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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W370
Overview

by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
R
eview Date: 05/26/2010

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W370 digital camera has a 14.1-megapixel Sony sensor and a Sony-branded 7x optical zoom lens. The Sony W370's lens offers an equivalent range from a rather tight 34mm wide-angle to a useful 238mm telephoto. The lens has a two-step aperture with ND filter, which offers either F3.6 or F7.1 at wide-angle; at telephoto the maximum aperture is F5.6, and the minimum aperture is F11. The W370 includes Sony's Sweep Panorama function for the first time in a CCD-based Cyber-shot camera, allowing automatic creation of a 243-, 167-, 127- or 88-degree panoramas in-camera by simply sweeping the lens across the subject.

On the rear panel of the Sony Cyber-shot W370 is a 2.7-inch TFT Clear Photo LCD panel with 100% coverage, and a resolution of 230,400 dots. This serves as the only method of framing and reviewing images, given that the Sony W370 doesn't feature an optical viewfinder. The Sony DSC-W370 has a 9-point autofocus system, and does include a face detection and recognition system, capable of detecting up to eight faces in a scene and differentiating between children and adults. This capability is used to provide a Smile Shutter function that automatically triggers the shutter when your subject is smiling, as well as both anti-blink and blink-detection features. The W370 offers three methods for determining exposures - multi-pattern, center-weighted or spot metering. Shutter speeds from 2 to 1/1,600 second are possible under automatic control, and sensitivities ranging from ISO 80 to 3,200 equivalents are on offer, with ISO 80 to 1,600 available under automatic control. 2.0EV of exposure compensation is available, in 1/3 EV steps. The DSC-W370 also offers Sony's Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, useful for combatting blur caused by camera shake without adversely affecting image quality.

Nine white balance settings are available, including auto and seven presets, plus a manual white balance setting. As well as Intelligent Auto and Program modes, the W370 offers a selection of ten scene modes - High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Gourmet, Pet, and Sweep Panorama - which offer a modicum of control over the look of images. There's also an intelligent scene mode which can automatically select from a subset of eight scene modes - twilight, twilight portrait, twilight using a tripod, backlight, backlight portrait, landscape, macro and portrait - as appropriate. The Sony W370 includes a four-mode flash strobe with red-eye reduction capability. Flash range is stated as 0.2 to 5.0 meters at wide-angle, or 0.5 to 3.2 meters at telephoto, when using automatic ISO sensitivity. A two- or ten-second self timer allows the photographer to get in the picture themselves, or to avoid camera shake caused by pressing the shutter button when shooting on a tripod.

Images and movies can be recorded on Sony's proprietary Memory Stick Duo, PRO Duo (Mark 2 only), PRO Duo High Speed, or PRO-HG Duo cards, as well as the more common Secure Digital and Secure Digital High Capacity cards. 19MB of internal memory is also available, enough to capturing a few of the most important photos should you forget to bring a flash card along. The Sony W370 includes HDMI high definition and NTSC / PAL standard definition video output connectivity, as well as USB 2.0 High Speed data connectivity. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary NP-BK1 Infolithium battery pack.

The Sony W370 digital camera is available from February 2010, priced at around US$230.

 

Sony W370 User Report

by Mike Pasini

Looks like you've been found out. More than a few camera companies are stripping their fancier digicams of one feature or another until they hit the $200 mark. That, they figure, is your target price.

If that's you, the Sony W370 may be tempting. Like W-series cameras in the past, Sony packs quite a few features into a compact body that fits into your jeans pocket. The Sony W370 replaces the W290 -- and knocks $50 off the price, too. I really enjoyed shooting with the Sony W370. It was when I got back to the bunker and looked at the pictures that I met with an unhappy surprise: the image quality was not up to the standard I expected. More on that in the Shooter's report.

The Sony W370's 7x zoom with optical SteadyShot is the big feature, even if it starts at 34mm. Add a 3.0-inch LCD and a 14-megapixel Super HAD CCD sensor to the physical specs. On the inside, the beauty starts with a nimble iAuto mode that almost makes a Mode dial obsolete. It continues with Sony's Sweep Panorama. And it finishes with 720p HD movies (with HDMI output).

You might think of the Sony W370 as a basic digicam with a longer zoom, HD movies, and Sweep Panorama.

Look and Feel. The Sony W370 isn't the slimmest digicam you can snag, but it's not beefy either. It slips right into your front jeans pocket (or anything larger). At 6.2 ounces (177g) with battery and card, the Sony W370 is a bit heavy for a shirt pocket, but not by much.

It has the slightest grip but it's sufficient. Use the included wrist strap to be safe, though. It's the cheapest insurance you can get.

Every now and then I wish I had a belt holster for these small digicams. That would be perfect for the Sony W370. But I wouldn't bother with any other sort of case for it. The lens is protected and the LCD is pretty tough, too.

If you've been put off Sony because you didn't want to buy Memory Sticks, you'll be glad to know that the Sony W370 takes either Memory Sticks or SD cards. I used an SD card for the gallery shots with no trouble at all.

Right under the lens on the bottom panel is a plastic tripod socket, which should make panoramas a little easier to take. There's room to open the Sony W370's battery compartment door if you have a small tripod mount.

On the right side a small chrome door opens to the mini HDMI and USB ports. That's a much better solution than the octopus plug of earlier Sonys.

In something of a dubious trend, the flash sits right next to the grip rather than on the outside corner. If you curl your middle finger down the grip and poise your index finger above the Shutter button, you do avoid the flash, but it's only peeking through those two fingers. Big hands might block it.

Controls. Your index finger can easily get to the two controls on the Sony W370's top panel: the Power button and the Shutter button. The Power button is flush to the top panel but it's large enough to find without a map. A small green LED lights to let you know the Sony W370 is on. The rectangular Shutter button is neatly raised so you don't have to look for it. I had no trouble with either control.

Having a rectangular Shutter button means the Zoom lever has to go on the back panel, not around the Shutter button. The Sony W370's Zoom lever, managed by my thumb, was smooth enough to compose images and zoom during video captures.

Below it is the Mode dial. With intelligent Auto, there wasn't a lot on the Mode dial (nor are there a lot of Scene modes either), which I found refreshing. Everything I needed was there, though.

Below that was a very tiny Playback button that also powers on the Sony W370 (without extending the lens). But it doesn't turn the camera off. It just switches to Record mode, as does pressing the Shutter button lightly.

The four-way navigator rings an OK button with the usual arrow keys that do double duty. Up toggles through the Display options. Right steps through the Flash modes. Down handles the Self-Timer modes. And Left enables Smile Detection. That's a bit unusual double duty. You might wonder where EV is or Focus modes. Well, EV is on the menu system and what do you need Focus modes for anyway? The Sony W370 automatically handles that for you.

Below the navigator is an elongated Menu button and a tiny round Trash button. The only reason we can think Sony used an elongated button for Menu is to fit the word "Menu" on it. The only button with an icon on the panel is the Sony W370's Zoom lever. It already has W and T on it so it needs a little back panel space for the Playback functions of Index and Enlarge.

Most of the time you'll be looking at the Sony W370's 3.0-inch LCD. With 230K pixels, it has enough resolution to enjoy your images. The surface was very hard and not easily scratched. I was careful with it, but the worst thing it picked up were finger prints. Those, however, buffed out pretty easily with a microfiber cloth.

Lens. The lens on the Sony W370 is simply branded "Sony Lens." With a 35mm equivalent range of 34mm to 238mm (or 37mm to 259mm in 16:9 Movie mode), it uses Sony's optical SteadyShot image stabilization to stabilize the image. You can also tap into Sony's Smart Zoom or Precision Digital Zoom modes.

The Sony W370's aperture ranges from f/3.6 to f/7.1 at wide-angle in two steps with a neutral density filter. You have no direct control of the aperture or shutter speed (which ranges from two seconds to 1/1,600 second).

Modes. Sony has gone to great lengths to simplify using the Sony W370. For the most part, I just set the Mode dial to Intelligent Auto and forgot about it. I also tried Program (just out of habit) and Movie (720 HD or 640 VGA, both at 30 fps and in MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format with ACC audio).

Video. 1280x720 @ 30 fps. Optical zoom supported. (Click to download 4.5MB .MP4 file.)

For fun, I slipped into Sweep Panorama. I didn't bother with the very restrictive Easy, which is great for handing the camera to someone who you'd prefer not change anything.

And I only used Scene for High ISO (although Gourmet was tempting). You may also be tempted by High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Gourmet, or Pet.

Menu System. You access the Menu system using that elongated Menu button.

In Record mode, you have the usual shooting options (image size, burst mode, EV, intelligent Scene Recognition options, smile detection sensitivity, face detection settings, and Setup). I ignored them, except for EV, which I needed on occasion.

Intelligent Auto

Playback Index

Record Menu

Playback Menu

Setup has four tabs for more general Record options (like whether the AF illuminator is active, grid lines, display resolution, digital zoom options), Main settings (beep, language, etc.), Memory card too (format, etc.), and Clock settings.

Playback has slide show options (including Sony's great presentations with music and sophisticated transitions), view modes (date, still folder, movie folder), delete, protect, DPOF, print, and Setup.

Storage & Battery. The Sony W370 is powered by a very slim, K-type lithium-ion battery rated at 3.6 volts. According to Sony, a full charge is good for 230 images or 115 minutes. My experience with the Sony W370 battery was unusually disappointing. It just didn't last as long with a full charge as most lithium-ion batteries have been lasting for me.

The charger has fold-in plugs so you don't have to travel with a power cord. There is no optional AC adapter.

The Sony W370 has 19MB of internal memory and uses your choice of Memory Stick or SD card media. Formats supported include Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo (High Speed), Memory Stick PRO HG-Duo, and SD/SDHC.

My JPEG image sizes varied from 2.4MB to 5.6MB for high resolution images shot at 4:3 or 16:9 sizes. Panoramas were about 2.9MB. A 2 or 4GB card should serve you well.

Shooting. One thing I just loved about the Sony W370 was being able to sneak the camera right up to a subject and take a shot. No worry about setting Macro mode (it's automatic). I like shooting in Macro mode a lot, so not having to remember whether I was in Macro or Super Macro or Normal was a real pleasure for me.

So close-up shots of flowers were capture quickly and looked great on the LCD. My fig leaf shot in particular seemed almost 3D. I was surprised to see even the red flowers were captured accurately. They're often over-saturated. Unfortunately when you look at them onscreen on a computer, all the images are soft. Many are just plain out of focus, and others that look sharper have a strange fuzziness around the edges that make them appear soft -- even images that were captured at ISO 80.

Something I really liked about the Sony W370 is something I appreciate on every Sony digicam: Dynamic Range Optimization. You can fiddle with this in the Setup menu, but it's on by default at a very sensible setting. Its job is to prevent blown highlights and muddy shadows and it usually does it very well.

The Sony W370 did it less well than I'm used to, probably because it isn't using a Bionz image processor. I had a very difficult time shooting a street scene at sunset. But it captured a ball of white yarn very well. So even compromised a tad, DRO still does very well.

And Sweep Panorama is a real treat, too. This was the first time I actually had some instruction in how to use it, so I really enjoyed it. How fast you pan the camera matters. If you're too slow, part of the image will be gray. And you can go too fast, too. A nice steady pace seems to work, covering the full range of about 240 degrees in just a few seconds. I counted to Seven Alligator before it stopped shooting.

It takes up to 100 shots at about 10 frames per second using the Sony W370's mechanical shutter to minimize distortion. Unlike cameras with Intelligent Sweep Panorama, the Sony W370 cannot edit out moving subjects, so be sure to omit them from your scenes or you'll end up with either multiple images of moving subjects, or truncated versions of cars and people.

It's important to note when shooting a Sweep Panorama that exposure is fixed on the first shot. If you're panning from the shade to sunlight and back to shade, you'll be overexposed in the middle.

There was one thing I didn't like. Landscapes just weren't as crisp or well-exposed as they should have been. Sunsets were really difficult to capture (and there's no Scene mode for them, either). Like other Sonys we've reviewed recently, the panoramic images created are of sufficiently low resolution that they're only good printed about 10 inches wide.

In his lab tests, Luke found low light focusing was non-existent, which could explain my disappointment with sunset shooting. And the doll shots in low light, none of which were Gallery worthy, also revealed the Sony W370's poor focus ability. He also found the LCD was not accurately showing what the sensor captured. There were both distortion and framing errors. That's not something you'd notice in normal use -- unless you had to precisely frame something.

Without a Bionz processor, we both found the shot-to-shot time maddening. Sometimes (with little processing) it was acceptable and sometimes (when more was required) it was a real drag, sometimes taking 1.2 seconds, ranging to as long as 1.7 seconds between shots. He also found metering was off, overexposing by a third of a stop. And he thought prefocus lag was the slowest he'd seen in years, taking 0.2 second, while in the past it's Sony that has led the pack with lightning-fast times of 0.013s at times. And full autofocus shutter lag is also slower than average, taking 0.74 second at wide-angle, and 0.86 second at telephoto. That's slow even for a long zoom.

We're really not sure what happened with the Sony W370, as even cameras below its $200 price point outperform it in most areas.

See our lens and image analysis and our conclusion below.

 

Sony W370 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Extreme blurring, upper left corner
Tele: Sharp in Center
Tele: Strongest blurring, lower right corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W370's zoom is very blurry in the corners of the frame, as well as along the outer edges. Blurring also extends quite far into the image area, and is very noticeable. At telephoto, results are a little better, but the lower right corner of the frame is significantly soft. Results here are well below average, particularly at wide-angle. This is an unusually poor performance.


Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; noticeable
Tele: A small amount of barrel distortion, barely noticeable

Geometric Distortion: There is a moderate level of barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.5%), which is noticeable, though still considered less than average. At full telephoto, a very small amount of barrel distortion (<0.1%) is present, but not that noticeable.


Wide: High, bright
Tele: Also high and bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is high in terms of pixel count, and quite bright. However, some strong blurring is also at play here, which definitely intensifies the effect. At telephoto, chromatic aberration is again high in terms of pixel count, with bright blue pixels extending far into the black target areas.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W370's Macro mode captures a fairly sharp image with good detail in the central portion of the frame. Chromatic aberration is noticeable closer to the edges, as is strong blurring. Minimum coverage area is 3.98 x 2.98 inches (101 x 76mm), which is larger than average (not as good as most). The camera's flash throttles down for the macro area, though it does produce vignetting in the corners and a bright hot spot on the brooch.


 

Sony W370 Image Quality


Color: Color is a little oversaturated in the strong reds and blues, but not any worse than average. Bright yellows are actually a little muted with a greenish tint, as are oranges and cyans. Aside from those shifts, hue accuracy is fair. Dark skintones are strongly oversaturated and warm, while lighter tones lean toward a warmer, orange-ish cast. Watch out for that yellow shift in particular.


80
100
200
400
 
800
1,600
3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Though greatly defined by contrast, detail remains quite good to ISO 200, with some softening beginning at ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise is mostly controlled at all ISOs up to about 1,600, where color balance shifts. Luminance noise begins to really interfere by ISO 800. See Printed results below for more on how this affects printed images.


Wide: Fair
Tele: Bright
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows fairly bright results at the wide-angle rated distance of 16.4 feet, but the camera had to raise the ISO to 800 to meet that estimation. Likewise, the camera had to raise ISO to a whopping 1,600 to get bright results at the telephoto rated distance of 10.5 feet. Thus, if you want to keep your ISO under control, you'll have to move in closer to your subjects to get bright results with the DSC-W370's flash, as neither of these ISO settings retains much in the way of detail.

Auto WB:
Very close
Incandescent WB:
Slightly warm
 
Manual WB:
Very good
Incandescent: Surprisingly, all three of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W370's white balance settings tested here produced pretty good results. Though Incandescent mode is a little warm, performance is much better than average. Both the Auto and Manual settings produced nearly accurate results, though Auto is a touch warm, and Manual just a hint magenta.

Printed: ISO 80 and 100 printed results look good at 13x19 with fairly good color, with the exception that some yellows look greenish. Some low-contrast red areas are also almost completely formless (blurry), which is rare at this low an ISO.

ISO 200 images are usable at 13x19, but the strange artifacts mentioned in the review have an effect on certain high-contrast edges at this size. Printing at 11x14 inches makes these less noticeable.

ISO 400 shots are usable at 11x14 inches, though shadows deepen somewhat and yellows start to lose detail as reds did from the start. All but the yellow detail improves when printed at 8x10.

ISO 800 files produce a soft but usable print at 8x10, but colors continue to lose detail at this sensitivity. Prints look much better at 5x7.

ISO 1,600 shots are usable at 5x7 but better at 4x6.

ISO 3,200 shots are also usable at 4x6, but expect colors in clothing to appear oversaturated and without detail.

Overall it's a middle-of-the-road performance from the Sony W370, except in the reds, where there is so little detail at such a low ISO setting. Print sizes are relatively large, but noise-suppression artifacts are too prominent and colors become increasingly oversaturated as sensitivity rises, and detail falls, again thanks to noise suppression and a noisy sensor.


 

Sony W370 Performance


Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is sluggish, at 0.74 second at wide-angle and 0.86 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.205 second, markedly slow.


Cycle time: Cycle time is relatively fast, capturing a frame every 1.5 seconds in single-shot mode, but we noticed that this time was quite irregular throughout our testing. Sony rates the W370's continuous mode at 1.3 frames-per-second for up to 100 frames.


Flash Recycle: The Cyber-shot DSC-W370's flash recycles in a relatively quick 4 seconds after a full-power discharge.


 

Sony W370 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Good construction
  • Long zoom lens
  • Decent grip
  • Good auto white balance performance indoors
  • Sweep Panorama mode
  • Adjustable DRO
  • 720p HD movies
  • HDMI output
  • Intelligent Auto mode
  • Optical image stabilization
  • 3-inch LCD
  • Wide-angle setting is not very wide
  • Slow autofocus
  • Slow startup and shutdown
  • Slow prefocus shutter lag
  • Difficulty focusing in low light
  • Mediocre Macro performance
  • Very soft corners
  • Strong chromatic aberration in the corners
  • Poor LCD framing accuracy
  • Lowest ISO shots are affected by luminance noise
  • Lower than average battery life
  • Yellows sometimes appear green
  • Auto flash raises ISO too high
  • Printed results show reasonable detail at low ISO, but that diminishes rapidly as sensitivity increases

 

As much as I liked the compact size and feel of the Sony W370, the more I used it, the more its limitations cramped my style. Sure, it's better than a cellphone and it can take those cool Sweep Panoramas. And its intelligent Auto is pretty smart, too, handling auto Macro and enjoying Sony's DRO to preserve detail.

But it took some lousy pictures (see the Gallery). I've gotten such better quality images with other Sonys that I was very discouraged. Landscapes and sunsets were usually disappointing while macros were generally out of focus. Even when images are in focus, high contrast details are ringed with sloppy noise that just doesn't look good, even at ISO 80. Very strange.

And that's the bottom line on the Sony W370: it's nowhere near as good as it should be. We can, however, recommend two cheaper cameras that are better than the W370, coming in under the $200 budget category: the Sony W330 and W350. Neither has the long lens that the W370 does, but they take a better picture more often.