Sony DSC-W50 Overview
by Stephanie Boozer
and Dave Etchells
Review Date: 5/10/06
Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-W50 updates the already popular Cyber-shot line with an ultra-thin, compact body built for travel. A 3x zoom lens, 2.5-inch color LCD monitor, and handful of preset Scene modes makes the Sony W50 very user friendly, with straightforward operation that novices will appreciate. The 6.0-megapixel CCD captures high-resolution images, and 32 megabytes of internal memory lets the camera hold a few shots without a memory card. Compact yet capable, the Sony W50 promises to be another winner from Sony. Read on for all the details!
NOTE: The Sony DSC-W50 is a near-twin of the Sony W30, which we have also reviewed. The only noticeable difference is that the W50 has a 2.5-inch LCD display, while the W30 has a 2.0-inch one. We did find some minor differences in the images between the two models though. (Our sample of the Sony W50 tended to produce somewhat warmer white balances than did the W30 we tested.) If you've already read the W30 review, you can save yourself some time here by jumping down to the Test Results section of this review, to see how the W50's images stacked up.
Sony DSC-W50 Overview
Thin and ultra-compact, the new Sony DSC-W50 digital camera (and its sibling the W30 model) updates the Cyber-shot line with convenient portability and fully automatic exposure control in a compact, rugged metal case. The W50 offers the excellent resolution of a 6.0-megapixel CCD and 32 megabytes of internal memory, as well as a large 2.5-inch color LCD monitor and useful range of preset exposure modes. Though the Sony W50 doesn't offer any direct manual exposure control, the camera's extensive LCD menu system does offer quite a bit of creative control with image contrast, sharpness, and color options. The 3x optical zoom lens zooms across a range equivalent to 38-114mm on a 35mm camera, and the camera's Macro focus mode gets exceptionally close at just two centimeters. The Sony W50 boasts an extended ISO range, with equivalent settings from 80 to 1,000. While the 800 and 1,000 settings do allow you to capture brighter images under dim lighting, they also bring with them much higher image noise as a consequence. Still, the wide range of ISO settings is a plus for a point-and-shoot digital camera.
Though the LCD monitor dominates the rear panel, Sony managed to keep all the main functions close at hand and fairly easy to operate. Grab the Sony W50 in your right hand and your middle and third finger naturally grab the raised ridge on the front of the camera. The series of raised bumps on the rear panel provides some thumb traction, though I noticed a tendency for my thumb to slide over the Display and Menu buttons. (However, both buttons require a bit of a firm push, so I had no problems with accidentally pressing them.) Conveniently above the thumb rest is the Mode dial, and below it is the Five-way navigator. I did require a two-handed grip to accurately turn the Mode dial, due to its low-profile design. (Dave can manage it with one hand, but I'd be nervous about dropping the camera if I tried to do so.) The camera's Zoom lever encircles the Shutter button, making it easy to quickly adjust zoom while holding the camera in shooting position.
I also liked little interface niceties, such as the "virtual dial" that appears on the LCD screen when you rotate the mode dial. This display (see the screen shot at right) shows the currently-selected option and a brief explanation of what that mode is useful for.
The Sony W50 is a very responsive-feeling camera: Pressing the Power button on top of the body produces a swift reaction: The LCD comes on, the camera chimes, and the lens assembly bursts out of its silo quickly, letting the camera snap its first picture only 1.7 seconds after being turned on. A half-press on the shutter begins the focus operation. In low light, a bright orange LED illuminates the scene when necessary, so low-light focus isn't a worry. The fast Multi-point AF determines the closest object and focuses quickly, showing brackets around the areas that will be in focus. Shutter lag (the delay between pressing the shutter button and the camera taking the picture) is lower than that of most cameras on the market, with a range of 0.32-0.55 second. Everything about the camera feels like quality and performs competently. Included with the camera is a Sony LiIon rechargeable battery pack and charger, which has a pretty good battery life. I still suggest purchasing a backup battery pack, and keeping it freshly charged and on-hand for extended outings. The camera's internal 32 megabytes of memory will hold a few shots, but here again, I'd recommend picking up at least a 128-megabyte Memory Stick Duo card, or a Memory Stick PRO Duo card for the Fine quality movie recording mode.
The Sony DSC-W50 is an impressive offering, much like the rest of the W-series in the Cyber-shot line. It is handsomely constructed, with a feel of quality, is uncomplicated to operate, has good battery life, and is compact enough for most pockets or purses. Its ample LCD screen and quality lens should give most users a great experience capturing pictures they'll be proud to display. The one thing I really found to complain about with it was the image noise in high-ISO photos: I really don't know why Sony bothered putting ISO 800 and 1,000 options on the camera, as they're only remotely usable for snapshot-size prints, and even that will depend on the user's tolerance for noisy, muddy images. If you just forget about the ISO 800-1,000 sensitivity settings though, the Sony W50 is a great little camera -- Read on for all the details!
Beginning through intermediate users will be right at home with the W50, and advanced users will enjoy its excellent portability and handful of creative exposure tools. Although the W50 is a point-and-shoot digital camera, it has a lot of creative options and enough image adjustments to handle a wide variety of shooting situations. So, while it's designed to relieve you from complicated exposure decisions, advanced amateurs and business users will appreciate it for its quality, portability, and varied shooting options. Accessory lenses and filters (rarely found for compact cameras like the W50) make it more versatile for wide or telephoto use, and an optional underwater case lets you bring it along to the beach or on boating excursions with confidence. Overall, an excellent "all around" camera, with impressive speed and resolution.
- 6.0-megapixel CCD.
- 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera).
- Variable digital Smart Zoom (up to 13x at VGA resolution), or 2x Precision Digital zoom.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 2.5-inch color LCD monitor.
- Automatic and Program exposure modes.
- Built-in flash with five modes and an intensity adjustment.
- 32MB internal memory.
- Sony Memory Stick Duo slot (no card included).
- USB 2.0 computer connection.
- Power from one rechargeable LiIon battery pack, charger included.
- Software for Mac and PC.
- High Sensitivity, Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Snow, Beach, Landscape, and Soft Snap modes.
- Movie recording mode (with sound).
- Multi-Burst slow motion mode and Burst continuous shooting mode.
- Email (VGA) modes.
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 1/8 sec in Auto mode; 1/1,000 to one second in Program mode, and 1/1,000 to two seconds in Twilight mode.
- Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/13, depending on zoom position.
- Creative Color Mode menu.
- Image Sharpness and Contrast adjustments.
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
- Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
- Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Metering modes.
- Multi and Center AF modes, plus manual focus (5 distance presets).
- Auto ISO setting or 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1,000 ISO equivalents.
- White balance (color) adjustment with six options.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility.
In the Box
Included with the Sony DSC-W50 digital camera are the following items:
- Wrist strap.
- Rechargeable battery pack with charger.
- USB cable.
- AV cable.
- Software CD containing Sony Cyber-shot software and USB drivers.
- Quick-guide manuals and registration information.
- Extra battery pack.
- Large capacity Memory Stick Duo or Memory Stick PRO Duo.
- Carrying case.
You don't normally think of accessory items like add-on lenses or an external flash with compact digital camera models, but Sony's compact "W" series is a bit of an exception in this area. Here's a complete list of Sony accessories for the DSC-W50, complete with shopping links for them:
Featuring a 6.0-megapixel CCD, 3x optical zoom lens, and well-designed user interface, the Cyber-shot DSC-W50 updates the popular Cyber-shot line with a thin, compact body style perfectly suited for travel. Exposure remains under automatic control, something novices will appreciate, and its seven preprogrammed scene modes help with more tricky subjects. It's a very responsive camera, with low shutter lag in daylight conditions, and excellent shot to shot speeds. It also sports very good battery life, a very capable movie mode, and excellent download speed. Finally, Sony makes a line of accessory lenses, filters, a slave flash, and even an underwater case for it as well, greatly expanding your options beyond what you'd normal expect from a compact digicam model. The bright 2.5-inch color LCD monitor is excellent for framing and reviewing shots, and the overall design and layout of the W50 is user-friendly and hassle-free. If you're looking for a good "take anywhere" camera with great versatility and good color and tonality, the Sony DSC-W50 deserves a close look. (And if you feel you can get by with a 2.0-inch LCD instead of the 2.5-inch one the W50 sports, the Sony DSC-W30 will save you $20 - $30 at retail.) We suggest that you ignore the ISO 800 and 1000 settings on the camera, as the image quality there is really marginal even for snapshot-size prints, but if you look at the Sony W50 as an ISO 400 camera, it competes very strongly, making it a Dave's Pick in its category.