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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W70 Digital Camera Review
by Ben Stafford -  5/11/2006

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W70 is an excellent, very compact performer. The 7.2 megapixel sensor, 3x optical zoom, nice 2.5 inch LCD, and "Stamina" battery life produces good images and excellent battery life. About the size of a deck of cards, it's easily pocketable and still performs well indoors.

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The W70 is only one of several models in Sony's Cyber-shot W line. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W30 features 6 megapixels, 3x optical zoom and a 2 inch screen. Step up, and you get the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50 with 6 megapixels, 3x optical zoom, and 2.5 inch screen. The top of the line is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W100 that captures 8.1 megapixel images with a 3x optical zoom, has 64MB of internal memory, and a 2.5 inch LCD.

NUTS & BOLTS

Image Sensor

A 1/2.5 inch Super HAD CCD has an effective resolution of 7.2 megapixels (3072x2304 pixels). You can also capture images at 3:2, 5M, 3M, 2M, 2M, VGA, and 16:9. Two quality settings (Fine and Standard) vary the JPEG compression rates.

Viewfinder/LCD

The W70 sports a very nice 2.5 inch LCD with 115K pixels of resolution. The colors on the screen are accurate, but it's not completely fluid with some minor lag time while the screen updates. In bright sunlight, it remains very visible. You can use the Display button to cycle through screens of varying amounts of information, with the most informative display showing the shooting mode, flash status, battery status, image resolution and quality, folder name, white balance setting, metering mode, ISO setting, auto-focus type, and a live histogram.

A small optical viewfinder is also available if you're in a pinch and can't see the LCD (or are saving battery juice).

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Zoom

The 3x optical zoom lens on the W70 has a focal length range of 6.3mm -- 18.9mm (35mm equivalent of 38mm -- 114 mm). The aperture range of the lens is f2.8 -- f7.1 at wide angle and f5.2-f13 at full telephoto.

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Shooting Modes

With the Sony W70, you can shoot in full Auto, Program Auto, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, High Sensitivity, and Movie modes. A nice thing about the design of the controls is that you don't need to dig through menus to find your scene mode. All that you need to do is turn the dial. The Menu mode is only necessary to tweak settings (depending on your mode).

Focus Modes and Focus Ranges

The W70 features a 5 point auto focus (or center auto focus). You can focus on subjects as close as 19.7 inches in Normal mode and 0.72 inches in Macro mode.

While shooting, you can enable or disable macro mode with a single button push (on the directional pad). If you want more options for focusing, you can change the focus type (between Multi and Center), or you can set the focus at 0.5m, 1.0m, 3.0m, 7.0m, and infinity. These options don't show up in full automatic mode, but in Program Auto, you'll see all of the above options. Some scene modes have different sets of options (for instance, the Twilight mode, you can only choose Multi AF, Center AF, or infinity).

A focus assist light helps out during low light conditions to illuminate your subject.

Flash

The claimed flash range for the W70 is from 6 inches to 13.8 feet with ISO set to Auto and camera at wide angle. At ISO 1000 and wide angle, the range is 2 feet, 7 inches to 24 feet. As far as modes, you get Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, and Slow Sync.

Memory Media

The W70 has 58MB of internal memory and an additional slot that accepts Memory Stick Duo or Memory Stick Pro Duo memory. There is no starter card included in the box.

Image and Movie File Format(s)

JPEG still images and MPEG1 compliant movies (with monaural sound)

Connectivity

A "multiconnector" plugs into the camera with USB (2.0) jacks and AV jacks on the other end of the cable. An additional jack works with the optional AC adapter to provide power for the camera.

Power

The Sony W70 is powered by a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack (NP-BG1). The included battery charger plugs directly into a wall socket. Full charge time is about 330 minutes and "practical" charging time is 270 minutes. Sony claims that the W70 can take 360 shots on a single charge. In order to get this life, here's their footnote: "Normal Mode (JPEG), Picture quality Fine; Shooting each image at 30 second intervals; Flash operated every other shot; Power is turned on/off after every 10 shots".

EXPOSURE

Sony has done a good job of not inundating this camera with scene modes, but has provided a nice Program Auto mode that lets the photographer tweak a lot of aspects of the shot. Here's the full list of modes: Auto, Program Auto, High Sensitivity (boosted ISO and disabled flash), Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Snow, Beach, Landscape, Soft Snap, and Movie mode. There are no manual modes where you can set the shutter speed or aperture.


As you turn the mode dial, you get a visual guide on the screen to help your remember what icon is what mode.

Movie Mode

The MPEG VX Fine mode (640x480 at 30 frames per second) requires Memory Stick Pro Duo media. If you don't have the Pro media, you can capture movies with the MPEG VX Standard mode (640x480 at 16.6 frames per second) or Video Mail mode (160x112 at 8 frames per second). All the movie modes capture monaural audio. You also cannot zoom during movie capture.

Metering

You can choose a 49 area multi-patter metering, center weighted, or spot metering.

White Balance

While there is no custom setting, you can let the Auto white balance do its job -- which it does very well. Or, you can choose from Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Flash white balance modes.

Sensitivity

The Sony W70 lets you set the ISO (sensitivity) to Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1000.

Noise levels at ISO 100 and 200 are good, but start to appear at ISO 400.  Anything above that shows pretty high levels of noise.



In-Camera Image Adjustment

While in Program Auto mode (and some scene modes), you can adjust the contrast, sharpness and color. The Color options are Black & White, Sepia, Natural, Rich, and Normal.

During image playback, you can resize and rotate images.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING & ERGONOMICS

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W70 is a very compact camera, about the size of a deck of cards. It's very pocketable for a pants or shirt pocket. The brushed silver colored front plate is very attractive. A shiny chrome band runs around the edge of the camera, and a matte silver finish on the back completes the design.

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Controls are laid out well, if a bit tiny. Along the top of the camera, you'll find the power button and shutter release. Around the shutter release is a ring to operate the zoom mechanism during image capture and to zoom in and out of images during image playback.

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On the top right of the back of the camera is the mode dial. Since the surface of the camera is not flat below the dial (it angles a bit), the mode dial is easier to access along its top edge. Below the mode dial is the button that toggles the information on the display, the menu button, 5-way directional page, and the button to delete or change capture resolution. A button to access playback mode is along the top of the back of the camera, to the right of the optical viewfinder.

sony cyber-shot dsc-w70

Build quality is high. The camera feels solid and sturdy. The dials and buttons operate easily and well, with good feedback and "clickiness".

Technical Specifications

Included in the Box

You'll find the camera, multi-connector cable, wrist strap, NP-BG1 lithium-ion battery pack, battery charger, CD-ROM of software, quick start guide, and user's manual.

PERFORMANCE

Image Quality

The W70 demonstrated very good image quality. I was lucky enough to be able to take a stroll around the University of Notre Dame campus on a beautiful spring day with the camera. It handled a wide variety of lighting conditions very well -- sunlight filtering through leaves, shadowy entrances to various buildings, and long shots with a lot of blue sky.

The camera's automatic white balance handled mixed lighting very well. Color representation was also good. Reds were a bit oversaturated, in my opinion, but skin tones were not too ruddy.

The flash did a good job of illuminating things indoors. The claimed flash range of almost 14 feet was demonstrated well. When using the flash with the ISO set to Auto, the camera will increase the ISO value as you zoom in. For example, at wide angle, the camera used ISO 100 for the shot. Zoom in a bit more and the camera will use something higher than ISO 100. The problem with this is that the pictures get noticeably noisier. To prevent this behavior, you can fix the ISO at a set value instead of Auto.

Sample Images

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Timing/Shutter Lag

The speed of operation is very good on the W70. Start up time is easily under 2 seconds. Shutter lag is also very quick. If you achieve a focus lock first (by partially depressing the shutter), there is almost no shutter lag. For a full depress of the shutter, shutter lag is well under a second (as the camera focuses, determines exposure, and captures the image). Cycle time is also very impressive, even with the flash enabled. The flash was ready to go again within a second.

A Few Concerns

My main concern is the size of the controls. They were a bit tiny for my hands. As far as image quality, even though the camera can shoot at ISO 1000, anything above ISO 200 shows a fair amount of noise.

Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W70 is a stylish, compact camera that takes great pictures. With its 7.2 megapixels, you get plenty of resolution even if you have to crop out some bad areas of your image. The 3x optical zoom is pretty standard these days, but it helps you get a little closer. The very nice 2.5 inch LCD doesn't have a ton of resolution (115K pixels), but it's very bright and easy to see, even on bright sunlit days.

Images are sharp, colors are good, and the camera handles tough lighting conditions well. It also does a good job of flash-lit indoor shots, a place where many consumer digital cameras do poorly.

Battery life was very good. I took 100-150 shots under normal use while I gathered sample images. Then, in an attempt to discharge the batteries, I hit the 300 image mark with the flash shooting each time. After the 300th image, I gave my finger a break. The camera still had plenty of juice to keep going. Sony's claim is 390 images, so I think under normal use, you will probably get between 300 and 390 shots.

The W70 is a great camera for someone looking for a stylish camera that takes good pictures under a variety of conditions. Outdoor shots are very good and the camera has good indoor performance. The excellent LCD and ease of use also make this a very attractive camera to photographers who don't need a ton of features. Sony chose wisely on which modes to include and kept the list down to just enough, but not too much to easily change with the mode dial.

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