Sony DSC-W100 Review

 
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Sony DSC-W100 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Generally good hue accuracy, though a tendency toward slightly warm, dark color. Slight oversaturation in strong reds and blues.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Sony DSC-W100 does oversaturate the strong red and blue tones, and some yellow tones. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. The DSC-W100 did render skin tones a bit warm and orange in most cases, which some consumers may find a little unnatural.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. The DSC-W100 did tend toward warm, dark color overall, with a tendency to push reds toward orange and blues toward violet. However, overall color was still pretty good.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Strong warm cast with both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance +1.0 EV Incandescent WB +1.0 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was just a bit warm and reddish in Auto white balance mode, and the Incandescent setting resulted in a more yellow color balance that actually looked best of the two. The camera required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, which is about average for this shot. Overall color is dark and yellow here, giving the blue flowers very dark and purplish cast. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

Outdoors, daylight
Warm, dark color overall. Pretty good exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed high contrast exposure with strong highlights and deep shadows under harsh lighting. Detail was somewhat limited in the shadows, but not too alarmingly. Exposure accuracy overall was about average, though color was often dark and a bit warm.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,400 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,400 (or arguably 1,500) lines per picture height, with extinction not occurring until past 2,000 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. The lines you see at 1,800 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Strong detail to 1,400
lines horizontal
Strong detail to 1,400
lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images overall, though some edge enhancement in high contrast areas and some blurring of detail from noise suppression in shadows.

Good definition of high-contrast elements, though some edge enhancement. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Sony DSC-W100's images are fairly sharp, though with some noticeable edge enhancement in high contrast areas, such as the rooftop and tree limbs above. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop at far right shows this in the darkest areas, though individual strands that contrast with the background are still quite visible.

ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, very high noise that blurs detail at the higher settings.

ISO 80 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,250

The Sony DSC-W100's lower ISO settings produced moderate noise, with moderate blurring detail in the dark areas. As the ISO setting increases, so does the noise level and the amount of blurring that results, and its images at ISOs 800 and 1,250 are quite soft. These latter two modes are really essentially unusable, but ISO 400 is really quite good by comparison.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, though high contrast limits shadow detail. Excellent low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and much darker conditions.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Sony DSC-W100 responded to the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above with high contrast, limiting detail in the deep shadows. (Noise suppression also contributes to the loss of detail here.) Though the overall exposure is slightly dim at +0.7 EV, the +1.0 EV adjustment resulted in much too harsh of an exposure, with blown highlights. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

 

  1 fc
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80
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Low light:
The DSC-W100 performed very well here, capturing bright images with good color all the way down to the darkest light levels we test at. However, the camera's autofocus system worked only down to a little above the 1/4 foot-candle light level, about 1/4 as bright as city street lighting at night. Keep in mind that the very long shutter times available on the W100 absolutely demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
Slightly dim, uneven coverage. Our standard shots required the High intensity setting, and were still a hint dark.

38mm equivalent 114mm equivalent
Normal Flash, High Intensity Slow-Sync Flash, High Intensity

Flash coverage was uneven at both wide angle and telephoto lens settings, though coverage was a little better at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the DSC-W100's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, and required a High Intensity adjustment to get reasonably bright results. Even here, the exposure is a little dim, with a strong orange cast. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger orange cast from the room lighting. Here too, a High Intensity adjustment was required, and the overall exposure was still slightly dim.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
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The DSC-W100's flash was brightest at the eight foot distance, and decreased in intensity with each additional foot. At 14 feet, flash power was quite low.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, usable 13x19 inch prints. ISO 400 images are surprisingly good at 8x10, as are ISO 800 images.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

With the Sony W100, we were pleasantly surprised, especially by its ISO 400 output. First, though, it's ISO 80 images were good enough to print 13x19 images suitable for wall display; close scrutiny will reveal softness, but still an impressive performance from a point and shoot camera. At high ISO, image noise levels are held in check very well, with even ISO 400 images turning out very good 8x10 images. Certain subjects might even be acceptable at 11x14 at the ISO 400 setting. Most of the cameras we've seen from Sony and others with ISO ratings of 800-1,250 have produced unacceptably rough images. But the W100's ISO 800 images were reasonably good at 8x10. ISO 1,250 images on the other hand were really only acceptable at 4x6, though that's still better than most cameras with a setting this high, including Sony's own current offerings. Color was good across the images, another place the extra-high ISO images held together unusually well. The Sony W100 really impressed in the printed output category where it arguably matters most.

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W100 Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W100 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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