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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 Digital Camera Review
by Howard Creech -  8/29/2005

The Cyber-shot DSC W7 -- Sony gets it right!

The new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W7 is an updated version of Sony's popular W1 model, similar in size and "feel" to Canon's upscale "S" (S30, S40, S50, S60, S70) series digicams. The W7 is a handsome little camera designed to appeal to snap-shooters, shutterbugs, and those looking for an imaging tool that can keep pace as their photographic proficiency and creative skills evolve. But the W7 isn't just for intermediate shooters, it's Auto and Program AE modes make it a natural choice for casual photographers and family history chroniclers who value simplicity and ease of use. The W7 is also an excellent choice for Photographers looking for a compact digicam that performs like a full sized camera. The W7 provides lots of creative flexibility without compromising operational simplicity. It is so user friendly that even beginners will be able to speedily shoot striking images.

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What's New? How does the W7 differ from the W1?

The W7 (in addition to it's 7 megapixel CCD sensor) sports a larger 2.5-inch LCD screen, a Center-Weighted metering option (great for shooting "classic" landscapes and traditional looking portraits), and Sony's new Real Imaging Processor (for faster operation and improved power management).

NUTS & BOLTS

Viewfinder/LCD

The W7's tunnel-style zooming optical viewfinder is fairly bright. It covers about 85 per cent of the image frame, but there's no diopter correction for those who wear eyeglasses. The offset between the optical viewfinder and the lens is somewhat radical, which means that up to about 8 or 10 feet the viewfinder sees a noticeably different view than the lens, so what the shooter sees (through the optical viewfinder) can be quite unlike what the lens is seeing.

The W7's large 2.5" LCD screen is bright, sharp, color correct and relatively fluid. The large LCD screen allows users to easily preview composition, review (and save or delete) captured images, and access the camera's menu system. The W7's LCD info/status display provides lots of information (including resolution, shooting mode, aperture, shutter speed, and battery status), but it is bit busy and occasionally interferes with composition. I would have liked it better if all the information had been displayed along the bottom of the image frame, but turning the display off is easy. The LCD screen also provides a live histogram display for checking over or under exposure (pre-exposure) and a static histogram display for evaluating captured images (post exposure). The W7's anti reflection coating makes the LCD screen surprisingly clear in bright outdoor lighting, noticeably better than most of it's competition.

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Zoom

The W7's f2.8-f5.2/38-114mm (35mm equivalent) Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar zoom extends from the camera body automatically when the camera is powered up. The lens retracts into the body when the camera is powered down and a built-in lens cover closes over the front element. The W7's zoom lens isn't actually built by Carl Zeiss in Germany. Sony builds the lens in Japan to a patented Carl Zeiss optical formula (7 elements in 5 groups with 3 Aspheric elements.).

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The W7's zoom operation is smooth, quiet, and very quick. Resolution (sharpness) is excellent. Barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide end of the zoom is about average, however pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center) at the telephoto end of the zoom, is well below average. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is visible in high contrast color transition areas at the wide-angle end of the zoom range, but virtually disappears at the telephoto end of the zoom range. There is some very minor corner softness, but no vignetting (darkened corners).


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The W7's punched-up color and the tack sharp resolution of the Carl Zeiss lens make dramatic macro shots easy.

Minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is just over two inches. Macro images are very sharp with excellent detail and very saturated color in natural light close-ups. When the on-board flash is used in macro shooting, the W7's lens partially blocks the flash unit, resulting in uneven flash coverage. The bottom third of the image frame will be noticeably darker than the top two thirds. The W7's zoom lens is threaded for the optional Sony VAD-WA lens adapter so that filters and supplementary lenses can be used.

Auto Focus

The W7 features a fairly standard 5 AF area (Closest Subject) contrast detection Auto Focus system. Slightly depress the W7's shutter button and almost immediately the camera locks focus and a green confirmation light appears on the LCD screen. AF is dependably fast and consistently accurate even in poor light (in low light the focus aid beam automatically kicks in).

Manual Focus

The W7 provides a useful, but fairly limited (5 steps plus infinity) Manual Focus option.

Flash

The W7's built-in multi mode (Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Fill, Slow-sync, and off) flash is small, but it does a surprisingly good job. Flash output can be adjusted to better balance flash lighting and ambient light. Sony claims the maximum flash range is about 15 feet, which seems to be a pretty accurate. The flash is too close to the lens, due to the diminutive size of the camera, so redeye will be an ongoing problem. The W7 doesn't have a hot shoe, but Sony does offer an optional auxiliary slave flash unit.

Memory Media

The W7 saves images to its 32MB of internal memory or Memory Stick /Memory Stick PRO Cards. No memory card is included.

Image File Format

JPEG

Connectivity

USB 2.0 and A/V out

Power

The W7 draws it's power from 2 AA batteries, but only alkaline or NiMH batteries should be used. Sony claims a fully-charged pair of NiMH AA's are good for up to 380 exposures with full time LCD use and up to 500 exposures when using the optical viewfinder. AA batteries are universally available, so purchasing a pair of back-up rechargeable batteries probably won't be necessary for most W7 owners (Sony says the W7 is good for up to 70 exposures with full time LCD use when powered by over the counter alkaline AA's). The included charger is unbelievably slow, it needs 6+ hours to re-charge the included NiMH AA's.

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EXPOSURE
The W7 provides users with an incredibly broad range of exposure options including Auto, Program, 7 Scene (Night, Night Portrait, Candlelight, Snow, Beach, Landscape, Portrait, & Soft-Snap) modes, and a Manual Mode. Sony's design folks know that typical users will opt for the Auto, Program, or Scene modes; the W7's Manual Mode feels like an "add on" since users have only two aperture choices (f2.8 or f5.6 at wide-angle or f5.2 or f10 at telephoto). Potential purchasers should regard the W7 as primarily an Auto Exposure digicam.

Movie Mode

The W7 captures video clips (duration is limited only by the capacity of the Memory Stick installed) at 640x480 @ 30 fps.

Metering

The W7's default multi-pattern (evaluative) metering mode consistently provides accurate exposure information to the camera's processor, even in tricky lighting. A Spot metering option biases exposure on a small area at the center of the frame (useful for portraits, back lit subjects, and high/low contrast subjects). The center-weighted option allows savvy users to create traditional looking landscapes and Classic style portraits.

White Balance

The W7's White balance system is accurate, especially the Auto WB option. Other WB options include Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash.


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This display in a Frankfort Avenue Electric Train shop was shot (handheld) under warm white Fluorescent lighting and shows a slight pinkish cast in the white background and a slight shift toward orange in the red and yellow miniature rail cars. That's very impressive Auto White Balance performance for a P&S digicam.

Sensitivity

The W7's Sensitivity options are fairly standard, but they should be adequate for the camera's target audience. The camera provides (default) TTL Auto sensitivity and dedicated settings for 100, 200, & 400 ISO (equivalent).

In-Camera Image Adjustment

The W7 provides a fairly basic level of creative tweakability, including Exposure Compensation (+/- 2EV in 1/3 EV increments), Saturation (low, normal, high), Contrast (low, normal, high), Sharpness (low, normal, high), and Flash Output (+1EV, Normal, -1EV).

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS
The W7 is a small stylish brick shaped digicam that's clearly designed for P&S photographers who may want to experiment with composition and exposure occasionally, but who will generally use the W7 in Auto, Program, or Scene mode. Controls are logically placed, menu navigation is straightforward, and build quality is very good. A small textured handgrip, rather than the raised finger-stop, would have provided a more secure hold. W7 owners should always use the included wrist strap to prevent dropping the camera.

Technical Specifications

Included

Wrist strap, 2 NiMH AA batteries and charger, USB/AV cables, Software CD, and Printed manuals

Optional

VAD-WA lens adaptor, WA & Telephoto conversion lenses, Photo & Special Effects filters, HVL-FSL1B slave flash, MPK-WA underwater case

PERFORMANCE

Image Quality

Saturation is noticeably higher than average, but colors are hue accurate and I suspect that the W7's target audience won't be at all troubled by the bolder color. Sony's designers did some pretty impressive interpolation engineering to avoid the ruddy skin tones that characterize portraits when colors are over-saturated.


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The W7's over-saturated color is obvious in this shot from the Kentucky State Fair midway.


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This quilt detail from the Kentucky State Fair Arts & Crafts display shows exceptional detail and rich colors.

ISO 100 images are excellent with sharp resolution, bright colors, and lots of snap (although some very minor pattern noise is visible). ISO 200 images are very good, but with a bit less pop than ISO 100 (and somewhat higher noise levels). Results at ISO 400 are a bit flat and detail is starting to soften due to higher noise levels.

Images captured in Low/Dim lighting and Night shots are remarkably good for a consumer digicam.


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This Horoscope/Palm Reading machine was shot (handheld) in a dimly lit exhibition hall at the Kentucky State fair. It is a bit under exposed, but the colors are rich and detail is very good.


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This handheld night shot (Programmed AE mode with +0.3 EV of exposure compensation) of Louisville's newest entertainment venue turned out much better than expected. The W7 does a remarkably good job in challenging lighting.

Timing/Shutter Lag

The W7 is a consistently quick digital camera. The Boot-up cycle is less than two seconds. Shutter lag won't be a problem, the shutter fires almost instantaneously. Shot-to-shot and write-to-card times are both noticeably better than average. AF (with pre-focus) is essentially real time and from scratch only requires about half a second.

Who is this Camera best suited for?

The W7 is a very good choice to replace a first or second digital camera that's beginning to show its age. The W7 is also an excellent choice first digital camera for casual photographers, weight/space conscious travelers, family chroniclers, and intermediate shooters. Photographers looking for a bar/party camera that works well in dim/low light will love the W7.

Conclusion

The W7 is a small digicam that's reminiscent of the elegant miniature Point & Shoot film cameras (Rollei 35S, Olympus Pen EE, Yashica 35GX, and Minox 35EL) from the Golden Age of Photography. Shoppers looking for a digicam that offers a bit more than most P&S cameras should seriously consider the W7.

Pros: Compact, fast, 7 megapixels, user friendly, excellent image quality, tough stainless steel body, large LCD screen, manual controls, and very good battery life

Cons: images are slightly over-saturated, redeye issues