Sony Cyber-shot W300 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 08/15/08
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300 features a 13.6-megapixel 1/1.7-inch CCD image sensor which is coupled to a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar-branded 3x optical zoom and a 2.7-inch LCD display.
The Sony W300's 35 to 105mm equivalent lens incorporates Sony's Super Steady Shot optical image stabilization to minimize blur caused by camera shake at slow shutter speeds. Other W300 features include ISO sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 3,200, a Memory Stick Duo/PRO Duo card slot plus a not-so-generous 15MB of built in memory, and power from a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The Sony W300 also offers high-definition component video output, via an optional proprietary cable or cradle.
The Cyber-shot W300 includes Sony's face detection technology, not only capable of detecting up to eight faces simultaneously, but of differentiating between adults and children, and of automatically triggering the shutter when your subject smiles. Sony's system is linked not only to the Cyber-shot W300's autoexposure and autofocus systems as in most similar systems, but also to white balance and flash metering as well, allowing the camera to ensure proper flash exposure and pleasing flesh tones.
Sony Cyber-shot W300 Pricing and Availability
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300 ships from May 2008 priced at US$350. Be sure to check the links at right for a better price.
by Mike Pasini
Intro. It's been quite a year for the Sony W-Series. The $179 W110 and $199 W120 were launched in Spring after the $229 W130. They were followed by the $249 W150 and $299 W170. Every one of them featured Sony's Bionz image processor. And each model introduced another feature, starting with child/adult face recognition, smile shutter, double anti-blur, intelligent scene recognition, dynamic range optimization, date view, face search, and in-camera retouching (including unsharp masking and smile).
And now Sony has capped the W-Series with a new flagship: the Sony W300. At $349, the W300 is Sony's top W-Series digicam, bringing a 13.6 megapixel sensor, high speed burst mode, and real color mode, in addition to the other innovations introduced to the W-Series this year.
The Sony W300 adds a few other special tweaks, including a titanium shell that resists scratching, and an ISO sensitivity that extends to 6,400. But it only has a 3x optical zoom (compared to the W170's 5x zoom) and, like its stablemates, cannot zoom in Movie mode.
I'm fond of the W-Series for its powerful collection of technologies wrapped up in an attractive shell, at an even more attractive price. Those technologies, however, aren't just for geeks. They automate geeky functions so anybody can just point and shoot to enjoy them. The Sony W300 figures out how to apply them, not the person behind the lens. Which is just the way it should work in a digital camera.
So another W just about makes my day. Let's see how the Sony W300 fared in my camera bag.
Look and Feel. It's hard to resist comparing the stylish T-Series digicams to the W-Series models. I've always found the W models handsome in their own right, even though the T models get all the paparazzi. One thing I do miss on the W models, though, is the T's sliding lens cover. It's the simplest way to turn a camera on or off. You could do it blindfolded.
Powering on the Sony W300 can be done in either of two ways. You can press the tiny Power button, which sits slightly below the level of the top deck, to get into Record mode. Or you can press the tiny Playback button on the back panel to get into Playback mode without extending the lens. The Power button, ringed in plastic that lights up green when the camera is on, is the only way to turn it off. That all makes perfect sense to me.
While it's a bit thick among ultracompacts, the Sony W300's design minimizes the appearance so it seems svelt. It isn't heavy, but it isn't light either, happily traveling in a pocket without causing curvature of your spine, but hefty enough to provide some resistance when you press the Shutter button. The Sony W300 is well balanced, in short.
The Sony W300's buttons are quite small. I was tempted to fingernail them rather than push them with the pad of my fingertips, but there's enough room to touch-type. I had some trouble with the Mode dial; otherwise no complaints. Sony didn't try to shave a few bucks off the cost of the Cyber-shot W300 by using cheap buttons.
The Mode dial was a bit too loose for my taste, often switching positions when I pulled it out of a camera bag or just held it with my thumb on the dial.
Oddly enough, it was plenty stiff when I tried to move it from the edge of the dial. The problem was only evident when I put thumb pressure on the middle of the dial, typically the shooting position. Then any movement of my thumb twisted the dial. I found myself moving from Program to Manual mode often. A stiffer dial would be better.
The 2.7-inch Clear Photo LCD with 230,000 pixels is big enough with great resolution. But the glossy coating, which is barely usable in direct sun, picked up my fingerprints very easily. I was surprised to see my fingerprints actually reflect the light, obscuring the image. It was a charming, lace-like pattern, but it really wasn't helpful.
Fortunately the Sony W300 includes an optical viewfinder, among the few compact digicams that do. No, it isn't very accurate, showing 86 percent of the captured image at wide angle and just 81 percent at telephoto. But you'll be glad you have it, I promise.
The lens itself is a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar optic with an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/5.5 and a 3x optical zoom range the equivalent of a 35 to 105mm 35mm lens. As nice a lens as it is, it's the one issue I had with the Sony W300. Compare its range of 3x optical with 2x digital for 6x total to the W170's 5x optical and 2x digital for 10x total and tell me again which model is the flagship.
The W300 does employ Sony's Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization, however, which makes low-light shooting feasible at slow shutter speeds (and lower ISOs) than would otherwise be the case.
The Sony W300 can also detect a moving subject and adjust ISO upward to use a faster shutter speed and thus avoid subject blur, too. That's what's behind the Double Anti-Blur technology: Super SteadyShot and high ISO, coupled with motion detection.
Interface. The menu system is the same as the W170: unnecessarily complicated. You have both a Menu button and a Home button. One option on the Menu button takes you to the Setup options. The Home button is all Setup options, but you'll go nuts trying to find the one you want (try to find digital zoom). Canon and Nikon both do this much better.
I don't understand why the horizontal menus don't wrap, but they don't. If you're on the first item, you can't press the Left arrow to get to the last item. You have to press the Right arrow, going through the whole list of items until you get to the last item.
And what happens when you get there? The camera beeps like you ran into a brick wall. Ouch.
Something about the chimes and beeps on Sony digicams reminds me of tin cans tied to a bumper. It isn't a pleasant sound. Fortunately you can turn off the noise. I usually enjoy hearing the audio feedback on a camera, but I really dislike the Sony tones.
One thing I do like about the interface is that you can just press the Playback mode button to turn the camera on and the lens will not protrude. Even better, you can then press the Power button to shut it down, avoiding Record mode all together. On some cameras that just isn't possible.
Modes. In addition to a fully Manual exposure mode, the Sony W300 has three automatic modes: Easy, Auto, and Program Auto.
Easy mode is a simplified camera environment designed for beginners, or anyone who wants to keep things simple. It provides easy-to-read on-screen instructions and limits the number of camera settings so you can't get into too much trouble. Image Size (just Large and Small) and Flash (Auto or Off) are the only two Menu options. The screen shows how many shots can be fit on the card in very large type.
Auto provides Image Size (which includes a 16:9 aspect ratio), Face Detection, Rec Mode (single or continuous shutter), Scene Recognition options, EV, Red-Eye Reduction, and Setup options.
Program Auto adds ISO, White Balance, Flash Level (but only plus or minus), DRO options (Dynamic Range Optimization of plus, standard or off), Color mode, and SteadyShot.
With its Intelligent Scene Recognition mode, the Sony W300 can recognize five scenes: Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Twilight using a Tripod. There are two additional modes in Intelligent Scene mode: Advanced, which takes two shots of the scene, and Auto, which takes one.
Standard Scene modes include Beach, Extra High-speed Burst, Extra High Sensitivity, Fireworks, Landscape, Snow, Soft Snap, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, High Sensitivity, Smile Shutter, and Underwater. The Sony W300 Menu system gives you access to Twilight, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, and Underwater. The others are on the Mode dial.
Most of those modes are familiar, but this year Sony's portrait modes have evolved to distinguish between adults and children. Hit the Sony W300's Menu button and find the Face Detection option for your four choices: Off, Auto, Child Priority, or Adult Priority.
Face Detection has grown up a bit itself, now adjusting not just focus but exposure, white balance, and flash, so skin tones appear more natural and red-eye is reduced.
If you think that's funny, wait until you try Smile Shutter, a special Scene mode that won't actually trip the shutter until someone smiles. We can't get anyone around here to smile, so we couldn't test this in normal circumstances. But that didn't stop us. We slipped into Smile Shutter mode, pressed the Shutter button and walked around the house until we found a picture of someone smiling. That did it. The shutter flipped and the flash fired. It really works. If you don't have a beard, anyway.
High Sensitivity mode kicks ISO up to 6,400. See the Shirley Temple doll shot for what that accomplishes. Sony claims its Clear Raw Noise Reduction system suppresses color noise, but there's enough luminance noise to be disturbing. Detail is sacrificed for color.
All of this is "illuminated" by a Function Guide mode (which you can turn off) that explains functions and settings by displaying a helpful note in a balloon on the LCD.
Movie mode was big disappointment (although I suppose I should be getting used to it). Broadcast quality isn't news these days, having become a standard feature. LP versions that use less frames per second are a nice touch (you don't need broadcast quality for a quick clip) and small email formats are worth having, too, for bloggers especially.
But shouldn't an HD camera have 16:9 movies in 720 resolution? For some reason, Sony continues to avoid this feature, even with its flagship W300. In fact, Sony doesn't even supply a cable with the Cyber-shot W300 to connect it to your HD television. That's too bad because its 1080i output for stills is worth watching on HDTV.
Even worse than standard TV resolution, though, is that you can't zoom in Movie mode. Not with the 3x optical zoom and not even with the 2x digital zoom. Most digicams these days let you at least use the digital zoom. An inexplicable bummer.
In-camera editing options include Trimming, Red Eye Correction, Soft Focus, Partial Color, Fisheye Lens, Cross Filter, Retro, Radial Blur, Unsharp Masking, and Happy Face. Happy Face can turn the corners of a pout into an erie smile but you won't fool anyone.
And when it comes time to print, you'll be happy to know the W300 is PictBridge-compatible. Hook it up to a PictBridge printer and use it as a printing kiosk.
Special Features. What the W300 brings to the W-Series party is that titanium shell, a 13.6-megapixel sensor, high speed burst mode, ISO 6,400, and real color mode.
Sony claims the titanium coating on the body is about five times harder than anodized aluminium-treated camera bodies. There wasn't a scratch on it when we got it, and despite some rough treatment in our camera bag, it still looked brand new when we returned it.
There's another reason this might matter to you. Sony puts its data port on the bottom of the camera and the LCD is, of course, on the back. That arrangement means that when you plug your Sony W300 into a TV for playback or to your computer to transfer images, you'll have to lie it face down. That actually rests it on the outer chrome ring around the lens, but it's nice to know the shell can take a few knocks without getting scratched when you have to lie it face down.
The 13.6-megapixel sensor breaks the 12-megapixel barrier in a small CCD format. That translates into more resolution at the risk of more noise at higher ISOs. Undaunted by the risk, the Sony W300 kicks ISO up to 6,400. Sony has always been brash about ISO sensitivity, offering some of the first digicams to go as far as ISO 1,000. But it has done so at the risk of detail, favoring its spectacular color capture to carry the day.
Our Programmed Auto shooting capped ISO at 400. A typical shot is our stack of books shot in dim light at 1/25 second (thanks to Super SteadyShot) and f/2.8. Whatever noise reduction the Sony W300 applied to the image, detail was not sacrificed. You can easily see the type on the book covers -- and that wasn't always the case with Sony. At the same time, noise is quite suppressed. There is a spackling of it in the blue book on top (which has a linen cover) but little in the dark shadows. And that's examining the image at 100 percent enlargement, rather than the 50 percent more realistic view of a high resolution image. A quantum leap forward, really.
At ISO 3,200 color starts to fade, but detail remains remarkably sharp, as our doll in dim light shows. You can make out the cracks in her face, the eyebrows and the eyelashes very clearly. This is really sometime new for Sony, surpassing even the W170's image quality, and we applaud it.
The user-selectable noise reduction option may have something to do with that improvement. The W300 offers high, low and standard settings now so you can control the tradeoff between detail and noise.
High speed burst mode is another intelligent application of the high resolution sensor, providing nearly five three-megapixel frames a second. A three-megapixel image used to be the standard for high resolution in a digicam only a few years ago, providing sharp prints as large as 13x19 (a few of which are framed here at the bunker to this day). So that isn't quite the drop off in quality you might imagine.
Real color mode is new with the W300, as well, joining the previously available Standard or Normal, Vivid, Black & White, and Sepia. It's no secret that digicams tend to oversaturate color to delight the amateur eye. Enthusiasts and pros work very hard to get natural color, however, and Sony has given them the nod with a new Real color mode that tries to capture the actual color in a scene without enhancement.
Real color is going to look rather flat, however, and there are few examples in the gallery.
Storage and Battery. This is a Memory Stick Duo camera. You'll need an adapter (which is not included) to plug it into most devices (like printers, card readers, PCMCIA cards). I really missed all my neat SD cards (the one that folds into a USB plug, the Wi-Fi one) on this camera. To transfer images, I had to use the awkward octopus cable and free a USB port.
There's also built-in storage, but it's pretty meager considering this is a 13.6-megapixel camera. The 15MB memory can store two or three full-resolution images.
I like the battery charger because it's compact and has folding plugs. It's a real blessing when you have to pack your bag for a trip.
The proprietary Stamina lithium-ion battery lasted longer than a shoot, so no complaints here. Sony says it will last "a long weekend or a whole vacation." It's a 3.6-volt, 960 mAh power pack that sells for $50.
Performance. The Sony W300 racked up mostly average rankings in our performance tests -- except where it really mattered in shutter lag timing.
At 2.9 seconds, startup time was just average, as was the 1.7 second shutdown time. Even at that, I never felt it was onerous. I powered the Sony W300 up and down at will, never worrying about having to wait too long for startup that I'd miss a shot.
The above average shutter lag rankings confirm Rob Murray's lab experience of the Sony W300 as one of the more responsive digicam's he's used. It's combined wide-angle and telephoto shutter lag of 0.48 second is almost at dSLR levels, easily exceeding the average compact digicam's score of 0.8 second. Since the camera only has a 3x zoom lens, there isn't a great disparity between focusing at either end of the focal range, either.
Prefocus lag, where you've eliminated autofocus as a factor by half pressing the Shutter button, is a very spry 0.008 seconds, which is needless to say extremely fast.
Continuous mode cycle time, too, was above average for a 13.6-megapixel digicam, at 0.52s (1.92 frames-per-second) for a large fine images. USB transfers were also above average at 9,619 Kb/s. That's important for a high-resolution digital camera that you'll probably connect by cable. The USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection (at both ends, remember) made quick work of the file transfers for me.
Flash cycling time was below average at nine seconds, but that was the Sony W300's lowest ranking, and often indicates a powerful flash.
In LCD size, optical zoom and weight, the W300 scored average rankings. The 2.7-inch LCD really didn't make us miss a 3.0-inch LCD. But we did miss a 5x zoom. And the weight is a non-issue, providing a bit of resistance when pressing the Shutter button without rearranging our collar when we dropped it into a shirt pocket.
Shooting. Is there a happier phrase than Automatic Macro in any digicam review? It's right up there with Face Detection in my book. Two useful things a digicam can do for you.
I love taking macro shots, even if I have to reel the lens all the way back in to wide angle, as some cameras require. But I hate switching in and out of Macro mode (or worse yet Macro mode and Super Macro mode). After I've taken a macro shot, I do switch out of it so I don't have to remember what focus mode the camera is in. But that means switching back in whenever I take a macro shot. Quite a pain when you think the camera could check focus distance, realize it needs to be in Macro mode and switch itself to that mode automatically, freeing me to study my composition.
There is still an advantage in selecting Macro mode, however. The Macro options tell the camera to look for the subject up close first and then further away. Typical autofocus starts at infinity and moves toward macro.
I let the Sony W300 do the macro setting for my favorite macro shot in the gallery.
Auto scene recognition is another W-Series plus. The Exif tag is SceneCaptureType and generally was recorded as Standard in our gallery shots because we rarely used Auto mode, the only mode in which it is active.
But switch to Auto and Sony's new intelligent scene recognition (iSCN) technology becomes an option in the LCD menu system. It allows the camera to automatically select what it "thinks" is the optimal scene mode for a variety of shooting situations, particularly twilight or backlit scenes. In iSCN+ mode, the camera will not only take a photo based on the user's settings, but will automatically take a second photo if it determines that another setting would yield better results. The user then has two images to choose from.
Dynamic range optimization, which Sony calls DRO, is only available in Programmed Auto and Manual mode. It too has two options, a standard setting which makes global brightness and contrast adjustments, and a plus setting that evaluates the image area-by-area. ISO is restricted to 400 and below, only DRO standard is available in burst mode or exposure bracketing mode, and processing time slows down the cycle time between shots.
Perhaps the best example of it in our gallery shots is the portrait of a daisy. I'd have expected the white petals of the daisy to lack any detail with most digicams. To minimize the problem of burned out highlights, I cropped the flower closely, filling the frame with it. But the subject was still bright enough in full sunlight that I doubted I get much detail in the petals. With DRO on, however, there's almost too much detail as the bright white tone dropped down significantly, perhaps even a tad too much, although you have to look at the full resolution image to make that call.
For an example in which the shadows are held as well, see the turtle. It looked pretty blown out in the LCD but when I got a look at it on the computer, I was impressed.
With only a 3x optical zoom lens, digital zoom becomes an important issue. The Sony W300 does well when set to Precision digital zoom (2x). As our zoom range shots on Twin Peaks show, that still doesn't get you very close to faraway objects, but the dropoff in quality isn't as bad as many other digicams.
Sony's alternate Smart zoom can't be used at the highest image sizes because it merely crops to the smaller image size and therefore limits zoom depending on the image size you've chosen. At very low resolution (VGA), therefore, you can achieve the highest magnification (19x). And at the highest resolution at which it's available (8 megapixels), you get the lowest magnification (3.9x). But you get nothing at higher resolution image sizes.
So I left the image size at the highest resolution and set digital zoom to Precision.
While the Sony W300 can crank ISO sensitivity up to 6,400, the option isn't easy to find. The ISO setting is typically limited to 3,200, although Extra High-Speed Burst mode brings it down to 800 and Burst of Exposure Bracketing down to 400. Only Extra High Sensitivity Scene mode provides ISO 6,400.
Image Quality. Our lab tests are designed to reveal the image quality of a digicam and the new 13.6-megapixel sensor of the Sony W300 gave them a run for the money.
The Still Life at ISO 100 showed very good detail in the yarns and proportional scale with some evidence of chromatic aberration where the white cloth below the dark coffee cup bleeds into the dark cloth below it.
The more central Hellas label's dark mosaic pattern held up well while the white Samuel Smith label next to it did not bloom into the dark glass behind it. Colors are rendered naturally as well.
The Multi Target test does show moderate chromatic aberration in the corners, but with just a 3x optical range, much less than more ambitious lenses exhibit. As you might expect of this high-resolution sensor, resolution approaches about 2,000 lines both horizontally and vertically, among the best results we've seen in a compact digicam.
Our gallery shots with the Sony W300 confirmed the lab results.
Color was naturally rendered for the most part, even without resorting to Real Color mode. Auto white balance did well in mixed lighting, as our shots of City Hall revealed, showing both the cooler sunlight and warm interior lighting equally well.
Dynamic range was helped by the Bionz processor's DRO feature, holding highlights and developing the detail in the shadows, as discussed above.
And the Sony W300's Super SteadyShot image stabilization let us capture slow shutter shots at reasonable ISO settings.
In general, the results surpassed those of the W170 we liked so much, particularly in the high ISO shots, which held onto detail and color much better than the W170.
Appraisal. The W300 is Sony's best W-Series digicam, bringing a titanium shell, a 13.6-megapixel sensor, ISO 6,400, high speed burst mode, and real color mode in addition to the other innovations introduced to the W-Series this year. But it only has a 3x optical zoom (compared to the W170's 5x zoom), and like its stablemates, cannot zoom in Movie mode. Its image quality sets a new standard for the W-Series, though, and that's what counts.
Sony W300 Basic Features
- 13.6-megapixel sensor
- 3x optical zoom lens (35-105mm eq.)
- 2x digital zoom
- 2.7-inch LCD
- ISO sensitivity from 80 to 3,200
- Shutter speeds from 30 to 1/2,000 second
- Max Aperture f/2.8
- MS Duo/MS PRO Duo card support
- Custom lithium-ion battery
Sony W300 Special Features
- Bionz image processor
- Anti-scratch titanium body
- Face Detection technology (up to 8 faces)
- Smile Shutter technology
- Dynamic Range Optimizer
- Happy Face in-camera editing
- Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization
- Intelligent scene recognition mode
- Variable noise reduction
- Automatic macro shooting
- 15MB internal memory
- Function guide
In the Box
The W300 ships with the following items in the box:
- The W300 digicam
- NP-BG1 rechargeable battery
- BC-CSG battery charger
- A/V and USB multi-connector cable
- Wrist strap
- Software CD-ROM
- Large capacity Memory Stick PRO Duo. Memory Stick PRO versions can handle high-res movie data and give faster download times. They should be used for all current Sony cameras. These days, 2 GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 4 MB should be a minimum.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection like Sony's $19.99 LCS-CSD soft Cyber-shot carrying case
Sony W300 Conclusion
Sony's W-Series digicams have all been compact bargains, packaging the company's hottest technology into attractive cameras that automatically use their innovations so you don't have to remember every trick they can perform.
The Cyber-shot W300 adds a titanium shell, a 13.6 megapixel sensor, ISO 6,400, high speed burst mode and real color mode in addition to the other innovations introduced to the W-Series this year.
But it also improves image quality significantly. Sony has long been noted for giving away detail at high ISO settings to maintain color. But the W300 hangs onto the detail and shows very little noise at ISO 400. It does remarkably well at ISO 3,200 as well, though.
There are really only two significant shortcomings. The first is the 3x optical zoom lens, far shorter than the 5x zoom on the W170. The second is the inexplicable failure of the W-Series in general to provide any kind of zoom in Movie mode.
But if you can live with those limitations, you'll find the Sony Cyber-shot W300 one of the worthier W-Series cameras to earn a Dave's Pick.