This trend follows in the Cyber-shot DSC-W80, Sony's high-end Cyber-shot W-camera. Like all current W-cameras, the W80 might not look like much more than a simple, shiny, blocky camera with a standard 7-megapixel sensor and 3X zoom lens. Once you start shooting, though, the W80 quickly proves itself.
The DSC-W80 boasts a newer, prettier interface than the other W-series Cyber-shots. The camera's tweaked system is much more colorful than those of the W35 and W55, and resembles the Playstation Portable's menu system more than any camera's. The home button activates this new design in a secondary menu that separates media and camera settings from more commonly used settings such as white balance, ISO sensitivity, and exposure compensation. The enhanced menu includes more media-friendly features than any other W-series camera, like high-definition slide shows with MP3 music support and in-camera image retouching. All of these features are nice, but the buttons that access them are irritatingly tiny and spaced around a slightly-too-sensitive control pad; it's far too easy to tap the wrong command when navigating the menus. The W80 also includes more useful features like optical image stabilization, ISO 3200 maximum sensitivity, and face-detecting autofocus and autoexposure.
The W80 uses Sony's new Bionz image processor, another first for the W-series. Despite its unfortunate name, Bionz seems to work very well. In CNET Labs' tests, the W80 shot much faster than its little brother's, lagging only 1.2 seconds between pictures. In burst mode, the camera captured 19 full-size photos in just 7.1 seconds for a fantastic 2.7 frames per second (FPS), far better than the W35 and W55's 4-shot bursts of 1.4 fps.
The photos themselves looked great, with sharp details and accurate colors. Noise stayed relatively low up to ISO 800, when a noticeable grain developed. Predictably, shots taken at ISO 1600 appeared noisy and blurry, and the ISO 3200 setting produced pictures that looked more like impressionist paintings than photographs. Still, if you keep to ISO 800 or lower, you can pretty much count on solid pictures.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 reigns as the current king of the Cyber-shot W-series. While the most expensive, it also packs in the most features and polish of any W-camera to date. Its solid picture quality and fast speed make it a great choice for a small, reliable snapshot camera.