Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 09/24/07
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 features a seven megapixel sensor which is coupled to a Zeiss-branded 3x optical zoom and a 2.5-inch LCD display. The DSC-W80'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 Sony W80 features include ISO sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 3,200, in-camera photo editing, a Memory Stick Duo/PRO Duo card slot plus 31MB of built in memory, and power from a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The Sony W80 also offers high definition component video output, via an optional proprietary cable or cradle.
The Cyber-shot W80 includes Sony's new face detection technology, capable of detecting up to eight faces simultaneously. Sony's system is apparently linked not only to the Cyber-shot W80'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. Also, the Sony W80 marks one of the first applications of Sony's Bionz image processor -- first seen in the company's Alpha digital SLRs -- in their compact camera models. Sony says Bionz will offer improved image quality, faster response times, and better battery life in its compact cameras.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 ships from March 2007 priced at U.S.$250, and is available in pink, black, silver, or white.
Sony W80 User Report
by Mike Pasini
Intro. Sony describes its W-series digicams as affordable, compact, and fun companions for the technosocialites (hey, it's their word) of both genders. The Sony W80 fits that bill coming in at a list price of $250 with a small form factor that's capable of turning ordinary snapshots into an HD slide show with special effects and music.
It's the bottom step in the W-series only in terms of sensor size and price; and a smaller sensor at a lower price isn't such a bad thing, really. The other shipping models include the 8.1-megapixel W90 for $299 and the 12-megapixel W200 for $399.
While the Sony W80 is available in silver, black, pink, and white, it doesn't offer this same level of sophisticated style and ultra compact size as Sony's T-series. Still, I found it stylish in its own way, and certainly competent.
That competence includes Sony's 2007 technobundle (my word) of double anti-blur (high ISO plus Super SteadyShot), face detection with auto white balance and flash control, in-camera red-eye, D-range optimizer (thanks to the Bionz image processor), and nine-point autofocus.
You don't have to be a technosocialite or even a millenial to appreciate that.
Design. I had the Sony W80 and the T20 here at the same time and actually gravitated toward the W80 over the two-week testing period. They're almost exactly the same size (although the W80 feels lighter), but the Sony W80 has an extruding lens rather than the folding optics behind the T20's sliding lens cover. The Cyber-shot W80 also adds an optical viewfinder.
In other respects, Sony has saved a few pennies, limiting the W80's 2.5-inch LCD to just 115,000 pixels, so the image isn't quite as sharp as the T20's. You get about 40 shots less on a battery charge; but 340 is nothing to technosneeze at. Oddly enough, Fireworks and High Speed Shutter (Sports) Scene modes are missing, too. That may be because there wasn't room for them on the Mode dial that the Sony W80 adds to its package.
Like most small digicams (ultra compact or not), the W80 doesn't call much attention to its grip. But it's easily grasped in the right hand with a chrome accent on the front edge to give you a sense of security. You'll want to use the included wrist strap for real security, however.
The top panel has a large, easily located Shutter button next to a small power button with an LED indicator. Back panel controls run down the right side of the LCD starting with the Zoom lever on top, a Mode dial with all the Shooting mode options, a Playback button, Menu button, four-way navigator and Sony's Home button to set major functions.
It's a comfortable arrangement made even more so by the Mode dial. On the T20, you have to press the Home button to change shooting modes, which isn't as obvious.
Display/Viewfinder. While the W80 has a nice, big 2.5-inch LCD, it uses only 115,000 pixels. That used to be good enough, certainly, but these days 230,000 is increasingly common. Still the difference, while perceptible in a side-by-side comparison, isn't likely to be disturbing.
To facilitate framing in direct sun, the W80 has an optical viewfinder as well. Optical viewfinders are not very accurate (especially if you're shooting 16:9) but nothing quite substitutes for them when you need one. It's noteworthy that Sony would include one on a camera priced this low (standing ovation).
Performance. Despite having to extend its lens, the W80 was quick enough to power on and off that I didn't worry about missing shots or burning up the battery. I just turned it on when I wanted to take a shot and turned it off when I didn't.
Zoom was a different story. It's smoother than the steps shown by the zoom bar on the LCD, but it isn't as precise as I like to compose images. You can see it reframe the image when you stop zooming.
But the W80's virtues are the collection of imaging technologies Sony has slipped into its 2007 lineup. Those include its Bionz processor, face detection technology, High ISO and Super SteadyShot one-two punch, in-camera editing and HD output signal: All worth examining in depth.
Bionz. Sony's 2007 lineup profits enormously from the Bionz image processor descended from the one in Sony's Alpha digital SLR. It's responsible for some improvements most of us take for granted with every new generation like faster image processing and quicker response times, but it goes quite a bit further.
Enabled by Bionz, the Sony W80's D-Range Optimizer captures a wider density range than normal, holding highlights while bringing out details in the shadows. And it's also one reason the Sony W80 rates 340 shots per charge rather than a more typical 250.
See the Gallery shots under the Samples tab to draw your own conclusions. Take a close look at the construction site shot with the white concrete barrier in full sun. That's the kind of subject that typically gets blown out, but in the W80's shot, it holds onto quite a bit of detail. At the same time, the underbelly of the freeway and the column of rebar have quite a bit of shadow detail, too. That's the Bionz at work.
Face Detection. While I usually don't find many occasions to shoot people pictures, I did rely on Sony's face detection technology to grab shots of a horde of visitors over the weekend. It's amazing how quickly you get used to it, and how much you rely on it.
Sony's version is quick, finding as many as eight human faces in the frame. It looks for a combination of eyes, nose, and mouth so only heads facing you are identifiable. No pets either.
Available in Auto and Portrait modes, it controls more than focus, extending its reach to exposure control, white balance adjustment, and flash control. That's more important than it may sound. Finding the faces to focus is a pretty clear benefit, but controlling the flash so it illuminates them both at that distance and for that subject is a big help, as is the white balance adjustment. Even more so is adding that information to the exposure calculation. Think of all those brightly lit landscapes that don't expose the people close to the camera. Now your camera, detecting the faces, will expose for them rather than the blue sky behind them.
The Sony W80 does face detection so well, I really missed it when I shot a few portraits with a digital SLR that just couldn't understand that people were the important part of the shot.
High ISO, Super SteadyShot. Of course, flash is holdover tech from the last century. In this century, you shoot with image stabilization. When that isn't enough, you crank up the sensor's gain control (raise the ISO), which you do at the expense of adding a little noise to your image.
Sony is to be applauded for including both options in its 2007 lineup. The Sony W80 has only a 3x optical zoom that doubles to 6x with digital, so it doesn't really need image stabilization for long zoom in daylight; but for low light situations, it's indispensable. Super SteadyShot can allow you to hand-hold the camera at low ISO settings to get both good detail and good color.
My low light shots in the Gallery include a stick shift and auto interior taken at several ISO settings. The thumbnails are remarkably consistent in color. But if you study them you'll see that the detail starts to disappear as the ISO increases. At ISO 3,200, the W80 used a 1/125 second shutter speed. But relying on Super SteadyShot, I was able to shoot as low as 1/13 second (far below the reliable 1/60 second hand-held limit) at ISO 400, with a much better result.
Still, there are times when you have to crank up the ISO. The W80 will still deliver good color and you can smooth away much of the noise in post processing if it bothers you.
That's my one disappointment with the W80's image quality, however. Sony tends to prefer to hang on to the color while letting the detail dissolve away. Again, let the full resolution gallery shots show you what I mean.
In-camera retouching. In-camera image editing is another trick Sony has added to its 2007 lineup. It can automatically detect and remove red-eye, a real blessing if you're printing flash shots directly from the camera at a party, say.
The Sony W80's other editing tools are a lot of fun too. With the Partial Color option you can pinpoint an object in your scene to hold its color and watch as the Sony W80 turns everything else into monochrome. Then you can use the Zoom lever to expand or contract the color effect; great for images of flowers.
You can also apply a fish-eye lens effect with nine levels of control, or blur the periphery with five levels. These aren't just fun, but they can minimize composition problems, too.
HD Output. Sony touts the W80 as an HD camera, but that moniker really refers just to the 1080i output signal for stills. The Sony W80 doesn't take HD resolution movies (1080 or 720), and it has a hard time playing VGA movies through the optional HD dock. In fact, Sony doesn't even supply a cable with the W80 to connect it to your HD television.
Instead, the company provides three HD accessory options. You can buy a component cable that attaches to the W80's proprietary USB port. Or you can buy the $80 Cyber-shot Station CSS-HD1. Sony also sells a $149 printer/dock solution for the problem.
The Cyber-shot Station includes two cables: a composite video cable for HD output and a stereo audio cable that also has standard video (yellow) output. If you attach both video cables to your set, the composite cable takes precedence and the VGA signal is ignored. But the W80 only outputs a VGA signal for video. So you see the station report: "Invalid operation. HD (1080i) output in progress." It can't send the VGA signal out the composite cable. You see the first frame of the movie on the TV but that's it. The error message is overlaid. The trick is to pull the composite connection out of the back of the Station so the VGA connection (assuming you've made it) is live. Then the movie plays.
You may wonder if it's worth the trouble to buy any of these accessories considering TV resolution -- even HD resolution -- is a lot less than the full resolution the W80 can capture with its 7.2-megapixel sensor. But the W80 does have a 16:9 aspect ratio mode (not recommended for portraits) and the included special effects and music that make up the automated slide show function really are quite well done, as our CSS-HD1 review demonstrates. That also plays well on a standard TV, but at a much reduced size.
Appraisal. The W80 is a compact bargain, including the hottest technology Sony has introduced in its 2007 lineup. It has a Bionz processor, face detection technology, High ISO and Super SteadyShot one-two punch, in-camera editing and HD output signal. It does give away detail to hold onto color at higher ISO settings, but most users won't mind that tradeoff, particularly if 4x6 prints are the game you want to play.
- 7.2 megapixel HAD CCD
- Carl Zeiss 35-105mm equivalent 3x optical zoom lens
- 14x Smart Zoom (VGA quality), 2x normal zoom
- f/2.8 to f/8.0 at wide angle and f/5.2 to f/14.8 at telephoto
- 2.5-inch LCD with 115,000 pixels
- Nine-point autofocus
- 340 shots on one charge of the lithium-ion battery
- Broadcast quality Movie mode with sound and slow zoom
- Shutter speed from 1/4 to 1/1,000 second in Auto and as long as one minute in Program Auto
- Self-timer with 2- and 10-second options
- Exposure bracketing
- White balance: Automatic, Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Incandescent, Flash
- Scene modes: Beach, High Sensitivity, Landscape, Snow, Soft Snap, Twilight, Twilight Portrait
- Flash range: 0.6' to 10.8' (W); 1.3' to 5.9' (T)
- PictBridge compatible
- Available in four colors: black, silver, white, or pink
- Optical viewfinder
- Face Detection
- SteadyShot Image Stabilization
- High ISO sensitivity (to ISO 3,200) with Sony Clear RAW Noise Reduction
- HD output (1080i) for stills, with music
- D-Range Optimization
- In-camera Red-eye Reduction
- Live histogram in recording modes
- Burst mode of 10+ shots at 2.8 fps
- 31MB internal memory
- Support for up to 8GB Memory Stick PRO Duo media
In the Box
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 ships with the following items in the box:
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80 digital camera
- NP-BG1 rechargeable battery
- BC-CSG battery charger
- A/V and USB multi-connector cables
- Wrist strap
- Software CD-ROM with PDF manual
Note: No Memory Stick DUO media or adaptors are included.
- 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, 1GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 2GB should be a minimum.
- Cyber-shot Station CSS-HD1 to playback slide shows on HDTV
- HD Output Adapter cable
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection like Sony's soft leather LCS-TWA/R
- MPK-WB Marine Pack for shooting at depths up to 132 feet
It's hard to call the Sony W80 the bottom rung in the W-Series because it only gives up a few pixels for a lower price. Otherwise the Sony W80 has all the bells and whistles, making it a terrific bargain. It has a Bionz processor, face detection technology, High ISO, Super SteadyShot, in-camera editing, and HD output signal. The Sony W80 does give away detail to hold onto color at higher ISO settings, but most users won't mind that tradeoff, particularly if you only plan to make 4x6 prints. The color that the Sony W80 holds at ISO 1,600 is pretty good. HD output -- particularly when played as a slide show with the built-in special effects and music -- was stunning on the Sony W80, but only for stills. This isn't an HD movie camera, and it even has trouble playing VGA movies through the dock accessory. But to see any HD output from this camera, you'll have to buy an accessory cable, dock, or dock/printer. Packing that big a technoload (new word, sorry) into such a small package at such a low price makes the W80 an easy Dave's Pick.